As I've stated repeatedly here and elsewhere, I don't consider myself a wargamer, although I have played and enjoyed wargames over the years. I'm intensely interested in wargames in the abstract, but my eyes tend to glaze over when it gets down to the actual rules of most such games. This didn't stop me, of course, from dabbling in wargames over the years. Most of the older guys who initiated me into the hobby were avid wargamers and I did my best to share their enthusiasm for hexes and counters, since, at the time, I felt that having a love for wargames was a necessary adjunct to being a roleplayer.
Unfortunately for me, I never really managed to fall in love with wargames, with a few exceptions. One such exception was Mike Carr's Dawn Patrol, which I first encountered in 1982, when its seventh edition, whose box is pictured here, was released. Dawn Patrol began its life in 1972 as Fight in the Skies, which Carr self-published in its first three editions. The fourth edition was published by Guidon Games, the same company that published the early editions of Chainmail, while TSR released its fifth and subsequent editions. Fight in the Skies is in fact referenced in volume 3 of OD&D in the aerial combat rules section "with no apologies to Mike Carr."
Dawn Patrol was a game of air combat in World War I. It wasn't a simple game by any means, but, for whatever reason, I didn't find it as complex as I found many other wargames. Perhaps it was because it was a tactical wargame on a relatively small scale with comparatively few combatants in each scenario, I don't know. I imagine, though, that a big part of the game's appeal was its roleplaying elements. Unlike its predecessor, Fight in the Skies, which billed itself as "a realistic game simulating World War I aerial combat," Dawn Patrol called itself a "Roleplaying Game of WW I air combat." Players generated pilots, who accumulated experience, rank, and medals as they succeeded in their missions. There were rules for determining if a pilot survived a crash, whether he'd be captured or killed behind enemy lines, and so on. I remember there were these wonderful lists of names by nationality so that young kids like me would be able to come up with plausible names for their Austro-Hungarian pilot characters.
All of this made Dawn Patrol "more than a wargame" in my mind. Whether that was TSR's plan, I don't know, but it seems to have worked on more gamers than just me, since the 1982 edition of the game sold over 20,000 copies, which is astounding. Can you imagine a board wargame selling that many copies nowadays? My friends and I had a lot of fun with Dawn Patrol, which encouraged us both to study history and to take a greater interest in more complex wargames. Our burgeoning interests also gave us yet another bridge with the older guys, including my friend's Dad, who was an aviation buff and took pleasure in seeing us playing out dogfights over No Man's Land in 1917.
I won't deny that I miss that kind of cross-generational camaraderie, which seemed a lot more common back in my youth. Part of that, I think, is that my friends and I made a concerted effort back then to "fit in" with the existing gaming scene. We tried to adopt the culture of the old guys, which is why we all started reading Howard and Lovecraft and Leiber and tried our hands at wargames. None of these are things we'd probably have done unbidden, but we simply felt that to be a gamer was to understand and like these things. I still never managed to like wargames, at least not enough to play them regularly, but I did try to do so and I still have an intellectual fondness for them that served me well then and now.
Dawn Patrol was the first wargame I ever played that I actively liked rather than merely suffered through as part of my initiation into the hobby. I wish I still had a copy of the things. I'd love to give it a whirl again. It's been too long since Oberleutnant Alois Kirchmann took to the skies.