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Warbirds: Canvas Falcons AAR No Parachute! By Albert Campisto Mas

Warbirds AAR! Warbirds AAR!

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

air warfare

Warbirds: Canvas Falcons AAR

No Parachute!

By Albert Campisto Mas

Wings Over Flanders Fields Ultimate Edition Review  WOFF background Wings Over Flanders Field started off as a WWI modificat...

Wings Over Flanders Fields UE Review Wings Over Flanders Fields UE Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

air warfare

Wings Over Flanders Fields Ultimate Edition Review 

WOFF background

Wings Over Flanders Field started off as a WWI modification called Over Flanders Field for Microsoft CFS3. Over the years, work hasn't stopped and at several stages a new, improved version was sold, which, until recently, took us to WOFF Version 3. Version 3 also had some expansions - DLC yet again adding new planes and features to an already superb sim. Now, what is to be considered  the ultimate version of WOFF has been released. WOFF 3 and its expansions have been brought all into one package, as well as the addition of  a host of new features and improvements. Wings Over Flanders Field Ultimate Edition is the climax of over ten years of development, and boy does it shine because of it. Come, take to the skies above the Western Front during the Great War. WOFF UE, not just the ultimate version of WOFF, but the ultimate single player flight sim, period!


Please, stick with me

Those who know me, or if you've been a regular reader of the blog (I thank you) will know I'm a WWI obsessive. Though, for reasons I can't put my finger on, the Eastern Front in WWI doesn't appeal, yet in regards to WWII it's my main area of interest. However, as WOFF UE is only concerned with the Western Front then it's of no consequence. The War has really grabbed me to the point where I devour book after book, mainly memoirs, of those who experienced it from all sides, both on land as well as in the air. WW2 seems more real, tangible, a time that is more easy to relate too. A War that was horrific and actually killed more than WWI yet for some reason WWI is the go to war when you think about the horrors, misery and futility of warfare. Yet,  WWI only ended two decades before WWII started and it seems like a different world. Maybe it's the staccato black and white footage which makes it seem more unreal. Then add the horror of new and more deadly ways of killing, coupled with old tactics, then years of living a primitive, underground existence with death a constant companion. Even the wounds you were liable to get caused more brutal, horrific damage to your flesh and bone. A reason for this being the shells in WWI  broke up into large, jagged pieces of shrapnel which could cause horrific injuries, whereas in WWII, they fragmented into much smaller pieces, just as lethal, but they wouldn't cause the awful visual damage the larger shrapnel did. Even the ground itself became deadly, with even minor wounds killing the poor chap, with gas gangrene, another horrific way to die, and a cruel one.  You think you have what the British called a "Blighty", a minor wound that would get you home for awhile, yet ten or so days later you're dying a horrific, painful death, as gas gangrene takes its course.

Honestly, from here on in it's all relevant

 Then we have the aircraft flown during the War. The ones from WWII are not that dissimilar to prop powered planes of today. With WWI, however, the technical marvel of flying, and the flimsy, lethal looking wood, canvas and wire contraptions used to take man into the skies were all very new. So, at the start of WWI the aeroplanes looked frighteningly primitive, just like all the other aspects of the War, primitive. Yet again, this all adds to the War's otherworldliness.

 Over the War's four plus years, aircraft technology moved forward rapidly, unlike the actual fighting on the ground. Also, at different periods during the War, one side or the other would have the upper hand, either through technological advance like during the so-called Fokker scourge, when in 1915 the Central Powers invented a mechanism that synchronised the firing of the MG and the propeller. The pilots flying the Fokker aircraft equipped with this new bit of kit soon reaped a deadly harvest and the first Aces of the War were born. Or it was just a case of one side managing to bring faster and more manoeuvrable aircraft out before the other.  So, until the other side caught up or even overtook them in this tech race, the side not in the  ascendency would find their machines getting knocked out the sky at an alarming rate, obviously adding to the ever growing casualty lists. Over the Western front the British decided to always be on the offensive in the air, crossing over into enemy lines to take on the enemy. Since the War, many have questioned this, as it meant British casualties were a lot higher than the Germans'. The RFC policy of no parachutes (as it was deemed the pilot may jump when he could have got the plane home) also meant the RFC casualty rate was higher than need be. It condemned many pilots to a horrific death, being burnt alive as their plane fell out the sky, adding another barbaric and primitive aspect to the War. The Germans had taken on a defensive policy, waiting to swoop on the enemy as they crossed over into their air space. Flying in their brightly coloured planes, the Germans flew in large numbers called Jastas. If you were an Entente pilot during '17 up until April '18 and you spotted a bright red plane leading the enemy Jasta [signalling the presence of the Red Baron, Manfred Von Richthofen], fear would overwhelm you, praying you wont become the next victim of who would be the Wars overall leading ace. The Germans did carry out bombing campaigns through out the War, using aircraft like the huge Gotha bombers or Zeppelins, even regularly bombing the UK.

