Missing Pieces: ‘Chopper Strike’

Every week in Missing Pieces, we explore the thrift store shelves, searching out games from yesteryear that trigger our nostalgia, pique our curiosity, or just make us say, “What were they thinking?!”

Chopper Strike

Chopper Strike is the 1976 Milton Bradley two-person strategy game of air and land military superiority. Players attempt to conquer the skies with their helicopters or the ground with their Jeeps by rolling dice and moving their pieces across the 12×12 grids. The first player to achieve either air or ground superiority (destroy all of an opponent’s Jeeps or choppers) is the winner.

Components

If you’re lucky, your thrift store copy of Chopper Strike will contain the following:

  • (1) Cardboard Game Board
  • (6) Acrylic Upper Game Board Legs
  • (2) Acrylic Upper Game Board Pieces
  • (6) Green Choppers
  • (6) Green Jeeps
  • (6) Tan Choppers
  • (6) Tan Jeeps

I was very pleased to see that my copy of Chopper Strike was nearly complete. There was just one chopper missing its blade. The pieces were quite impressive for a game from 40 years ago, with the chopper blades actually able to spin and the gun in the Jeep able to be rotated.

[sad trombone]

How to Play

Players begin by placing their pieces along the edge of the board closest to them–choppers on the clear acrylic “sky” and Jeeps on the painted game board. The light color goes first by rolling two dice. Using the d3 to determine how many pieces can be moved and the d6 to determine how many squares each piece can move, players take turn strategically moving their pieces around the board until they are within striking distance of their opponent. A piece cannot go back over a square they already moved across, but they can take circuitous routes to get to a position. Choppers destroy choppers when they jump over them and destroy Jeeps when they stop above them. Jeeps destroy choppers when they stop below them and other Jeeps when they land on them. You can think of it like the chopper board is checkers and the Jeep board is chess.

Strategy

There are a few special rules that add complexity to the game. Choppers can jump over their own choppers, and a chopper jump only counts as one move even though you are moving two spaces. With this rule in mind, players can position their choppers in a line and move more quickly across the board. The downside to this strategy is that the opponent can also use your choppers’ spacing to their advantage, capturing several of your choppers in a single move. Also, when a chopper’s final move places them next to an enemy chopper, they can jump and capture that chopper even though they have no moves left. Finally, choppers can use the lakes and hills below as “safe spaces” from the Jeeps below since Jeeps cannot cross lakes or hills.

For Jeeps, one key is to limit the number of options available to your opponent to capture your Jeeps. For example, there may be an enemy Jeep two spaces in front of me but between two lakes. It would seem like folly to move closer to him, but if I do, my opponent has to roll a one to capture my Jeep. If we were both out in the open, my opponent could capture me by rolling a two, a four, or a six.

Also, don’t forget to pay attention to both above and below. If you execute a well-planned attack on your enemy’s choppers with one of your choppers, and you end your turn on a space directly above an opponent’s Jeep, you must declare a strike on the Jeep. If you do not, when it is your opponent’s turn, they can immediately call a strike on your chopper from their Jeep before they even roll, capturing your chopper. They then continue with their turn.

You will likely discover other strategies as you play (note the advantage of moving choppers along the sides of the board). Don’t be afraid to try some alternate rules. I found that a well-planned attack could be completely wiped out by a bad roll followed by an opponent’s great roll. Halving the value of the d6 so that the pieces could only move, at most, three spaces at a time allowed for more strategy and less complete destruction due to dumb luck.

Summary

Chopper Strike is one of those games I expected to be boring and simplistic. I mainly bought it because I was fascinated with the minis, the board, and the idea of making a Jeep and chopper war game the year after the Vietnam War ended. Did the creators plan for the war to still be going on when the game was released? Did they foresee the end of the conflict and attempt to capitalize on the public’s fascination with Vietnam as witnessed by movies such as The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now? What I didn’t expect was a surprisingly complex and entertaining game. While I wouldn’t put it on the level of, say, Stratego, it’s definitely a fun way to kill 30 minutes with another person, and the various strategies and position possibilities make Chopper Strike quite replayable.

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One interesting piece of trivia regarding this game: I was curious about the map. I didn’t think they would actually use places in Vietnam where it was possible terrible things may have happened, and sure enough, all of the hills, towns, rivers, roads, etc. are in English. I thought maybe they would point me in the direction of the artist or the game designer. Maybe they dropped in a “Bob Smith River” or something. Alas, no such luck, but I did discover where the map is (very loosely) based off of.

Chopper Strike was made in the U.S.A. by the Milton Bradley Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. If you travel Northwest out of Springfield, you will come to the Catamount State Forest, surrounded by landmarks such as the Mohawk Trail, Colrain Mountain, the North River, and the tiny little town of Shattuckville. I’m sure it was a nice inside joke for the locals, and now in the era of Google Maps, it’s fun to be able to share it with them.

If you happen to be a resident of the area, drop me a line in the comments section. I’m curious if perhaps the creator is a local. I’d love to hear from him or her.

You can pick up Chopper Strike from your local thrift store, or if you’re inclined to pay the collector price, from eBay or Amazon.

Randy Slavey lives near Denver, Colorado with his wife and two boys. When he's not writing code, you can usually find him behind a camera or on a trail in the mountains. Or both.