Review – Phantom Leader Deluxe from Dan Verssen Games (DVG)

Phantomcover

Review – Phantom Leader Deluxe from Dan Verssen Games (DVG)

Designer – Dan Verrsen

Art – Wan Chiu

Dan Verrsen has re-booted his original Phantom Leader game which is part of his Leader series of solitaire games and I’ve now had a chance to play a few times. Dan has published quite a few solitaire games and seems to have done a pretty good job of building a good reputation and a solid fanbase for his solid designs with plenty of depth for war gamers. In Phantom Leader, you are in command of squadrons that you select, arm and send into harm’s way over Vietnam during that conflict.

From the DVG website –

Phantom Leader places you in command of a US Air Force or US Navy Tactical Fighter squadron in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972. You must not only destroy the targets but you must also balance the delicate political repercussions of your attacks. If you strike too hard, your air offensive might be put on hold, strike to light, and you’ll be blamed for losing the war. 

Welcome to the Vietnam Air War! 

Each of the campaigns can be played with either an Air Force or Navy squadron. The targets assigned to each service are different and change the complexion of the campaigns. Each campaign can be played with three different durations of: Skirmish, Conflict, or War. 

Each mission takes roughly 30 minutes to set-up, plan, and resolve. 

Unboxing

Inside the box you get:

330 Full color Cards
Full Color Rulebook
2 Full Color Counter Sheets (176 – 5/8” counters)
8 Full Color Campaign Sheets
1 11”x17” Full Color Mounted Tactical Display
2 Full Color Sheets
1 Ten-sided die
1 Full Color Player Log

PhantomMissionsheet

For those of you who have the original Phantom Leader, here are the changes in this upgrade:

Increase the cards from 165 to 330
– All pilots get all 6 experience levels
– new aircraft: Air Force F-5, Air Force A-7, Navy A-5
– more pilots for all aircraft types
– more Target cards
– more Special Event cards
– Revise the 6 original Campaigns to include the new Targets and Aircraft

The standard of components as in all DVG games that I have played is very very good. The cards look terrific, are very sturdy, the information on the cards and displays is clear and user friendly. The counters are nicely done with very nice images for the planes and weapons. The Tactical Display, rulebook and Campaign sheets are well done.

Phantom Cards

All in all, great stuff and a pleasure to use in the game.

I’m no expert on the topic of this game but it certainly seems like Dan has done a lot of research to get all of the details  of the Air Force and Navy planes and their weaponry. The amazing thing here is that you get a lot of detail but the game is very playable.

Examples include –

Campaign Maps

These sheets show the target areas for the different campaigns

Help Sheet

Provides useful reference charts

Tactical Display

This is where you resolve the “over target” actions including using weapons against the target, enemy aircraft and ground defences

Aircraft counters

Show plane images as well as altitude position

Air Defence counters

Show different ground based weapons and capabilities and Bandits (or no bandits) on the other side

There are other informational and positional counters as well.

Weapons counters

There are a variety of weapons that you will choose from to arm your planes

Aircraft cards

You can choose from a large selection of Air Force or Navy planes and pilots. The Pilots range in experience and effectiveness from Newbie to Ace.

I’m scratching the surface here. If you like this type of game, you will be fascinated by the wide range and depth of choices you have which means, there will be a different experience each time you play.

Gameplay

Ok, what I won’t do here is give you absolute chapter and verse. That would spoil the experience and I do feel that playing a DVG solitaire game is something to experience rather than just play.

As with the other DVG solitaire games, you will need to play by going through the game turn process as stated in the rulebook. And you will find yourself needing to just take your time to go through it until you become pretty familiar, then you can just refer to the a list of steps found on the Tactical display, with less and less need to go through the rules in detail as it all mostly becomes second nature after you’ve played a few missions.

A Campaign can range from Short to Long  and will have a fixed number of Days or rounds to play through.

An overview of the turn process for each Day is as follows –

Pre-Flight

An admin phase where you will assign a target, planes and organise the target defences.

Target-Bound Flight

Events may effect your plans in-bound and over the target. Place aircraft and flight paths, place bandits

Over Target

Your planes enter 5 spaces to cross the Tactical  Display so this stage is repeated 5 times, assuming your planes survive enemy fire. Fast pilots attack first, defence attacks are resolved, slow pilots attack, aircraft move, bandits move

Home-bound flight

After the 5 turns over the target, an Event may still effect things, you may have to roll to recover downed pilots

Debriefing

Record mission outcomes, victory points, and other admin tasks to track pilot stress and experience, Intel, Politics, etc.

Each of these stages is covered in detail in the rules which are relatively straightforward to follow. I had to check on a few things for clarification but that’s to be expected in war games of this level of detail. The whole process works pretty well and I found that the more I have played, the more I could move through more quickly. The thing that amazes me is how much detail is covered abstractly, yet still gives you a sense of the operational and strategic issues and challenges. And it plays at a good pace. 30 minutes for a short campaign is fair.

The thing to remember here is that Phantom Leader Deluxe, is not a simulation. You are not there to fly the aircraft. You are there as squadron Leader, responsible for the operational missions that need to be accomplished as part of a larger campaign. So you get the operation responsibilities of deploying assets, assigning missions, etc. as well as strategic considerations such as the politics back home which was so important during the Vietnam War.

Did I enjoy Phantom Leader – Deluxe?

Cue the Rolling Stones – Paint it Black…

In a word, yes. Phantom Leader-Deluxe is a well constructed system which takes you along in a digestible way. Although not my preferred type of war game (I prefer land based games), this is a very interesting game and its an emotional game as well. I was not a happy camper when my planes and pilots were lost. It is no mean feat to crack the enemy defences so you will be pushed, which is what I want. If this was a walk over, it would quickly lose its appeal.

What Dan Verssen has achieved with the Leader game system is truly excellent and he deserves recognition for this. I have played a lot of war games solitaire and this system stands with the best of them. It is logical, tells a story, and puts you in the seat of leadership with the crucial decisions. There are plenty of targets of varying challenge levels and dangers and you will sweat as you try and fly your planes through. And if that stinkin die roll is against you… Grrr…. Just sayin…

The beauty of this game for me is that it doesn’t feel at all like you are playing a system. You know it but you feel like you are making operational and strategic choices that make a difference in success or failure. In addition, the Political effects and variety of Events give you a good sense of the frustrations of trying to get the job done and bring an end to this horrible war.  And there has been plenty of research and information imbedded within the game that you are sure to learn more about this conflict.

Would I recommend Phantom Leader – Deluxe? Yes I would but only to experienced war gamers. This is not a game for newbies or those who are looking for a simulation.  There is a lot of replay value as each time you play you will have a different experience. The quality of the components is excellent. There is a lot of bang for the buck in this game.

Well done Dan!

For more information, go to http://www.dvg.com/.sc/ms/bdd/ee/56/Phantom%20Leader%20-%20Deluxe

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