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Israeli Air Force Leader» Forums » Reviews

Subject: IAF Leader- Do you need it? rss

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Lawrence Davis
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The first game I purchased in this series was Phantom Leader Deluxe. I loved the play style and theme so I went on to purchase Hornet Leader and later Thunderbolt/Apache. All great games in their own right. I was debating on purchasing IAF Leader, thinking it probably wasn't going to be too different than what I already had.
Well, I finally broke down and purchased it right before the Christmas holiday and played through a few campaigns.
So was it worth it??.....well let's review what the game is about.

THEME- You are tasked with being the commander of an Israeli Air Squadron at some point in time during one of Israel's many wars and conflicts over the past 60 years. It will be your job to protect this tiny country’s airspace while destroying its many enemies' ground and air forces, all the while making the decisions as to how best to use the limited resources at your disposal.
You will choose which time period to fight in, then assign the fighters and bombers of that time period to your squadron. You will then pick the targets and load up your planes and take the fight to an enemy who is hell bent on your country’s utter destruction.

RULEBOOK- This is the fourth rulebook in the air leader series and it shows.  The rules are well written and are to the point, with several examples throughout.  I love the listings of all the planes and weapons you will use that is at the end of the rules. You will get the lowdown on each fighter, bomber, weapon and bomb you can use. This is very helpful especially to new players who may not feel comfortable choosing which weapons to take on a mission. The little snippets of info does a good job of educating you as to what each weapon can do and gives an “overall” idea of what planes may be the most effective for your campaign.

CARDS and COUNTERS
- As typical with DVG games,  the cards and counters are of good quality. The counters are especially sturdy with a nice gloss finish that I particularly enjoy.  The information on both the card and counters is nicely organized and the artwork is good and thematic.

GAMEPLAY- This is obviously the best thing about the game. You choose a campaign and its length. Then pick the best mix of planes for the time period for that campaign, remembering that it’s always good to have a good number of fighters that work well for air to air combat and a good number that perform well for ground attack. Also, the game limits the number of the best planes by limiting their numbers in the box. This prevents you from stocking your squadron with 10 F-15s or 12 F-4 Phantoms. You will also get bonus Special Option (SO) points for selecting poorer performing or less than stellar planes for your squadron. (SO points are sort of the “money” of the game and are used for everything like purchasing skills for your pilots, buying “better” bombs for your planes, and giving your pilots immediate rest periods.)
You will then choose the day’s target (and sometimes a secondary target) and assign which planes you want to attack it.

Now it’s time to pick the bombs and weapons you need to destroy the target and fight off bandits.
This is the best (and most stressful) part of the game. Here, a lot of times, is where you will either succeed or fail your mission. Of course you won’t know which until the bullets and bombs start flying, but getting the right mix of bombs and weapons loaded on your plane is the most important part of the game. Sure you can take as many heavy bombs as your planes can carry to the target, but did you bother to take any air to air missiles to fight off the bandits you will certainly encounter over the target? How about some rockets for suppressing the anti-aircraft guns firing up at your fighters? Better yet, can you slip on an ECM pod and a fuel tank to make a pilot's life a little easier?? Of course, you can!

But remember each plane can only carry such much and every rocket or ECM pod or fuel tank loaded on takes away from the "bomb-tage" you will actually be able to put on target. Destroying targets is very important and the last thing you want is to have to have your pilots fly back to a target you didn't destroy the first time over. The variation of what weapons and bombs you can carry to the target is probably endless, but finding the right mix to defend your fighters and still destroy the target is small indeed.

Once your fighters and bombers make it to the "Target Card" location, they will "drop" their payload of bombs or fire off their rockets or MG cannons in an attempt to destroy the target. This is the second most stressful (and fun!) part of a mission. You roll the dice to see how many hits each bomb or rocket makes, and how much damage you have done to the target. It will only take one or two bombs to miss their hit number (missing the target all together) or not cause as much damage as you had hoped for, before you start to feel your own stress level (and blood pressure) go up. These can be tense moments when you will either praise or curse that pre-mission weapon load out.

Unexpected events also have to be taken into account. Sometimes these are good, like getting U.S. support in the form of a few extra SO points before the mission, but several are bad like Bad weather adding to your pilots' stress.
Speaking of stress, as you complete each mission, your pilots will become more and more stressed. If SOs are good, then stress is bad.  Stress degrades your pilots' abilities and the more stress your pilots collect, the worse they perform and eventually become Unfit for duty. Unfit pilots don’t fly missions and don’t destroy targets. And of course undestroyed targets don’t count for Victory Points. Too few VPs leads to poor (or worse) post campaign evaluations.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT- Like I stated earlier, this is the fourth game in the Leader series, so there is a lot that is the same as the other games.  A few differences I noticed:

Invasion Cards- Invasion cards are target cards that affect a column on the Campaign sheet. Not destroying Invasion targets, pushes the invasion counter toward the right which will increasingly hamper your ability to succeed at later missions. It is an ingenious way to represent enemy forces  progressing on their fronts and about to overrun Israel. As you can imagine, this is not good and can result in losing the campaign out right.

Escalation Cards- These are cards you will have to draw if an “Escalation target” comes up. Regardless of whether you destroy the target, an Escalation Card is bad news and likely will force you to spend some of those valuable SO points and such.

WWII Fighters and Bombers-  I think this is the only series (other than maybe the Flying Fortress game of course) with the P 51 Mustang, the Spitfire fighter, and the B-17 Bomber making an appearance.  These vintage WWII planes are pretty much all Israel had to defend themselves with early on and they used them and many others to good affect. Now you will get the chance to replicate this experience.

Lots of Cannon fire early on- I remember the first time I was assigning fighters for the 1948 campaign. I looked over a P51 Mustang card and thought…where are the eligible Air to Air missiles? LOL, then I remembered, that’s right Mustangs didn’t fire Air to Air missiles…..Duh.
No, for the first couple of early campaigns, your fighters have to get up close and personal and fire off their Cannons to hit enemy fighters and bandits. This is actually a pretty neat experience if you have only been used to firing missiles in the previous Leader series.  Enemy bandits are guaranteed to now survive the first couple of turns of a mission and will likely still be around as you are trying to bomb the target.

Unique Pilot Skills- These are specific and unique Skills that you can now assign to each pilot during the Campaign Set up phase. There are several different skills to choose from. Some can improve your pilots' abilities like adding to their Air to Ground or Air to Air attack rolls. Other skills can affect your pilots in some other positive way, like immediately decreasing a pilot's stress level before a mission or giving him an extra experience point at the end of a mission. While assigning skills to pilots is a great way to improve your pilot a tiny bit and give each of them more character and flavor, I would recommend handing them out very judiciously.
First, assigning skills to pilots cost SO points. Remember, SO points are very, very valuable, and you will be in critical need of them constantly, and must always have some on hand or risk immediately losing the campaign. It would not be wise to spend a bunch of SO points on pilot Skills, before the shooting even starts.
Also, most of the Skills are very situational. While they all are useful, many can only be used when something SPECIFIC happens to that pilot or another pilot in the squadron. For instance, you can assign a Vengeful skill to one of your pilots and if another pilot is shot down, the "Vengeful" pilot will get a big improvement in his attack and suppression rolls for the rest of the Mission! Awesome,....but how often do you plan on having one of your planes shot down? If you are like me....never.
Again, these pilot Skills can be a good thing, just don't OVER invest in them or you will likely not see a good return on your investment.

60+ years of Campaigns- While I’m sure the nation of Israel would have rather not gone through sixty years of conflict, I’m really glad the designers at DVG had the forethought to encapsulate all of Israel's history in this game. Seeing the mix of planes and how they changed for a country for six decades and allowing the player to experience this is Super Neat and speaks volumes to how well thought out and researched this game is.
I consider myself a history buff, but I was completely blown away with the lack of knowledge that I actually had concerning Israel's history and air power.
Again this really just spotlights the great job the folks at DVG is doing with their games. Yes, they are just making games, but they also teaching history and educating those of us who feel like we might know a great bit…..we don’t.


FINAL THOUGHTS- I understand new players are more likely to pick up a copy of one of the earlier games in this series, and that’s fine. All of the Leader games are great and have stood the test of time. I would certainly steer any new player to any of the Leader games.

BUT, this game is GREAT and as good as any if this is going to be someone's first purchase.
And veteran gamers will find everything from the quality components, to the many campaigns and missions, and enough things that are different and challenging that they too will enjoy having this one in their collection.
I will wholeheartedly say, if you like any of the other Leader series games, this game is a must have and you should add it to your collection without hesitation.
Besides being just a great DVG game, there is something special and awesome about commanding a squadron in an air force for a fledgling nation fighting off enemies on all sides.
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Tim Royal
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An excellent summary of this great game. I too have DVGitis, having been stricken with a desire to purchase everything they make.

I have found that I.A.F more than stands on its own and is an essential part of my collection, for many of the reasons you suggest.

One addition difference (or at least, a more pronounced version of a feature that existed in other games but is fleshed out well here) are the skills that can be applied to pilots.

I also, for some reason, have a stronger affinity to the pilots, even though those are present in all "Leader" series games.

Fantastic game. Will be playing this for a long, long time...

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Rick Monson
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Great review!

The DVG solitaire games are the "keeper" games of my collection. We followed a very similar order of purchase on these.

When I played the '48 campaign, I tried to use the Phantom Leader Deluxe flight path rule and exit strategy. With only cannons on my P-51's, the squadron was pursued all the way through on some of the missions - wow was it hard. I can see why the rule was changed and you could break-off after delivering your bombs on target. Fun game.

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Kevin Verssen
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This is amazing Lawrence, I spent 4 months of my life using Luftwaffe Flak's research to bring Israeli Air Force Leader to life. Many long nights tweaking the Special Option Point expenditures, adding in Skill, and finding ways of making each part of the Leader series have a new twist with my first Installment.

You hit the nail right on the head with the implementation of Invasion vs Escalation cards. I wanted Targets to have more Strategic influence than the 3 track shifts, having a 4th track of Invasion means that this Target won't hurt you NOW, but if you let it get closer to Jerusalem, the higher ups are going to make your life more difficult. (Designers note, the Campaigns where Israel is being invaded have more Invasion Targets, and the Invasion Track gets more nasty).

I'm glad you like the game, I really enjoyed making it.
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Steve West
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Definitely my next purchase. I just got Sherman Leader, but can't wait to get this one.
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Moe45673
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Thanks for the review. I own TAL and B-17, and did own Gato Leader.

TAL - the first one I bought. Still one of my favorite solitaire games of all time. Fantastic. Tense, a game where you don't necessarily have to focus on VPs to enjoy it.

Gato Leader - I really liked it.... until I realized there wasn't really a losing condition. I mean, I didn't feel an urge to send out my subs as there was no imminent threat that would make me lose. It was more about sending out your subs into empty oceans (on the campaign map) and seeing what happens. Contrast this with TAL which has that "Space Invaders" style of enemy battalions inching closer to your airbase (at which point, you've essentially lost).

B-17 - I've only played it a few times and that was near the start of my hiatus from boardgaming (taken when I found the constant browsing and contributing to this website was causing me more stress than enjoyment). So I never really got to properly explore it. It's a very different Leader game than the others and I wasn't able to get into that magical headspace solo games require. It seemed to be, from what I remember, somewhere between GL and TAL where you don't necessarily have to send out your squadrons, but baddies will pop up all over the strategic map if you let them.

Of the three, IAFL seems the most like Gato Leader. You mention an Invasion track which sounds to me to be a parallel to the Battalion Map in TAL, something pushing you to send out as many units as possible or face (from the pics I've seen) extra stress. That's pretty good. But I like the "Tower Defense" feel of TAL and I'd imagine that Israeli military history, at least until the '80s, is just one long game of Tower Defense.

Is this game for me?
 
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John Brown
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Here's my opinion on your question Moe. As always YMMV.

IAF Leader is most like Phantom Leader Deluxe and Hornet Leader: CAO. It uses the same map setup as well as the basic mechanics and game flow (which are shared closely by TAL).

As you caught in the review, IAF has the Invasion track. If you don't deal with a drawn Invasion target, you move the Invasion marker right on the track and start to suffer since the Invasion track usually carries some penalties (often stiff penalties). Coupled with the Recon track which says how many targets you have to draw for a given day, this adds some of the urgency as the enemy battalions in TAL do, but is much more abstract. I could see it falling short of TAL's implementation for some, but it pushed many of the same buttons for me along with adding a lot of variety.

Similarly, Escalation targets bring a card draw that often complicates things but at the same time they are generally worth more VP. Both Escalation and Invasion targets add a risk-reward side to target selection. IMO, I'd put this up there with PLD as far as challenge (i.e. PLD = IAF > TAL > HL). I have not played B17 or Gato.

Hope this helps you out, Moe. Welcome back from your hiatus.
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Moe45673
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Thanks for the info. Might need to skim through a playthrough or something, but this is top of my list on boardgames to buy
 
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Moe45673
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Well - bought it and sorted it. Looking forward to playing this guy, I hope this delivers for me like TAL does.

FYI - my expectations for this game are not based on TAL but rather what have researched about this game. I like the way that you have something pushing you to kick the tires and light the fires beyond simple VP acquisition!
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Bob T
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This was a great review, and thank you for all your hard work designing the game.

IAF has been very educational for me as well, even though I've only had a chance to play it a few times. I learned more about Israel's modern history and their Air Force than I ever knew before, plus now certain historical events have a better context for me- such as the peace between Egypt and Israel way back in the Carter years (when I was a kid)
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Harold Demyansk
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I enjoyed your review and one of these days I will get the game opened and play it. I need to get rid of the computer to play!!!!!
 
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