Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hornet Leader - Libya 1984 (Part II)

I'm halfway through a short campaign in Hornet Leader, the solitaire game of Carrier Air Operations from Dan Verssen Games. Last I wrote, I had just made it to the dawn of Day 3.  I was making steady progress with 3 of 4 successful missions flown. The stress of the missions was taking its toll on my pilots, however, and things were not looking as bright as they should have.

Here is a rundown of where we stand as of the morning of Day 3. The chart below shows each pilot in the squadron along with their aircraft. Under each of the "M" columns to the right are the stress levels for each mission.

Player Log at the end of Mission 4 (Day 2)
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2 M3 M4
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 3 1 0 3 7 7
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 3 1 7 5 5 2
Moon EA-6 Average 6 0 0 0 0 0 8
Talon F-18 Average 6 3 1 0 0 9 9
Eyes E-2 Average 6 3 0 0 0 5 5
Wolf F-18 Average 7 5 0 4 2 2 7
Camel A-6 Average 6 3 0 0 4 4 7
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 5 1 0 0 7 7
Starting SO Points

24 24 15 11
SO Points Used

0 9 4 1
Target Status

X 0 X X
VPs Earned

3 0 2 3

The campaign victory level is currently at 8 total victory points. That's an "Adequate" rating. A couple more successful missions during Days 3 and 4 would bump that up towards the coveted "Great" rating.

There is one big problem. The stress on everyone in the squadron is so great that quite a few guys are going to have problems performing a mission on Day 3. Let's do a breakdown of our pilot status then, shall we?

Current Pilot Status (Morning, Day 3)
Pilot Current
Status AtA/AtG
Tuna 7 Shaken -4 / -4
Cowboy 2 Okay -1/+1
Moon 8 Unfit N/A
Talon 9 Shaken -1/-1
Eyes 5 Shaken N/A
Wolf 7 Unfit N/A
Camel 7 Unfit N/A
Hunter 7 Shaken -1/-3

So things look really bad at this point because we have 3 of our pilots unable to fly at all.  Four other pilots are shaken and operating at some pretty significant minuses for combat.

"That MiG really screwed him up..."
I could put my guys up today and they'll probably perform very poorly (or get shot down) and then be unfit for Day 4 or I can rest them up today and get a better performance out of them later on. It's a no-brainer. I need to grant R&R again to the squadron and then give everyone the day off from missions. Hopefully, we'll be able to get back on our feet on Day 4 and win some serious VPs to bump our rating up.

We spend 9 SO to reduce everyone's stress by 2 and then give everyone the day off.  The R&R gets our Unfit pilots back to Shaken level. Taking the day off, each pilot gets their stress reduced by 2 + their Cool rating. That puts everyone but Camel and Moon in the Okay box. Meanwhile, our Recon, Intel, and Infra are reduced by 1. Our Recon now stands at 2, Intel at -1 Center Site, and Infra is at -0 Hits. We only have 2 SO Points remaining right now so we had better spend them wisely.

Day 4

On the morning of Day 4, the squadron gets two new missions. We pull runs on a Supply Depot and a Minor Airfield. Both targets are worth 2 points each. Success on both missions would mean a "Good" rating for the campaign. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I'll do my best on this one. 

The Supply Depot is a primary target and the Minor Airfield is a secondary. Because the secondary target is an Improvement card, that means it affects other missions. Specifically, it means that we draw +1 center bandits for the Supply Depot mission.

Wolf, Talon, Camel, Tuna, and Eyes are assigned the primary mission while Moon, Hunter, and Cowboy are given the secondary.

The supply depot is well-protected with two SA-10s in the south approach and one in the east approach. The center site is full of short range AAA guns. The plan here is to hit the SA-10s right off the bat on Turn 1. Wolf, Talon, and Tuna are armed with HARMs. Both Talon and Tuna will be given SA from Eyes to go Fast on the first turn and launch at the SA-10s. Wolf is already a Fast pilot so he'll be taking a shot too.

