clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Game review: Hornet Leader and Dawn of the Zeds offer solitaire excitement

One of the great things about board games is the social component — sitting around a table with your family and friends rolling dice, moving pieces, laughing and having fun. What do you do, however, when you want that tactile thrill of a board game but can't get a group together?

There are several great solitaire board games on the market today, games that offer genuine thrills that are designed for one player. Here's a look at two such titles: Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations, from Dan Verssen Games, and Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition), from Victory Point Games.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations

In Hornet Leader, you command a squadron of U.S. Navy or Marine fighter aircraft embarking on dangerous missions across various historical and theoretical scenarios. The game includes a board where all the action takes place, various chit tokens, and a mountain of aircraft cards, each with their own unique statistics. The player attacks several targets over a far-reaching campaign, and his pilots may gain skills or be promoted.

After choosing a scenario, such as Iraq in 1991 or Libya in 1984, the player selects a specific target from the target such as a Scud missile launcher or a weapons laboratory. The player is then allotted points to build his squad. Aircraft must be chosen to conform to the historical parameters of the mission, and each plane is then loaded with air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The enemy is given a set number of AA defenses, including enemy bandit aircraft, and the player must best utilize his limited resources for the attack.

Important factors going into battle are the pilots' stress levels — have they been flying too many missions or flown too far into enemy territory; their situational awareness, and their combat skills against other planes or ground units. A D10 is rolled to resolve combat, with fast pilots firing before the enemy's defenses and slow pilots firing after.

The player has just five turns over enemy airspace to destroy the target. Throughout the mission, the player draws event cards that can alter certain conditions and affect pilots. Upon completion of the mission, pilots return to the carrier and the player must update each pilot's statistics for the larger campaign.

The above is just the barest description of the game, and the rulebook describes each step in great detail.

Hornet Leader is not a game for everybody. It is a relatively complex war game that requires a deep reading of the rules to grasp key concepts. There is a lot going on here that the player must keep on top of in order to manage the game properly, and some aspects of the game, such as arming aircraft with weapons that fit both the plane and the scenario, can be quite tedious.

That being said, Hornet Leader offers some real tension as it forces you to make important tactical choices. Which approach vector gives your planes the best advantage? Do you fire multiple weapons at the same bandit hoping one will hit, or do you husband your strength and risk the enemy's counter-attack? Will you attempt to suppress or evade the enemy's weapons?

The ongoing campaign also draws you in. You begin to appreciate the skills and abilities of certain pilots and feel a genuine pang of despair when your favorite ace is shot down (you have to remind yourself, it's just a card with a picture of a plane on it). If you like war games and don't mind some bookkeeping, in Hornet Leader you will find a challenge rich in thematic detail and tense game play.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations is recommended for ages 12 and up and each mission generally plays in about 30 minutes.

Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition)

We've safely arrived at a point where we can effectively state that zombie games have become a genre all their own. Every year more and more zombie board game titles are released, to the point where one would think the market had been saturated. And yet, just like the endless hordes of the undead, zombie games appear to be gaining ground.

In Dawn of the Zeds, the player must manage the defense of the city of Farmingdale from the advancing zombies (Zeds). The two-sided board offers easier play with four tracks the Zeds can advance along, or a more difficult side that offers five tracks. Each track boasts seven spaces to the town center. Once a Zed unit enters the town center, the player loses.

The player also manages civilian units that can fight the Zeds, and hero units that can fight as well as perform a host of other actions beneficial to the town. The player must also manage several charts such as outbreak, supply and ammunition.

Event cards drive game play in Dawn of the Zeds, and each turn the player must draw a card and follow its instructions. Event cards require the player to check to see if a new outbreak occurs or if supplies are consumed.

Next, Zeds move along certain tracks denoted by the card, and finally players may take a set number of actions. The player may move civilian or hero units, forage for supplies, engage in ranged attacks or fight hand to hand. The heroes' special actions also come in handy.

If no Zeds have made it to the town center, the game ends if the National Guard card is drawn. The game also includes different scenarios and special rules. The player may engage in research to find a cure for the zombie plague, or he may face a mad scientist with his own agenda.

Dawn of the Zeds explores familiar ground thematically, though it offers some really fun and inventive mechanics. The event cards really set the pace for the game, but the player is always able to make important decisions and must spend resources wisely, especially when it comes to deciding whether or not to use up valuable ammunition. The combat system is fun and tense, though the way Zeds take hit points is a bit counter-intuitive.

Importantly, Dawn of the Zeds is a game that tells a story. You can almost hear the voice of Sheriff Hunt as he solemnly volunteers for the suicide mission at the barricade, or Mayor Hernandez's inspiring speech, rallying the people. This is a game that is dripping with themes and offers an exciting, difficult battle to keep your town alive.

Dawn of the Zeds: The Battle for Farmingdale (2nd Edition) is recommended for ages 13 and up and plays in about 45-90 minutes.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: