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Posted on Sep 19, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Top Gun?  DVG’s “Down in Flames:Locked On” Game Review

Do You Have What It Takes to be a Top Gun? DVG’s “Down in Flames:Locked On” Game Review

By Rick Martin

Down in Flames:Locked On Board Game Review. Publisher: DVG Game Designer: Dan Verssen Price $59.99

Rick Martin

Passed Inspection: challenging multi-player or solo play, tons of aircrafts covering from the Korean War to the near future, fast action, small footprint, can be used as a tactical combat expansion to the other Flight Leader games, tons of replay value, amazing customer support over Facebook, full solo rules included, campaigns included

Failed Basic: needs text as well as the small flag identifying aircraft’s country, solo rules require a 10 sided die which is not included, range rules could be explained more clearly, “standard missile load” is not clear.

In the interest of full disclosure, Richard Martin has designed three games for DVG – Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

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Down in Flames:Locked On takes the original World War 2 Down in Flames airplane combat game in to the jet age and, while I don’t own the World War 2 game, after playing Down in Flames:Locked On, I must rectify that hole in my war game collection!

Down in Flames:Locked On (hereinafter “Locked On”), is a cards and counter game in which each aircraft is represented by a card and counters are used for status and weapons. The game includes two prop aircrafts from 1947 (including the venerable Corsair and the Russian Yak-9) as well as jet aircrafts from 1947 to the 2000s including the F22 Raptor and the Russian Mis 29 and Su27.

Here is a list of many of the planes included in this game:

ARGENTINA
Mirage IIIEA
Dagger A

USA
F9F Panther
F-15C Eagle
F/A-18A Hornet
F-16A Fighting Falcon
F-4D Phantom II
F-4J Phantom II
F-86A Sabre

PAKISTAN
F-104A Starfighter
F-86F Sabre

INDIA
Gnat
Hawker Hunter
MiG-21F Fishbed C

EGYPT
MiG-17F Fresco C
MiG-19SF Farmer C
MiG-21PF Fishbed D

UNITED KINGDOM
Sea Harrier FRS.1
Tornado GR.1
Tornado F.3
WEST GERMANY
F-104G Starfighter
F-4F Phantom II

ISRAEL
Mirage IIICJ
Nesher S
Kfir
F-4E Phantom II
A-4E Skyhawk

FRANCE
Mirage F-1C
Mirage 2000

NORTH KOREA
MiG-15bis Fagot
Yak-9
NORTH VIETNAM
MiG-17F Fresco C
MiG-19SF Farmer C
USSR
MiG-21MF Fishbed J
MiG-23ML Flogger G
MiG-25 Foxbat
Su-27 Flanker
MiG-29 Fulcrum

IRAQ
MiG-21F Fishbed C
MiG-23ML Flogger

I only wish they had cards for the Mig-35 and the Eurofighter but, hey, that’s what expansions are for, right?

Each aircraft card provides the following data – a flag identifying the nation flying that particular plane, the name and/or designation of the plane, the year the plane entered service, the plane’s Speed, Performance, Thrust, Afterburner, Gun and Electronic Warfare Ratings, the number of counter measures (chaff, flares, etc.), the cost of the plane both with and without missiles (for creating a balanced fight) and the number and types of missiles carried.

My only two complaints with the cards are the nationality flags and how to read the number of missiles the planes carry. First, the nationality flags look nice but for those of us who don’t watch Sheldon Cooper’s “Fun with Flags” webcasts (Big Bang Theory reference inserted here LOL), I would really have preferred to see some extra text stating the name of the country in addition to the flag. Also, the description of missiles carried doesn’t tell the player if this is the number of missiles shown on the counters (initially two missiles on one side and one on the other side) or the number of missile counters. In other words, when it says you can have 2 AA2a missiles on a MiG21 PF, does this mean one counter showing 2 missiles or two counters of 2 missiles each? (DVG offers incredible customer service and in answer to this question posed to them on Facebook, the answer is the number of missiles. So a 2 AA2a would mean one counter of two missiles.)

Any number of aircrafts can fight each other in this game but for review purposes I just had one on one battles.

Aside for the aircraft cards, you’ll find a deck of cards which will make up the hand for your aircraft. The cards are used to either play your actions or to react to the actions of the other player. Each card shows small Maneuver numbers on the upper left side – one number shows how much Range can be adjusted and the other shows whether you can use the card to change Position. Position is defined by the direction your aircraft is pointing in relation to the other aircraft, for example, if your aircraft card is facing the tail of the other aircraft you are considered to be tailing. If the other aircraft is facing the side of your plane, you are disadvantaged and other aircraft is advantaged. Your planes can also be facing each other which is considered a neutral position. In our plays of the game with other players, the other players said they wished the game had a position for two planes to be in tandem next to each other that way the game could accommodate for planes flying past each other to jockey for the 6 o’clock position. In addition cards show a name and picture of a maneuver for example “Yo-Yo” or “Barrel Roll” or “Redline”. Some cards show “Tone” or “Gun” so that you can either fire your guns or missiles if you are in their respective envelopes. Also most cards show what maneuvers they can be used to react to. For example, the “Yo-Yo” can react to either “Yo-Yo”, “Break”, “Scissors”, “Barrel Roll” or “Vertical Roll”. Some cards allow you to react to Tones or Guns. As you play, you pick one thing on the card to do -either to jockey for position or range by using the Maneuver numbers, or fire weapons, or get a lock-on, perform a maneuver or react to the other player’s maneuvers. It’s this back and forth play style which is at the heart of the game. The act/react system keeps going until the players run out of cards from their hands or decide to pass. If you or the other player can’t react to the Gun or Tone cards, your plane is hit and you go “down in flames”!

