The Crimson Skies board game is a fast-paced strategic board/miniatures game of air combat, and was the first incarnation of the franchise and the basis for the PC game of the same name. It uses a hex grid and miniatures or paper counters to simulate combat.
Pilots in Crimson Skies are defined by six attributes: Quick Draw (used for determining initiative), Dead Eye (used for determining the chance to hit a target), Steady Hand (used for grouping shots together and unjamming guns), Natural Touch (used for pushing the plane beyond its usual limits), Sixth Sense (used for predicting enemies' next moves and bailing out), and Constitution (used to determine how many cockpit hits the pilot can take before dying). Each of these skills is ranked from 1 to 10. The player has a starting pool of points to spread between these attributes, and attributes can be improved by gaining experience. Constitution starts at 3, while all others start at zero.
Pilots are classified as either Heroes or Sidekicks, with Heroes receiving more points to spend on attributes. Units are usually organized in two-plane elements of one Hero and one Sidekick as wingman, with total forces always being even-numbered. Each player usually starts with an equivalent number of pilots or equivalent experience spread between his or her forces (depending on the scenario).
Unlike most miniatures games, Crimson Skies does not use a point-based system for determining force composition. Instead, each plane is considered to be equal to any other plane, at least in theory. In practice, there are some combinations of size, weaponry, and so forth that can be unbalanced. Balance is provided in the drawbacks for each plane; larger planes may carry more payload, but are easier to hit, for example.
The aircraft construction system in the Crimson Skies PC game was based on the miniatures game, and hence the two share some similarities. However, aircraft attributes are not directly compatible and most planes have differences in their capabilities between the two games.
Aircraft (planes and autogyros) are classified by their Base Target Number, which is a rough estimate of the plane's size and mass (as well as weight available for engines, armor, and weaponry). Base Target Numbers range from 1 to 10, with higher numbers indicating a smaller plane (higher numbers being more difficult to hit). For example, a Vampire has a Base Target Number of 2, while a Bloodhawk has a BTN of 6 (surprisingly low, given its in-fiction size). The Target Number determines the weight available for components.
Aicraft have a maximum speed determined by the design (and amount of weight dedicated to engine components, ranked from 1 to 5. Larger planes require proportionally more weight to attain higher speeds. Each plane also has a rating for acceleration ranked from 1 to 3, how much the plane can increase its current speed in a single turn. Again, acceleration is determined by the amount of weight from the plane's payload dedicated to that component. All planes start with a deceleration of 2; this represents the amount the plane can slow down from its speed the previous turn. Deceleration cannot be increased; however, it can be decreased by damage to the plane's flaps.
Maneuverability is ranked in Gs; each maneuver requires a certain number to be successfully executed. It is ranked from 1 to 5 and once again, is determined by the weight set aside from the plane's payload for structural reinforcement. Like engine performance, the larger the plane, increasing maneuverability gets progressively more expensive, requiring a greater proportion of the plane's weight set aside.
Planes have armor in six locations: nose, tail, and leading and trailing surfaces of each wing. Autogyros only have nose and tail locations. Armor is bought in layers of ten cells, consisting of a single line on the plane record grid. Unlike engine and maneuvering components, armor costs are the same for all sizes of aircraft.
Guns ranging from 30 caliber to 70 caliber also take up an allowance of the plane's weight. Like armor, the weight of guns is fixed and does not change. Planes have eight slots which can have guns placed on them; the last two slots can also be used for a rear turret, which adds extra weight proportional to the guns installed in it.
By the default rules, all planes have eight hardpoints for carrying various rockets. Most rockets take up an entire hardpoint; others, like flak or flare rockets, can be mounted two to a hardpoint. However, the advanced design rules introduced in the supplement Behind the Crimson Veil and used in subsequent books, allow hardpoints to be removed to free up extra weight, as well as for adding extra hardpoints (up to 10 total) to a larger plane. Autogyros start with four hardpoints instead of eight.
The game uses a simultaneous move system; players all plot their planes' movement in secret, then everyone changes position at the same time. This leads to an element of strategy in predicting enemies' movement. The hexes a plane can be moved to are determined by its speed, acceleration and deceleration, and its maneuverability (measured in Gs).
Crimson Skies uses a two-dimensional grid to represent damage. Each block in the grid represents one point of armor. Aircraft components, such as the engine, gun, or cockpit, are at various locations in the center of the grid.