 By the War's end both sides had some very good, reliable, fast and deadly planes. The Germans with the Fokker DVIIF and the Allies the SE5a or Airco DH5. For a good part of the War though, you were more likely to die in training, from either an error you made or from mechanical failure or a combination of both, than you were in actual combat.

I expect your wondering why you've just read the above, when this is supposed to be a review for WOFF UE? 

Well it's because pretty much everything I mentioned above you'll experience in WOFF UE. From the first planes of the War scrapping it out in the Skies of '15 until the end of the War; it's all here. Choose to enlist for either the British (87 squadrons), German (205 squadrons), French (139 squadrons) or American (23 squadrons). Fly in a Recon or Bomber squadron, each flight praying you aren't about to be prey whilst doggedly sticking to your task. Or join a fighter squadron, to take the enemy on in a duel in the sky. Over 80, yes that's right 80 aircraft you can take to the skies in.

The AI is also another excellent feat the OBD team have managed to pull off. With each iteration it has got better and better, until we have what is easily the best flight sim AI out there. No fight to the death AI here, each pilot has his own skill level, plus moral and fatigue are monitored, which all effects how he flies and can result in him breaking for home when risk outweighs reward. The AI also sticks within the limits of his plane's flight model, and, talking about the flight models, each plane has been researched and tested and I haven't seen any complaints about any of WOFF UE's many flight models in the forums. This has to be a very good sign. WOFF UE, in my opinion, is by far the greatest single-player, combat flight sim that has been released on the PC, finally taking over that top spot for WWI flight sims from The Red Baron, and personally, it takes the top spot for any combat flight sim covering any era. 

Nothing can come close to the dramatic scenes this sim produces, as you fly across the tortured landscape of No Man's Land. It manages to convey the immensity of the sky, and creates clouds like no other sim. I can't find the words to explain it, but I honestly haven't played a flight sim that manages to make you and your plane feel so small and fragile, so insignificant, as you fly among such huge, dark, foreboding clouds. The atmosphere the sim creates is second to none. I've ready many pilot memoirs and when they wax lyrical about flying and the sorts of vista they see up in the heavens when playing WOFF UE you can understand what they mean.  Each season has its own high definition terrain set. No Man's Land will move in-line with how it did historically. Now, with the free skin pack, all Squadrons and Jastas have historically accurate paint jobs, as well as the planes of every Ace on all sides having their own, unique, historically accurate paint work. We are talking thousands of skins here.

This is another visual treat WOFF UE has to offer.  It also enhances the sort of realism OBD is trying to achieve, with great success in my opinion. Another massive improvement that WOFF has recently acquired is that the high definition planes' skins will now show bullet hole damage etc. which they didn't do. Previously, you had a choice between hi def skins or bullet holes, now you can have both.

As I'm talking about damage, the damage model and the visual effects have yet again been improved for the many aircraft, creating more varied looking and realistic plane damage. For the first time now pilots and observers will slump in their seats if killed. I always breathe a sigh of relief, if I shoot a plane down in flames and notice the pilot is already dead.  That's the kind of effect the game has on you, drawing you in to the point of worrying about an AI pilot's death! Previously, before the "slump", you never knew if the pilot was dead or not as he and his plane fell to earth like some sort of grisly comet.

Weather is also modelled.  So, as you take off, you could be flying through a snow storm, yet once above the cloud layer, bingo you're bathed in sunshine,  with blue sky all around. So as you can tell by now visually it's one hell of a treat. Day and night is modelled is also modelled. Fly as a pilot in a Gotha desperately trying to stay out of the search lights, as they sweep the night sky above London. Or, as the sun has just gone down towards the end of your patrol, you come into land at your airfield in France being guided by the flames lit along either side of the run way.

I can imagine some being worried about it using the old CFS 3 engine. Honestly, you really would never know they had
anything at all in common. It really is something you only have to consider when installing, or, if you don't own it, when tracking it down.

Now onto the dynamic campaign.  For a single player sim, this is the meat on the bones. This means WOFF UE has the body of a Greek God! So much work has gone into creating an experience that draws you in, and soon you find yourself fully immersed as a pilot during WWI flying high above the Western front.  You can, if you want to, choose exactly which squadron and what date you enlist and start your campaign. Or you can choose a date, and start in training, learning how to fly well behind the lines. Once you successfully complete your training then you could be assigned anywhere in any type of plane! Just like it was for those trainee pilots, but without the high possibility of death before your training was completed, saying that your in-game pilot can still die at this point, if you have a terrible crash.

OBD have done a tremendous amount of research on each squadron, including its aces and at which airfield they were at through out the war.  As you can imagine, with the number of squadrons I mentioned earlier, how much work that must have entailed! The squadrons are also rated as either on defence or offence aswell as how good it is, which can change during the War depending on the squadrons circumstances at that particular time. Also, the morale of the squadron as a whole is considered. You can if you wish request a transfer, as well as request leave.

Historically accurate Medals are awarded both to yourself and to your squadron members. Also, just like the War, you have to fill in a claim form when you think you've shot down one of the enemy. On the harder difficulty levels this can be denied, just like it was for the pilots back then. As for options regarding both difficulty and visually the game has plenty to choose from, so you can customise the experience to suit both how you want to play and what sort of rig you have. So the dynamic campaign is fantastic and surpasses all previous WWI flight sims. Play dead is dead difficulty and see how many hours you can do over the Western Front!

One final thing I want to mention about the game is that you can check on what aces are around at the particular time of the current campaign. You'll find that many even have their biography written, and when you see how many have a written biography it dawns on you just how much work has gone into this Sim. Along side any biography you'll find the Aces kills upto the particular date of your campaign, and as you continue forward the kills will be updated keeping inline with the pilots historical tally. The kill can even state who the unfortunate pilot and in a two seater observer were! The amount of research here, at your finger tips , could easily be published as a book in its own right. My hat goes of to you OBD. Stunning work!

Oh little tip when you get the game. Click "Credits". A little treat is waiting for you there.

Go check out the excellent WOFF forum at Sim HQ. Also like to thank the forum members if I've used one of their screenshots. 

WOFF webpage.

What you get with UE and New Feature List

 WOFF UE incorporates

Wings Over Flanders Fields 1
Wings Over Flanders Fields Expansion 2
Wings Over Flanders Fields Expansion 3
Add On Fokker Scourge
Add On Balance of Power
Add On Motley Crew

Plus all the updates, in an easy to install package.

Some of the new Features for UE

Two new two seater planes Bregeut 14 A.2 and the Caudon G.4
Enhanced Direct X Shaders
Huge performance increase
Revised Damage Models for all planes
Revised and improved lighting systems
Fully revised French Squadrons
New Winter Trees
Revised Flak

and many more features and improvements

Note: Also the Skin pack add on is now free for everybody:)

Nearly forgot to mention a major highlight!!

Last but not least is Matt Milne's outstanding musical score! What would WOFF be without it? Missing one of its vital elements for sure. The music could easily sell in the classical music section of a music store. In fact, I'm pretty certain it could get into the classical charts. Honestly, it's absolutely first class and adds so much to the atmosphere. So you can see, from its music to its campaigns and on to its visuals WOFF UE won't let you down. It's my favourite ever flight sim and all flight simmers should own it!

Thomas Gunn Newsletter     Dear All  Welcome to October's release of our superb 1/30 scale WW2 wooden aircraft, all of ...