SA-10 - a very capable and deadly anti-air missile system.

With the SA-10s out of the way, Wolf will escort Camel to the target while Talon goes hunting for MiGs and drawing off enemy air and surface fire from the strike package. We have only 4 combat planes on the mission and ordnance is limited due to the location of the target.  This is pretty much the only way the raid will work. If those HARMs don't do their job on the first turn, the entire strike will be jeopardized. 

Everything is balanced on a razor's edge and there is no room for error. On the way to the target, we pull a "AAA" card but we can ignore it after rolling an 8 on Eyes' special ability. Bandit placement is okay with only four enemy aircraft (2 x MiG-23, 1 x MiG-21, 1 x Mirage III) to contend with. The over target card is a "Shoulder Launch SAM" event that we cannot ignore. It mandates the placement of a new site in a random pre-approach area every turn. Lucky for us, the first unit placed is just infantry to the west of the center area - not a threat to the raid package.

The first turn starts and holy crow! Wolf, Talon, and Tuna go first and all of them hit their assigned SAM targets. Once the fighters are cleared away, it should be smooth sailing towards the target.

The plan changes slightly to take the bandits' positions into account. Wolf and Talon move up to the Pre-approach area first to draw off the bandits from the target. An SA-11 gets placed near them as per our latest Event Card. Wolf and Talon get to work, eliminating all the bandits over the next two turns except for a stubborn MiG-21 that clings to life to the east of the center site. Meanwhile Tuna and Camel are making their way up to the target. Tuna gets a clear shot at the last remaining MiG and fires both his AIM-9 missiles...missing with both of them. Camel makes it to the target unscathed, activates his Situational Awareness and drops all of his ordnance...scoring two measly hits.

SAM city: Turn 5 and the flight heads for home after a less-than-stellar mission result.

Camel gets damaged by AAA and the flight heads for home, drawing an "Elusive Flight Path" card that lets us re-draw another event card in the future.

Player Log - Mission 5 (Day 4)
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2 M3 M4 M5
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 4 1 0 3 7 7 8
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 3 1 7 5 5 2 0
Moon EA-6 Average 6 0 0 0 0 0 8 4
Talon F-18 Average 6 4 1 0 0 9 9 6
Eyes E-2 Average 6 4 0 0 0 5 5 6
Wolf F-18 Average 7 6 0 4 2 2 7 10
Camel A-6 Average 6 4 0 0 4 4 7 10
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 5 1 0 0 7 7 2
Starting SO Points

24 24 15 11 1
SO Points Used

0 9 4 1 0
Target Status

X 0 X X 0
VPs Earned

3 0 2 3 0

The final mission of the campaign is a strike against a Minor Airfield (target 1) deep inside enemy territory. We'll have 2 less weight points for our weapons loadout. Since we are only flying 3 planes instead of the 4 maximum, this means we're planning without margin for error. Cowboy loads up on Mk-82s and Moon takes his usual loadout of 4 AGM-88s. Hunter takes mostly AtA missiles but takes one Mk-82 for a bit of insurance. Even with all these weapons, the airfield needs to be take 7 hits to be destroyed. That means all bombs must hit for at least one damage (and one of those bombs must hit for two) to destroy the airfield. 

Luckily, the site defenses don't look too bad. We have infantry in the north and a ZSU in the south approaches. To the east, we have an SA-10 but that can be taken out by Moon. There are two ancient AAA sites in the center site (a KS-19 and an S-60).  To the west is an SA-6. It isn't anything to scoff at but Moon should be able to quickly destroy it. 

On the way to the target, we draw a "Long Range Threat!" event card and use our "Elusive Flight Path" card from last mission to cancel out the event and draw a new one. We get "Human Factor" and Moon gets another point of Situational Awareness (for a total of 2). 

Our guys arrive in the Pre-Approach area and whaddya know? The area immediately in and around the airfield is swarming with bandits. We have a Mirage III in the north, a MiG-23 in the east, a MiG-21 in the west and two MiG-23s over the target. Luckily, we draw a "Lucky Break" and sites and bandits get a -1 die roll vs high aircraft over the target.

