Tail Feathers: A Review

As part of my Not-Quite-Resolution to be a consistent internet guy, I’ve decided to devote Wednesdays to reviews and digressions about my chief hobby: Tabletop Gaming.

And, yes, I was into tabletop before it was cool. Although it’s still not really that cool, so I guess that still applies even if I started last week.

Last year was full of interesting, unique games, giving me plenty to talk about. Today, a review.

TAIL FEATHERS by Plaid Hat Games is a game of aerial combat between warring factions of rodents. Mice and rats, piloting birds through the trees, battle it out to be the first to destroy the enemy’s nest. The premise is fairly standard fantasy in many ways, with birds replacing the dragons or gryphons that might show in other games. Tail Feathers is based in the same setting as Plait Hat’s Mice & Mystics game. I’m not a fan of that game. It’s just not a very interesting dungeon crawler style game, and replacing the standard hero and villain archetypes with mice and bugs doesn’t make it stand out.

Since then, Plaid Hat has gone on to make some truly fantastic games. Sufficiently intrigued and after taking some time to watch some videos online, I decided to give Tail Feathers a shot. While Mice & Mystics is a relatively straightforward game with a tacked-on theme, Tail Feathers takes its premise and runs with it.

There are already dogfight games out there. Probably most popular at the moment is the one based on Star Wars. I’ve played it, and while it’s not a bad game, it still is just a dogfight game. The system is so generic that it’s been applied to both a Dungeons & Dragons theme and Star Trek. It works, but it never really stood out to me.

Tail Feathers is different, and a big part of that difference is that the birds are only part of the game. Each player also has ground forces composed of rat and mouse warriors who take part in the battle. The most interesting and unique aspect is that, each round, players send their ground units on missions. Those missions can range from simple decoy operations to rescuing downed birds and even outright siege attacks on the enemy tree. It’s risky though. Those birds flying around in the sky are always capable of swooping down and ending a mission before it starts or the enemy forces might engage you in the fields of grass before you even get where you’re going. The mission system is simple but undoubtedly what initially sold me on this game. It has an aspect of bluffing and strategy that most dogfight style games can’t.

But the mission system alone isn’t enough if the aerial battles were boring, and here, Tail Feathers shines again. Each bird unit is composed of a bird card and a pilot card, each with different possible levels, creating many variations. You might have a nameless bird piloted by a rookie hero or you might have a legendary named bird and skilled hero on your side. Every pilot has strengths and weaknesses, as does every bird. And the tilt system is a great idea as it allows one to predict flight patterns to some degree while still allowing some unpredictability.

One of my favorite advanced rules is the death spiral. Two birds who collide end up locked in a screeching battle, tumbling from the sky. Get caught in this spiral too long and both birds come crashing to Earth. It’s highly thematic and great source of tension.

Meanwhile, ground forces scurry through the brush and among the branches, fighting among themselves. I’m a sucker for games with a great theme that manage to be great games at the same time, and Tail Feathers is a perfect melding of theme and gameplay. Even without the theme, the game itself is solid through and through. It’s thrilling to engage in dogfights (or is that birdfights?) while below you, your ground units scurry about on missions and battle among the branches. Incorporating the advanced rules (which are all fairly simple) adds elements such as sending raiding parties across the battlefield on drifting leaves or watching falling feathers get in the way.

Tail Feathers is a blast, pure and simple.

There are a few caveats however. (Aren’t there usually?)

First off, Tail Feathers is an expensive game. It’s not necessarily one you want to just jump into if you don’t love tabletop games. The components are top notch and the game itself is well worth it in my estimation, but it’s a large investment for the casual fan. Still, unlike a lot of these games, Plaid Hat isn’t stingy. This is a complete game right out of the box, and while I’m sure expansions are on the way, they aren’t necessary, though to play with more than two players would probably require one to buy two sets. I’m not sure I find the idea of more than two players appealing myself as it might just clutter and confuse the battlefield and increase the game length, but it’s a factor for those who do care.

Secondly, the tilt system for the birds is creative, with the actual figures being capable of tilting to show which direction they’re flying, but it does have its problems. When tilting the birds, it’s not unusual to occasionally pop them out of their base, and while my figures are all in great shape, I do worry about wear and tear a little. As much as I like the look of it, I think I would’ve preferred something simpler like tokens to indicate tilt. It might not be as pretty to look at or as easy to tell where birds are flying at a glance, but it would work well enough. I’m torn because it’s fun to see the birds twist and turn, but it can be a hassle every so often.

In the end, Tail Feathers is exactly what I was hoping it would be. Its melding of gameplay and theme make it just about perfect. More than a dogfight game (though for those who are only interested in a dogfight game that’s probably a strike), more than a simple wargame, Tail Feathers is a battle royale in the air and land and if the idea of swooping down an enemy’s nest while dodging arrows and opposing birds sounds interesting to you, then this is probably worth your time.


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