The air shatters with the thunder of jets shrieking down to unleash their deadly payloads of munitions on an unsuspecting foe. Air-to-ground missiles zero in on the enemy targets. Within minutes, there is nothing but scrap metal, smoke and fire. Hornet Leader simulates air combat during some of America's actions in the world, such as Libya, the Middle East and Syria, to name a few.
Note, I said "simulate," as this game is a simulation of air-to-ground combat, not a simulator, which I first thought was the case. As things stand, a simulator would have been bad mojo for me, since I'm terribly lousy when it comes to playing those. The story behind the game has you commanding 12 Hornet pilots whose mission is to destroy enemy objectives either in skirmishes or campaigns. Skirmishes just play out as single missions, while campaigns are of two types: three or nine day missions. Hornet Leader is easy to play but hard to master.
Features of the game include four turn missions, special operations, pilot experience, and various air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. What made this a unique game experience is its playability, which is different from any standard war game. I was completely humbled as a commander the first time up. This was a small skirmish that, in the end, saw three of my pilots captured and three pilots with post traumatic stress disorder, not to mention zero victory points. Talk about embarrassing oneself over a game!
Elements of the game begin with a game board designed as a square with nine regions. Each region can contain any number of enemy units that are randomly placed. The center region contains the military objective that you must destroy. You start by picking a campaign then picking the pilots you will use during the campaign. They range from new to veteran and slow to fast. Fast pilots get to attack before slow pilots commence theirs. While on the mission, these pilots may gain stress from suppression or evading from enemy attacks. Stress buildup can affect how they react from air-to-air attacks or air-to-ground strikes. Enough stress can even put them out of action during the campaign.
In return, such munitions as smart bombs, air-to-ground missiles, anti-radiation missiles and regular bombs, along with air-to-air missiles, make up your loadout by weight. Part of the mix requires altitude changes, depending on what was loaded onto each of the planes. Iron bombs are low-altitude devices; smart bombs are high-altitude devices; and missiles can be both. This is important when setting up, or moving, your planes into position. Gameplay is in phases, with movement and combat intermixed.
After completion of each mission, a score card is kept of the victory points received, anti-aircraft, sam SAM sites and planes destroyed. If the mission was successful, additional bonus permissions are awarded to aid you on the next sequence of events. Don't expect every mission to be a success; even your best pilots can miss, not to mention the human element involved.
Gameplay by itself isn't hard; what's hard is remembering that you have two types of altitudes. This can make or break you. I constantly made mistakes when I sent pilots high when they were loaded with low-altitude ordinance, or the opposite would occur. Considering that each mission is only four turns long, there isn't much play in adjustments, turning what I thought was a sure win into a loss.
There were never any bug problems, but that doesn't mean there was a lack of other things: There was no tutorial to speak of; single-player mode is the only mode of play; the graphics and sound are simple; the missions become repetitive in nature; and you are unable to save during gameplay.
In summary, Hornet Leader is a good niche game for trying something different from the standard board war game. I thought that because of the ease of play it didn't cry out boredom. You could play a nine-mission campaign in one evening if you aren't much of a deep thinker tactics-wise, yet some thought must be put to the test, or you'll end up like me eating humble pie.
My knowledge of the industry mostly evolves around beta testing games, such as Earth & Beyond from EA, Saga of Ryzom, and companies like MSN and Acolade. Self taught web design is another interest I have. Family life is entertaining at times. It also can get weird as well, after you have been married 31 years.