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Subject: A Nostalgic Look rss

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Elijah Lau
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Once in a while, I get a pang of nostalgia of some game I had played in my youth but which is now lost in the annals of time. For some reason, I started thinking of Air Cav, a game I played in my teens.

Air Cav is a 2-player tactical game in which players control individual vehicles and helicopters, supported by infantry squads, to achieve certain victory conditions as stated in the scenario, such as getting 1 infantry unit counter to exit from a particular location on the map, kill X number of enemy vehicles etc. There are 2 different maps provided – a forested, hilly map representing somewhere in West Germany to play out a Soviet/NATO conflict, and a desert map for playing out an Israeli/Syrian conflict. There are also two sets of rules - the Basic rules and the Advanced rules. Now, I have never played the Advanced rules, as the Basic rules have provided all the fun I ever needed from Air Cav. I always felt the Advanced rules just complicated things.

The really interesting part of the game was Initiative. The scenario would state which player starts with the initiative. That player will move his units and shoot and do other stuff until he voluntarily passes and hands the initiative over to the other player and he’ll do the same things with his units. Or (and this is the cool part), a player, during his opponents’ turn, declares that one of his units can spot an enemy counter, and if checking the LOS proves that he can, the player may elect to use that unit to fire at the exposed enemy (if he has enough Operations Points to do so and has the appropriate weapons). If the player destroys the exposed enemy, he gets the initiative. Of course, firing a weapon also exposes you and the other player can elect to Opportunity Fire and so on and so forth. In a close-range melee, this can lead to all sorts of chaos as initiative goes back and forth, which is realistic but messy.

Moreover, the LOS rules of the game states that counters should be flipped so that the opposing player does not know what is in a particular stack. Counters are only flipped when the opponent has LOS. Of course, with the counters flipped, YOU also can’t see what you have moving where and doing what. So there’s a lot of flipping here and there to keep track of your units. And your opponent is also doing the same with his units.

Oh, what are Operations Points? Each type of unit has a number of Operations Points which they spend to move (spend more to go through rough terrain), shoot etc. Units don't have to use up all their OPs in their turn. In fact, it's a good idea to keep enough to be able to fire at targets of opportunity and hopefully seize the initiative.

On closer examination, the game system is not really that fantastic. But it was simple, easy to pick up and play, and provided me with a lot of fun back in my younger days. Couple of reasons for this. One is that the game provided a lot of data on the vehicles and weapons in the game for anyone fascinated with military hardware (which I was at the time). There’s a lot of charts and lots of chart flipping in the game but nothing out of the ordinary for a game in that era and genre. The game was also one of the few that integrated helicopters into the tactical land battle in a simple manner. There are some criticism whether it did it well or not. I agree that the helicopters are super-duper powerful in the game. I’ve had Apaches just casually pick off T-72s strung out on a desert road. But I’ve also had a BRDM shoot down an Apache in a close-up knockdown melee. I think that’s realistic. Gunships were designed to be defensive tank-killers and were not meant to fly into harm’s way. Witness the problems the US Army faced in Operation Iraqi Freedom when they deployed gunships not as defensive tank killers as they had originally been designed but as front-line cavalry.

That’s probably why I prefer the West Germany map than the desert map. With a featureless map and with the Israelis usually on the defensive, it’s not easy for the Syrian armoured vehicles to sneak up on the enemy, which they have to, since their weapons were weaker at long-range compared to the Israelis. And usually they get mauled by the choppers before they get to knife-fighting range. With a more contoured and forested terrain, it’s easier for the Soviets to set up helicopter ambushes and overwatch positions to give any NATO gunship grief. Well, not always, but it’s a good chance to shoot back at a helicopter.

There’s definitely a slight bias towards the NATO/Israel forces in the game (reflection of the times?) but for a simple and easy to play game, it’s not worth quibbling.

There's also one really small aspect to the game which is not significant but it really appealed to my bloodthirsty nature as a teen. When vehicles are destroyed, they are replaced by wreck markers. It's really fun to win a game and survey all the wreck markers littering the map. What a sense of satisfaction!

However, I have to say I traded my copy away. A few years after I bought the game, the Cold War ended! Can you believe that? I like to play wargames for the historical or current significance. The only scenarios I liked in Air Cav were the European ones but they just didn’t seem that relevant anymore, so my desire to play Air Cav just declined. But I still have fond memories of the game. For Cold War tactical combat enthusiasts, this is a game worth trying. I rate it a 6 – I might still play it if I know someone who has a copy and the mood strikes me.
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Jay Moore
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Webster Groves
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Nice review of an older game. I used to own it, but I don't think I ever played. Somehow I lost track of everything except the counters, which I will gladly give to anyone needing counters to replace missing ones.
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Russell Gifford
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South Sioux City
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That was fun. Air Cav was one of those games I tracked through development at SPI, and then thought it would never see the light of day when TSR absorbed SPI. When Victory Games published most of the other pending titles, I thought "Hey - there's a chance!" But, no dice.

Finally, I was happy to see West End Games pick it up. Thanks for the clear review of the combat system. I think I'll go get my copy out and play a few rounds!

---Russ
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Dave Kohr
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Before they went under in the late 90's, West End had a firesale where they were selling various titles (including Air Cav) for like $5 each. That's when I bought my copy. Still haven't played it, though, or even broken the shrinkwrap.
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Jack Thomas
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I played this for the first time last night, and thought I would just respond to this thread rather than write a full review.

The box rates this a game as having a complexity of just 2. I've played games rated considerably more complex that were easier to play, so I don't agree with the rating.

While the mechanics of the game are easy to grasp, the amount of "chart flipping" is nearly mind-numbing. What weapons does the AH-1 Cobra have in 1980. (Look at chart.) Ah, the TOW ATGM and a 20mm cannon. What target type is a BMP-1? (Look at chart.) Okay, it's an E. What's the operational point cost to fire the TOW or the 20mm? (Look at chart.) What's the range for each? (Look at chart.) What modifier does the BMP-1 get if it does an evasive maneuver? (Look at chart.)

The same thing happens to a lesser degree during movement, as all units have 12 operation points, but each unit pays different costs for movement over the various terrain types and for elevation increases.

It would be enormously helpful to make index cards for the most common units that have all the information pertaining to a particular unit in one place. Then, when you're matched up against an enemy unit, you place its card adjacent to yours and everything you need is right there at hand. That, or just memorize lots of numbers (which would happen in the course of multiple playings anyway).

One thing that my opponent and I disagreed on was whether the inactive player could do opportunity fire if the active player had just fired and destroyed a unit. The rules state that if a unit is destroyed, the firing unit becomes the active unit and that player becomes the active player. But, the rules also state that the inactive player may use opportunity fire anytime an observed enemy unit completes an operation. If I'm already the active player and I fire and destroy a unit, I've completed an operation. But, I'm also immediately the active player with the active unit again. Which rule gets priority?

We played that opportunity fire was not allowed if the active player destroyed a unit (but obviously allowed if the unit was not destroyed). And, ultimately I was in a situation with a Cobra where I needed a 7 (Final Kill Number) with the TOW, and coincidentally, also a 7 with the 20mm cannon. The cannon only costs 1 operational point to fire, while the TOW was 3. So, I cleared out a couple of BMP-1s, a SPAAG, and a recon vehicle in one phase, winning the game.

My opponent was convinced that the game was lopsided in the US's favor, but, he took out my first Cobra (of only 2) with his SPAAG earlier in the game. And he missed several chances to take out the second. It could have went the other way.

If I get motivated to make up some quick reference charts for some of the vehicles, I may give this game another go.



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Jonathan Townsend
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The quick reference cards this chap was wondering about are here!

http://www.thewargamer.com/grognard/aircav.zip

There is one card(sheet) per side per scenario with all the data needed for each part of the force.
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Jack Thomas
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Thanks for the link. Those will be quite helpful. I think it's time to get this game out again.
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Lucas Wan
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Omega_Wolf wrote:

One thing that my opponent and I disagreed on was whether the inactive player could do opportunity fire if the active player had just fired and destroyed a unit. The rules state that if a unit is destroyed, the firing unit becomes the active unit and that player becomes the active player. But, the rules also state that the inactive player may use opportunity fire anytime an observed enemy unit completes an operation. If I'm already the active player and I fire and destroy a unit, I've completed an operation. But, I'm also immediately the active player with the active unit again. Which rule gets priority?


Mind you, this only applies if the inactive player destroys the active unit. So in your case, the inactive player could have used opportunity fire.
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Darren Howie
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I think the devastating results to Iraqi T-72's showed the results are far from biased in the Wests favor.
Enjoyed playing Air Can back in the 80's and just found a cheap copy so boom off we go!
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Joaquin Oliveira
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How would it work as a solo game ? Any input about that ? Thanks for that great review .
 
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Michael Olsen
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Agip wrote:
The quick reference cards this chap was wondering about are here!

http://www.thewargamer.com/grognard/aircav.zip

There is one card(sheet) per side per scenario with all the data needed for each part of the force.


The above link is no longer working. Any chance a kind soul still has the reference cards lying around?

Thanks!
 
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Rolando Mejia
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Here

https://grognard.com/ArticlePageList.aspx?GameID=a432#pageTo...
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