Things go surprisingly smooth. Moon uses his situational awareness to take out the SA-10 and the SA-6 on the first turn. Hunter splashes two enemy aircraft. The flight makes it over the target with Hunter incurring a bit of extra stress from evading AAA and MiGs. Cowboy drops his Mk-82s for 5 hits and it is all down to Hunter to score two hits with his Mk-82s. Unfortunately, we roll a "3" and that is all she wrote. The flight heads back home and draws a "Bad Chow" card, which doesn't matter because the campaign is over at this point.

Player Log - Mission 6 (Day 4)
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2 M3 M4 M5 M6
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 4 1 0 3 7 7 8 8
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 4 1 7 5 5 2 0 3
Moon EA-6 Average 6 1 0 0 0 0 8 4 8
Talon F-18 Average 6 4 1 0 0 9 9 6 6
Eyes E-2 Average 6 4 0 0 0 5 5 6 6
Wolf F-18 Average 7 6 0 4 2 2 7 10 10
Camel A-6 Average 6 4 0 0 4 4 7 10 10
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 6 1 0 0 7 7 2 7
Starting SO Points

24 24 15 11 1 1
SO Points Used

0 9 4 1 0 0
Target Status

X 0 X X 0 0
VPs Earned

3 0 2 3 0 0

Total VP: 8
Rating: Adequate


I really tried to push things with this campaign and I ended up paying for it in the end. First off, I used my SO Points unwisely and too early in the campaign by giving R&R to the whole squadron on Day 1. It would have made more sense to just rest up a couple of guys by taking them out of the rotation and flying one less mission on Day 2. That would have saved up some precious SO points for later in the campaign when I was running missions with too few planes and too little ordnance and really could have used those SO points to get a tanker refuel. Sometimes it is better to just let the secondary missions get ignored and focus on the primary mission or you end up losing them both (which is exactly what happened on Day 4). 

I also think my mission planning was not really the best early in the campaign. Don't let those "X" marks on the log fool you. The stress it took to earn those VPs was probably not worth it. I needed more planes for suppression of enemy ground and air threats. To that end, it may have made a bit more sense to either take a Tomcat and/or another A-6 Intruder in the squadron.  Failing that, it may have been a wiser choice to leave out either Moon or Eyes (probably Eyes) and take an F-18 Hornet instead. 

The lack of Fast pilots also really hurt me. Usually, the enemy had the jump on me as soon as I arrived on target and the first part of the mission was spent dodging missiles instead of firing on anything that was hostile. As a result, stress built up quickly among my pilots early on and spiralled out of control. It would probably have been worth it to either have taken a second Fast pilot during initial selection or use my SO points to promote someone at the start of the campaign. 

As for things that went well, I know I made the right call on Day 3 to rest up my pilots and give them R&R. I am also sure that I matched the best guys together on different missions, which is why none of my pilots ended up getting shot down (thought it came very close!).  Taking extra missions and pushing your guys is a good way to boost your campaign rating but the number of combat aircraft in the squadron dictated just how much firepower I could put on a single target. In this case, having Eyes and Moon take up my aircraft slots meant that I was going for long-shot gambles by picking up a secondary target.

I really wish I could have blamed luck on this one but I think this result was really just due to poor planning from the outset. I'd like to try this campaign again some time with totally different pilots and a more discerning eye for mission selection. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hornet Leader - Libya 1984

Here's a short rundown of my recent play of DVG's Hornet Leader, a game I dearly love and don't seem to get on the table often enough.  One of the reasons I like this game so much is that the cover bears a slight resemblance to the logo for my hometown hockey team, the Winnipeg Jets.

Time is short these days so I chose a 4-day US Navy campaign. I have played the Desert Storm scenario several times and enjoyed it but I wanted something a bit different this time around so I chose the Libya 1984 campaign. I prefer my gaming set in the 1980s as you can see from most of my blog posts here, so this definitely fit the bill for me. I crossed my fingers and hoped that my squadron in Hornet Leader would fare better than the Jets are doing on the ice this season. They stink!

