Tim Parker
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Richmond
Virginia
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Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations.

Hornet Leader is a solitaire game depicting the United States Navy and Marines battling in eight different campaigns. In each campaign, the player makes choices regarding elements such as target to attack, pilots to assign to the mission and amount and types of weapons with which to arm the planes. The player then engages the enemy and scores points for destroying the chosen target. However, he must also be careful as he can lose points for planes shot down, missing pilots, and failure to destroy certain targets. Each campaign consists of a short, medium, or long duration and, at the end, the number of victory points is compared with the campaign chart to assess the level of success.

Playing Time: This will vary depending on the campaign chosen as well as the target. The long campaigns mostly range into the double digit range in numbers of days (which is also the number of missions flown) and the target chosen will also have an impact depending on how many pilots one can (and one chooses) to commit to battle. The short campaigns fall in the 3-5 day range and most are playable in a single evening.

Map: Hornet Leader comes with 8 campaign maps showing the area of operation and location of the targets as well as technical details such as stress on pilots and the impact of weapons chosen due to the fuel since some targets are farther away from the carrier than others. There is also a tactical combat board where the enemy units are deployed and the US aircraft wing their way into battle.

Counters: The counters depict the US air units as well as the a wide range of enemy units such as Migs and SAM sites. There are also counters for the various weapons that the USA has which range from air to air weapons to air to ground weapons with various capabilities such as precision guided munitions. Counters are well organized with an easy to remember system for the combat capabilities of each counter.

Cards: The cards in the game fall into three categories: airplanes, target, and event. The target cards show the possible targets with information on enemy units defending the target as well as how many hits you need to pulverize said target. The event cards are divided into thirds reflecting events that can occur before you reach the target, over the target, and on the way home. The plane cards show the various planes available to the US and give information such as abilities for air to air and air to ground combat as well as what the planes can carry. Each plane has three cards which cover the various ability levels of the pilot from newbie to ace status.

Rules: The rules center around the players choices of what target to attack, which pilots to send into battle, and how to arm those pilots. Before a campaign begins, the player will need to choose a squadron of pilots with abilities that vary from newbie to ace status. Once chosen, then each turn the player draws target cards, chooses one, arms his planes with both air to air and air to ground weapons and then attacks the chosen target. Each target will be defended by one or more sites (AAA, SAM, infantry) and/or bandits (various MIG fighters). You will have to choose how to approach the target and at what altitude your planes will attack. Along the way, there are random events (Target Bound, Over Target, Home Bound) that can both help (example: reduce pilot stress) or cause major headaches (Example: Bandits where you are attacked by a force of MIGs). The combat itself lasts 5 turns after which you head home and record information such as pilot stress and experience gained on the record chart that comes with the game.

The rules themselves are fairly well organized and this game (like many other DVG Games) has a full color rule book and comes with a very good example of play. I found the example very useful and had several minor rules questions addressed by this example. The sections on the weapons types and aircraft types were very useful as well, especially starting out.. The rules do an excellent job of portraying a complex topic such as this but, as with any solitaire game, following the rules in order and getting all the details right is of paramount importance. The rules do indeed make you feel like a squadron commander and the choices you make before the mission can have huge consequences later.

And now the moment you’ve all be waiting for......

The key differences between Hornet Leader and Phantom Leader!!! wow surprise

d10-1 Each pilot has three two sided cards covering his status from newbie to ace. Unlike Phantom Leader (PL) where each pilot could only increase one level, here you can have a pilot rise higher and higher in skill level, especially if you are playing a long campaign.
d10-2 You can spend five turns over the target this time.
d10-3 Pilots now have situational awareness which allows them to attack during both the fast and slow steps!
d10-4 Targets now have more detailed information on them. There is a whole new section that covers the key words that appear on the target cards and targets can now give extra VP as well as cause you to lose VP if you fail to destroy them! gulp
d10-5 More weapons! Granted, this is mostly a technology advance thing, but it is still different!
d10-6 More event cards (30 vs. 18 for PL).
d10-7 You lose VP for losing airplanes as well as having pilots go missing.
d10-8 The priority R&R has changed significantly. It costs more special operation points but you also get to add in the pilots coolness rating when removing stress.
d10-9 Destroying targets has a new impact category: infrastructure. In PL, destroying the target impacted intel and recon abilities, but now you can also impact infrastructure which can reduce the number of hits needed to destroy future targets.
d10-1 d10-0 Bandits that already have US targets within range will not move closer thus making dogfighting tricker.
d10-1 d10-1 Pilots can gain extra experience points for targets that are farther away as well as via events.
d10-1 d10-2 New optional rules for night missions for certain target cards.
d10-1 d10-3 You can now gain and lose special operation points for choosing certain airplanes.
d10-1 d10-4 For some days you can attack two targets if you draw target cards with the secondary designation.


Things I like about the game:

1 Variety of campaigns. You can fight a wide array to US enemies all around the world this time! cool
2 Thicker counters. This is great especially given the drawing needed for sites and bandits. The counters in PL always felt so flimsy. DVG has certainly rectified that issue!
3 Tension. As with PL, you will feel the sweat flow as your boys wing their way into battle. Will the ECM POD confuse the enemy? Did we bring enough anti-radar weapons to handle the SAM sites? Missile honing in! Evasive action!!! (Sorry, flashback to my last mission blush )
4 Coverage of modern air warfare. This game really gives you a good glimpse into the battle between planes and SAMs. The decision making over the weapon types also gives you a good appreciation of how far air warfare has come since WWII or even Vietnam for that matter.
5 More random events! As the Kool-Aid man would say, “Oh yeah!”

