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Thunderbolt Apache Leader from DVG

By Aaron Skinner
Published: September 16, 2013
DVG Thunderbolt Apache Leader
DVG Thunderbolt Apache Leader box
Product: The A-10 Thunderbolt and AH-64 Apache epitomize modern U.S. close-air support. DVG’s latest installment in its Leader series is a solitaire, card-based strategy game that combines overall strategic resource management with turn-based tactical ground-attack simulation.

The game’s components include glossy, well-printed color cards for aircraft, pilots, campaigns, situations, enemy battalions, conditions and events, as well as glossy, double-sided counters for the aircraft, enemy units, weapons and damage.

Game play takes place on a sturdy foldout tactical display, made to look like a modern fighter’s multifunction display, and an airbase sheet. Records are kept on a player log. There is only one copy of the latter, but the instructions suggest copying it or printing it from the DVG website.

Everything comes packaged in a heavy, attractive box.

Game play: The player commands a modern American close-air support squadron over real and imaginary battlefields from the 1980s into the future, including Libya, North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

Combat takes place on the large tactical display board with spaces for the terrain, enemy units, campaign and mission condition, and event cards.

Before flying any missions, the player selects a campaign. That card establishes the date, difficulty level, quantity and types of enemy units, terrain and victory conditions. Next, the player selects a situation card that sets the campaign length, tactical situation and special-option points available. The latter limits the size of the squadron and weapon selection.

After drawing enemy units and placing them in their starting positions on the tactical display, the player assigns aircraft to the squadron. In addition to A-10s and Apaches, players can select AH-1 Cobras, AV-8B Harriers, F-16s, AC-130 gunships and even unmanned Predator drones, both armed and unarmed. The selection is based on the time frame of the campaign, and aircraft availability is set by their real-world in-service dates. For example, AH-64A Apaches are available from 1986 onward, but the more capable AH-64D is only available after 1997.

Pilot assignment follows. Each pilot has skills and different experience available for promotion, a useful feature when playing longer campaigns.

After all the campaign setup, the player begins daily mission planning. Everything is decided by the player: which battalions and how many to attack, which aircraft to use, pilots to assign, and how to arm them. Players spend a lot of time setting up for missions.

Random aspects of gameplay are daily and mission events that come from randomly drawn cards and the terrain layout. The campaign card determines which 10 terrain hexes will be used, but they are shuffled and then laid out randomly each time. Only their orientation remains the same, set by an arrow on the hex. The battalion card tells the player which type of enemy units are present, but a die roll decides which hex each unit is in.

Combat follows with fast friendlies attacking first, enemy units second and slow friendlies last. The trick is deciding initial placement and altitude to take advantage of attack speed and terrain for cover and movement on the battlefield. Rolls of the provided 10-sided die determine friendly weapon success. Enemy attacks are automatic when friendly aircraft are in range, with the results decided by random counter selection. It pays to stay out of range as much as possible.

Marketing: Thunderbolt Apache Leader is, above all, a fun, challenging and engaging game. Each mission and campaign is different because of the random terrain, enemy placement and combat results. Success is by no means a given, and management of resources, pilots and time will affect the outcome of each mission and campaign.

As such, it’s a game that will appeal to detail-oriented gamers with an interest in modern air combat. It’s not a quick game — set-up alone takes quite a bit of time — but I found the prep time worth it for a visceral combat experience.

Display the game at the counter with the box open so customers can see all of the contents and the quality of the components. If your store sells models or die-cast replicas, consider displaying the models with the game as a way of cross-marketing to customers who come in for a model but might be intrigued by the game.

Dan Verssen Games offers a set of 1:600-scale metal miniatures to be used with the game that should make the game experience even more immersive.

Product: Thunderbolt Apache Leader
Maker: Dan Verssen Games
Stock number: DV1-017
MSRP: $89.99
Availability: Various distributors

• Immersive gameplay
• Quality components
• Loads of detail