Corsair Leader is the next installment game of the bestselling Leader series from DVG Games, this time taking the action to the Pacific engulfed by a titanic struggle between Japan and the Allies. After the Vietnam War (Phantom Leader), the Cold War (Hornet Leader), and the Arab-Israeli Wars (Israeli Air Force Leader), this time player will take on the Japanese in campaigns for air supremacy over Okinawa, Coral Sea, Malaya, and even Pearl Harbor.
Corsair Leader is designed as a solo wargame, although you can also play cooperatively by splitting your forces. As a player, you will be leading 8 to 12 planes, performing various missions drawn randomly in one of the selected campaigns.
You start by selecting pilots, assigned to planes TBD Dauntless, B17 Bombers, and finally Corsairs. There are around ten types of planes to choose from and more than 70 pilots. Each pilot has different Air to Air and Air to Ground skills, Guns values, experience (from Green to Veteran) and more. Planes can be equipped with different payloads.
Plane availability depends on the campaign. As the United States Airforce was lacking at the start of the war and initial campaigns are difficult. You will have a hard time fighting Zeroes at Pearl Harbor or on the Phillipines with puny Buffalos. But as time progresses, more and more planes are available, including eponymous Corsairs. You will also have to outfit your planes with bombs and torpedoes, and later napalm and rockets depending on the mission. Everything costs you requisition points, so you have to balance carefully.
Depending on the campaign, you can choose between three “factions” – US Navy (that had its own airforce), US Airforce, and even RAF in two campaigns. Each faction has its own set of pilots and planes, although they’re pretty similar mechanics-wise.
Campaigns last from three to a dozen days, depending on the type of campaign and our choice. You can choose short, medium, and long campaigns, and they also differ in the number of requisition points to spend to choose. Each day you can fly one, or in some cases two missions, and after choosing the target, you’re taken to the abstract tactical map. Missions differ in VP (Victory Points) you get for completing them and the more mission is difficult and involves a larger amount of pilots, the bigger your score. Victory points score at the end of each campaign depends on your success or failure, so there is a push your luck mechanics, requiring you to choose harder missions over easier ones while risking your planes if you want to win the campaign.
Each campaign has also a set of special rules. Pictured above Wake Island is quite unusual, as its gameplay is a bit different.
You’ll be dogfighting bandits and bombing ground and naval targets on an abstract map, covering a generic Pacific island. Each mission consists of 8 phases and 4 turns.
“Enemy troops” mission. Every mission has target and bandit ratings, telling you how many enemy counters to draw in each area (approach and target), special rules, and VP and Intel, and Recon points you get for completion.
Corsair Leader tactical display – this will be your tactical mission map. You can see from printed sequence of play, that it’s highly procedural, just like many solo wargames.
During the mission, you will be deciding the direction of your approach, which bandit to attack, and which planes to use to support. You can also use various maneuvers during dogfighting. Aerial combat is resolved quickly by rolling d10 and comparing your pilot skills to bandit skills, gun rating, and modifiers for maneuvering. You can also choose to use “Gung ho” tokens to guarantee yourself a hit or to negate bandit success. To spice things up, you’ll be drawing three random events during each mission. At the end of the fourth round, you have a mission debrief, count stress, perform SAR (search and rescue operations) for downed pilots, and add VP and Recon, and Intel Points. You’ll be also recording a number of downed planes, XP, and skills on the pilot sheet.
If you have a secondary target for the day, you can perform the second mission, usually short and simple, and start the next day of your campaign.
As usual for solo games, everything is very procedural, but a number of decision points, various campaigns, random events, additional play modes, tons of pilots, and planes to choose from don’t feel like it’s a grind.
This is the biggest game for Leader Series, as it contains more than 500 cards, several countersheets, a mounted mapboard, a mounted maneuver board, and more than a dozen mission sheets. Component-wise, the quality is great and typical for DVG. Counters need no rounding, the generic map board is mounted and counter artwork is well done.
There is also one add-on – Ace Pilots, but it’s completely optional and doesn’t add much to the game. You get just more historical pilots with ace status. This also makes the game much easier, because considering their cost and ultimate skills, ace pilots seem to be OP for me.
Unfortunately, this game isn’t without flaws. The rules, while clear, need a lot of errata. Unless there’s a new printing (I got my copy a few years ago), I suggest thrashing the current rulebook and printing out a new one, available on the DVG site – there are just many updates. Moreover, even errata doesn’t address some ambiguities, like fighting enemy bombers. There are also misprinted cards and even some missing tokens for additional modes. You can also order update pack for this game, if you don’t want to print it.
Pros & Cons
- Great narrative: Your pilots will gain experience, obtain new skills, suffer from stress, and occasionally be shot down, only to be rescued a few days later by the SAR team, drifting through the sea. There is even a cool campaign where you’ll be leading the infamous “Black sheep” squadron as an unruly ace “Pappy” Boyington.
- Quality components: Typical for DVG, the components are great. You won’t be clipping counters, but the cards are usual CCG fare, so I recommend sleeving.
- Lots of stuff inside: This is the biggest Leader DVG game (new Stuka Leader and Zero Leader might be bigger, but only considering separate add-ons), with >500 cards, dozen campaigns, and some unique mechanics, like carrier campaigns.
- Full solo gameplay: Designed as solo gameplay, you won’t need a real opponent to play it.
- Don’t try treating this game as a simulation. DVG wargames have a historical background, but I’ve yet to find a single Dan Verssen game that depicts any real organization, structure, or TOE. Your 8 planes will be busting out dozens of bandits and can sink an aircraft carrier, destroy a depot and bust out a dozen bunkers – all in 2 days. A narrative here is great, but don’t expect this game will faithfully reproduce war in the Pacific. Instead, treat it rather as an action movie on the board. It’s more of a “Dirty Dozen” than “A Bridge Too Far”.
- The game is too easy? Especially long campaigns that give you a lot of Intel points, allowing you to discard bandit tokens. I feel like some campaigns weren’t tested properly, and after getting familiar with the rules, it’s easy to get “Great” results, even on harder campaigns.
- Errata: As mentioned above, the current rulebook and proper cards are essential to play. Unfortunately, many DVG games have the same problem.
- The game is pretty similar to other Air Leader series. If you played Hornet Leader or Israeli Airforce Leader, the gameplay loop is the same, and while there are some new gimmicks, it’s not different.
Great entry to the leader series, but not without flaws. Still, I believe it’s the best entry in the (Airforce) Leader series, that should offer you at least 60 hours of gameplay, just playing through all the campaigns on medium length and in a standard mode. If you want to play all the campaigns on all lengths and with additional modes, this should give you hundreds of hours of fun. It’s quite replayable too, with different campaigns, targets, random events, and many pilots to choose from. Just don’t expect simulation. I give it easily 7,5/10 and this is a game that I will be certainly going back to.