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Subject: Overall review of TAL and comparison to HL and PL rss

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James Dalley
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I’d like to start out by saying I am giving this game as a whole a 10 out of 10. This is amazing and is easily worth the list price of $90.

NOTE: I do own Hornet Leader II, Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations, Phantom Leader, and U-Boat Leader. So I am very familiar with the Leader Series.

The Components!

The Tactical Display - 10
To be completely honest the first thing I said when I saw the map was; “Wow, that is hot!” The map is amazing! The map is a mounted two fold map that is massive. I new logically it would be larger than the other Leader maps, but it was still a surprise to see just how large it was. It looks like a cockpit of an aircraft so that just adds to the appeal even more. The Tactical Display contains spaces for the Mission Event Deck, Special Condition Deck, Target Card, and the Battalion Deck. It also includes the sector map and many other charts and tables that you will use throughout the game.

Air Base Sheet - 10
However, you can’t quite fit all of the decks and charts onto the Tactical Display, and that is where the Air Base Sheet comes into play. The Air Base Sheet holds the Campaign and Situation Cards along with your pilots and aircraft. The Air Base Sheet also contains a couple of charts and tables that aren’t used as often in the game. The Air Base Sheet is made from the same cardstock material that DVG has used in the other Leader Games.

Terrain Hexes - 10
The Terrain hexes are new to the Leader Series, but they are a great addition. The terrain hexes are made from thick cardboard, look beautiful, and fall right out of their punchcards without any problem.

The Counters - 10
The counters appear to be the same quality as those from Hornet Leader. These are extra thick counters and are beautifully designed.

The Cards - 10
These cards are good quality cards and have amazing artwork on them. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.

Game Play

Play Time
TAL takes about 20 or 30 mins to set-up the campaign, and about 10-45 per mission. I’ve only played the Surge situation card so far (3 Days) and that took about two hours. However, compared to HL and PL it does seem to take a little longer, because your dealing with a lot more tactical decisions in the battlefield.

Set-Up
If you have played HL or PL than the set up will be very familiar, with a few key changes.
First, Select your campaign card
There are eight different campaigns to choose from however, the campaign card doesn’t contain all the information you need.
Second, Select a situation card
There are six different situations. The situation cards determine how many so points you start with, how many days you’ll fly, and many other things that used to just be on the campaign sheet in HL and PL. This means instead of having short, medium and long; you have show of force, general war, surge, cut-off, holding action, and rapid deployment. I personally think this is a big improvement and love the new feel it gives to the Leader Series.
Third, Gather battalion cards
This is once again very different from HL and PL. In those games all of your target cards were on your campaign sheet, but that is not so anymore. In TAL, you start by randomly drawing battalion cards, two assaults, a support, a command, then repeat until you reach the victory point number on your campaign card.
Fourth, Buy aircraft
Note this is not a select pilot stage, but buy aircraft. Unlike in HL and PL aircraft and pilots are not tied together. I was unsure of how I would like that, but after playing one campaign I see that is is necessary in this game, and is executed amazingly. All aircraft cost a certain amount of SOs and you must spend them carefully to create a good squadron, while still having SOs left to use on other things. This is also different from HL and PL where some aircraft were free, in TAL all aircraft cost SOs.
I was at first planning on complaining about the small number of aircraft provided:
1 - AC-130
1 - F-16
3 - AV-8B
2 - A-10C
5 - A-10A
3 - AH-1
4 - AH-64D
8 - AH-64A
When compared to HL and even PL that is a very small amount of aircraft. However, after playing one campaign and setting up for another, I realized that you don’t need a massive amount of planes. If you wanted to fly a mission with just Thunderbolts you could because you could only afford to buy four of them. Thus leaving plenty of Thunderbolts back at the hangar still.
Just a small side note: Don’t worry about spending all of your SO points on aircraft and scouts, because you get more SO points everyday. (Unless playing with the Cut-Off situation card)
Fifth, You select pilots
The really nice thing about this step is where it differs from HL and PL. In HL and PL the pilots are tied to the aircraft, but once again that is not true in TAL. You get to select one pilot for each AIRCRAFT, and an additional pilot for each TYPE of aircraft. This means if you have a pilot that got really stressed out in your last mission, no big deal! Have the spare pilot take over and give your stressed out pilot some R&R back on base. Also, unlike HL and PL, all pilots start at average. You can adjust their skill levels by decreasing on pilot and increasing another. For example, you reduced Gator to green, and increase Tex to skilled. This adds a nice touch to the game and gives you more control over your squadron.
That is all the set-up you need, and now you can start to play TAL!