Anyway, let's choose our pilots:

1 Newbie pilot
- callsign "Tuna" in an A-7 Corsair (choosing this plane also gives us an additional 4 special option points). Not much to celebrate here. He has -2 for both Air to Air and Air to Ground but, on the other
hand, he can handle 4 stress points before he gets shaken. That seems unusually good for a newbie.

2 Green pilots

-callsign "Moon", an EA-6 Prowler with 4 AGM-88 missiles.  I always take Moon with me in my Hornet Leader campaigns. The Prowler offers a -1 from enemy rolls targeting all the friendly planes in the same area and a further -1 for any attacks that target him specifically.

-callsign "Cowboy" in an F/A-18C Hornet. He isn't great by any means but he does have a +1 for Air to Ground attacks, which is okay. He also has a Cool of 1, which is very good for a green pilot.

4 Average pilots

-callsign "Wolf" in an F/A-18C Hornet. I took him mainly because I didn't have many Fast pilots and he fit the bill. Although his AtG rating is poor (-2), his AtA rating is a solid zero.  It might take him a couple of missiles to down a plane, but he can probably get it done.

-callsign "Eyes" in an E-2C Hawkeye. I usually take "Eyes" because he can ignore events on a high die roll, give situational awareness to other pilots, and gives a bonus on AtA rolls. He can also be added to a mission for free!

-callsign "Camel" in an A-6 Intruder. Took him because I needed a dedicated ground attack plane. He has situational awareness, which can make up for his being Slow. Unfortunately, he shakes at only 3 stress and is unfit at 5 stress. He might not have been my best choice.

-callsign "Talon" in an F/A-18C Hornet. He has a decent +1 rating on both AtG and AtA so he is robust. He doesn't shake until he gets up to 5 stress, which is pretty good.

1 Skilled pilot

-callsign "Hunter" in an F/A-18C Hornet. Although he is a Slow pilot, he can endure 6 stress before shaking and has a solid +2 on AtA attacks. He will do in a pinch with ground attack too, as he has an
AtG 0 rating.

Squadron Notes

Overall, the squadron I chose was mostly full of "tough guys" who could take lots of stress. They weren't the fastest nor even the best fighters but they could endure quite a bit before shaking.  Four of the seven pilots have a Cool rating of 1, which I think is unusually good in my experience. Most of my planes were F/A-18 Hornets, so they could perform a variety of missions and switch up roles when called upon. The only real Achilles heel for the squadron was their low Speed rating. Only one guy has a Fast rating ("Wolf") so it is likely that we'll need to bring lots and lots of ordinance along on missions for suppression purposes.  It also might help to save up my SO points for special weapons to help get the job done.  For this reason, I kept the 24 SO points at the start of the campaign and I didn't promote any of my pilots.

Day 1  

The squadron gets assigned two targets today. The primary mission is close air support just to the east of Benghazi and the secondary mission is bombing enemy troops near the town of Jalu.

Wolf, Hunter, Moon, and Cowboy go for the primary while Talon, Eyes, Tuna, and Camel are sent for the secondary.

During the primary mission, Cowboy - our green pilot - takes 7 stress and is declared unfit for duty. The stress accumulated due to a mixture of ordnance misses and attempts to evade heavy ground fire. Over the target, we drew the "bandits inbound" card and ended up facing a swarm of MiGs over the target area.

Wolf and Hunter suppressed the enemy fighters and Moon managed to keep the ground defenses busy. Hunter assigned Cowboy his Situational Awareness counter over the target and he dropped Mk-20 cluster bombs for 7 total damage. The bright spot is that we managed to do this in 4 turns, which is great because we had pulled a Charlie Foxtrot card en route to the target and had one less turn to complete the mission (in exchange for 1 XP).

Primary Mission - over the target in CAS. Mk-20 cluster bombs hit for good effect.

On the way back home, the flight got a "Good Briefing" card and we moved the Intel counter to the right. Everyone is more or less okay, except for poor Cowboy, who will probably be unfit for flight for the next couple of days.

A look where we stand after the first mission. Intel is very good.

The next mission was the secondary target for the day. Enemy troops needed to be bombed somewhere around the town of Jalu. Tuna, Camel, and Talen were sent along with Eyes to the target area. Tuna was assigned weapons for ground target suppression (AGM-88s and rockets). Camel got the Mk-20s for the main target. Talon was loaded up with AIM-9s and -7s to keep the enemy fighters at bay. Eyes was assigned as flight leader with 2 situational awareness points to hand out to anyone who needed them.

Everything was going smoothly and the mission looked like a cakewalk at the start. We pulled a card over target for an extra center site but Eyes rolled an 8 and ignored the event. The Intel counter let us remove 1 center site so we were left with pretty light ground defenses (just an S-60 AAA gun) on the target. Tuna even managed to take out an SA-11 site to the south of the target on the second turn. However, a missile from an SA-10 site managed to damage his A-7 aircraft and he was forced to hang back in the standoff area with Eyes.

Meanwhile, Talon and Camel pushed on towards the target. Talon scored a hit on a MiG-25 but tragedy struck soon after. The same SAM site that had previously hit Tuna's plane managed a hit on Camel. This was very bad because his A-6 Intruder was carrying all the AtG ordnance for the mission. Oops!

Turn 3 and the flight has lost its AtG ordnance. Time to head home.

With two planes damaged and no weapons left to hit the target, the flight skulked back home. To add insult to injury, we pulled a Radar Contact! Event Card on the way but Eyes managed to dismiss it with his special ability (ignore events on 7+). With half my pilots feeling the heat, I decided to spend 9 SO points for mandatory R&R and reduced the squadron's stress by 2 for each pilot. It seems rather lavish for just the first day of the campaign but I have some SO Points burning a hole in my pocket.

As it stands, we now have 3 victory points (a rating of Dismal) and stress for mission 1 (M1 column) and mission 2 (M2) as follows:

Player Log at the end of Day 1
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 1 1 0 3
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 3 1 7 5
Moon EA-6 Green 5 3 0 0 0
Talon F-18 Average 6 1 1 0 0
Eyes E-2 Average 6 1 0 0 0
Wolf F-18 Average 7 3 0 4 2
Camel A-6 Average 6 1 0 0 4
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 3 1 0 0

Day 2

On the second day of the campaign, we get two new mission cards, both of them secondary targets. First, we pull a "Fighter Sweep" card and then we get a "SAM sites" target card. I decide to make the Fighter Sweep the primary mission and the SAMs as the secondary.

Hunter, Talon, Eyes, and Tuna suit up to take on the MiGs. The idea is very simple. Hunter and Talon will move in for the engagement while Tuna hangs back with Eyes in the standoff area. If either Hunter or Talon get in trouble, Tuna will be brought up to help out. This is because Hunter and Talon are both Average pilots in F-18 jets while Tuna is a Newbie in an A-7 Corsair. He can only carry two AIM-9s so he is really of limited use here. Eyes is along in the E-2 Hawkeye to help with the air to air bonus and to lend situational awareness.

The mission took place deep inside Libyan airspace so I chose the aircraft refueling option in order to take the full amount of ordnance instead of the normal -2 penalty. Without any F-14s in my squadron, there were no planes able to carry the AIM-54 Phoenix missiles to take on the MiG-25s at very long range. Instead, the flight got into a furball from the very start and got shot at left and right in the first two turns as they closed in on the MiGs. Almost none of my ECM rolls worked out here, which was infuriating.

Hunter is feet dry over the Libyan coast.

