I recently noticed that Flying Circus Deluxe was out, which uses Dan Verssen's popular Down in Flames core engine to fight World War One. DELUXE is the campaign game that plays with bombers and campaigns and such, so I ordered the basic game of Flying Circus and gave it a try.
What's in the (small) box: The small box is a surprise---the entire game is the two decks of cards and a folded rulebook, stuck in a box not much bigger than a bridge deck of cards. There are 68 cards for the reactions, maneuvers and bursts deck and 42 aircraft cards for Leaders and Wingmen of various years of the war. You have to come up with your own system of marking damage, altitude or ace pilots. I just used scrap paper, it works fine.
Rules are not vastly different from WW2 era Down in Flames, but there are some critical points that will make the game experience different. First and foremost, if the Leader dies, the Wingman doesn't promote to Leader (and the dogfight ends immediately, unlike DiF). This will make contests short and bloody, and tends to promote a "gang up on the leader" syndrome. I'm not sure what the point of that rule is, but it can be ignored if you like.
Flying Circus also uses a point purchase system for aircraft selection-- e.g., you settle on a point total and select your airplanes based upon that. So it is entirely possible to purchase a combination of a Leader and TWO wingman, which is very different from DiF. An extra wingman, as I have discovered, can be a very handy item.
The Attack/Maneuver/Response cards are very similar to their WW2 cousins. Cards can be Red (attacking or maneuvering) Blue (responsding to an attack only) or Red/Blue (a combination card that usually can do either an attack or a response of some sort). The elegance of the Verssen tactical system is contained within the interplay of these cards, and I could not detect a situation where they were overbalanced one way or the other.
I have played four dogfights so far (dogfights are all one can do with this game until you buy the expansion box), and have been delighted with it. I've noticed the stipulation about Leader Kill Victory leads to short and bloody games where Wingmen are used to syphon off cards from leaders, leaving them weak for the counter punch from the Leader card. In this instance, an extra wingman can be a handy thing. Other than that, I found the system well design, fun and interesting, and well worth the money I paid for it. Good replay value!