Battlefield Resolution

I LOVE the tactical factor of this game. There isn’t anything as cool as having your A-10 Thunderbolt fly low over a ridge, drop two Mk. 20 rockeyes on four unsuspecting infantry, then literally watch them blow up as you flip their counters over to the smoldering wreckage of infantry on the other side of the counter.
The actual “Over the Target” part of TAL is completely different from HL and PL.
Once you have your planes loaded up with weapons you shuffle the terrain hexes and place them on the board. Then you grab all of the unit counters needed for the battalion card your attacking and roll a die for each one to see where they get placed on the board. After than you select where to start your aircraft and the fun begins!
You’ll draw pop-ups for aircraft flying high, and then roll for enemies getting into cover. Then you actually get to attack. Unlike in HL and PL where all of your aircraft move to the center of the board to bomb the crap out of the target, in TAL, you are spending your whole time flying over that “target card” in HL and PL.
My favorite part though is that cannons are actually useful. In HL and PL, your base for a cannon is 10, thus you only used your pilot’s cannon in emergencies. Not so in TAL, most aircraft it with their cannon on a 7 or higher, and the Thunderbolts hit with a 4 or higher. This really changes how you load out your aircraft.
Another key change is the way the enemy fights back. In HL and PL, you can jink, suppress or use ECM pods to block enemy attacks. In TAL, you can only use ECM pods, and a few pilots have an evasion stat that blocks some hits. In HL and PL, you roll a die to see if the enemy did stress, damage, or destroyed your aircraft. In TAL, you draw counters from a bag to see if one of eighteen different things happened to your plane. I also LOVE this part of the game. This way you can allow your aircraft to get shot up, but you could get damage to your HUD or your cannon, maybe even get a weapon pylon shot off.

The End of the Day

Most of the End of the Day steps are the same as HL and PL, like recording stress, removing stress, getting victory points, etc. However, there is an important change. In TAL, you can spend SOs to repair individual damages to an aircraft, or you can spend 2 VPs to replace an aircraft that has been damaged beyond repair, or to replace a pilot that has been killed or is to stressed out to fly.

Overall-10
This game not only deserves a spot in the Leader Series, but probably the crowning role as the king of the Leader games. I still plan to play HL, PL, and UBL, but TAL is by far the best. I’m sorry if I rambles a little bit, but I love this game and it is so different from the others that I had to go into some detail. If you have any questions feel free to ask and I’ll answer to the best of my abilities. I’ll post pictures later, but after writing about how awesome this game is I’ve got to go up and start another campaign.
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Piotr
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Thanks for the thorough review and for posting your opinions so fast after the release! I assume that you've played an Introductory campaign, but what would you say about the level of challenge the game presents the player with? How did you score on that Campaign - good, great, average, even worse? Do you think the game will keep us on our toes trying to do as best as we can? I just ask because of some problems with U-Boat Leader that players were posting here on forums, but I am fairly certain from what I know about this game and from my experience with Hornet Leader that it wouldn't be the case here.
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James Dalley
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Yes, I played the Iraq introductory campaign with the Surge situation (that is the recommended combination.) I scored good, but in my first battle I got an A-10 heavily damaged (I think it was 5-6 damage counters plus one structural damage), and the A-10 pilot had seven stress on him. I replaced the A-10, but was never able to use the pilot again. That campaign wasn't much of a challenge, but a good start.
I just started a new campaign this morning and I'm losing. In HL I like to play long campaigns so that I can level up my pilots and by the end be playing with mostly skilled and vets. So I set up an Iran (standard) campaign with the General War situation (8 days). I've played two days and am getting decimated. Almost all of the assault battalions are in the friendly transit zone and I only have five aircraft to hold seven battalions at bay. I should have gone for a general war in Iraq first, but I thought I could handle it.
All in all I would say that it is much better balanced than UBL, it definitely isn't going to be easy, but I don't think it's to hard either. I just made some bad choices in aircraft selection, and I didn't buy any scouts. Mostly though I was playing this to try my hand at a AC-130, and it is a powerful aircraft, but it costs 10, and probably wasn't the best choice to get it for a long campaign.
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Piotr
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Thanks, I think I'm too impatient to wait any longer anyway and I'll order my copy in a few days, I was waiting in anticipation for a long time already I just wanted to make sure that the forums of this game won't get filled with several pages of proposed rules fixes and modifications in a few weeks from now - but I guess it was a one time thing, I own two Leader games and two Field Commander games and they are all great, with beautiful components and rules that are easy to grasp and don't need much addenda or clarifications. I'm going to be reading every single post here on BGG for a few more days and then place my order. Thank again for the review!
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Stig Morten
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Very informative review. Well done. You are making it hard for me to resist this game, even if I just got Hornet Leader a couple of weeks ago.

