Fighter Alley: The Ghost of Kyiv is a tactical board game for two to four players, simulating the frantic nature of air-combat. Each player controls a jet fighter (or two) as they try to eliminate their opponents’ jet fighters, whilst protecting their own aircraft from attack.
Players also need to protect their bases, which can be attacked and destroyed. Although Fighter Alley can be only won through eliminating the opponents’ jet fighters, as each jet fighter has a limited supply of fuel and the bases are used for refuelling, they form an essential part of any strategy.
Fighter Alley is played over a board divided into hexagons. In each corner are the players’ bases, from which they start and refuel. Every turn uses fuel, and games will often involve needing to fly back to refuel. The board is just the right size. If it were too big it would slow the game, but if it were too small then it wouldn’t have the space for strategising.
The distance moved is randomly generated at the start of each player’s turn by rolling two six-sided dice (2D6). These air points are for advancing forward a hex whilst maintaining or lowering altitude (1 point), or advancing whilst gaining altitude (2 points for every level of altitude gained).
A successful attack can only be executed when attacking another jet fighter from a higher altitude. As such, maintaining a low altitude will allow the jet fighter to travel further, but gaining altitude can protect them from attack. It is interesting that attacks against jet fighters are automatically successful, rolling a six-sided dice (D6) for damage, with a second D6 if the first dice roll was a 6 – possibly eliminating the enemy jet fighter instantly if two 6s are rolled.
There is also a tableau-laying element to Fighter Alley, as the flight path of each jet fighter is determined by laying a series of aircards. These are randomised, with players taking them sequentially from the pile.
The core principles of Fighter Alley are solid. It is an elegantly simple but tactical game that requires players to balance attacking enemy fighters and bases, whilst protecting their own bases and not running out of fuel. It soon becomes a fun, fast and frantic experience, especially with four players.
The game is evenly balanced: everyone starts an equal distance apart and there are no unique upgrades offering unfair advantages. As such, success comes down to strategy and the random element of dice rolling.
Unfortunately, the current iteration of the English language section within the rulebook is not well written. It would have benefitted from an editorial review and a check of the clarity and comprehensiveness of the rules. For example, Fighter Alley is described as being for two to four players, but it is unclear how the game works with three players.
Likewise, it is unclear whether aircards are discarded after use. There is also the question of whether you could fly under enemy aircraft (or if this would enable them to attack the other player?) More than anything else, the rulebook would have benefited from a series of examples to demonstrate a typical turn within the game.
The fuel gauge of each jet fighter is tracked using a cardboard dial, but there is nothing to keep track of jet fighter hitpoints, other than pen and paper or using your own 12-sided dice (D12). Consolidating this information, along with the jet fighter’s altitude, onto a single dial feels like a missed opportunity.
Some have queried if making a board game with direct references to the current war in Ukraine is appropriate. The designers’ response is shown here.
If the issues surrounding the rule clarity are resolved and an improved method of tracking information is introduced, then Fighter Alley: The Ghost of Kyiv has the potential to be a great game that is rarely away from the gaming table.
Note: Fighter Alley: The Ghost of Kyiv is still in development and was played using a Q4 2023 version of the rules.