Michael Knarr
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---Now with images!---

[Recording of a debriefing near Teheran. An imposing figure of a man enters the room and switches on an old-fashioned overhead projector. He seems irritable and when he gets agitated while talking, his dogtags and the awards on his military jacket start making soft sounds, like faint bells. Apart from the light of the projector, it is too dark to make out how many people are in the room, but most of them tap their feet or look around impatiently]

Listen up, soldiers!
I know the last few days haven’t been what you’d call a walk in the park, but at least our first strike at 0400 put an end to those damn shellings we’ve been taking from enemy artillery for some time now. As a little pick me up, the powers that be decided that you boys earned yourselves some R&R for tonight in that hellhole that’s called a town around here. But don’t leave just yet, there’s one more thing we gotta get through before you disappear into the dry, sand-crusted darkness of a Teheran night.
I don’t need to repeat that you damn well have to stay in the territory you’re assigned for tonight, because we still haven’t heard from HQ and have no idea if and where, outside of our perimeters, more bogeys might be lurking.

But for now, we have to go through some video tapes. Today’s strike targetting the enemy’s forward HQ has given us a faint notion of what exactly we’re dealing with here and what’s gonna have to be expected in the next few days. But that’s none of you flyboys’ concern and I’m not gonna waste my breath on that, it just happens that the second sortie today turned out to be a mild catastrophe. Planned to be a diversionary strike against some quickly advancing tank formations, it ended up with one of our team almost ready to jump into the box. Hindsight’s 20/20 though, and what’s on your killcams is a great example for how one stupid decision made by one of you, who’s decided he’s going cowboy and everyone else be damned, can jeopardise the whole operation you’re tasked to complete. So I’m going to show it to you so maybe some of you will wisen up a bit before I have to start writing letters to your widows. I know you wanna get your R&R ASAP, so we’ll just give you the highlights instead of going through the videos in real-time. Take a good look at slide A:

This is today’s roster. Gator, Daddy-O and Rebel were in the air for the secondary strike. Their target was a tank formation advancing towards our base rapidly. We couldn't send our most experienced fliers, I know, and one of the choppers was already banged up pretty bad, but it’s what we had left with all our quality stuff and staff giving hell to enemy HQ. Not much resistance was expected and enemy airpower was looking to be minimal to non-existent. Here’s what our eyes in the sky saw when you engaged the enemy formation like a bunch of geese:

Do you see what’s going on here? The helicopters are in position to get rid of pursuers and find themselves some tasty targets of opportunity, but Rebel’s A10 is flying way too high although the ridges would have allowed him to stay in cover. So far the tank batallion doesn’t seem like they’re aware of the danger. But you know you’re gonna be in trouble with me when you’re sitting in the cockpit of the bomber with the most ordnance loaded and proudly poke your head out of the sand like that!

Gator was doing a damn fine job by the way, keeping a safe distance to the bogeys on the ground and taking the enemy’s attention away from the carpet-bombing that was to commence soon. Conservative use of the LAU-68 rocket pod allowed him to have some staying power as well. See, this is what happens when you knuckleheads actually listen up in basic training.

I know, it looks pretty damn impressive, Rebel with the Mk.20s blasting away everything around him (although later recon footage has proven that half the ordnance would have been more than enough to saturate his primary targets). And his smart bombs managed to each find their targets as well. BUT, and this is a big, ugly but, both the strike force and this recon picture were completely unaware of a heavy AAA site just southwest of Rebel rearing its ugly head towards the carnage. I take no pleasure in showing you this, but you have to learn what risk you’re taking when you just pull up like that in the middle of enemy territory:

Both pilot and plane have taken a pretty tough beating, a small Flak shell must have burst somewhere directly in front of the plane, shattering his canopy and sending shrapnels and pieces of glass flying in the pilot’s face. Luckily, he managed to keep his nerves despite the heat and left the battlefield given the opportunity, but he returned with half of his ordnance still in his plane’s belly. That is plain UNACCEPTABLE!

Meanwhile, Daddy-O had the flak gun in his sights and pacified it with his last guided air-to-ground missile. Without the focused firepower of the A-10, Gator had to commit most of his resources to get rid of the heavy tanks which he wouldn’t have been able to penetrate with his on-board cannon. Luckily, no duds or errant missiles were seen today and the two made the best out of that fubar situation.

Relying on their rocket pods, both choppers managed to wipe out the whole battalion while taking minimal damage themselves. Only one convoy of trucks must have had a lucky angel. As you can see on Daddy-O’s killcam, both his rocket pods missed it and he wasn’t able to strafe them successfully, either.

With his parting shots, it looks like he might have taken out the last enemy in the sector were it not for a lucky hit from somewhere in the truck convoy that temporarily disabled the visual link between the pilot and his gunsight.

Luckily everyone on this mission managed to pull through and Rebel is in good hands now. He won’t be enjoying his evening as much as you though, but we’ll be able to send him up there again soon enough. Now, especially since this hasn’t been the first debacle of that sort, I hope everyone of you thinks thrice before pulling his nose up and darting into the sky. It might feel great to have visual confirmation on all targets in and around the ridges, but that’s what we have our recon drones for. Your job is to stay low and shoot what’s directly in front of you or hiding in those mountains. Do any of you adrenaline junkies understand that? I’ll be off in a minute, but I’ll leave you with a slide of a similar situation on our primary airstrike.

You can clearly see a baddie tailing Shadow while he’s returning having emptied his rocket pods on the southern edge of the camp. If Grandpa hadn’t been as fast as he was or if that single air-to-air rocket had just been slightly off-target, you could have kissed good old Shadow goodbye for all i know. Leave the projector on for some time and look at it, closely. Imagine you had been in his shoes until you stop pulling that cowboy stuff. Dismissed!

Author's comments:

I must confess having written this AAR without any mentionable knowledge about modern air combat.Since I started playing wargames, I read a lot of books about WW2 air combat (my first wargame was Target for Today) and subsequently it might be that some passages betray my understanding of only that era.
Also, I want to let everyone who serves, served or has friends and family who serve in the armed forces that I mean no disrespect by this narration that is based more on war movies than on historicity. Having written a few session reports on Target for Today, I found it a lot less troubling when writing about something that has some temporal distance to our own lives. But oh man am I gonna write a report about A Distant Plain when I will finally get that game on my table soon.

My impressions of the game so far:

This report was in part written because DVG called for reports on TAL and I was already an owner of Phantom Leader Deluxe, which I find to be amazing, so I ordered TAL as it has gotten the highest praises out of the series and now I also know why: The added layer of where and when to attack and the persistent effects the enemy platoons have on the state of things makes playing the game feel a lot more like you are in control of what’s happening. In PL, the Politics system meant that out of the few targets you were offered every day, there was sometimes the obvious choice of what’s best to attack or even no choice, when you could either take only one or none of the offered targets.

In TAL on the other hand, oh boy is it exciting to decide what to attack and when.
In my case, there were two command Battalions with pretty punishing persistent effects (-1 SO every day and NO stress recovery for pilots who didn’t fly on a given day), so I decided to go after them for the first two days while sending a second, inferior strike force after some less-threatening assault battalions.

This led to me being well ahead in SOs (I got another lucky break with a „Resupply“-event on day 2 granting me 4 free points),but having an undisturbed front of Assault Battalions that will start taking away SO points for the remaining three days until I manage to get rid of them. But here’s the kicker: As the pilots grow more experienced and I get bolder and more accustomed to the new systems of TAL, it is not unthinkable to maybe even launch three strikes per day instead of two, but that will necessarily mean increased risks. No more spare anti-air rockets that are loaded just in case a pop-up marker turns out to be an enemy helicopter!
Also, having pilots and machines separated gives the narrative way more character, as I tried to demonstrate in this AAR. Two heavy hits that mean your Display is damaged and the pilot wounded, that is way more exciting than the „two-hits-and-you’re-gone“-system of PL. There is a bent and damaged chopper sitting in your hangar and you know the next hit could send it diving down towards earth, but all the other ones are on a mission already. Do you dare to send your most experienced pilot on a mission in that thing?

So before this turns into a review let me say I’m looking forwards to playing the next few sessions and I’m excited to see which way the Iran campaign will go ultimately. As of now, everything seems under control (the planes could all be repaired and the priority R&R means that there’s only one unfit pilot remaining in the roster), but the Assault battalions getting closer put an immense pressure on you to deal with them. But on the other hand, destroying the rear HQ would mean they get severe penalties on their next move and might be ordered to move back from my lines, but if that move goes wrong they’ll be knocking on the airfield’s doors before I know it. Whereas PL to me is an interesting narrative generator, this game does it better and is also an interesting dilemma generator. Does that mean I won’t play PL again? I certainly will, the simpler systems are great for an evening when I don’t feel like being stressed out too much and I just want to be along for the ride, but this game really shines when you have the time and focus to be absorbed by it.
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