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Subject: Two Thumbs Up... If You're Organized rss

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Howard Jones
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Like a lot of other reviewers, I was lured to Hornet Leader because of Marco Arnaudo's compelling video review. I was a little skeptical because until recently I haven't been interested in modern warfare and have never been especially interested in planes, and particularly armaments. But as all who've seen him know, Marco's enthusiasm is infectious, and his analysis well-composed and convincing.

Those armaments, though... they were my real stumbling point when I first tried the game. I kind of liked it, but... there were so many different bombs/missiles and so many different planes that I remarked to my friend Dean Brown that I felt like I was playing “Armament Leader” because I had to spend so much time choosing which kinds of bombs to put on my aircraft. My difficulty was further compounded because I didn't have a proper counter tray to help keep me organized. I spent way too much time searching through stacks of bomb counters each mission (and accidentally knocking them over).

After one medium campaign and part of another, I decided it wasn't really for me, but for people who really liked knowing minute details about planes and bombs, and traded it away. Two years later, talking again with fellow wargamer (and now B-17 Leader designer) Dean, I got to wondering if I’d really given the game a fair shot. I decided to trade for a new copy last winter.

After I played again and took more time with it I was hooked, and enjoyed several campaigns from December to March. I now concur with most of the positive assessments of the game posted here. I do think that playing the game is a lot more pleasant if you do everything you can to organize the situation. The less time I spend hunting for the right counter, the happier I am.

For maximum enjoyment, I highly, HIGHLY recommend acquiring the following additional resources:

1. A counter tray to keep all armaments organized.

2. Take advantage of some of the fine free resources available right here on BGG in the Hornet Leader file section. There are many useful ones that speed up pilot selection and arrange/expand the flight log in different ways, but my absolute favorite resource is VonEpp's Aircraft Card Holders -- a great way to keep all the counters related to/carried by your planes sorted (coolness rating, stress, weapons, ECM pods, etc.) Other resources are wonderful for easing initial setup, but VonEpp's card holders are a tremendous aid for keeping it together during the game.

I'm not sure how much use there is in me describing the game play here when a host of reviewers have done that already. Instead, I'll cut to the chase. Hornet Leader creates a lovely tactical puzzle/brain burner for every mission, and there’s an added bonus in that careful management and play of your pilots sees them rise in skill. A narrative develops and if you’re not careful (frequently I’m not) you find yourself setting up for the next mission and then playing it, and then telling yourself you’ll just set up for the next to play for tomorrow and then playing it… Moreover, there's just a lot of variety in the number of campaigns, for each has different situations further changed by permitted plane and armament types, and challenges, not to mention the endless randomization of those die roll results.

I’m not entirely sure how long a campaign of Hornet Leader takes a reasonable person, because I frequently binge played, but I do know that a single mission takes about a half hour or less once you know the system. If you have a spot where you can leave the game set up, and you have better self control, you can look forward to a week or two of engaging challenge every evening until the campaign concludes.

(This review appears in a slightly altered form to highlight the differences between it and B-17 Leader over at my own site at http://www.howardandrewjones.com/games/playtesting-b-17-flyi...)
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Dean Brown
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Good review Howard. I haven't played it in a while... need to dig it out in my "spare" time and give it another play.

The counter tray is definitely the way to go. I have little stickers on the back of each tray section with the counter type written in.

Dean
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Jeff Fike
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Fully agree the ammunition/loadout is overwhelming at first. I not only needed a counter tray but it is organized even further based on hornet vs. other type of plane.

I quickly learned that the SO point loadouts are used much more sparingly and can be tucked into their own corner.

The AIM are one class, the bombs, another, the radar guided missiles a third, and then there is a 4th.

The fact that tokens are double sided further overwhelmed me...

But as you say, if you can get past it, it is a wonderful game. My kids didn't have to worry about it as I was able to help them...we do long campaigns together where we each take 3 or 4 pilots and work together on missions.

Of all the DVG games, this is my absolute favorite. I've reported this many times in other threads...but the reason I like it is because of the pilot progression along with long campaigns that are thematic.

TAL is a very close second. The missions, and the way you can use hills as cover to stealthily sneak in and out is even MORE exciting than HL, but the way campaigns work drop it for me. If I want a long campaign, I have only one option and that disappoints me.

Have you had a chance to play the Cthulu expansion? I have not and am always curious about that.
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Howard Jones
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Hi Jeff,

I have the Cthulhu expansion, but haven't cracked the shrink yet. I want to play some more of the main campaigns yet.

I got tired of being confused by the double sided counters myself, so I started putting half with one side up in one section, and the other half with the back side up. I actually take it further and use an extra counter tray to place JUST the counters for the current campaign while I'm playing.

Has no one come up with a variant rule for linking the TAL campaigns in a more satisfying way yet? I picked it up and cracked the shrink based on how much I enjoy HL, but I haven't had the chance to play yet.

Oh, and how do you think it compares to Phantom Leader Deluxe?



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Howard Jones
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Hey Dean,

I tried the stickers first, but didn't have enough of the right kind! That would probably make it even simpler.

Thanks for talking me back into trying it again. You didn't say much, but what you said got me thinking...

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Judy Krauss
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joneshowarda wrote:
...

Oh, and how do you think it compares to Phantom Leader Deluxe?





Phantom Leader Deluxe, although it covers a different era, is very similar in gameplay, and IMHO, it is more difficult to gain high scores. The major differences in gameplay are the political track which you must keep in mind and can restrict you when choosing targets, and the directional LOS tokens which can keep your aircraft from attacking or being attacked by ground forces from various directions. There are differences in aircraft and armament types, of course, based on the time period. Also, some of the rules for flight paths, losing/replacing pilots, and some optional rules are somewhat different.

IMHO, Hornet Leader Deluxe is easier to play, both in gameplay and in success levels for winning. But Phantom Leader Deluxe adds some more strategy and consequences/restrictions to the game which I like. My main complaint about Phantom Leader Deluxe is that the LOS markers are a bit fiddly and sometimes make it too easy for aircraft to ignore possible ground attacks.
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Ernie Olsen
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Another plus for Hornet Leader... Playing the Marine campaign in Hornet Leader is so different it is almost like another game entirely. The long campaigns are especially fun, because you're overmatched and overwhelmed at the beginning and need to get your pilots levelled up with more experience just to get them to survive the missions.
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Terry Yoder

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I love HL also and prefer it over TAL simply because the long campaign builds a compelling narrative. I also found it hard to stop in the middle of a campaign. Each phase of a mission draws me into the next phase, then into the next. I can't count how many times I told myself that I would just select the next mission and stop. But then I found myself planning the weapons load out. Then heck, I came this far, let's see how it flies!

Back to the question of organizing trays. I bought a tray and used that for a week. Then I just bit the bullet and bought the Vassal version from DVG. I know it's heresy to some, but it really helps organize the weapons. Plus I could keep a mission on the "table" without taking up space. That's probably why I finished all the missions in a month.

Finally, +1 on the Marine campaign. A different game from Navy HL because you really have to take chances with limited ordinance.
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Howard Jones
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"I can't count how many times I told myself that I would just select the next mission and stop. But then I found myself planning the weapons load out. Then heck, I came this far, let's see how it flies!"

That's EXACTLY what I kept doing!

I thought about going with Vassal... but I'm on the computer so much the rest of the time (always staring at the laptop) I thought I'd just stick with the physical world.
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Howard Jones
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"Phantom Leader Deluxe adds some more strategy and consequences/restrictions to the game which I like."

I look forward to trying it out this winter at last. I cracked the shrink and looked it over. It looks simpler in one way -- fewer counters, so maybe the footprint isn't quite as large?
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Elwyn Chow
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joneshowarda wrote:
"Phantom Leader Deluxe adds some more strategy and consequences/restrictions to the game which I like."

I look forward to trying it out this winter at last. I cracked the shrink and looked it over. It looks simpler in one way -- fewer counters, so maybe the footprint isn't quite as large?


There are some interesting differences:

+ Phantom Leader Deluxe (PLD) has another set of counters that are selected randomly for each enemy ground unit. These counters indicate which locations the enemy unit can attack from and be attacked from. It's a way of representing if the enemy unit is next to the side of a mountain and can't shoot in one direction, for example. I really like this mechanic because it makes you consider your options.
- PLD doesn't have Situational Awareness or the option of Night missions (where turn order is randomized)
- In PLD most of the enemy fighters have significantly lower missile range.
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Judy Krauss
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elwyn5150 wrote:
joneshowarda wrote:
"Phantom Leader Deluxe adds some more strategy and consequences/restrictions to the game which I like."

I look forward to trying it out this winter at last. I cracked the shrink and looked it over. It looks simpler in one way -- fewer counters, so maybe the footprint isn't quite as large?


There are some interesting differences:

+ Phantom Leader Deluxe (PLD) has another set of counters that are selected randomly for each enemy ground unit. These counters indicate which locations the enemy unit can attack from and be attacked from. It's a way of representing if the enemy unit is next to the side of a mountain and can't shoot in one direction, for example. I really like this mechanic because it makes you consider your options.
- PLD doesn't have Situational Awareness or the option of Night missions (where turn order is randomized)
- In PLD most of the enemy fighters have significantly lower missile range.


+ the Political track adds more strategy and "realism" to the game (and IMHO, the Situational Awareness in Hornet Leader CAO can make the game too easy).

And I see the "line of sight" markers as more of a nuisance than a plus, although they do add to the theme somewhat.

As for footprint, no, Phantom Leader Deluxe's footprint is not smaller than Hornet Leader CAO's footprint.

In any case, the games are quite similar in gameplay, but with enough differences in rules (including small details, like with ECM) that it could be easy to confuse how rules are applied to each game. So I suggest not switching between the two often, but instead binge playing them one at a time.
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Elwyn Chow
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Instead of a counter tray, I recommend two fishing storage boxes for the counters. The lids make a difference. I store tokens that are regularly used in one box (eg the munitions) and have one for the less regularly used tokens (eg pilot tokens).
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