Monday, November 23, 2015

Airborne Commander - Kickstarter Review

Back in March, I found a Kickstarter for a solitaire card game called "Airborne Commander." Interested by both the theme of the game, and the idea of a solo deck-building game, I jumped in on the project and pledged for copy of the game. 

After a couple (understandable) delays, I was happy to find my copy of the game in my mailbox. 

The box contains a small rule booklet and two decks - the Allied deck containing the paratrooper units the player controls, and the Mission deck containing the Axis units, terrain, and objectives that the paratroopers will have to face over the course of the game.

The Mission deck is even numbered for introductory games, so new players will have some chance to remember whats coming up in following games. Possible cards include infantry units, machine guns, mortars, road blocks, pill boxes, armored vehicles, and historical objectives. 

The Allied deck is made up of units from the 101st Airborne Division (the same that was featured in the "Band of Brothers" book and series). You've got paratroopers, bazookas, commanders, anti-tank guns, jeeps, planes, and more.

Did I mention how awesome the art on these cards are?

So, how does the game play? Well, the above picture shows the base set-up for a game. Four cards are drawn from the Mission deck and laid out in a row, creating the Battlefield. Below the Mission deck is the Disorganized deck and the Player deck. Five cards are drawn from the Player deck to be used in this turn. On the other side of the playing area is the Allied deck and the Drop Zone, where new units can be recruited.

Play continues in turns until 4 Static Defenses cards are on the table, if the Disorganized deck has been emptied into the Player deck, or if either the Mission or the Allied deck has been depleted. 

To begin the game, I played an Officer card into the Support area (behind the Player Battlefield area), which allowed me to either discard a Disorganized and draw a new card, or use to gain 2 Recruitment points. I decided to go with the former. 

I then drew another Paratrooper card, who had the Support ability to suppress a single enemy unit. Any enemy unit that isn't suppressed or engaged at the end of the turn adds a Disorganized card to the player's discard pile, so I chose to suppress the mortar unit.

Finally, I had my other Paratrooper engage the infantry unit. Neither unit was capable of destroying each other (their attack value needs to exceed the other cards defense value). It should be noted that destroyed Allied cards are removed from the game rather than being sent to the discard pile. So pick and choose your fights!

With no cards destroyed on either side, the Mission cards went into the Mission discard pile - except for the Static Defense card, which stays on the table - and the Allied cards went into the Allied discard pile, which will get reshuffled into the Allied deck when the Allied deck runs out. The remaining Allied card in my hand (which should have been placed in the Support Area earlier) allowed me two spend two recruitment points twice. Unfortunately, I was only able to recruit a single BAR-equipped Paratrooper.

With that, the second turn began. The Battlefield was filled back up. Since there were three cards in the Drop Zone, I had to discard one, and then drew two more cards to fill it back up to four. I then drew four new cards. Note that I should I drawn five, as Disorganized cards are discarded at the end of the turn, something I did not realize until a couple turns in. I think this hurt me in the long run, as Disorganized cards only take up space in the player's hand.

The game continued for several more turns, during which time I did manage to destroy a few Axis units, but also took a couple more Disorganized cards. The game ended when I drew another Static Defense and realized between the Allied cards I had drawn and the Mission cards on the Battlefield, there was no way I was going to destroy any of them. And as having four Static Defense cards on the table at the beginning of the turn ends the game, I called it then. It's only now, as I write this, I realized I should have played the turn through, if only to score more VP's. My total for the game was -2.5 Victory points, which got me a Campaign Ribbon, the lowest score level. Ouch!

Despite my poor first performance, I found myself wanting to play more. My second game ended with all ten Disorganized cards in my player deck, and I scored 0 total points for a Victory Medal.

It's definitely a challenging game. You have to balance using cards in the Battlefield and Support areas. If you use the cards to buy more powerful Allied cards, you'll have more resources later, but also more Disorganized cards clogging up your deck. Or you can decide to fight it out on the Battlefield, but you'll be losing Allied cards each turn, and a bad round of draws from the Mission deck can force you into a fight you can't win.

I'm definitely going to have to play a few more games to get a hang of the rules, but my initial hope - a great solo game that doesn't take up a lot of space, but has plenty of replay value - seems to have been fulfilled. If you're looking for a challenging solitaire card game, I definitely recommend Airborne Commander.

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