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Review: Hornet Leader – Carrier Air Operations (DVG)

Posted by Denny Koch on February 3, 2011

Game: Hornet Leader – Carrier Air Operations

Publisher: DVG
Published in: 2010
Designer: Dan Verssen
Era and Topic: Contemporary / Historical and Hypothetical / Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground warfare
Components: 330 Full Color Cards, 2 Full Color Counter Sheets (352 counters), 8 Full Color Campaign Sheets (Libya 1986, WWIII North Atlantic 1986, Iraq 1991, Israel Defense 2003, North Korea 2007, Taiwan Defense 2008, Russia 2012, Iran 2014), 11″x17″ Mounted Tactical Sheet, Full Color Player Aid Sheets
Game Type: Mixed: Board, counters, card-driven

HFC Game-O-Meter: D


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 9.5
Rules: 7
Playability:
9
Replay Value:
10

Overall Rating: 9

PRO Awesome presentation; excellent production quality; heavy box crammed with cool stuff; historical and hypothetical scenarios; solitaire game which can be played as 2-player cooperative game; tough decision-making; interesting mix of tactical and operational gameplay; large variant of aircraft; world-wide missions; various adaptable difficulty-levels for beginners up to experts; Navy and Marines variants; lots of “chrome” adds to the atmosphere; rulebook includes background information about weapons and friendly aircraft…
CONTRA …but no information or design notes about enemy units; no hints about coop gameplay included in the rulebook; service years and aircraft type should have been printed on the counters for easy reference; only one log sheet in the game box


Introduction

We are big fans of Thunderbolt Apache Leader (GMT), so we were looking forward to Dan Verssen’s Hornet Leader – Carrier Air Operations, the latest game in DVG’s Leader Series.

Believe it or not, the "Solitaire game" Hornet Leader is one of the best cooperative wargames ever!

We are also notorious for our special interest in cooperative games, so we were really delighted when we discovered that Hornet Leader (HL) isn’t only an excellent solitaire game but also a very challenging 2-player cooperative game experience which requires much teamwork, planning, and tough decision-making.

In Hornet Leader, you are in command of a Navy aircraft squadron, stationed on an aircraft carrier. The game is scenario based and offers historical and hypothetical contemporary scenarios ranging from Libya 1986, Iraq: Operation Desert Storm 1991, Israel Defense 2003, North Korea 2007, Taiwan Defense 2008 up to WWIII North Atlantic 1986, Taiwan Defense 2008, Russia 2012 or Iran 2014.

Scenarios (“Campaigns“) come in various difficulty levels, ranging from introductory to expert. You can also “tweak” all scenarios if you want them to be easier or more challenging by adding “advantages” or “disadvantages”. In addition, you can choose to play each scenario as an US Navy or US Marines squadron which means that you have different aircraft at your disposal (because Marines carriers are smaller and operate closer to the shoreline) and different rules regarding the target zones of your attacks. You can also play each Campaign as a short, medium, or long campaign, depending on how much playing time you have at your disposal. Combined with the fact that you face different enemies each time you play the scenario, this system ensures a very high replay value.

There are different types of mission, you don't destroy targets day in, day out - sometimes, you also fly Search & Rescue Missions or protect your own fleet

The main objective of the game is to fly “Missions” where you destroy enemy ground units, for example tanks and convoys, stationary installations (Radar stations, factories) or fight enemy fighter squadrons or fleets. There is a large variety of available targets which have different special traits as well as variable numbers of protective ground units and/or fighters. Some are easy to destroy, some are tough nuts. Some can be destroyed in addition to a primary mission as a secondary target. Each destroyed target is worth a certain number of Victory Points, so you have to pick your targets carefully.

The game is an interesting mix of card game with a game board (“Tactical Display Sheet”) and counter system. Aircraft are represented by cards (and counters while flying a mission), their weapons are counters. Random events and the composition of enemy forces are determined by card draw, the main target is represented by a card, but you fight ground forces and enemy aircraft which are randomly drawn counters on the Tactical Display Sheet.

Coop gameplay isn’t much different from solitaire gameplay, except that each player commands their own aircraft. But you plan and fly your missions together (which requires much coordination and teamwork to be successful). This variant works great and is really challenging, so if you know another Hornet Leader player in your area, you should give it a try together. To be honest, in our opinion, Hornet Leader is one of the best cooperative wargames ever published

After intensive Hornet Leader sessions, we have to admit that we became enthusiastic HL fans. This is a very good game, it’s demanding, it’s very variable, it’s challenging, and it’s just fun to play. But more about that later…

Game components and graphic presentation

The heavy gamebox is crammed with cool stuff

Hornet Leader is a game with a very high heft factor: the heavy box is crammed with high quality components such as a mounted (!) map-board, various counter-sheets, card-packs, a full-color rulebook and more. This big gamebox isn’t a bluff package (like what you probably know from some other game publishers, big boxes filled with little stuff and much cardboard), here you get a heavy box full of cool stuff for your money.

