Hornet Leader – First Look!

frontier wars 728x90 KS

 Unboxing DVG’s Hornet Leader

Michael Eckenfels, 1 July 2015

The arrival of Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations (hereafter referred to has simply Hornet Leader) at my doorstep was something I was greatly looking forward to. For one, I was a HUGE fan and player of the original Thunderbolt/Apache Leader game, from 1991 when it was made by GMT. I absolutely loved being in control of my own squadron of Warthogs and Apaches and taking out targets in modern air-to-ground (and sometimes, air-to-air) combat.

I’ve head good things about Hornet Leader, but don’t really know what to expect as the game seems more balanced between air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. There’s also a choice between playing a US Navy campaign or a US Marine Corps campaign.


The game box is huge, probably close to two inches thick and with a bookcase-sized height and width. It’s very nicely designed, though personally, I’m not a huge fan of the F/A-18 Hornet. Rather, I’m more excited about the possibility of controlling F-14 Tomcats and A-6 Intruders. This game will let you do those, and many more.


The box back gives you a good overview of the main game board, pieces, and a card, as well as a brief run-down of the game itself.


The first things out of the box are a campaign log sheet (which should be photocopied/scanned, depending on your preference for record-keeping) and a rules manual.


The manual seems to be pretty consistent and well-written, and I’ve had no trouble with it thus far though I’ve only read about halfway through it at the time of this writing.


I especially like the full descriptions for each of the weapons systems and aircraft. This image talks a bit about the Intruder, while the one before it has some info on weapons. Those not very familiar with these things will not have that hard a time with learning them; it will just take a bit of practice to get used to the conventions of the game. And by buying this game in the first place, you’ll already be predisposed to some familiarity with them I think, so this information should not be a total, shocking revelation (“The Tomcat was a jet? Who woulda thunk it?”).


There is also a short rules sheet that summarizes some of the more important points. I won’t know how effective this is and how much it keeps me from having to refer back to the rules until I put it into practice, but it’s a nice touch.


There are eight mission cards that depict each campaign you can take your squadron on. The North Atlantic 1986 one looks to be a lot of fun, but there’s all kinds of different areas and levels of conflict to get into, just in case you’d rather make runs into Iran or bomb the crap out of Syria.


Two counter sheets, each printed front and back. There are 352 full-color counters here, each no doubt eager to get pushed around on the board.


The Tactical Display board is where all the magic happens (or disasters, for that matter) when executing your campaigns. There’s also a run-down of the order of play for quick reference. The board isn’t all that beautiful though it seems, just like in their Phantom Leader game, they tried to capture a radar-like display where you, the player, are also the commander watching the action unfold. Appropriate, even if it isn’t terribly gorgeous.


The Event Cards are random in-game events, and there’s plenty of them to keep things interesting. There are also Target Cards, which are numbered and correspond with numbers on the campaign card you select to play. (Sorry, some of the cards might be hard to read in this shot, but you get the idea.)


Depending on the campaign you choose to fly, you’ll have a plethora of aircraft (no, not piñatas) to choose from. Each has strengths, weaknesses, and costs that must all be considered. You definitely cannot fly the same kinds of aircraft on the same mission (say, nothing but A-7 Corsairs). Well, okay, you could TRY, but there’s some give and take for ultimate success. For example, Tomcats flying cover and taking out enemy aircraft while ground attach jets (like the, hmm, A-6 Intruder perhaps?) fly in and dump ordinance on the targets until they are obliterated.


Oh, look, a Tomcat. I like these cards, but the aircraft themselves aren’t all that appealing. It looks too simple, too cookie-cutter; there’s no uniqueness or heavy detail. A little more detail would have been nice, just for eye candy. I think I’m being too harsh, here.


I’m not meaning the aircraft are ugly at all. Maybe it’s just me, thinking a top-down image of a photo-realistic aircraft with a bit more detail would be a lot cooler to look at, rather than something that looks like it might look like a Snap-Tite model rather than a combat aircraft.


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One Response to Hornet Leader – First Look!

  1. […] discussed the game’s components in an unboxing article already, so if you’ve perused that, forgive the repetition. I’ll get a little bit more detailed, since […]

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