Thomas Gunn Newsletter Thomas Gunn Newsletter

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

air warfare

  Dear All

 Welcome to October's release of our superb 1/30 scale WW2 wooden aircraft, all of which take over 60 hours to complete. This month we have news of 3 aircraft which are available now and 2 aircraft which are coming soon, all our aircraft are produced in limited quantities and can be paid for upfront or over several months on a payment plan if this is your preferred option. 

 WOW 093 The North American Aviation P-51 Mustang  was a single seat fighter/fighter bomber utilised by the USAAF and RAF during WW2.  Initially the Mustang was designed as a response for a requirement by the RAF for additional fighter aircraft and first flew on 26th October 1940, 102 days after the contract was first signed by the British purchasing commission. The Mustang was initially powered by the Allinson V-1710 engine but this
lacked the necessary high altitude  performance required by the RAF and the engine was substituted for the Rolls Royce Merlin. This modification transformed the Mustang into a first class aircraft capable of taking on any of the Luftwaffe's fighters. From 1943 the USAAF used Mustangs to escort the 8th Air Force in their bombing raids over Germany whilst the 9th Air Force used Mustangs as Fighter Bombers, in a combination that helped achieve air superiority in the European campaign by 1944. Mustangs were also used with great effect in North Africa, Italy the Mediterranean and the Pacific to help turn the tide of war in the Allies favour. Our version of the Mustang is one flown by  Captain Charles Weaver an American ace with several awards to his name including the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Medal and the French Croix de Guerre. Limited to 12 pieces worldwide, the US army sentry figure pictured in the attachments comes free with this model.

 The FW190 is known as one of the iconic aircraft of WW2, designed by Kurt Wolff in the 1930's it along with the Messerschmitt Bf 109 became the backbone of the Luftwaffe's fighter force during WW2.  Powered by a BMW 801twin row radial engine the FW 190 was capable of lifting heavier loads than the BF 109 allowing it to be utilised in several different roles including, fighter, fighter bomber and ground attack aircraft. The FW 190 made its first appearance over France in 1941 and proved superior to the RAF's MK V Spitfire in all aspects except turn radius. The FW 190 maintained this superiority until the introduction of the Spitfire MK 1X in November 1942. By 1944 Long Nosed variants of the F version of the FW 190 were entering service and this aircraft finally gave the Luftwaffe the parity it needed to address Allied superiority, unfortunately for the Luftwaffe it arrived too late in the war to have any real effect. WOW 099 'Black 3' was built in 1942 at the AGO factory in Ocherlesben and allocated to the fighter bomber wing of JG 5 Eismeer. Based at Herdla outside Bergen before being moved to Petsamo in Finland. It was then flown by Sgt Hans Gunther Kleemann on several missions. However in October '43 Kleemann bailed out of Black 3, after running out of fuel in a snowstorm west of Kongsfjord. Kleemann survived his landing and eventually made his way back to his base 2 days later, Black 3 was left for over 40 years where it had crashed In 1986 the wreck was recovered by the Norwegians and restored over a lengthy period in Norway and the USA, being the subject of 2 rebuilds! She now stands in the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum in Norway and is one of only 2 surviving FW 190 A 3's in the world.

 Our second FW 190 WOW 100 is a Desert version 'Yellow 3' and was flown by Oblt. Erich Rudorffer whilst stationed with 6.JG 2. Rudorffer was the 7th most successful Luftwaffe ace of the war with 222 victories claimed in over 1000 missions, he was a gifted pilot who served on all combat fronts, he was lucky to survive the war despite being shot down 16 times and having to take to his parachute 9 times! He is credited with 10 heavy Allied bombers, 58
Sturmovik's and 60 Allied fighters on the Western Front during a career which netted him the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords plus a German Cross in Gold. After the war Rudorffer flew DC-3's in Australia before going to work for Pan Am and the German Civil Aviation Service, he died this year in April aged 98 years old. Both FW 190's come with LUFT 008 Footballer ground crew figure Fritz Walter as a freebie.

 All the above aircraft are priced at $650 which includes free shipping worldwide and are limited to 12 pieces each, they can be purchased via our website or by dropping me an email. For those of you wishing to purchase more than one aircraft a discount on shipping will apply.

 I have pleasure in attaching pictures of our all new B 17 'My Devotion' and a Horsa glider from D-Day which will be making an appearance soon. If you are interested in reserving either of these pieces please send me an email as we only have 5 of each on offer at this moment in time. The guide price for the B17 will be $1500 and the Horsa (which is also an extremely large model) will be $1200 approx plus postage and packing as of yet to be determined.


Wind in the Wires and An Escapers Log by D Grinnell-Milne Review First off I have to admit I'm a WWI obsessive. This prob...

Wind in the Wires and The Escapers Log book review Wind in the Wires and The Escapers Log book review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

air warfare

Wind in the Wires and An Escapers Log by D Grinnell-Milne Review

First off I have to admit I'm a WWI obsessive. This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to those who know me. I've always had an interest in the Great War for as long as I can remember, more so even than WWII. Though at some point this interest crossed a line and I freely admit now borders on an obsession.  I think it was when I first watched the film Regeneration, which had quite an impact on me. From then on, I devoured memoir after memoir, which to this day is still the case. So you can imagine I've a pretty fair sized library of WWI books, which will probably continue to grow long into the future.

As just mentioned, I've read a lot of memoirs. Though most deal with the War on the land, I have read a few written by those who fought the War in the air. I think air warfare during WWI is fascinating. More so than in later wars, as we are dealing with the birth of war in the skies, in machines that had only recently managed to get man airborne.  So, you were more  likely to be killed just trying to fly the thing or due to some sort of failure than actual enemy action. Yet all nations never had any problems recruiting young men (boys to be honest) to go through the Russian roulette of training and then, with just a few hours solo under their belt, off into the skies above France or wherever it was they had been posted to. Life expectancy was low and could drop a lot lower depending on the role of the plane and plane type you had been assigned to. God help you if you had been assigned to a Be2C Recon plane during April '17 for instance. Even if assigned to a fighter squadron, your chances weren't great of getting past three weeks, though being assigned to a squadron like 56 Squadron which was full of great pilots would increase your life expectancy, a bit.

You'll find the pilots in the RFC would have come from a public school, though many had first served in the trenches and maybe came from a prestigious regiment like the Guards, though this was not always the case, as during the rush to enlist many public school boys joined whichever regiment would get to France first. One of the requisites the recruiters were looking for at the start of the RFC, apart from youth, was the ability to ride a horse, showing how little really was known about flying and what would make a good pilot! Yet you'll find it was a certain type of person that volunteered to be a pilot. You'll come across  extroverts, rebels, risk takers, adventure seekers, all extremely confident young men, when you start reading about the RFC. Though stress may eventually take its toll on those traits, for the most part the pilots are as interesting to read about as the machines they flew and died in. The author of this particular book is no exception to the rule. Well educated, proud, loyal, witty, determined, confident, aloof, eccentric and with a great turn of phrase (you can add fatalistic to that as the War went on, a trait most pilots gained at some point, if they lived long enough. Usually shown through, what today we call, a dark sense of humour). The book is so good because the author was not only a pilot but also a brilliant writer. A reason many Officer accounts are such great reads is due to the high standard of education they had been through.

Wind in the Wires is a great read. Easily up there with the other classics like Cecil Lewis' Sagittarius Rising. Though Grinnell-Milne wasn't in such a famous squadron as 56 squadron, which Cecil Lewis flew in, doesn't detract from the memoir at all. In fact, his training and first deployment early on in the War was being assigned to a recon squadron. I found this extremely interesting, as usually you'll find most memoirs come from fighter pilots and cover mid to late war. So it was a refreshing change to read about what was the beginning of the RFC, and what it was like to be in a Recon squadron around this time. As you'll find out, it wasn't exactly how you'd have imagined. The squadron was definitely not a stereotypical RFC squadron. His experience during the first phase of his War in the air wasn't ideal. It's fair to say the squadron wasn't too friendly or supportive; whether it was due to low moral being a recon squadron is hard to tell.  Halfway through the book he becomes a POW and there follows a brief description of his POW experience (the second book An Escaper's Log covers that period). Many failed attempts later, he finally escapes and once back, this time, he is assigned to a fighter squadron for the remainder of the War. Now you'll find that typical RFC squadron and you'll love being in their company for the rest of the book. This is the period Duncan got 5 out of his 6 confirmed victories. Anyone with any interest in WWI and the air war will love the book. Duncan is a brilliant writer and has an excellent eye when it comes to capturing all the little nuances, traits and mannerisms of someone's personality and then getting it onto the page. The book is a real page turner and for a while you'll be with him, through the highs and lows of being a pilot in the RFC during WWI. Highly recommended.

