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Posted on Jul 31, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Fly Your Way Through Over 70 Years Of Conflicts!  DVG’s “Israeli Air Force Leader” Game Review

Fly Your Way Through Over 70 Years Of Conflicts! DVG’s “Israeli Air Force Leader” Game Review

By Rick Martin

Israeli Air Force Leader Board Game Review. Publisher: DVG Game Designer: Kevin Verssen Price $89.99

Rick Martin

Passed Inspection: easy to learn, nicely functional graphics, tons of replayability, great value for the money, exciting

Failed Basic: a few minor rules nitpicks (some rules such as situational awareness are too spread out through the book), needs an index, Angle of Attack rules are a neat addition but are a little confusing.

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

Phantom Leader was my introduction to Dan Verssen Games’ line of solitaire games way back in 2010. In that game, you play American pilots flying in the skies during the Vietnam War. The game controlled the enemy ground forces and planes and you focused on managing your squadron and trying to survive the war. Let’s just say that after playing that game, I was hooked.

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Phantom Leader’s prequel was 2005’s Hornet Leader which was an update of a game Dan Verssen originally designed back in the 1990s. Phantom Leader was followed up with the award winning Thunderbolt Apache Leader in 2012. Hornet Leader featured U.S. Navy pilots and their steeds while Thunderbolt Apache Leader focused on U.S. Army pilots flying down and dirty while performing close air support missions. Both Hornet Leader and Thunderbolt Apache Leader featured multiple campaigns – some historical and some hypothetical. All the games use the same base system with some game specific rules. I love the fact that if you know how to play one, you can jump in with a minimum of rules reading and take flight in another of the series.

I love these games so much that they were my inspiration for designing Tiger Leader and Sherman Leader for DVG which took the Leader Series in to the tank battles of World War II.

2017’s Israeli Air Force Leader (IAFL) has hit the skies as well as the game stores and is, quite simply, a wonderful game.

IAFL looks at the air war over the Middle East but this time from the Israeli perspective. Players will fly missions with everything from Israeli modified World War 2 surplus Messerschmitt 109s, Spitfires, P51s and B17s (in the 1948 campaign) to F15s, F16s and F35 (in the 1990s and 2000s campaigns).

IAFL’s box is hefty – very hefty. Within are the following components:

1) A full color rule book
2) 336 full color cards
3) 8 full color counter sheets with over 700 double sided die cut counters
4) an 11” x 17” mounted display board
5) 9 campaigns
6) 3 player’s aid sheets
7) 1 player log sheet
8) a 10 sided die

The campaigns included are:

1948: The War of Independence
1956: The Suez Crisis
1967: The 6 Day War
1973: The Yom Kippur War
1981: Operation Babylon
1982: Lebanon 1
1991: Operation Desert Storm
2006: Lebanon 2
2022: Armageddon

Each campaign has its own tracking sheet which includes a description of the campaign, how many points the player gets for creating their squadron(s), special instructions for the campaign, aircrafts and weapons available, victory point charts, a map of the area broken into sectors, a reconnaissance, intelligence, infrastructure and invasion track.

When you destroy enemy targets, their destruction can influence the reconnaissance, intelligence, infrastructure and invasion track which, in turn, influences the enemy’s aircrafts, anti-aircraft capacity, ability to maintain their units and ability to send their ground forces on offensive operations in your territory. If the invasion track goes too high, you may just lose the game and Israel is doomed! Some campaigns, for example the 1991 Desert Storm Operation, don’t use an invasion track as the Israeli Air Force is on the offensive and Israel not being invaded. Although, as I think about it, a SCUD missile track would be an interesting addition. If you don’t do well enough, more SCUDs rain down on Israel! (Hey Kevin and Dan – what do you think? Maybe a downloadable PDF addition to the game is in order?)

The 336 full color cards are broken in to cards for:

1) Aircrafts and their pilots or crews at various stages of experience
2) Event Cards
3) Target Cards
4) Escalation Cards

The Escalation Cards are new to this game and only come in to play after attacking targets which are politically sensitive and/or may escalate the conflict.

The Target Cards tell you about the object of your air attack. They include the defenses that the target may have as well as how many victory points the target is worth if destroyed and what other effects the target may have on the situation in the campaign. Some Target Cards have the word “Invasion” in their description meaning that these targets (usually infantry or armored formations) can advance the Invasion Track on the Campaign Sheet if they are not destroyed. This can end the game for you if you are not careful.

