- Designer: Jerry Hawthorne
- Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
- Players: 2
- Ages: 9+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
Tail Feathers is a head to head battle game that is set in the world of Mice and Mystics. Each player controls an army of birds and rodents trying to take control of the skies and the branches of the trees in the sky. Each side has a home base which serves as the center of operations for their army. The winner is the player who is able to destroy their opponent’s base first. The armies are represented by cards (of bird units, pilot units, and ground units) as well as nice plastic bird figures on special hinged stands.
The battle is set up by choosing a scenario from the rulebook. This will describe the factions in the battle, the forces used in the battle. It will also direct you to set up the battlefield – which is generally a fixed area on the table, bounded by cardboard tree pieces. Each player places their nest in the designated place and then marks the number of hit points for their nest on the appropriate counter. All fighting units start on the home tree of the army. Each player has a clipboard which is used to organize pieces and keep track of information.
The battle goes back and forth with each player taking turns through the four phases of each round. The four phases are: Mission Phase, Tilt Phase, Activation Phase and Final Phase.
In the Mission Phase, each player may choose a Mission card and play it facedown on the table. Players then assign some figures to this mission by placing them onto the Mission area of his clipboard. This mission will not be resolved until the end of the round.
In the Tile Phase, players now choose to readjust each of their bird figurines – each bird has three tilt positions: left, center and right. Each bird may be moved one position in either direction or may remain in the same position. The alignment of the bird is important as it will determine the behavior in flight later in the round. The birds also can be tilted up or down. A bird which is on the ground may be tilted up to show that it is going to take off. All birds that are launching are automatically placed in the center tilt position.
In the Activation Phase, players first determine initiative. In secret, each player chooses a number of dice; taking the first two without cost, and any in excess of two will cost them one piece of cheese (from their clipboard). When each player has chosen, the number of dice are revealed, paid for and then rolled together. The player with the highest total goes first.
Players take turn activating a unit – performing an action with it and then turning the associated card of that unit 90 degrees to show that it cannot be used again this round. A unit, when activated, can perform the following three actions in order: move, attack/scurry, revive.
If the unit is on the ground, it can move across different regions on the tree up to its movement value. If the unit is in the sky, it is moved via flight templates. The player chooses a number of templates upto its move value and announces the type out loud. The templates each have three different options at the end of them (left, center and right) – and at the end of each template, your flying unit will always go in the direction of its tilt position – left, center or right. If your path touches a tree trunk or another flying figure, you will take some damage. If you cross a tree branch space, you can end your movement there. If you cross a space with opponent units in it, you will be able to make a swoop attack against those units. Flying birds are also able to carry one other ground unit with them as they fly.
In the next phase, you can either scurry or attack. Only ground units can scurry, and this is essentially another chance to move on the ground. The only difference here is that this is not considered a move action, and any special move abilities (found on the unit card) will not apply here. If you choose to attack, there are three options: Melee attack, Ranged attack and swoop attack.
In a Melee attack, any figure on the ground can attack a figure in a space adjacent to it and a flying figure can attack another flying figure in close range – as determined by the first portion of the range finder piece (which looks like a stick). Each player rolls a number of attack dice equal to their melee fighting value and each sword that shows up inflicts a hit on their opponent. Defenders roll dice and each shield shown inflicts a hit on the attacking unit. Additionally, each piece of cheese that is rolled adds a cheese piece to that player’s clipboard. Each unit or nest that takes a hit notes the damage on it, either with damage markers for a unit or by decrementing the counter of nest hit points. Any piece which has more damage than its life total is considered killed, and it is removed from the board and placed on the casualty area of that player’s clipboard. If the nest is out of hit points, that player loses and the game is over.
Ranged attacks are measured with the entire range finder piece. Attacks roll dice equal to their ranged attack value and each bow symbol counts as a hit. Defenders roll dice equal to their defense score and each shield counts as a hit. For both sides, again, a cheese symbol adds a piece of cheese to their clipboard.
Swoop attacks happen when a flying bird crosses a space with ground units. In this case, the attack value is equal to the bird’s battle value added to its pilot’s melee value. That total number of dice are rolled for the attack.
Finally, after having the chance to attack, a player can choose to revive a previously killed ground unit (birds and pilots can never be revived). This can only happen if the player has a full cheese wheel (six pieces) and all of these pieces are discarded. The revived piece is moved from the casualty area of the clipboard and moved to the reserve area.
In the final phase, all pieces from the reserve box on the clipboard are moved to that player’s nest. Then, mission cards are revealed and resolved in order. Finally, all unit cards are refreshed (turn back uprights) to show that they are ready for use in the next round again.
Then, you start the next round, going back to the Mission phase and repeating the four phases. Most missions continue until one player’s nest is destroyed (and that player thus loses the scenario) – though some of the scenarios do have alternative end conditions.
There are four scenarios in the rulebook – each with a slightly different feel. The specific scenarios can be made different by adding in some of the different optional rules. Further, you can either choose to use the suggested starting units as given in the book or use a point system to draft your own forces. Finally, the scenarios can also be linked together in a campaign setting where your units are kept from scenario to scenario as well as giving players the chance to “advance” units to more advanced status as they survive each scenario. And… if there isn’t enough variety for you in the first four printed scenarios, the scenario book also gives you some guidelines on how to construct your own scenarios to keep things fresh.
My thoughts on the game
We’ve played a few games now with the basic rules, and for gamers that are not overly accomplished in battle games, we’ve got our hands full as it is. The rule book includes a number of additional rules which add more complexity (and I assume more strategy) to the game, but for the fighting novices of the Yu family, we’re pretty happy with just the moving and fighting of the basic rules.
We’ve only played through the first two scenarios. The first one is a simply melee with no special victory conditions – you simply have to destroy your opponent’s nest in order to win. The second scenario adds a bit more strategy with a second win condition – you can either destroy your opponent’s nest or you can control a sapling which is found in the center of the board.
The movement rules are unique (for me), and it takes a bit of time experimenting with the different movement templates to get a good feel for how to get your bird to the part of the board where you want to be. The rules require you to verbally announce the pieces that you are going to use (and the order that you’re going to use them in) before you get to physically touch them, so you have to learn how to visualize movement in order to be successful.
You cannot just concentrate on the flying though as there is a pretty significant ground game going on as well. Learning how to move your pieces around to the different branches of the game, and then massing forces to either attack or defend on the ground can also be a fairly significant part of a winning strategy.
Our games are coming in right around 60 minutes of playing time (and about 15 minutes to set up the board and get out all the pieces/cards). For us, this is just about right as far as the amount of time that we want to play this sort of thing.
The base rules are easy to follow, and the flow becomes second nature by the end of the first game. We’ve specifically kept the game a bit more simple at our choice, but the game allows you to add in the new rules piecemeal, so it would be hard to be overwhelmed. The full rules do seem like a lot to take in (for a non war-gamer), but I like the conceptual approach of adding them in one at a time.
The production of the game is wonderful. The highlight are the bird figures and the articulated moving bases which are not only sweet to look at but also integral to the flying action in the game. Knowing what sort of path an opponent bird can take can help you plan your strategy (to either avoid or intercept) an opponent’s unit.
It’s hard to give a full rating now seeing as I’ve not yet played all of the scenarios, but I have definitely liked what I’ve seen so far. We’ll see how much more opportunity I get to play strictly 2p games in the coming weeks…
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor