A little turbulence, but the view is fantastic.
Phantom Leader for iPad is a direct translation of a popular solitaire board game. Set in Vietnam, players maneuver aircraft against enemy targets using die rolls, cards, and quite a bit of luck. Phantom Leader isn’t so much about simulation as it is about making smart tactical choices, though, and the result is an engaging wargame that isn’t too far off the deep end to prohibit enjoying it.
While most players encounter new board games in a setting where there is someone else to help them learn, I felt utterly alone as I first started to play Phantom Leader. This isn’t the fault of the game, but the tutorial could have been friendlier. Added to my initial frustration was the fact that the game’s UI, while functional, can be miserably confusing. I felt as if I learned Phantom Leader by brute force, and I’m still having issues with interacting with the virtualized board game.
Once you do break through the surface, though, Phantom Leader offers an engaging experience. Players must not only comply with the restraints of the terrain, enemy forces, and their own aircraft, but also with event cards that are chosen before engagements. These event cards act as modifiers to combat, much like the judges in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The impositions on combat scenarios offer variety, and a perhaps unnecessary added layer of challenge.
I have a suspicion that I still don’t quite know how to play Phantom Leader, although I am enjoying it. I am largely crushingly unsuccessful in my pursuits. Some battles only allow a single aircraft, and I can’t for the life of me understand how that would be accomplished. Part of this is the randomized nature of the dice-based combat. The game allows players to abort from just about any scenario, but there will always be encounters where I feel as if the odds are just stacked against me. Of course my initial suspicion was that I could just have picked the wrong aircraft, put them at the wrong altitude, and tried to attack the wrong kinds of targets with the wrong munitions.
Phantom Leader is a game for those who don’t mind nestling down with an instruction booklet. It is for people who derive fun from learning a complex system, and exercising their mastery of it. While luck will always be a factor, Phantom Leader is a game that I want to become skilled at.
Phantom Leader is avialable on the App Store for $14.99, those hesitant to make the purchase may want to wait for a UI upgrade.