An Escaper's Log is his second book which covers the period of his incarceration as a POW and we follow him through the highs and lows of many failed escapes. The fact he never gives up shows the type of man that he was. I haven't previously read any accounts from prisoners of war in WW1, so it was very interesting and an area I'm keen to explore more. When he finally manages to escape and get back home, he has the chance to stay home and train new pilots, yet he turns it down, a testament to the man and his desire to get back up in the clouds again. Though it was the first book, Wind in the Wires, I was really interested in, I also really enjoyed An Escaper's Log. A book I probably wouldn't have read on its own but I'm glad I have. Well worth reading!

I also highly recommend a trilogy by Derek Robinson, Goshawk Squadron, War Story and Hornet's Sting. A fictional account of a RFC squadron and its pilots. Full of humour, as well as horror, the author does a brilliant job in bringing a squadron to life, from the fantastic banter between pilots to the vivid realistic descriptions of air combat and the author of Wind in the Wires, Duncan Grinnell-Milne, could easily have been a character in one of those books. So if you've read any of these books you'll have an idea what Duncan was like!

'We have no hesitation in ranking it with the very best of the war books.' Daily Telegraph

'Wind in the Wires is a war book in class by itself…. From beginning to end the book a lure to read…outstanding.' Flight

'An addition to the number of books about flying needs more excuse than the mere subject of air fighting. This book is excused by the charm of the author's style, by his judgement in pruning his story, and by the interest which his own personality arouses.' Manchester Guardian

'The most beautiful air book that has yet appeared.' Birmingham Post

'The most interesting and attractive quality of the book is the fact that it gives a graphic account of the fledgling days of wartime flying. When the time comes for the great writer of the future to compose a comprehensive narrative of the war, this is one of the books that will help him acquire a true perspective.' Nottingham Guardian

PHANTOM LEADER DELUXE VIETNAM AERIAL COMBAT GAME FROM DAN VERSSEN GAMES Prior to Phantom Leader Deluxe , my experience of air w...


For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

air warfare





Prior to Phantom Leader Deluxe, my experience of air war games was fairly limited.  Or, perhaps what I should say is that the number of games simulating the war in the air that I liked was very limited.  First and foremost was John Butterfield's original solitaire RAF and its solitaire and two-player remake of the same name and the very light, but enjoyable Wings of Glory.  Other than those two, most other air games had left me cold, often because the mechanics were so convoluted and distinctly user unfriendly.  Some, like Avalon Hill's Flight Leader, I confess I just found boring.

Perhaps, by now, you're wondering why I agreed to accept this particular review.  Mainly, it was because of the publisher, Dan Verssen Games [hereafter DVG], who produce top-notch quality games that I have particularly experienced through their Field Commander series.  Secondly, I had heard very positive things said about the whole Leader series of air games.

"one sumptuous, deep, glossy box"

Phantom Leader Deluxe certainly did not let me down on the question of quality.  One sumptuous, deep, glossy box surpassed even my expectations based on my experience of Field Commander Alexander and Field Commander Napoleon.  The contents no less so, especially the thick, high quality counters that, with their rounded corners, just press out perfectly with no dog-eared corners to laboriously trim off.  Considering the sheer number of counters, that's one big chore out of the way, even for someone like me who can find counter-clipping therapeutic!

"high quality counters"

But it's the stunning packs of cards that blow you away.  First of all there are separate packs for ten different USAF aircraft and nine Navy aircraft.  Not surprisingly, considering the title of the game the number of Phantoms predominates, but add in evocative names like the F-101 Voodoo or the F-102 Delta Dagger and all together you have seven new types of aircraft included in the Deluxe version.  In total there are 19 types of aircraft and 90 aircraft, with each of those aircraft having a different named pilot with three separate double-sided cards that take him from Newbie all the way to Ace.  So, if you've done your maths that's 270 cards in the box just to cover the aircraft - all in full colour with the plane set against a steely blue sky and the key stats in the bottom section of the card.

