Game review: Hornet Leader and Dawn of the Zeds offer solitaire excitement

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Feb. 7 2014 3:00 p.m. MST

Components for Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition), from Victory Point Games, include a board depicting the town of Farmingdale, as well as several charts, player aids and chits.

Cody Carlson

One of the great things about board games is the social component — sitting around a table with your family and friends rolling dice, moving pieces, laughing and having fun. What do you do, however, when you want that tactile thrill of a board game but can't get a group together?

There are several great solitaire board games on the market today, games that offer genuine thrills that are designed for one player. Here's a look at two such titles: Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations, from Dan Verssen Games, and Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition), from Victory Point Games.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations

In Hornet Leader, you command a squadron of U.S. Navy or Marine fighter aircraft embarking on dangerous missions across various historical and theoretical scenarios. The game includes a board where all the action takes place, various chit tokens, and a mountain of aircraft cards, each with their own unique statistics. The player attacks several targets over a far-reaching campaign, and his pilots may gain skills or be promoted.

After choosing a scenario, such as Iraq in 1991 or Libya in 1984, the player selects a specific target from the target such as a Scud missile launcher or a weapons laboratory. The player is then allotted points to build his squad. Aircraft must be chosen to conform to the historical parameters of the mission, and each plane is then loaded with air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The enemy is given a set number of AA defenses, including enemy bandit aircraft, and the player must best utilize his limited resources for the attack.

Important factors going into battle are the pilots' stress levels — have they been flying too many missions or flown too far into enemy territory; their situational awareness, and their combat skills against other planes or ground units. A D10 is rolled to resolve combat, with fast pilots firing before the enemy's defenses and slow pilots firing after.

The player has just five turns over enemy airspace to destroy the target. Throughout the mission, the player draws event cards that can alter certain conditions and affect pilots. Upon completion of the mission, pilots return to the carrier and the player must update each pilot's statistics for the larger campaign.

The above is just the barest description of the game, and the rulebook describes each step in great detail.

Hornet Leader is not a game for everybody. It is a relatively complex war game that requires a deep reading of the rules to grasp key concepts. There is a lot going on here that the player must keep on top of in order to manage the game properly, and some aspects of the game, such as arming aircraft with weapons that fit both the plane and the scenario, can be quite tedious.

That being said, Hornet Leader offers some real tension as it forces you to make important tactical choices. Which approach vector gives your planes the best advantage? Do you fire multiple weapons at the same bandit hoping one will hit, or do you husband your strength and risk the enemy's counter-attack? Will you attempt to suppress or evade the enemy's weapons?

The ongoing campaign also draws you in. You begin to appreciate the skills and abilities of certain pilots and feel a genuine pang of despair when your favorite ace is shot down (you have to remind yourself, it's just a card with a picture of a plane on it). If you like war games and don't mind some bookkeeping, in Hornet Leader you will find a challenge rich in thematic detail and tense game play.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations is recommended for ages 12 and up and each mission generally plays in about 30 minutes.

Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition)

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