Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is a series of turn-based games created by Firaxis Games simulating Old-School Dogfighting of World War I and the Pacific theater of World War II. The player control 1-4 fighter planes (in some missions, bombers or recon planes) and fights enemy planes by selecting maneuvers for the current turn depending on which maneuvers the pilot knows and the current plane can do.
The first game takes place during World War I and features four campaigns: US, UK, France, Germany. The first three fight Germany, while Germany fights one of the other three chosen randomly at the start of the campaign. Gameplay is identical for all campaigns. The main differences are which planes are available. Planes are periodically added, replacing previous ones. Pilots can normally choose one of two available planes. During missions, planes have altitude that can be increased until the plane's limit (modified by any upgrades). If the mission is completed with all planes having more than half of their HP, the player is given a random plane upgrade (e.g. better weapons, more powerful engine that increases max altitude) that carry over through all planes for a pilot. Pilots level up based on their kills, and, upon receiving a promotion, can learn new maneuvers. Maneuvers can be either regular (a set of maneuvers for a variety of situations) or ace (a single superior maneuver that can turn the battle). Upon achieving ace status, the pilot can earn a nickname for him or herself, which grants a certain ability to the pilot (e.g. "Escape Artist" allows a pilot to avoid being captured if crashed in enemy territory). If a pilot is shot down in enemy territory, he or she is captured and held as a PoW until the prisoner exchange every Christmas. If a pilot is shot down in own territory, he or she spends a few missions in the hospital. The player can choose missions out of three available. Missions can range from "shoot down enemy pilots" to "escort bomber/recon plane", "shoot down bomber/recon plane", and "destroy/protect truck convoy/train". All maps feature anti-air guns that do damage to any enemy plane that enters their airspace (except for pilots with the "Lucky" nickname). Clouds hide planes but also limit maneuvers.
The second game focuses on the Pacific theater of World War II. There are also four campaigns: US Army, Japanese Army, US Navy, Japanese Navy. Pilots get access to every previous plane, but planes now have persistent damage between missions, which only gets repaired only between battles. Unlike the first game, the player can't select missions, although Save Scumming means that players can always reload until a mission they like is generated. Since prisoner exchanges weren't common between the US and Japan during the war, after every battle, the player gets an extra mission to send a single pilot to help the prisoners escape by taking out guard towers. Fights over water replace anti-air guns with destroyers that look like they're moving but are, in fact, static. Also, in addition to destroying enemy airfields or depots, bomber missions can have the bombers target carriers and battleships. Convoy and train strafing missions have been replaced with missions to destroy transport ships with strafing runs.
The games provide examples of:
- The Ace: All your pilots can become this after a sufficient number of kills. The player gets to pick a nickname for them that adds an ability.
- Certain missions involve your pilots facing off against enemy aces. In the first game, the fights are one-on-one. In the second game, they can be either two-on-one or two-on-two.
- And Now for Someone Completely Different: Two types of missions don't include any of your pilots. In one mission, you are controlling a recon plane without any escorts against an enemy fighter. In another, you are in control of several bombers with several enemy fighters trying to stop you. Recon planes and bombers are very slow and can't do any maneuvers beyond simple turns and altitude changes, but they have rear gunners.
- Cosmetically Different Sides: Played straight, mostly, in the first game, although the sides also slightly differed by planes. The second game has more differences between the US and Japan. American fighters are sturdier and have more weapons, while Japanese fighters are weaker but are much more maneuverable. However, missions are identical for both sides.
- Critical Hit: Each hit on a plane that gets it below 50% HP has a chance to inflict a different type of critical damage. Setting the engine on fire has the target lose HP every turn until it crashes. Damaging the engine reduces maximum altitude. Damaging a wing prevents a plane from performing maneuvers that involve flipping it upside-down. Guns can also be damaged to reduce precision.
- Great Escape: In the second game, since Prisoner Exchange is not an option with the Japanese, you get a special mission at the start of every major battle to send a single pilot to destroy guard towers of an enemy POW camp, allowing your captured pilots to escape. Alternatively, you can shoot down the single enemy plane, which is an Instant-Win Condition.
- It's Up to You: Apparently, the course of either world war can be decided by a four-pilot squadron facing off against similar-sized squadrons.
- Killed Off for Real: Averted, for the most part, as shot down pilots are either captured (if over enemy territory) or spend some time in the hospital (if over own territory). The second game even shows parachutes opening when the plane is falling. However, this can be toggled in the options to make the game harder.
- Old-School Dogfighting: Justified by the events taking place before jet fighters and guided missiles.
- Politically Correct History: Both male and female pilots are available in both games. In Real Life, only the USSR allowed women to pilot warplanes during WW2, and they're not present. However, the second game allows you to disable female pilots in options.
- At the same time, the enemy will never use female pilots against you.
- Prisoner Exchange: In the first game, every Christmas, your captured pilots are returned. Averted in the second game.
- Suspiciously Small Air Force: The battles never feature more than 5 planes per side. The largest battles in the first game feature all 4 of your fighters going up against 4 enemy fighters and also a giant zeppelin, whose destruction is your mission goal. You cannot send all 4 of your pilots on any mission in the second game. You also don't get any replacement pilots, even if all of your pilots have been captured (the game just forces you to skip missions until they become available) or hospitalized.
- Timed Mission: Several types of missions have a time limit associated with it. Enemy bombers and recon planes have to be destroyed before they complete their mission. In the latter case, a recon plane can still be destroyed after taking pictures of the target but before it leaves the area. In the case of convoy/train strafing missions, they must be completed before the convoy/train exits the area.