The overall production quality is very good. The counters are of a thick, sturdy quality and with a nice glossy coating which gives them a very attractive look and a great feel. It’s not a problem to punch the counters from the counter sheets, they are accurately pre-cut without being too loose (so that they would fall out of their counter sheets during shipping).

The full-color cards are also of a very high quality and glossy. The artworks are really cool and add much chrome to the game. There are various types of cards – Aircraft, Target cards, and Event cards.

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Posted in Historical Games A-Z, Hypoth. Games A-Z, Leader Series, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Gaming this weekend: Down in Flames (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on October 20, 2010

Module 1: The Rise of the Luftwaffe, unfortunately out of print

This weekend, a classic returned to our gaming table: Down in Flames by GMT Games, a card-based game series depicting World War II air warfare.

Down in Flames consists of 4 modules and several expansions, but we wanted to play the dogfight variant this weekend, not one of the larger campaigns, so we only used the first two modules “Rise of the Luftwaffe” and “Eighth Air Force“.

“Dogfights” are the basic game variant where your leaders and their wingmen fight against the other players’ fighters. The “Campaigns” are the advanced variant, they add special rules, bomber formations, and historical scenarios, for example “Invasion of Poland” or “Battle of Britain” with several sub-missions, like bombing raids on railway stations or supply depots.

This isn’t meant to be a review or anything like that, just some short random impressions and general thoughts that occurred to us while we were (re)playing this game which had spent a long time on the shelf (you know the problem… too many games, too little time… ;)).

Down in Flames – more than a series (actually, two series)

Module 2: Eighth Air Force, adding more fighters, more scenarios and replaces the Luftwaffe rules

“Rise of the Luftwaffe” was the first module of the GMT game series, published in 1993. Ownership of this module is the prerequisite of playing the second module, 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, both modules (Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force) are out of print and GMT Games doesn’t plan to reprint them. The other two modules which depict World War II air combat in the Pacific theater (“Zero” and “Corsairs and Hellcats”) are still available. GMT announced that they are planning a “Down in Flames Deluxe European Theatre Game” named Wild Blue Yonder which will replace Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, but it is still in P500 status and whether it will ever be published in the foreseeable future is unknown.

At the same time, game designer Dan Verssen re-booted the series and published DiF in his own company, DVG (Dan Verssen Games) with revised expanded rules and new modern artworks. The first module of his new Down in Flames series was “Aces High”, published in 2008. The second module “Guns Blazing” was just released this autumn. His new DiF games are not compatible with the GMT DiF series, however.

So getting into the “classic” GMT version of the game is somewhat more difficult than jumping into the new DVG version because especially “Luftwaffe” is hard to find, at least for a reasonable price. In addition, if you own Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, there might be some slight rules confusion because the 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules whereas you have to stick to the Luftwaffe rulebook if you want to play any Luftwaffe campaigns.

We are in the lucky position of possessing several copies of the GMT modules as well as the Dunkirk variant from the C3i magazine (the house zine of GMT), so when we decided to bring back the classic DiF to our gaming table, we could jump into our dogfights immediately. We also decided that it would be an interesting task to compare the classic GMT Down in Flames with the brand-new DVG DiF series and to write some impressions about the differences between both series. Since many gamers are confused by the old series vs. the new series vs. the Wild Yonder P500 module, some information about both series could be helpful. We know about the confusion because we fell into the same trap… so you can expect more about both games in this blog – stay tuned!

Dogfights on the table

There is almost no setup time - you select your fighters and off you go!

So this weekend, we returned to the classic GMT version (we will play the DVG version next weekend). We hadn’t played Down in Flames in years, so we actually had to re-read the rulebook and almost start from scratch (although we quickly remembered why we always liked the dynamics of this fast card-driven wargame!).

Since we did a review reset when we relaunched our HFC website, we took the chance to read the rules with a fresh perspective as a new player would read them. And don’t get me wrong – we really love the game, it’s certainly one of the coolest air combat games ever made and the flight and fight dynamics, the speed, the feel of being a pilot are unmatched. Nevertheless, some random aspects, negative as well as positive ones, shall be mentioned here.

The 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules, so when you are playing the dogfights variant, you only need the 8th Air Force Basic game rulebook. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe rulebook has more illustrations as well as card explanations which are missing in the 8th Air Force rulebook, but this becomes more problematic in the campaign game (for example when you want to know what a “spoiled attack symbol” looks like – which is only illustrated in the Luftwaffe rulebook). For dogfights, the 8th Air Force rulebook is sufficient and you can leave the Luftwaffe rules in the box.

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Posted in Down in Flames, Gaming this weekend, Historical Games A-Z | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »