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Subject: [DriveThruRedux] #7: Euro Killer Revisited rss

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Joel Eddy
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This is the seventh in a series of written reviews to counter balance my Video Review Series. Starting with my 50th Video Review, I will also go back and re-review a game that I originally reviewed "50 videos ago". Hopefully, I can include insights I've learned from playing the game after having reviewed it once already, as well as check back in with the game to see if it's still fresh after time has passed.



Component Quality:
You might call the components for Phantom Leader average. There is nothing initially spectacular about the components when you first examine the box contents. However, everything is presented in a clean and crisp manner. Almost workman-like. But given the nature of the gameplay and the theme of the game, I wouldn't expect anything different.

One thing I should mention, is that you may want to clip the counters for this game. I did not find it necessary, but I can definitely see that some will want to. The counters are not low quality, but there also not the finest quality counters I have seen in a game.


(image by ronster0)

Gameplay Impressions:
After choosing a campaign and a group of pilots to use in the campaign, you are going to spend the rest of your time planning and executing missions during the course of the Vietnam War.

Preparation

The first thing you will do is to choose one of the six provided mission cards. Each mission card shows a different map and is also set in a different period of the Vietnam War, either early, middle or late war. The map you choose (as well as the map's timeframe) will determine which types of aircraft are available to you for the campaign. Most notably, this will force you to choose between using Navy or Airforce pilots. In addition, the timeframe will prevent or allow certain aircraft to be used. This helps the game feel historically accurate. For example, you won't use the F-105's for any missions that take place prior to 1966.

After you have chosen the map, you can decide on the length of the campaign. Basically, you decide how many game rounds you have time to play. However, the game is easy to leave setup for interrupted play over a couple of days if you choose to do an extended campaign and don't have to complete it in one sitting. The length of the campaign also determines the victory condition (number of victory points) that are you trying to achieve.

After choosing your campaign length, you will need to decide which pilots you want to take with you from the available pool of aircraft. Each campaign allows you to select a certain number of pilots from different skill levels. For example, a Short Campaign allows you to select eight pilots, one Newbie, two Green, four Average, and one Skilled pilot. You will also receive a specified number of Special Ops points that you can distribute during your game to help get access to better weapons, increase a pilot's skill level, etc...

You will need to mark down your chosen pilots and how you chose to spend your Special Ops points on a log sheet. I would reccomend photocopying the card stock log sheet that comes with game or simply printing out the log sheet that is hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You will go through one sheet per game.


(image by red_herring)

Mission Intel

Once are you all setup, you will draw two cards from the Target Card Deck, and choose one of them as your target for the first mission. As the game progress you may be able to draw more cards for a larger selection of targets, but that is based on your Intel score which may or may not increase as the game progresses. You will want to choose your mission target wisely. You need to keep in mind the state of your pilots and your aircraft as well as the number of victory points awarded by the target. After selecting the target card, place it in the middle of the heads-up display and arrange the enemy counters as described by the target card. Now you must choose the pilots to run the mission.

The selection process is the true heart of the game. After playing the game a couple of times, you will find yourself getting lost in all of the choices available to you. Not only do you need to choose the pilots that you want to use, but you will also need to decide on the exact weapon and munitions loadout for each aircraft. You might expect that the actual flying and combat portions of the missions to take up the majority of the game. This is not the case. I think this may turn some people off, but it did not turn me off in the least. I quite enjoyed the weight of my decisions, in terms of which pilots and payloads to use. That's not to say that the actual combat isn't engaging. It very much is. It just doesn't take as much time as the selection and loadout portion.

In addition to the pilot's statisics, each aircraft will have various attributes that players will need to consider. This includes whether or not the aircraft has guns, the speed of the aircraft, how much weight the aircraft can carry, as well as the different range and damage modifiers of the plane. Based on the current mission's target, you will need to decide which weapons, specifically which weapon types, you want to load onto the planes. For example, depending on the layout of the enemies, as well as the primary target itself, you will need to consider whether or not you want to use more air-to-air weapons or more air-to-ground weapons.


(image by BertGK)

Execute the Mission and Return Home

Now you ready to being your mission!

The first thing you will do is draw an Event Card for your "mission approach". After handling the Event Card's effect, you will check the target card's mission text and follow it's instructions to place out even more enemy counters, on top of those already place when you first chose the target. Effectively, this is what your intel failed to warn you of! You will then need to arrange your aircraft (and corresponding aircraft counters) on the heads-up display in whatever formation you choose.

Next, you draw another Event Card. The Event Cards are arranged in basically three sections. Depending on what phase of the mission are you in, you will read different parts of the card. In the approach phase, you would have read the top section. Now, just before the initial combat round, you will read the middle section of the newly drawn Event Card. The third (and bottom) section of the Event Card is read after you have finished the mission.

After resolving the second Event Card, you will begin the first of four rounds of combat. I'm not going to go into much detail here. It's pretty straight forward. You move your aircraft around the heads-up display, rolling dice (and applying appropriate modifiers) for combat. You may also move enemy counters and roll for them. You must complete your mission within four rounds or the mission is a failure. So, you can't just dither around playing hit and run and picking off opportune targets. This aspect of the game is fantastic! It keeps the game fast and intense. The main thing to take away from this portion is that your pilots can and will be destroyed, while those that survive will most likely incur stress. This stress is something that will need to be managed thoughtfully in between missions.

After finishing the mission, you will return home. Notice, I didn't say "winning" the mission. This is definitely not something that happens everytime you run a mission. It will take some time to figure out the best way to approach the variefy of mission targets that the game presents to you. No matter the outcome of the mission, you will always need to draw a final Event Card for the return home trip. After resolving this Event Card, the bookkeeping begins!

This is the only real tedious part of the game, and possibly it's one drawback. I don't find it a huge problem personally, but I can see other players who are not familiar with having to do some minor accounting having issue with this portion. In this phase, you will need to award any experience points you acquired based on your level of success. You will also be allowed to increase the skill level of some of your pilots, and possibly spend any Special Ops points you have remaining. At this point you will want to give some serious thought to which pilots you want to rest and which pilots you are going to use in your next mission. I love this part of the game. It prevents you from running all of your best pilots all of the time, and adds a real human character to what could be a very dry, bookish, and boring process.

After your final mission, you simply total up any victory points you have may have acquired during your campaign and compare your total to the campaign's overall evaluation to see if you had a, "Great", "Good", "Adequate", "Poor", or "Dismal" performance. Expect to fall into the lower half of that range for your first campaign or two. Achieving a "Great" performance (especially in a long campaign) is VERY difficult!


(image by ronster0)

Was It Fun?
My initial experience playing this game is something that I will honestly never forget. I've never played a game where I physically cared what happened to the characters in the game. The pilots became a conglomeration of characters from several movies I had seen about Vietnam. No. They became more than that. They were representations of people that I have never met and who died before I was born. It sounds sappy, but it's true. No other board game has really pulled me into this kind of experience. No other medium has ever pulled me in this much! I don't think a video game could pull me in like this. It's possible, but in a video game, all of the information is presented right to me. I have no say in the situation. Sure, I can move some animatronic character or plane around, but it's just not the same. There is no room for imagination. Even the sheer act of bookkeping and "paperwork" in Phantom Leader has the smell of theme to it. Isn't that what all middle management (military or otherwise) spends most of their time doing?

Is It Still Fun?
Not quite as much. It's still up at the level of what I would consider a "fun game". But, I've really played this sucker to death. I know that some of the other games in the Leader Series from DVG, are chalk full of more variety in terms of planes, missions, and the like, so you might get more bang for your buck out of another game like Hornet Leader. However, the historical theme of Phantom Leader is what really pulls me in. I don't think Hornet Leader would have the same impact on me, even if the gameplay is an enhanced version of Phantom Leader. I would probably have more choices and variety, but I probably wouldn't care as much.

Conclusion & Rating: (8.0/10.0)
Phantom Leader is solidly one of the best solitaire games I have ever played! I've played a variety of different types of solitaire games, from simple card games to dungeon dives, to games like Agricola, and the States of Siege series from VPG. I probably rank Phantom Leader above all of those. I don't think board games get more intense than this. Yes, there are games that will cause a standing die roll, but it's usually a silly moment, or a moment to win temporary bragging rights. This game's intensity is on a whole other level. Why don't I rate it a 10 then? That's a good question. I think there is something more that can be done with this format. Something that would appeal to more gamers. The bookkeping and relative fiddliness of placing and moving the counters is going to turn some off. Obviously, I don't mind it. It might just be my Euro sensibilities coming through. Don't ask me how, but I think this same kind experience can be explored further.

"Euro Killer":
I originally sub-titled the Video Review as "Euro Killer". Why? Let me try to make a long story short. I released my first video review in March of 2011. However, I had been planning and preparing to start doing video reviews about two months prior to completing my first review. Among the many catalysts that made me dive into the world of review "madness" was my first couple plays of Phantom Leader! I struggled to explain this in detail in my video review, but this game flipped a switch in my brain that sometimes I wish I could go back and turn off. I can never turn it off though. I became convinced that games (board games specifically) are works of Art. There is simply no doubt in my mind. There is some perfect balance that a few board games can attain that raise them to the level of a work of Art. The perfect combination of mechanisms, theme, artwork, and more can give rise to an experience that delivers a message that has a profound impact on the player or players. Games are more than the sum of their parts. At least the good ones are. The best ones are abstract conversations about their topic that inform all of the participants.


If you enjoyed this written review, please feel free to check out the Video Review counterpart.

For other revisit/reviews check out my Geeklist of written reviews.
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Andy Andersen
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I don't think I'll ever become much interested in war games, but your video of Soviet Dawn made me interested enough to look into the genre and buy Nemo's War. Both your video and written reviews of Phantom Leader were very instructional.

Thanks. thumbsup
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Dirk Holding
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Cool review.
Great review, thanks! thumbsup

This has been on my wishlist since before it was released, as I like the theme. Your review has renewed my interest.
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No No No Sheep
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great written review to complement your video review..
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alex w
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Thanks for the great review, but I'm still having second thoughts about it. Think its the card thing as I have been playing Flight Leader for a few years now. Still feel more on hex and counter gaming.
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Joel Eddy
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alexisW wrote:
Thanks for the great review, but I'm still having second thoughts about it. Think its the card thing as I have been playing Flight Leader for a few years now. Still feel more on hex and counter gaming.


Ya, it's pretty abstract, but the combat in the heads-up display is very "tactile". It works I think.
 
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