"the number of Phantoms predominates"

Above you have a typical average USAF F-4 Phantom with the pilot whose call-sign is Smokes with his array of information.   A vast spectrum to choose from with small gradations of ability in the modifiers for ATA [Air-to-Air] and ATG [Air-to-Ground] targets and all affected by whether the pilot status is OK or Shaken, as is his speed.  The guy up there, as you can see, is SLOW whatever his stress level!. 

This degree of choice of aircraft and pilot and then the range of armaments that each plane can carry has led to a few criticisms of detail overload.  As someone with NO modern [or at least relatively modern] knowledge of aircraft, seeing that we are primarily in the period of the Vietnam War, I can sympathise.  But, if you are really so concerned, you could choose just to fly phantoms or use the rulebook's optional rule for how to draw a random set of aircraft.  I certainly would not be put off buying this game, because it contains too much

Beside having so many beautiful aircraft cards, there are cards for Targets and Events.  Here  is the very first target that I came up against - the Barracks.

The card provides details of the enemy aircraft [Bandits] and enemy ground sites that you will come up against.  At first sight that doesn't look too bad, but there are four approach areas, one in each of the compass points, so that's eight potential enemy sites and four bandits and three more sites and two bandits in the centre where the target is!!  The card also tells you how many VPs, Recon pts and Intelligence pts you'll earn depending on how many hits you land on the target.

Much of this involves new additional rules for the Deluxe version.  In the original, it was destroy/fail to destroy your target, as pure and simple as that and VPs or no VPs.  I really like this development that allows for degrees of success.  [Hollow laugh ... on this first mission I scored no hits on the target, lost two out of my four planes and the other two came back so stressed they immediately had to be rested!  Please don't ask if I've got any better.]

And here are my valiant fellows; call signs Jagger, Misty, Smokes and Digger.  The centre two are the planes that went down and the outer two are the ones that survived.

Before I comment on the rule book, there is one last type of card to show you - Events.  During a mission three will be drawn - one Target-Bound, one Over-Target and the last one Home-Bound.  Each card has three sections and you apply the appropriate text according to which stage of the mission you are at.

As you can see, Bandits was my Target-Bound card and Forward Air Controllers my Over-Target card.

And so to the Rulebook.  A very nice product in full colour and glossy paper. One major surprise and drawback is that there is no index.  In part, this may be because the rules, after explaining all the components, take you through the sequence of play step-by-step in the chronology of how the game plays.  As thorough and clear as these rules are,  like any set when you are first learning and playing with them, you will certainly need to check and refer back.  An index should be a requisite part, if only for ease of play, and as the back page of the rulebook is used merely to advertise many other DVG games, this was an unnecessary omission.

An initial skim through quickly established that methodical planning would be the early part of the game.  First up is your choice of Campaign map and there are 8 to choose from, three set at different periods of the Vietnam war ranging from 1965 - 72 and one set during the Cuban Missile  Crisis of 1962.  Each Campaign has a separate USAF and Navy copy with varying targets and the possibility of playing Short, Medium or Long Campaigns.  This wide range of scenarios and variable targets, plus the range of aircraft and pilots make for great replay value.

Then on to selecting the pool of aircraft and pilots that will be available during the campaign.  The longer the campaign, the more pilots you will select for your pool, as a Short campaign typically involves four days and up to twelve days for a Long campaign.  Each day begins with drawing two target cards to choose from and the choice is not just a simple "which do I fancy having a go at."  Each target comes with a political cost that is marked on the Political track on your Campaign card. so that you may find you don't have enough political points to go for either target.  Consequences being that you may have a day of rest or spend some of the Special Ops points that come with a Campaign to buy other targets to choose from.

Rolling Thunder 1967

Here's the typical start of a Campaign, the first day's target has been chosen, the Political points cost marked on the appropriate track and the Target marker placed on the mini-map.  Notice the other two Tracks are for Recon and Intel- both of these may be affected favourably by the degree of success achieved in missions flown during a Campaign.

Then it's move to the core of the game's action and the mounted board on which it will be played out.
This display is clear and totally functional, with a very helpful Turn sequence on the right-hand side and locations for the Target cards and Event cards.

