RogerBW's Blog

First game of Thunderbolt Apache Leader 02 November 2020

Last year I bought a copy of Thunderbolt Apache Leader. This year I played it.

This is one of the Leader Series by Dan Verssen Games (the company that exists to publish games written by Dan Verssen). They all have some elements in common: you're put in command of a military force consisting of units of multiple types, and you have to get them through a campaign of some kind: choosing crew and targets, selecting weapons from a limited pool, and managing stress and damage to keep your force viable.

They all have somewhat differing rules, but they also have a fair bit in common, so the recommendation is that you pick the one or two that cover conflicts you're interested in. In my case that's this plus Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations. (And if they ever did a Lancaster and night bombing expansion to B-17 Flying Fortress Leader…)

Anyway, this is the Cold War close air support iteration of the game, and as you'd imagine the focus is on the A-10A Thunderbolt II and the AH-64 Apache. In this short game, that's what I went with, though the AH-1, AV-8B, F-16 and AC-130 are also available, as well as some drones.

You will see below that I made several errors. I won't note them individually.

I bought this at Midcon, and discovered that the previous owner had carefully clipped the corners of the counters to reduce snagging and wear… good for him.

Given a theatre of operations and a campaign setting, one establishes the available enemy forces, and buys a squadron from a set number of points. (These are also used for buying scout reports and special weapons, and for repairs, so it's worth keeping some back.) The recommended introductory region is Iraq in 1991, so I went for two Thunderbolts and two Apaches. This gave me six available pilots.

The short campaign rule required me to destroy two enemy units on each of the first two days. First up, the Thunderbolts went after an enemy artillery unit that would otherwise have an impact on my resupply chain.

The composition of the target is determined by the card, but the exact terrain and placement are generated randomly.

This was a relatively soft target: lots of victory points, not too much in the way of tough defences.

The Thunderbolts got away with some pilot stress but nothing more serious. (ECM pods. Always get ECM pods.)

Day 1's other mission was against a mixed force, and this had slightly better anti-air teeth, but again the ECM pods and evasive flying did their thing.

For Day 2, they went after different sets of targets and took a bit more damage – but nothing that couldn't be repaired.

I'd planned that Day 3 would be a combined attack on the tank spearhead that was pushing through the front lines… but a sudden shortage of munitions meant that I wouldn't be able to fit my aircraft with ECM pods or specialised anti-tank weapons. I also looked at my victory points so far, and realised that I only needed three more VP to get a "Great" evaluation… so I went after a scout group instead.

Fortunately they were quite scattered, and we were able to knock them off one at a time without being too badly shot up by their neighbours. Made it out in one piece. (Leaving a couple of trucks intact to wonder what happened to all their colleagues…)

Clearly this was only the short introductory game; as it was some of the pilots were looking a bit stressed by the end. Yes, all right, it took about four hours, but much of that was getting the hang of this particular iteration (I've played Hornet Leader before on Tabletop Simulator, but this was my first time with the physical bits), and things were definitely moving faster as the game went on.

It came close, but in the end there were no pilot or airframe losses. Next time I play this I'll try some of the expansion material, which arrived quite recently…

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  1. Posted by david pulver at 12:04am on 08 November 2020

    That looks like an interesting and versatile game system.

    (And I'malso thinking: those big tile display swould be neat for a zone-based RPG...)

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 08:40am on 08 November 2020

    Apart from the other aircraft games (Hornet, B-17, Corsair, Phantom, IAF, Huey, Zero), there are also tank (Sherman, Tiger) and submarine (Gato, U-Boat) implementations, each of which tweaks the rules a bit from the base system. Anything which involves picking your forces and then choosing where you send them could potentially be converted into this system.

    They don't all have the tiles; Hornet ignores terrain in favour of a zonal approach, and deals with fixed target locations rather than the ones here that can advance and retreat (top right part of the board) – but instead you can draw "scramble" missions that involve dealing with an attack on the carrier.

  3. Posted by DP at 12:02am on 09 November 2020

    Thanks. I'll look into it.

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