Preview: Airborne Commander

One of my favorite shows of all time is Band of Brothers, an HBO miniseries following the 101st Airborne from D-day through the Battle of the Bulge (they still claim they didn’t need rescued) and the rest of World War II. The mini-series made you care about the characters and so when I saw Airborne Commander available to buy at Internationale Spieltage Essen 2014 it checked all of the boxes and so I pre-ordered it, hoping to join along in the story of these men.

Airborne Commander is a pure solo game that simulates the progress the 101st made after landing in France on D-day. The game is a deck-builder, that simulates gathering the troops of the 101st as you walk along fighting whatever forces happen to pop up. For the first few games it is recommended that you play the defensive cards in a specific order and SPOILER ALERT, I don’t know if I would play it any other way, but the option is there for anyone who wants to play it that way.

Each turn you fill the battlefield with enemy troops, objectives, terrain and static defenses that present different challenges each turn. Then you draw your hand of troops and decide to use them to fight (engage) the enemy, support other troops or recruit new troops. For every enemy unit that wasn’t engaged you add a disorganized card to your hand. The game ends in victory when you have accumulated enough victory points from defeated enemies, static defenses and objectives. However that is easier said than done because the game also ends when you have drawn a certain number of disorganized cards or failed to defeat the static defenses.

courtesy of BGG
courtesy of BGG
airborne defense
courtesy of BGG



What’s Good?

  • Each turn presents some very difficult choice. The game isn’t a puzzle, but at the same time it kind of is. You are constantly weighing the options of playing a troop to engage an enemy or using that same troop to recruit a new troop for later. Maybe you end up sacrificing a troop (don’t think about the reality of this) in order to not draw another disorganized card. Then when you go to recruit a new troop, sometimes you have to decide between someone who is great and fighting or someone who will allow you to draw an extra card, or maybe even someone who will support your other troops allowing you to defeat the most difficult of enemy troops.
  • The difficulty of the game is at a good level. It is definitely difficult, but each time I play it, I immediately want to play it again in order to do better, so the difficulty does not detract from my desire to play which is always a positive.
  • The game is compact and can easily be carried with you on a trip. I’ve even played this on a train, albeit I needed two trays to hold everything.

What’s Not So Good?

  • The rulebook needs some work. The designer told me they are working on revamping this, but as of right now I can’t seem to find them anywhere, so I cannot say anything about those. The text was difficult to read over the background, there were some vague rules that weren’t obviously clear (to me at least) and the order of the rules made it difficult to find what I wanted, when I wanted them.
  • While this is probably just a Europe problem, the price is high including shipping. I know it is expensive to ship, but it’s almost twice as much as the game which is very difficult to swallow for two decks of cards.

What’s The Best Part?

  • Thematically this game is incredible. If you know the story behind the 101st then everything really makes sense. When they first landed in France they were spread all over the place because most of them missed the drop zone. Troops ended up with different companies and as you can imagine that led to a lot of disorganization within the temporary companies. The 101st also were involved in a lot of firefights, often being way outnumbered so sending one or two troops in against an enemy that way overpowered them was not uncommon, especially at first. Even recruiting the new troops, which at first seemed not thematic, is actually very thematic. In the game you use one or multiple troops from your hand to recruit new troops. The way I imagine that scenario is that you send out those troops to walk around the area looking for any troops that may have been separated from their company. Thematically this game makes me feel like a field commander of the 101st, making some very difficult choices that might result in losing troops or amazing victories.

If you are reading this before the Kickstarter ends head over there and check out the game. I would love it too if you mention that you were sent over from the Whose Turn Is It Anyway website!