You now have five turns in which to move from the entry point of your flight path to its exit point diametrically opposite where you entered.  Once more this is a detail I like and, I would say an improvement on some of the other Leader games, as you have to do more than just get to the target and drop your bombs.  Now you have to make your exit too!  Your aircraft don't all have to appear at the same Entry point, but if they enter at different points then their Exit points will be also be different.  There is some latitude here, as an aircraft can leave by an area adjacent to its Exit point.

Each of the five turns starts with combat or in this game's term Aircraft Attack Sequence.  If your aircraft is Fast, it will fire before the enemy does: if Slow, the enemy will fire first.  Though there is a good number of aspects affecting fire, I found them very easy to remember and use.  Perhaps the most obvious and important is Altitude.  Many of the Sites you will come up against can only hit you if you're flying at Low Altitude - so, just fly over them at High Altitude.  The next is range; often you can get in a shot before the enemy because you have better range, but beware those enemies that can fire at range, I've found them deadly.

Add in the possibility of Suppression and Evasion, Soft targets and Radar targets, AtA and AtG weaponry, changing altitude and you get a very good narrative and atmospheric feel to the heart of this game.  With named pilots, I felt far more of an RPG effect than in most war games I play.  Each roll, especially when the enemy has you in his sights, is a tense moment.  As with any solitaire game, an iron will is needed to accept the die and see your aircraft tumbling out of the sky.

It's Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings!

You've not finished yet.  I love the final sequences after the mission has been flown.  Remember those planes I lost on my first mission flight out, well, they're not necessarily gone for ever as there is a Search and Rescue Phase with a 50/50 chance of survival.  Both mine did survive, but as always there is a stress cost.

And then comes Debriefing, with hopefully some element of VPs, Intelligence pts and Recon pts depending on the amount of damage scored on the Target.  As your Intelligence improves, the number of targets you can choose from for a Mission increases, while Reconnaissance reduces the number of Sites and Bandits you will come up against in later Missions. 

In this final phase of the game, the last factor and for me is the effects of all those Stress points piling up on your pilots.  Now you have to assess the following: who can continue to fly, who must be rested [above a certain level and you are grounded until those stress points have been reduced], the effect of MIA [Missing in Action] pilots on all your other pilots stress levels.  You don't lose buddies without it having an impact on you. 

You can even Transfer highly stressed pilots out of your team and get a replacement.....but have you guessed what's coming next.  Sure, a new pilot to the team, can you rely on him - consequences, a bit more stress for each of your existing team!!

One final tip before my round-up.  The Campaign Log for recording your Missions and pilot progression will take a lot of bashing if you try to use it to record changing Stress levels during a Mission.  So, making a simple chart for each Mission's pilots that logs the ongoing stress accumulation is well worth the few minutes it takes to knock one up on the computer. [it also adds to the RPG element, I've talked about.]

So, what are my final thoughts and conclusions?  At the start, I gave you my reasons for taking on this review.  Am I glad that I did make that decision.  Above all, I've had a great time playing this game.  More than anything, I've been surprised how much I've enjoyed the preparation and planning stage.  I had thought I'd find this a tad tedious and would want to hurry through, but I now feel this is an integral and enjoyable part of the whole game experience.

I still consider myself very much a newbie and am a long way off knowing what aircraft are best for a particular job and what armament.  But, the rule book has a very detailed Section on each aircraft and each weapon that repays the time spent on repeated reading through.

As to flying the Missions and the whole campaign shebang, love every minute of it.  Never thought I could be rooting so much for an aircraft card with its call sign Digger and whether it would make it through its mission.  Phantom Leader has been a great experience and one I can thoroughly recommend to you.

[Schnell! Schnell! Das Boot.....Torpedoes away.  Dive! Dive!

Having been allowed to take to the skies with Phantom Leader there are rumours that I may be allowed to sink beneath the waves with U-Boat Leader and its American counterpart Gato Leader.

However, until that is confirmed, perhaps you'd like to dip into one of my own collection and march with me in a couple of weeks to the Somme, where you'll be up to your neck in muck and bullets, with Richard Borg's The Great War.]