"Hind Commander" Mi-24 Hind miniatures are shown. (Assault Publishing)
The Mi-24 attack helicopter is squat and double-chinned, and while it may not float like a butterfly, it does sting like an armor-piercing bee. The “flying tank” has terrorized the skies from Afghanistan to the Congo and earned a fearsome reputation — despite laboring under the NATO code name “Hind,” which sounds less like a cannon-breathing predator and more like something you eat at a barbecue joint.
But it wasn’t just the name that drew me to a tabletop miniatures game called “Hind Commander,” or the big red star on the cover. Most hobby war games and, for that matter, most defense simulations are born on the western side of the former Iron Curtain. But “Hind Commander” was designed by a Polish game designer, Marcin Gerkowicz, founder of Assault Publishing.
Adding to the rarity is that, while there are a fair number of flight simulator video games depicting attack helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache and Mi-28 Havoc (what, no one wants to be a transport pilot?), there aren’t a lot of thinking-man’s strategy games on helicopter warfare.
“Hind Commander” is a miniatures game that uses 1:600-scale (2 millimeter) figurines. There’s something disconcerting about moving helicopters that aren’t much larger than your fingernail, but it does make you admire the skilled elves who make these small but remarkably detailed minis. For “Hind Commander,” I used the recommended figures from PicoArmor, which makes several interesting packs, including a Third World Helicopter-Ground Battle Set that includes World War II-era Soviet T-34/85 tanks and the ubiquitous armed pickup trucks known as “technicals.”
I don’t know what I was expecting from an Eastern European war game. Vodka? Pierogies? Crazy Ukrainian mercenary pilots? But there is nothing particularly Warsaw Pact-ish about the game. It really is a game of modern helicopter warfare, encompassing U.S., Western European and Russian/Soviet forces.
There are numerous helicopter models and variants, from Apaches to Chinooks and Eurocopters, as well as five flavors of our hero, the Hind.
The game mechanics are straightforward. Players issue written orders to their helicopters, such as move, turn, evade or change altitude. Dice are rolled to resolve combat, with a variety of factors affecting the probability of a hit, including the firing unit’s sensors, electronic warfare and smoke.
As expected in a helicopter warfare simulation, victory in “Hind Commander” tends to center on exploiting the technical characteristics of your equipment. Helicopters are rated for speed, ceiling, sensor effectiveness, range and tracking capability, plus electronic countermeasures and armor. The helicopters hunt, while anti-aircraft weapons hunt them. Naturally, helicopters are far more mobile than the plodding ground-bound troops and armor, which are treated more abstractly. There are fixed-wing aircraft, but they are also treated in less detail. The whirlybirds are the stars of this show.
An interesting feature of “Hind Commander” is that for a given battle, players have a certain number of points to spend on various configurations of “strike groups.” A regular strike group will have a balanced mix of, say, a dozen heavy and light helicopters. On the other hand, a special forces group will have fewer but more high-tech choppers, while a reserve group will have more but older equipment. In addition, players can buy stratagem cards that offer bonuses such as elite helicopter crews or enhanced jamming. So there’s a fair amount of unpredictability on the tabletop battlefield.
“Hind Commander” is neither a flight simulator nor a high-fidelity military simulation. But it is an interesting attempt to approach airmobile warfare from a force composition and tactics perspective. More Hind, anyone?