You should link it to the DVG (Dan Verssen Games) P500 for July 2012 for a chAnce to win a Cool pair of Leader series dice like these.

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Scott Key
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After playing 3 missions (Iraq 91/Show of Force)I gave the game a 10 (which I have only given Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations before).I agree with your review in all aspects, including your conclusions.

Thunderbolt/Apache Leader seems as though it might be a masterpiece...

now we just need a microbadge!


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Dan Verssen
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Wow, Thank you James for an awesome review!

It's incredibly nice of you to have taken the time to write-up such a detailed review for everyone to see. I really appreciate your efforts! Thank you again!
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D. Quinn Nix
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Jdlly wrote:
There isn’t anything as cool as having your A-10 Thunderbolt fly low over a ridge, drop two Mk. 20 rockeyes on four unsuspecting infantry, then literally watch them blow up as you flip their counters over to the smoldering wreckage of infantry on the other side of the counter.




Do you mean infantry riding in trucks, HUMVEE's, and IFV's? (You did say "smoldering wreckage of infantry".) Because, if I recall correctly (from playing PC flight combat sim's), a Rockeye cluster bomb isn't purposed for killing infantry on foot.

Whatever, this game does indeed look awesome. The Apache attack helicopter and the Thunderbolt jet plane are my all-time favorite military aircraft. I've always preferred playing air-to-ground attack missions, when playing flight combat sim's.
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Curtis Sutherland
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I like the review, thanks for writing it. Im glad I decided
to buy it.

I have been playing the old version on vassal
(and getting hammered against Germans elites)
and after reading the rules for the new one, I bought
it immediately.

Was hoping to fly a squadron of F-16's, I see thats not
possible now, but no biggie. If I made my own f-16 cards
for this purpose, would the game break do you think?

Just curious...course, I can see where being able to hover might
be nice, I believe you can standoff against 1 hex away while hovering, if I remember my reading.

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James Dalley
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Scott Pasha wrote:


Thunderbolt/Apache Leader seems as though it might be a masterpiece...

now we just need a microbadge!




I agree about the microbadge!
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Scott Key
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Hovering can be really useful when using cannons. Knocked out a tank, APC & SPA that way the other day (and then that Apache was knocked from the sky by enemy helicopters). At the same time another Apache was hovering and firing stand-off at a couple of neighboring hexes. He took almost no damage during the mission and took out 2 helicopters (revenge), 1 command, 1 Tank, 2 SPA and an APC.

The Thunderbolts rock, though.
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James Dalley
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Stick up man wrote:
If I made my own f-16 cards
for this purpose, would the game break do you think?

Just curious...course, I can see where being able to hover might
be nice, I believe you can standoff against 1 hex away while hovering, if I remember my reading.



I made my own cards for HL and they worked fine. I am also a big fan of the Wingman book series and am planning on making some new cards and rules to play a wingman campaign in TAL.
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James Dalley
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Cynosure wrote:
Jdlly wrote:
There isn’t anything as cool as having your A-10 Thunderbolt fly low over a ridge, drop two Mk. 20 rockeyes on four unsuspecting infantry, then literally watch them blow up as you flip their counters over to the smoldering wreckage of infantry on the other side of the counter.


:what:

Do you mean infantry riding in trucks, HUMVEE's, and IFV's? (You did say "smoldering wreckage of infantry".) Because, if I recall correctly (from playing PC flight combat sim's), a Rockeye cluster bomb isn't purposed for killing infantry on foot.

Whatever, this game does indeed look awesome. The Apache attack helicopter and the Thunderbolt jet plane are my all-time favorite military aircraft. I've always preferred playing air-to-ground attack missions, when playing flight combat sim's.


One thing you've got to remember is that TAL isn't a simulator it is a game. For example, in real life you wouldn't have one thunderbolt, two apaches, and a cobra flying a mission together. So everything isn't realistic. You can use Rockeye bombs to attack everything in a single space. A very powerful weapon.
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James Dalley
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DanVerssen wrote:
Wow, Thank you James for an awesome review!

It's incredibly nice of you to have taken the time to write-up such a detailed review for everyone to see. I really appreciate your efforts! Thank you again!


Dan,
Thank you for the amazing game! This will always have a place on my shelf, though it probably won't spend much time there. I bet it will be set up on my solo game table most of the time though.
As I stated I've been trying to make a wingman scenario on HL and it wasn't working well, but I think I could make a great one for TAL.
THANKS!
Also I just wanted to state that as an independently published author I understand that sometimes there are delays beyond your control, and do not blame you for the unusually long time it took for TAL to get here. I'm just glad you made it!
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James Dalley
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I just remembered one more thing that I was unsure about before I got TAL. In TAL you don't have Situational Awareness like in HL. When I was setting up my first battle I thought, "We'll see how this works without SA."
I didn't think about SA again until I was cleaning up after finishing the whole campaign.
So if you were worried about no SA, it isn't a big deal. You can also use unmanned drones to make all pilots fast.
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Dan Verssen
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From what I've read, Rockeyes can be filled with both anti-peronnel and anti-armor sub-munitions. They are great against both dismounted infantry and soft vehicles.
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Billy Riley
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Thanks for the detailed review.

This is definitely on my buy list - unfortunately, I can't seem to find it on sale in the UK at present.

Whilst I'm here, anyone know of good UK online stores who regularly stock DVG games?

Thanks
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Gustav Åkerfelt
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Good review, thanks for that.

Edit : I'm such a pushover. Ordered.
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Ryan
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Paladin_fin wrote:
Good review, thanks for that.

Edit : I'm such a pushover. Ordered.


Maybe another session report/AAR after you've had some time to play Gustav? whistle Your session report for Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations was a lot of fun to read/participate in.
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Gustav Åkerfelt
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If it lives up to what i just read, quite possibly.

Thanks for remembering. =D
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John Venables
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judgedredd wrote:
Thanks for the detailed review.

This is definitely on my buy list - unfortunately, I can't seem to find it on sale in the UK at present.

Whilst I'm here, anyone know of good UK online stores who regularly stock DVG games?

Thanks


Hey Billy,

I am in the same boat as you, and, not wanting to incur mass shipping and the likely customs charges, have contacted GamesLore Ltd.

Paul's response was that, upon release of a game stateside, it usually takes between 2-4 weeks for the shelves to get stocked on this side of the pond.

(I have been thinking about getting a friend to buy and bring a copy over from the states when he visits week after next - I WANT IT THAT BAD!!!! )
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Tim ireland
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judgedredd wrote:
Thanks for the detailed review.

This is definitely on my buy list - unfortunately, I can't seem to find it on sale in the UK at present.

Whilst I'm here, anyone know of good UK online stores who regularly stock DVG games?

Thanks


IGUK have had the Leader games in and I got KillShot from them as well. If I hadnt pre-ordered TAL direct that would be the website I'd be continually refreshing.
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Phil Davies
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As HL is my absolute favourite solo games (yup even more than Vlaada's Mage Knight) I'm another one from the UK who can hardly wait for this to arrive in Blighty. Like John, I can't fault the guys at Gameslore so looks like they'll be needing to get at least 2 copies in!
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Scautura _
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Make that 3!

GamesLore is always my "go-to" gamestore, the staff are friendly, accessible, and Paul will go above and beyond to make his customers happy (note this is my experience, and I'm not saying other stores don't do the same, because I would expect a lot do, GamesLore just happens to be my choice).

At the moment, IGUK don't seem to have a listing for TAL currently, and while they have HL:CAO listed, it's listed twice - once with 2 in stock (presumably the previous printing) and one that is not in stock yet. Way to confuse people!
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Michael Wheal
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James - isn't the F16 out of the game and replaced by the Predators now ?
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