The hand size of each player is limited by the Performance Rating of their airplanes. You can use Afterburners to increase your hand size temporarily or dive to gain a card. In the alternative, if you climb you lose a card from your hand. The number of cards in your hand abstractly defines the “potential and kinetic energy” of your aircraft as you dive, climb, bank and turn to gain the advantage in the dogfight. It is really an ingenious system.

There are counters provided of various types of air-to-air missiles. Of course, some aircrafts, specifically some of the Korean War aircrafts don’t have missiles. Some have suggested it was in error that the Pakistani F86 does not have early heat seekers missiles but some research has indicated that the Pakistani pilots were not well trained with the early, technically faulty heat seeking missiles that were provided by the US Air Force and that over 80% of their heat seekers ended up malfunctioning so it really doesn’t detract from those type of air battles. The players could add faulty heat seekers to the Pakistani F86 planes but then have to roll a ten sided die with any result under 8 causing the missile to fail. Wouldn’t that be fun? All that set aside, each missile counter has one side representing two missiles and one side representing one missile. When you fire a missile, simply flip the missile counter over to show that one has been launched and one remains on its pylon.

Each missile counter includes the name of the missile type, the year of availability, the type of missile (either heat seeker, radar homing or active homing which is affected by the range to the target) and the number of cards drawn for the missile type when the attacking plane is neutral to the target plane, advantaged to the target plane or tailing the target plane. Some missile types can only be used when tailing the target plane. Also each missile is rated by victory points in case you want to develop your own special load out for a mission.

To use a missile, play a Tone card and then hope the target doesn’t play a card which defeats your Tone. If you do get a solid Tone, depending on the strength of the Tone, you may have to discard some cards from your hand to launch the missile. If the missile launches (and you can launch more than one), then you draw a number of cards equal to the number of cards shown on the missile counter depending on your position to the target as stated in the preceding paragraph. This becomes the missiles maneuver hand and is kept separate from the aircrafts hand. The missile plays cards against the target aircraft much as the aircrafts did when maneuvering to shoot. The target plane tries to react to the missile’s path to the target. If the target plane runs out or is otherwise unable to react to the missiles cards, the missile may hit the target. The target plane may use chaff or flares to try and defeat the missile but if there don’t work or run out, the missile destroys the target. Good day for the hunter and a bad day for the hunted.

Aircraft guns work in a similar system but don’t get a special hand of cards. If the target aircraft can’t react to the Gun action card, the target is hit and destroyed.

In a nutshell, that is the system and it plays very, very well. The tension of trying to outmaneuver the other plane’s pilot is perfectly captured in spite of the abstractions of the game system. When both payers “pass” by either being unable or unwilling to play a card, the turn ends and the next turn starts with drawing more cards up to the aircraft’s Performance Rating. If you go 6 turns without shooting anybody down, the game ends as the planes are on “Bingo” fuel and have to head back to base. We adapted a house rule in which the British Gnat fighter has to end at turn 5 owing to its more limited fuel reserves.

A minor nitpick are the Range Rules. While the rules provide plenty of examples and the rules boil down rather succinctly in to “the actual range is the range of the furthest airplane”, it still feels odd somehow. But I guess that is just one of the sacrifices which comes from abstracting air combat in to a card game.

The Campaign System provides linked missions and includes campaigns during the 1953 Korean War, the 1965 Indian/Pakistan War, 1968’s Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War, 1973’s Yom Kippur War, the Falkland Island War of 1982 and 1991’s Desert Storm. Campaigns add skills which your pilots can gain depending on how well they succeed in their objectives. In addition the campaigns add ground targets and surface to air missiles and anti-aircraft guns.

The solitaire system which is included modifies the multiplayer system somewhat and delivers a pretty good solo experience. An 11” x 17” mounted series of tables walk you through the enemy’s reactions to your moves and to the enemy’s intent in the offensive. Since a card game is tough to do as a solo game, the tables use the action cards played face down to “feed” the parameters of the enemy air plane but the actual card affects are rolled from a table using a 10 sided die (not included!) to pick the actual card that the enemy plane uses. Modifiers are added or subtracted to the enemy die rolls depending on conditions and your own moves in order to provide some more intelligence to the “bot” enemy plane. Over all the system works well although in 6 tries I was not shot done one time and shot the enemy planes down 4 times. The 2 tries that didn’t result in a shoot down were draws based upon running out of turns and hitting bingo fuel. The duel I had between my F15 and a “bot” MiG 25 ended with lots of missiles flying but not one hitting as both planes countermeasures kept defeating the missiles’ attacks. I’m not sure if my lack of defeats was due to a lack of aggressiveness in the enemy “bot”, a mistake I made in playing or just my “butt kicking piloting”. The fight I had between the F4 Phantom and the MiG 21 was very nail bighting with the MiG unloading all but one of its heat seeking missiles on me in a few turns. I survived and shot down the MiG on turn 6 but it was a fight worth remembering and very nail biting.

As an avid player of other DVG products including Phantom Leader, Hornet Leader, Thurderbolt/Apache Leader and Israeli Air Force Leader, I have been thinking about using Down in Flames: Locked On in order to play out the more abstract air battles in those games. I think it would work nicely.

Another nice feature of this game is its small footprint. If you only play with 2 to 4 aircrafts you don’t need a huge gaming table to play it on. It would be a good game to take on trips.

As long as you wrap your brain around the abstraction of playing an air combat card game, Down in Flames: Locked On will lock on to your heart and keep you playing for a long time to come!

Armchair General Rating: 93 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)! Richard also is the author of three published board games – Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

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