Second Front : Review
Few unreleased games over the years have kept my interest and excitement as Second Front has. Published by Microprose and developed by Hexdraw, it combines the best of solid gameplay, historical accuracy, and move of all, fun. It’s all wrapped into a UI that is delightfully refreshing in the genre. This will be, without a doubt, a true classic of wargaming.
Subject of the Game
Second Front is a turn based, hex stylized, squad/vehicle level, tactical wargame. Created by Joachim Bader of HexDraw and published by Microprose, it has been in development, but not Early Access, for several years. Hexdraw itself started as a developer of hex style maps such as would be used with ASL, Old School Tactical, or Battletech. There was a top down game known as Tank on Tank Digital released through Lock n Load publishing in 2016 previously by HexDraw but it doesn’t seem to share much with this system.
Scope, Scale, Level of Play
The game is played at a squad or single vehicle level with squad served weaponry such as machine guns and mortars. Also present is individual leaders that can be moved from stack to stack. The player is in control of these units turn by turn with some reaction fire that automatically occurs. The maps themselves can be well detailed, rich in cover, and offer a wide potential for tactical gameplay. The focus of the game is 1939 to 1945, currently just the Eastern and Western fronts.
There is not multiplayer in this version, and the games FAQ is clear that they wish to refine single player before going down the multiplayer path.
The graphical design of the game is pleasing, detailed, rich in color and function, without being over the top. While cutesy at initial glance, the tanks for example are loving drafted as the proper variants with the proper looks. Someone counted rivets and it shows.
Infantry units are fairly simplistic but detailed enough to be easily recognizable. The iconography when a unit is selected easily defines strength, special weaponry, and movement available.
Armor is the same way, with even more detail. The title card in the lower right corner shows armor, status of the hatch, engine, crew size, and gun status. One important call out in the lower right corner is the “17%”, which is the chance of a Reload allowing the gun to fire a second time in the same turn.
Players can make maps, finely detailed with graphics, decals, flair such as posters, as well as tactically important details like stone walls and buildings. The map maker is incredibly well done, one of the finest I’ve had the pleasure to use in many years.
Second Front is a complete, detailed, tactical game. The focus has been on ease of gameplay without sacrificing the crunchier details so important to a solid wargame.
Overall System Description
Scenarios occur on player made, Steam Workshop, or HexDraw made maps, set between 1939 and 1945. Unit choices in that era will depend on historical availability. Weather, temperature, terrain, and cover are all variable.
The player operates in several rounds. The German player, above, first can move and fire, followed by a Russian Fire response. Then units escape if broken. The player may choose to Advance infantry units, lastly is a Melee and recovery round where broken units may try to recover cohesiveness. This then goes to the Russians and follows the same path.
For combat you select the attacking unit, any attackable units will be bordered red. By hovering you can see who is attacking, the penalties to this attack, and the chance to inflict damage. Above we have several German units who have advanced, are in cover, and far away, with only a 1% chance to “break” the Russians or a 2% chance to “pin” them.
Tanks offer a bit more option, in the above case we have a long gun, using High Explosive, with only a 3% chance to hit due to movement, cover, and concealment. Above that is the turret machine gun or ball(?) machine gun. The lower number are the effects if hit! But in order to get those effects we must first make our 3% attack roll successfully.
Principal areas of reality represented in the game
The games focus is upon small unit engagements in World War 2. Individual soldiers are represented as parts of a squad or as a leadership unit able to be attached. Armor, trucks, and recon vehicles play an important role as do squad served weapons such as machine guns, bazookas, and mortars.
The tactical movement and fire direction of units is the primary driver of game play. Where to attack, when to attack, and deciding how much force to apply is critical. The use of heavy weapons makes maneuver essential and a well placed machine gun can stall a poorly prepared attack.
Ammunition levels and maintenance is handled per weapon system with a percentage. If, while firing, the random hit percentage is below a certain threshold the weapon may suffer maintenance damage or run out of ammo.
For example a flame tank, on a roll below 8%, will run out of flamethrower fuel.
Intricacy of the system and mechanical ease of play
The system is intricate, but the ease of play is immense.
