This "review" is based on one play and assumes some knowledge of DVGs Air Leader games. It is not a full review.
I finally received my copy of Phantom Leader Deluxe this morning. I punched and organized everything then put together a squadron. I've played all the campaigns in Phantom Leader
at least twice apiece as USN & as USAF, so initially I thought I'd take one of the established campaigns and run it through using the slightly revised rules. But then... I decided what every PL veteran is going to decide.... Cuba 1962. Who can say no to a new campaign?
In the end I created a squadron that is 80% F-105s with an F-100 & an F-5 in the squadron Leader role ( not that that matters in PLD). I almost never fly Phantoms for some reason. So I have lots of SOPs.
My first mission was against target #16 Barracks which is soft. I'll spare you the details but I flew low to avoid the numerous SA-2s and it turns out I was way under armed to deal with the 4 bandits.
1. Playing all 5 turns makes missions a nail biter, no more skedaddling when the heat is on or you've smoked the target. It certainly increases the narrative effect. I was screaming in fast and low over many sites with at least 3 bandits on my tail at all times. My flight dropped every one of our M117R bombs on the target but somehow left it standing, though damaged. Mig 19s and Mig 17s followed us out over the gulf until the F-5 downed one with his guns then we shot home.
2. The flight path mechanic adds a nice new twist to things especially when mated with the new attack angle.
3. The components are all at least a match in quality to Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations
if not a little nicer. Definitely a step up from the original Phantom Leader. The box is big, bombproof, and roomy.
4. Lots of nice new Target cards, but they are all new in a way since damaging the target now counts for something.
5. Replayability is definitely going to be up there with Hornet Leader.
6. If this mission was any indication, then this game will be just as challenging as the original. I have never found that PL got easy once I hit my stride. There are too many variables to feel like you've ever got the game "figured out". The new game seems like it will continue that. Stand-off weapons are few and expensive and bandits are numerous. Going high will get you killed but so will going low.
In short a great game has, as advertised, gotten better. As a first Air Leader game or as an upgrade you will not be disappointed. The game is a little more straight forward than Verssen's masterpiece Thunderbolt Apache Leader
which might make it a better intro than that game. It's also different enough from Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations
in terms of tactics and challenges to make it worthwhile for owners of that game.
I'm tired so now I'll wrap this ramble up