Hunter and Talon both accumulated 6 stress by the third turn although they both managed to whittle down the number of MiGs from 7 to 4. In the fourth turn, Tuna was brought up to help out as Talon was already shaken. Low on ordnance, the three fighters took out three planes and faced a lone MiG-23 without any ordnance. A gunfight ensued in the fifth turn. Talon evaded a missile from the MiG and Hunter engaged with guns, rolling an "8" (modified to 12) and shot down the final enemy plane. I sure was glad to have chosen that refueling option at the start of the mission because there was no way it would have been successful otherwise.

It was great to see that most of the guys on the failed secondary mission from yesterday picked themselves off the floor and went back in fighting. Too bad my best guy, Hunter, is now shaken. I'll need to take him out of the mission rotation until he is better. Talon is unfit for duty and needs some major rest. Tuna is also near the breaking point.

Player Log at the end of Mission 3 (Day 2)
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2 M3
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 3 1 0 3 7
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 3 1 7 5 5
Moon EA-6 Green 5 3 0 0 0 0
Talon F-18 Average 6 3 1 0 0 9
Eyes E-2 Average 6 3 0 0 0 5
Wolf F-18 Average 7 3 0 4 2 2
Camel A-6 Average 6 1 0 0 4 4
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 5 1 0 0 7

There are 3 SA-10 SAM sites at the next target that need to be taken out. 4 hits also need to be inflicted and this is the real trick. The SAM sites can be quickly taken out at stand-off range with AGM-88s but the hits will require either bombs or Mavericks. Since there are two AAA sites in the center target along with the SAMs, it makes more sense to use the Mavericks. They also give us a bonus for shooting at vehicle targets. 

I outfit Camel with four AGM-65s and a GBU-12 Paveway along with some HARMs. Moon has his regular loadout of 4 AGM-88s and Wolf is armed to the teeth with air to air weapons. On a hunch, I replaced two of his air to air missiles with Mk-82 bombs at the last minute and sure enough, I pulled a SAM Vehicles! card on the way to the target. Wolf used the bombs to cancel two enemy attack rolls. This kept both everyone in the air and my full compliment of air to ground weapons intended for the mission target.

Arriving at the target, Intel air defense allowed us to remove 1 of the SA-10s. Camel used his SA from the outset and fired off an AGM-88 to take out another SA-10 in the center. Later in the turn, Moon did well enough to take out the third SA-10. Luckily, we only faced a few bandits. Wolf managed to take out a pair of MiG-23s on turn 2. Things looked pretty good but the luck of the die roll changed our fortunes rapidly. Wolf took a hit from a MiG-21 and was damaged, ending the air cover for the flight. Camel and Moon pressed on, taking SAMs and AAA fire AND aircraft fire the entire way. Moon managed to suppress the ground targets with his HARMs and Camel used a couple of missiles to suppress a pesky SA-2 to the north of the target. Over the target, Camel unleashed all his AGM-65s and the Paveway, scoring many more than the required 4 hits.

The mission was a success and the flight returned home with 3 VPs (2 VPs for destroying the target plus one extra for doing it with one less plane than the max limit allowed). Recon and Infra ratings went up by two. The price of all this was huge stress on all my pilots. Wolf had taken 5 stress while Camel was at 7 and Moon was at 8. Lucky for Moon, he managed a promotion from Green to Average, which was well-deserved.

Player Log at the end of Mission 4 (Day 2)
Pilot Aircraft Level Promoted XP XP gained Cool M1 M2 M3 M4
Tuna A-7 Newbie 6 3 1 0 3 7 7
Cowboy F-18 Green 6 3 1 7 5 5 2
Moon EA-6 Average* 5 5 0 0 0 0 8
Talon F-18 Average 6 3 1 0 0 9 9
Eyes E-2 Average 6 3 0 0 0 5 5
Wolf F-18 Average 7 5 0 4 2 2 7
Camel A-6 Average 6 3 0 0 4 4 7
Hunter F-18 Skilled 8 5 1 0 0 7 7
*just promoted

Coming Soon: Part 2 will look at Days 3 and 4 of the Libya 1984 Campaign!