The Event Cards are random events which can affect your air mission. Each card has three boxes of events. The first box is an event that applies on the way to the target. The second box is an event which will happen while you are over the target. The last box is an event that happens to you after you leave the target area. Events can be sand storms, fog, unexpected enemy air activity or anti-aircraft fire or even political actions in the rest of the world which can help or harm Israel. Yes, as in the other games in the Leader series, you are not flying in a political vacuum. Washington D.C., the United Nations or other political groups can have an effect on Israel.

The Aircraft Cards show the aircrafts and their pilots or, in some cases such as the B17, the average skills of the aircraft’s crew. Each of these cards shows a nice, top down picture of the airplane as well as the name of the airplane type, years it was in service with Israel and the name of the pilot. In addition, various statistics show the skill of the pilot or average skill of the crew when they are fit and when they are shaken as well as what type and quantity of weapons the planes may use. Errata on BoardGameGeek provides corrections to some of the cards. Each card is replicated with differences based upon the skill of the pilot and/or crew. The different skills are Newbie, Green, Average, Skilled, Veteran, or Ace; the higher the level, the better the Pilot and/or crew at evading, attacking air to air targets and attacking air to ground targets. In addition, some pilots or crews are “Cool” ratings. That means they will recover from mission stress faster than other pilots or crew with lower “Cool” ratings. It is the effective managing of pilots based upon how much stress they take from flying missions that moves this game away from pure tactical action and makes it a game of “resource management” as well as adding to the role playing aspects of managing people who change as they gain more experience. It also adds to the emotional impact when a plane gets shot down and the pilot wounded, missing in action or killed. You get attached to your men and their aircrafts.

The aircrafts you can fly make up an impressive list of planes which cover from 1948 to a future conflict in the 2020s. The list is too lengthy to list everything but includes the following types: P51, the German Me109 stripped of its good engine and replaced with the same engine and propeller as was in the Heinkel 111 which was known as the Avia S-199, Spitfires, B17 (of which three were provided to Israel and pretty much flown 24/7), Meteor, Mystere Mk.IV, Mirage, F4 Phantom, A-4 Skyhawk, F15, F16 and even the newest weapon in the arsenal, the F35!

The list of munitions is impressive. Each plane is rated for the weight load it can carry so you can start loading up with sidewinders, laser guided munitions, iron bombs, etc. Once again the weapons cover from 1948 to the 2020s! Each weapon has a counter that you load on the airplane card. Watch out, if you overload the plane, it will underperform in combat! ECM and fuel pods can also be added. Each munition is rated for multiple factors including its strength against armored and soft skinned targets, whether it is to be released at range or at high or low altitude, and many other properties.

The rule book has a complete illustrated listing of all the aircrafts and munitions and is a wonderful resource for armchair pilots.

The rules are laid out in a “learn as you play” format which is a DVG staple. It walks you through every facet of game set up, squadron formation and play. My only long term complaint is that the rules really need a good index not just a table of contents. Some rules such as a pilot’s “situational awareness” appear in three places and you need to page flip to find out how it applies to the game.

Throughout this game, Special Option Points are used to handle logistics as well as to pick pilots at different skill levels, promote pilots prior to the campaign, purchase pilot skills and special weapons. Special Option Points are your currency in this game. You can use them between missions to help reduce pilot stress or upgrade aircrafts. Some event cards cause you to lose these points but, beware, if you ever run in the negative, you lose the game! Use them judiciously!

This game adds new rules to the Flight Leader games. These rules include pilot skills and angle of attack rules. The pilot skills are purchased using Special Option Points and include such skills as “Focused”, “Amiable”, “Brave”, “Agile”, “Gun Fighter”, etc. Each skill brings a benefit to the aircraft and its pilot, for example, “Quick Hands” allows the pilot to add a +1 when attacking ground targets.

Angles of attack chits are drawn when a medium or long ranged anti-aircraft position is placed near the target. Each randomly drawn chit shows the direction that a player’s aircraft must fly at the threat in order to engage it with weapons or be engaged from the site, itself. I found this a little confusing but began to get the hang of it after a while. But, in the pictures that accompany this review, you’ll note that I placed the Angle of Attack markers incorrectly. Once again, this could have been overcome with a good index for the rules.