Things that can be annoying: angry

1 Making the target deck. You will have to do this for each campaign and it can take some time to make sure you have all the cards you need.
2 Lack of an organizational chart for all the pilots. For a player like me who enjoys pulling planes at random, not knowing which pilot name goes with which plane can be annoying. Granted, I quickly made a chart of my own, but solitaire games really should have charts covering such things since charts and sequences are so essential to streamlining the game and thus the enjoyment.

Overall evaluation: d10-1 = I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk d10-9 = wargamer heaven!

Maps= d10-7 Maps are well done and the mounted tactical board is nice. I only wonder why did the campaign maps go from the sturdy cardboard found in PL to the glossy (yet flimsy) material found here.

Counters= d10-9 Once again they are nice and big (5/8 size) and easy to read. And this time they are thick to boot! thumbsup cool

Cards= d10-9 Like PL, the cards are top quality and this time you have a card reflecting the ability level for each pilot at every level! Very cool

Playing Time= d10-5 to d10-9 This will vary depending on campaign, length of campaign, and targets chosen. But there is something here for everyone since you can always choose between short, medium, and long campaigns.

Deployment of Forces= d10-6 This will take time especially to make the target deck. My advice on the pilots is to take the time to put their cards back in order for each pilot after each campaign and do so alphabetically.

Overall= d10-9 In the final analysis, this is an excellent solitaire game for the following reasons. First, the variety. Lots of campaigns, lots of planes equals high repeatability. The various targets and the blind drawing of enemy units also enhances this aspect of the game. Second, it is just plain fun! cool There is a certain amount of sense of accomplishment when you pick you make the right picks in pilots and weapons as well as a sense of relief when you realize you screwed up yet somehow your boys came through. Third, the presentation. I am not normally a tactical wargamer, but Hornet Leader presents the tactical aspects of modern air warfare in a fun and easy to digest manner. The way the rules are laid out makes one also feel like an operational leader in the sense of picking targets so it is, in the final analysis, a nice blend of the operational and tactical. Finally, intensity. The trick for any good solitaire game is to make the player feel like they are there. Hornet Leader does just that, making you feel like you are a squadron commander and you are responsible for those men! This aspect of a solitaire game can make or break a game, IMO. A good game like Hornet Leader (or B-17 or Carrier or RAF or Phantom Leader) that does this makes me want to keep coming back again and again. One that does not, makes me want to trade it as quickly as possible which is one of the reasons that Silent War fell flat for me. Bottom line: this is another winner from DVG. They have taken the Phantom Leader system and enhanced it making it even better than before. From making the components even better to making more detailed rules for targets, the system presents a challenge that will keep the player coming back for more time and again. I myself am currently working through all the campaigns playing the short version for each and so far I am showing no signs of fatigue. I think this is because of the variety of planes you can use as well as the combination of more events and targets which makes each campaign a unique experience. For players who are not mainly tactical in nature (like me) this game system is fantastic in that it gives you all the complexity and intensity of the subject matter without getting bogged down in details. So in the end, this game is another must for both the solitaire gamer as well as those who have enjoyed Phantom Leader.
Edited to list a change I forgot. shake
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Marco Arnaudo
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Indiana
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awesome review, Tim! If I hadn't already received the game and played it EVERY night this last week, you would have definitely convinced me to pick it up pronto!

If I can add something, I would say that this is a must not only for the PL players, but also for those who loved Hornet leader II!
(but I should stop making comments like this, otherwise nobody will watch my video review because of these spoilers...)

Sorting out the campaign targets: yeah, that can be a bit of a drag... what I do is I simply reorganize the entire deck in numerical order, then I can easily pick up the right target cards going through the map top to bottom.
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Gustav Åkerfelt
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Great review. thanks.
 
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Iain
England
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Very nice review mate, Dan would be proud

Big thumbs up to you

 
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Dan Verssen
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Tim - This is great!

I think this will really help people who are curious about the differences between the two games.

Your write-up is very informational and fun to read.

Awesome!
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Dan Conley
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Thanks for posting this fine review, Tim! I really enjoy PL and am waiting for my copy of Hornet to arrive. Looking forward to it!

Thanks again!
 
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Eric Lai
Hong Kong
Happy Valley
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Can't wait for my copy! Takes longer to get to Hong Kong!
 
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Scott Blakely
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Excellent review.

one comment: I actually like the maps in HL better. Yes, they are thinner, but they appear to have a plastic-coating on at least one sied (I will laminate them anyway in the long run). With PL, I didn't even play a single game until I have copied and laminated the maps as I was (slightly) concerned with wear over time.

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Anthony Lazaroski
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Just changed this on my wishlist from "Love to have" to "Must have"...owning and enjoying Phantom Leader, I was looking forward to this, and it is nice to see it isn't just a retheme but rather an evolution of the system.

Kudos DVG!
 
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Fred Methot
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Great review, really adds up to anticipation as I'm waiting for the postman to bring me my copy! Should be here today as per Post tracker!

 
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Andrew Prizzi
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Quote:
you also get to add in the pilots coolness rating when removing stress.


So Maverick is a 10 on the coolness scale and Goose is somewhere around a 6? cool
 
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Richard Dewsbery
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If that's a scale of 1 to 10, I think that you're being kind to Goose. And Maverick's clearly an 11.

Apart from after the accident, of course. He was clearly stressed, until (Merlin?) screamed "Engage!" at him enough.
 
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Andrew Prizzi
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Goose obviously had some skills. Look at his wife.
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No No No Sheep
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nice comparison, and i agree with the conclusion that hornet leader CAO is bigger, better with more variety of weapons and missions.. component-wise , phantom leader is inferior..

BUT

there's something thats hornet leader ia lacking.. that is no vietnam war campaign and no F4.. so for vietnam air war buff, phantom leader is amust buy..
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