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Phantom Leader published by Dan Verssen Games

By Aaron Skinner
Published: August 23, 2010
Phantom Leader by Dan Verssen Games
Product: Phantom Leader is a tactical-level, solitaire game featuring the U.S. air war over Vietnam. There is no central map or board; rather play is carried out using cards, including individual aircraft, events, and missions, as well as campaign maps, a tactical display, and card display sheet. There are also 167 double-sided cardboard chits.

Gameplay: Phantom Leader puts you in command of a squadron of U.S. Air Force or U.S. Navy tactical fighters in Vietnam. The game’s greatest strength is the number of options and variables included; each changes gameplay and makes each campaign and mission different.

First, the player selects a campaign and branch of service. There are six campaigns, three for each branch with names matched to important air campaigns of the Vietnam War — Rolling Thunder, Linebacker, and the early War in the South. Each campaign has restrictions on weapons available and some require removal of certain event cards.

After choosing a campaign, the player picks pilots and aircraft. The pilots are divided into six skill levels from Newbie to Ace – the higher the rating, the better the skills.

The most common Vietnam-era combat aircraft are available. In addition to the F-4 Phantom, used by both the USAF and Navy, types include the F-100, F-104, F-105, EB-66 Destroyer, A-4, A-6, EA-6, A-7, and F-8 Crusader. You can mix and match aircraft types to achieve certain mission goals, as each carries different weapons and specialties. Each pilot has bonuses or penalties in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

Event, target, and aircraft cards laid out on one board keep track of those aspects. Campaign cards display targets on a map of Vietnam, with sliding scales at the bottom tracking recon, intelligence, and politics, all affected by mission selection and success.

Individual aircraft along with randomly chosen enemy units are displayed on the tactical display where most of the action takes place. Random card pulls help decide missions as well as in-game events that can affect attack and defense rolls.

All combat is decided with a ten-sided die and, as almost everything you need to know is shown on the cards or chits, there is little need to consult the manual once you’ve played through a couple of missions.

The most complex part of the game is pilot selection and aircraft arming because it is left entirely up to the player. Familiarizing yourself with the effects of the weapons and capabilities of the aircraft under your command will speed the process.

The game mechanics are pretty simple, but built-in variety keeps each game fresh, essential in solitaire play.

Marketing: In a world dominated by electronic games, Phantom Leader offers a nice compromise between traditional rule-rigid, chart-intensive strategic wargames and more contemporary resource management systems. It also fills a niche that very few games do right now: solitaire play.

Customers interested in the Vietnam War or modern air combat will be your primary targets. However, the mechanics are simple enough for newcomers to grasp quickly, so don't underestimate the value of Phantom Leader as an introductory product to high-end board games.

The game components — cards, chits, boards, and instructions — are nicely printed with computer-rendered images and clean text. Phantom Leader puts a premium on repeat play value, which more than justifies a price that may seem a bit steep for some first-time game buyers.

Phantom Leader is compact enough that you could leave it set up on the counter to attract attention. Don't be afraid to stock this game with other resource management games, even if it may see out of place. You may find that putting it on the shelf next to Settlers of Catan will be just thing you need to get eyes on it and pique a customer's curiosity. Just as important, it will fit right in with games like Memoir '44.

Let those customers who buy Phantom Leader know that there are errata and clarifications as well as printable player logs available at

I think Phantom Leader could be a great introduction for folks who haven’t played these kinds of games before to the world of high-end parlor games. If you stock models, you may even get some crossover traffic through this game. I build a lot of aircraft models, and I found myself picturing F-4s rolling into attack the targets while playing Phantom Leader. It’s also portable enough to travel with, so it may be part of my road gear from here on.

Product: Phantom Leader
Publisher: Dan Verssen Games
Stock No.: DV1-013
MSRP: $59.99
Availability: All major game distributors

Great game; well packaged
Simple system
Endless variety
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