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. 


  1. Nice writeup. I just landed a copy of Apache Leader which is my first of the Leader games and im really looking forward to digging in.

    1. Thanks Anon! I tried that game before the reprint and loved it. I hear the new edition is akin to a work of art. I'll have to put that on my wish list!

  2. Nice writeup. I just landed a copy of Apache Leader which is my first of the Leader games and im really looking forward to digging in.

  3. Replies
    1. Oh, it is a great game! I recommend it. Have you tried any of the leader series stuff out? I suspect you might like the Field Commander series out too from DVG. They are doing a Christmas special right now where you buy one game and get a second one free (including free shipping for the second game). Very cool!


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