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[personal profile] yeloson
Phantom Leader is a solo boardgame where you play a flight commander for the Airforce or the Navy during the Vietnam war. I'm pretty skeevy on rah-rah historical war games, but I picked it up because a lot of the reviews pointed to some neat game mechanics.

Representation wise... well, I guess I can say it's not AS problematic as I expected, but that's still not saying great things. They do manage to avoid problematic representation of Vietnamese folks... because all you see in the game are jets, buildings, bridges, truck convoys, and tiny, tiny dots that might be people. I'm not sure how I feel about the idea that people are only represented in the game as targets, way below. It's horrifying and yet still better than most wargames.

The more... uh, problematic stuff is in the descriptions in the campaigns. For instance, a couple of them talk about airpower "forcing the North Vietnamese government to the negotiating table"... which is a ridiculous level of revisionism about what happened.


There's 6 campaigns to pick from and each one can be played at different lengths (short, medium, long) and also you can adjust the difficulty by picking various advantages or disadvantages that affect the core rules.

There's also a ton of pilots and planes to pick from. These are included on cards, and each pilot has a different skill level, and you're required to take so many Newbie, Green, Average, Skilled, and Veteran pilots.


During play, you draw so many Target cards and pick one as your target.

Just picking a target is a choice in and of itself- you're limited both by your Recon (higher recon means draw more cards) and political support from higher command- which also restricts which targets you can pick. Depending on the current state of your pilots, you may find some missions to be simply impossible to take on, also limiting your choices.

Each campaign gives you very few missions to score as many Victory Points as possible, and naturally, more difficult Targets tend to be higher in VP. Thankfully, the high VP targets are actually clearly military targets (radar installation, etc.). And they actually acknowledge that the targets in Laos were pretty ineffective as far as winning the war. There's a couple of targets which you can see being military/civilian - like a major bridge or a steel plant.

After you picked your targets, you randomly draw opposition to which are placed in the abstract target map (basically, the target and the 4 approaches around it).

Then you pick your pilots for this mission, and kit out their planes accordingly. Planes have limits on how many weapons they can carry, and which weapons they can equip. It's only a little fiddly, as all the info is kept on the cards. (That said, I wish they put the weapons on cards as well, the cardboard chits are tiny).


You only get 4 turns to complete the mission, so it sets up a simple dilemma: How much time to I spend taking out the defenses and making sure my squad is safe vs. how much do I risk them to complete the mission?

Each pilot has several stats, but it basically boils down to:
a) Bonuses to fight Air to Ground or Air to Air combat
b) How much Stress points they take before their stats get worse
c) Do they get to shoot before the enemy attacks or after?

Each turn, you can pick one target, and you roll a ten sided die for attacks. They have a simple system, where weapons have 1-3 numbers listed - if you beat 1 number you do 1 damage, if you beat 2 numbers you do 2 damage, and all 3 numbers means you do 3 damage. It's pretty easy and self contained.

Pilot's options to avoid getting shot down include using up your weapons to lay out suppressive fire, evading which forces the enemy to roll twice and take the worse roll (but builds 2 stress for your pilot), or just hope the enemy rolls low. 1 hit causes 1 stress, 2 hits damage the plane and make it impossible to attack, and 3 hits shoot the plane right down.

Long term management

Your pilots earn stress, which reduces their abilities, so you have to rotate them in and out to drop their stress level. You also end up having to pick between Missions which go straight for victory points vs. ones which improve your Recon, Intel, or Political stats which makes life easier all around.

Over time, pilots earn XP that allow them to step up one grade in ability. This seems to only really show up in longer campaigns, as the short games I played, it was not really an option.


If you're willing to overlook the sketchy problematic stuff and abstract out the real world history from the game (which, is big steps but at the same time if you're into wargame stuff, probably already doing a lot), it's a neat and solid game with a lot of replayability. It very much feels like a wargame that took a step or two towards boardgames in some ways, though I still wish the game used cards for everything instead of chits, for ease of handling and reading.


Mar. 5th, 2011 10:01 pm
yeloson: (Default)
[personal profile] yeloson
Confucius is a boardgame for 3 or more players, focused on strategic resource management.

In the game, you are an Tang dynasty official trying to gain the most influence and power, in part by bribing officials, buying influence, getting your people appointed, and organizing and reaping the profits of trade and warfare.

Representation-wise, it gets a mostly thumbs up. The officials are illustrated as Chinese officials, in classic Chinese painting style. The only thumbs down is that it's called Confucius- there's nothing particularly Confucian about it.

This is a fun game, if a bit complicated. It is very much about making smart investments and adapting to situations handed to you. The game runs on 3 major things: Gifts, Action Cubes, and Money.


A big part of playing the game is gifts. You use gift cards to give to other players, that indebts them to you and blocks them from competing with you in certain ways, and forces them to side with you in tiebreaking situations. This isn't a verbal agreement that you can betray- it's actually a hard and fast rule.

What it sets up, is a strategy of who to gift and when. Gifting the most powerful players might help you a lot, but it probably won't be long before they either spend the money to out-gift you. Gifting weaker players doesn't help as much, but they won't have the resources to break it for awhile.


The next thing is Action Cubes. Every round you get a number of action cubes to divvy up into doing various things like bribing officials, getting your people appointed, starting trade expeditions or military ventures, etc. You get more action cubes the more you have either given gifts to others or received gifts (and therefore, are more indebted).

You go around the table, everyone spending on one action until all of the cubes are spent. The person who goes first is the Lead Official, and they have an interesting balance- they can't take their last action until everyone else has taken their last action - meaning you go first and you go last.

This is actually a nice advantage, except late in the round is when everyone makes their power moves- sometimes you get ahead because no one can counter your last action, sometimes you don't have the resources to do anything with it at that point.

Then you have to pick someone else to be the lead official next round- which sets up another interesting bit of jockeying and tie-breaking amongst the players each round.


Money is tracked on cards- each card gives you between 1-3 coins, and, it also has 1-3 Edicts on it - these are inverse to each other so 3 coins means 1 edict or 1 coin is 3 edicts.

Coins are used for most things, but Edicts are used for actually sending military units out or sending trade expeditions - so being high in one or the other doesn't mean being completely ass out- provided you've got something lined up to take advantage of it.

Each turn, you can either Collect Taxes and draw 2 cards, or do a Commercial Venture which gives you more cards depending on how much you've spend into it. At the beginning of each round, you have to discard down to 4 cards, so a lot of times you find everyone rushing for money early in a round then spending late in the round.

(If there's a competition to get an official appointed, everyone has to spend some money- you don't get to opt out of it, even if you aren't obligated at all- which means having to save extra round-to-round).

While money is crucial round to round, it's not victory points, so you need to find ways to use it best.


I give it 4/5 stars. It's got a lot of neat stuff going on, really hits the theme well, and is a fun game. The drawback is that you're going to need between 3-5 players who are also into crunchy strategy to get the most from it. From my friends who brought it over, it sounds as if the rules are not particularly well written, so that's something to watch out for.
yeloson: (Default)
[personal profile] yeloson
T&E is a resource board game around building civilizations around the Tigris & Euphrates rivers. Sadly, the few character images the game shows are almost all the the whitest possible version of the people, rather like white-greeks or white-egyptian imagery that we typically see in media.

The game is for 3-4 players and consists of two major components- leaders and tiles. Each player has 4 leaders- a king, priest, merchant and farmer - each one is color coded to a type of victory point, and winning depends on getting the most of all 4. Players connect their leaders to various civilizations and play tiles representing the different resources/growth of the civilization.

If you have a Farmer connected to s civilization that is adding farm tiles, you get more victory points of that type, a Priest to a civilization adding temples, you get more priest victory points, etc. The only major exception is that if an appropriate leader isn't attached, but a king is, a king can collect in their stead.

That said, leaders can and do move around in this game. You can't have 2 leaders of the same type attached to the same civilization. When it happens, you have an conflict which is won by having your leader next to the most temples and sacrificing the most temple tiles out of your hand - which boots the loser and earns you some victory points in the process.

The other method which happens is when two civilizations build into each other via tile placement- which means if there's 2 leaders of any given type between them- they end up conflicting, except this time based on appropriate tiles available to them (Farms for Farmer, Markets for the Merchant, etc. etc.). The end of these affairs tends to generate a lot of one type of victory point and removes tiles from a civilization- which can drastically change the board.

Finally, it's possible to create Monuments, which are fountains of victory points of a specific type- you get points as long as you appropriate leaders attached to the civilization which has them- but it also reduces your ability to defend against the external conflicts previously mentioned.

A lot of the game depends on smart planning ahead and interaction. One of the most useful tactics is to drop a tile connecting to civilizations where they have multiple overlapping leaders- especially if none of your leaders are involved- you can force the other players to fight it out and try to take advantage of a power gap created by it.

There's also disaster tiles which allow you to destroy a tile, which can cut off certain leaders or split civilizations in two. These can drastically alter the play arena.

Overall, the game is medium complexity and pretty fun. It's got a few fiddly exception rules that take a bit to remember, but otherwise fairly straightforward.


Gamers of Color

May 2012



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