Starting from WWI, and moving through to WWII there was also an period I was interested in modern air combat but that period was short lived and did not really take my fancy. Only system I really ever dove into was Avalon Hill’s Flight Leader from 1980’s. It was a hefty package of a game, with one of the nicest mounted game boards I’ve seen in a long while. But then – there was something oddly weird in the the game which I could never really put my finger on.
Set of planes were interesting, that was certainly not the reason, the flight model and combat mechanic was solid enough but somehow the whole lot felt sterile, and at the end uninteresting. I already knew at the time that Air Superiority would have been much better game of the topic but it was already long gone when I got my hands on the Flight Leader.
But back to the game.
Flight Leader assumes that you are a pilot, and there are choice of flying modern era jet planes from Korean war to 1980’s cold war. Each player has a generic display that shows the details of the plane in question – distinction between the planes are indicated by separate counters that set the limits to what each plane can do.
On the bare essentials, the flight model offers only limited options and without electronic warfare. Missile combat is very much abstracted and very decisive. That said, the system is not flawed as such, but it lacks the details that would keep game interesting in a long run. Multiple players – on per plane certainly makes things better – and multiple planes per side improve things further.
However, if and when all optional rules are included, game changes mode, and it becomes much more interesting and a bit more realistic. Probably the biggest change that comes with additional rules, is the tactics that come into play – because flying and dying is no longer straight forward business, opportunities open up to exploit opponents strengths and weaknesses. Electronic warfare, albeit heavily abstracted provides way to escape, at least temporarily and suddenly game becomes much more tense. There are fluently clever mechanics to handle the fight without bogging the basic game too much down, but the cost is that you really need to use all of the optional rules – which unfortunately may bog the game a bit.
Then, there was of course the most interesting bit in the whole game. Tactical nuclear missiles. Who’s brainchild was that? Seriously.