Since my earliest days I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. There was something about the sleek look of the Tornado, or the F-16 that enticed me to fly the friendly war-torn skies. Much to my mother’s relief I have terrible eyesight, and you needed 20/20 to be a fighter pilot. I had to abandon my dreams and get a normal job, but every time I sit down to play a game that includes air power, or fighter support, I’m always dialed into the experience an extra degree. Here’s a quick look at some of my favourite games that include Jet Fighters (there’s tons more out there but these are my favourite ones to play):
3. Where There is Discord – Fifth Column Games
Where There is Discord is a solitaire game that covers the conflict in the Falklands in 1982. You control a Royal Naval Task Force bearing down on the Falklands to retake them from the Argentinians. Sending your sea harriers on combat air patrols, raiding supply line and counter attacks from event cards are just some of the things you can do as the British forces. But the real fun is with the Argentine Air Force launching their attacks on your ships. The enemy aircraft come screaming in from 30 miles out and you spend a couple of rounds desperately trying to get radar locks and then weapons locks on the fighters before launching Surface to Air missiles. Each round the fighters move 10 miles closer, which somehow really brings home the speed and ferocity of the jets. I loved this combat mechanic within this game. Jets pop up over the horizon and two die rolls later they’re on top of you dropping ordnance or worse Exocet missiles. I highly recommend this game generally speaking, but the enemy air attacks later in the game really ramp up the tension.
2. Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 – GMT Games
Downtown is one of the iconic jet era war games. If you’ve ever played a Lee Brimmicombe-Wood design you know he tries to pack in as much detail into a game whilst still keeping it not only playable but fun as well. It’s a complex game that puts the US player in control of a huge range of Air assets, from bombers to jamming craft, recon, and fighters. The North Vietnamese player uses AA, Fire-Can, SAM and MiG’s to counter the US onslaught. Downtown provides a gaming experience of jet fighters and bombers on a huge scale. You’ll be running packages across Northern Vietnam to Hanoi in order to bomb the Northern Leadership into submission. The victory conditions account for losses and keeping attrition down means that you’ll be playing both strategically and tactically. This is a rich experience, that rewards those willing to invest in the time and effort in order to reap the rewards.
1. Phantom Leader – Dan Verssen Games
I suppose you could insert a few of the Air Leader games from DVG in this slot. Things like Hornet Leader, or Thunderbolt Apache leader. I like Phantom Leader though, because it’s a pure jet aircraft game. It’s very different from the previous two games because you play this on a micro management scale, so to speak. The game takes you through a campaign, where you’ll run bombing missions every day, and you literally manage a squadron of named pilots and their respective planes. I like a game that engages me to the point at which I almost forget I’m playing a game. Phantom Leader consistently does that for me. You spend a good amount of time loading out each fighter with missiles, gun pods, bombs, napalm and many other types of ordnance. You then fly a mission and drop said ordnance on defenses, enemy units, and finally the target. I know this is a great game because when I’m playing it I sit at my table making shooting noises and explosions for each weapon token I spend launching attacks. It’s just that fun. Pure unadulterated fun! Navigating the maze of enemy positions and then dropping everything on the target and rushing out is really fun. The planning is engaging and the tactical board only takes a few minutes, so you really get a quick experience for each mission and it gives you that fast, furious, rushing feeling of buzzing low over enemy positions and taking them out. This one comes with my highest recommendations!