After picking your campaign and choosing your aircrafts and pilots to form one or more squadrons appropriate to the time period of the campaign, it’s time to start flying and fighting! You must remember to set up the four tracks on the campaign sheet as mentioned above. You must also sort out your target cards based upon available targets on the campaign map. This means looking at the map and pulling target cards with the numbers shown on the map. This can get a little frustrating as the target numbers on the map are not in any particular numeric order. A cheat sheet listing the target cards used in numerical order would be a nice addition to the game as its far too easy to miss a target and not include it in the target deck. You then punch out the threat counters (one side is an air threat and one side is ground threat) which are logically grouped by time period making this part of the set up a breeze!

The turn sequence is as follows:

Pre-Flight

Draw Target cards
Select Target
Determine and Place Sites
Assign Pilots
Arm Aircraft

Target-Bound Flight

Draw Target-Bound Event card
Place Aircraft and Choose Altitude
Determine and Place Bandits
Intel Air Defense Adjustment
Draw Over Target Event card
Place Turn counter in “1” Box

Over Target Resolution (5 Times)

Fast Pilots Attack
Sites and Bandits Attack
One Pilot may Suppress
Pilot under Attack may use Evasion
Slow Pilots Attack
Aircraft Move and Adjust Altitude
Bandits Move
Advance Turn counter

Home-Bound Flight

Draw Home-Bound Event card
Roll for SAR results (if needed)
Adjust Invasion counter
Draw Escalation card (if needed)

Debriefing

Record Mission Outcome, Victory points, Adjust Recon,
Intel, and Infra counters, and Special Option points
Add Target card Stress to Pilots
Pilot Stress Recovery (all Pilots)
Record Pilot Experience and Stress

This tracking of your squadrons is the heart of the game. As pilots fly, they accumulate stress. Some airframes need more tender loving care than others; for example, the Israelis only had 3 B17s in service in 1948 – their only heavy bomber! These B17s cost extra Special Option Points to fly which represents the logistics of mechanical upkeep.

If you fly all of your pilots during every mission, you will soon find you don’t have enough rested and fit pilots to fly other missions. Their skills degrade as they wear out. You must then use Special Option Points to give the pilots emergency rest and relaxation. I tend to always rotate pilots so that while some are flying, others are spending some time off or in training thereby decreasing their stress.

Combat is simple and elegant. Roll the attack number or greater after factoring in various bonuses and negatives based upon the situation. Enemy planes get more and more deadly as the years progress and they get better tech but so do the counter-measures of your aircrafts. Your pilots’ skills in both ground and air-to-air attacks are also factored in but, as previously mentioned, if your pilots are “stressed” they suffer negatives and if they become “unfit” they jettison their munitions and head for home.

It is very important to pick the correct planes based upon what you know of the mission. If you are going after an airfield during Operation Desert Storm, you can assume that there will be air support and plenty of ground-to-air missiles. For that mission, I picked F15s flying top cover with air to air missiles and some F16s flying low to the ground with cluster bombs and precision laser guided bombs. It worked out beautifully with the results being three Iraqi aircrafts shot down from long range by the F15s while the F16s ravaged the air field and the anti-air weapon systems.

For this review I flew 6 1948 missions and 3 1991 missions. Each mission lasted from 20 to 45 minutes. So in an afternoon, you can get in lots of time in the air. While designed as a solo game, you can gather your friends and play co-operatively against the game.

I really can’t say enough that this game is tons of fun and each mission is a nail biter! With 70 years of campaigns, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Israeli Air Force Leader is a masterpiece and another “must have game” from DVG!

For a 2006 review of Hornet Leader: http://armchairgeneral.com/boardgames-hornet-leader-ii.htm”

(NOTE: At the time the 2006 review was written, Hornet Leader was a print and play game. Now DVG has it out as a beautiful boxed game!)

For a 2013 review of Phantom Leader: http://armchairgeneral.com/phantom-leader-vietnam-air-war-solitaire-game-boardgame-review.htm”

For a 2012 review of Thunderbolt Apache Leader: http://armchairgeneral.com/thunderbolt-apache-leader-boardgame-review.htm”

Armchair General Rating: 96 %

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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