Each turn is broken down into phases by side. First one side can Move & Fire, then the opposite fire can respond with Fire, they can Escape (automatic), Advance (infantry, one hex), and finally the Melee and Recovery phase. Then everything is repeated for the opposite side, then back again. We’ll explore a sample round in a bit.
Mechanically you select a unit with Left Click, then Right Click to bring up the relevant options. If the phase only relates to certain units then they are highlighted, so no cycling through invalid units to find that one that can fire.
The German is attacking with a Panzer IV as well as a single infantry unit without any leadership. The Soviet side is defending with a KV-1 and a Green Squad of infantry.
The PZIv first moves and stops, if they decide to move, and continue moving, then they will suffer an attack penalty but be able to move further next round. Or they can choose to stop. After advancing they fire on the KV-1. It is a miss. The infantry is fired on and is Broken.
The AI Soviets can then fire (but not move). This Pins the German infantry.
Next the Soviet Infantry runs away in the Escape phase.
As the Soviets are Broken they are unable to advance, but if they could Advance it would have been a single hex.
Finally the Broken Soviets attempt to recover (and fail) as there is not a leader present to rally them.
Next the Germans move the PZIV, fire on the KV-1 and only get ricochets with an “Out of AP” warning as it was a bad roll. The Soviets in the Fire Phase knock out the PZIV with AP, turning the tank into a burning wreck.
In this whole time I’ve used nothing but left-click, right click for action, and available options are clearly displayed. All information, options, and results are clearly and definitively displayed.
Evaluation of the systems success at achieving the designers goals and representing the real situation
Second Front has managed to represent the real situation better than any recently released title of the same scale, if not better than any game of the scale ever.
Contributions to the wargaming state of the art
Beyond just the art work and style of the game, the concise flow of play and ease of maneuver makes this game enjoyable in a way that not many are. There are no dense tables of statistics, large plots of keystrokes, or dozens of menus to wade through. It is simple. It is rich. It is well thought out. All of the cries that grog games are ugly for a reason are wrong, this game looks precisely like it should and you’ll wonder why you put up with ugly grog games forever on.
The Game in play
Initially this preview release comes with 5 scenarios as well as entries on the Steam Workshop (Normandy’s WN62 landing beach notably). I’m not sure what will come with the full release of the game as far as Hexdraw or Microprose provided scenarios.
There is a complete Map Creator that is fast, detailed, and allows for a rich scenario in 5 minutes.
The above map, 5 minutes. No kidding, that took me 5 minutes.
You may make up to a 50 by 50 hex complete with automatic forest randomness to ease the creation.
Once you have a map you can then create your own scenario by picking the date, map, who is fighting, and if the player is defending or attacking.
Then it is a matter of placing units, setting map properties, and adding victory point locations.
The beauty here is you can recreate any historical tactical engagement you’d like from 1941 to 1945. The proper units are available (No PZVI in 1941 for example) so you can make this as accurate as possible.
I can’t overstate how pleasant it is to have a fully fledged map editor, scenario editor, and Steam Workshop support all integrated on day 1. The explosion of scenarios here will be immense and I’m excited to see what the community comes up with.
The player acts as commander of units on the map. You have instant communication with all of your units (no command delay). On a more meta level, you are also a map maker and scenario designer.
Types of decisions required
Second Front will require decisions as to unit pathing, force application, and withdrawals. You do not decide which units go into combat, or logistical concerns.
Effects of the game systems mechanical requirements on the players decision making
Mechanically the game offers choices in regard to movement, different for both armor and infantry. A tank may move, and choose to continue moving at the start of the next round. Alternately they may halt after moving, suffer a penalty to aim that round, but the next round will find them stationary and a more stable gun platform.
Infantry can run, walk, or lay down prone.
Combat wise there are options to fire weapons ranging from different shell types, to machine guns, to complete squads. Deciding when and where to apply force is interesting for every unit. Instead of one tank have a 5-3 (fire-movement) and a “better” tank having 6-3, we may have a gun that excels at high explosive rounds, while another mounts a flamethrower. The flamethrower in use is quite fun. This makes choices more than just a numbers game, but effect based as well.
As a note of caution, the flamethrower will run out of ammunition at the most inopportune time…
Beyond that is the terrain itself, buildings have levels, cover, and even separations where one building may be connected but there is not a path for movement between them.
Evaluation of the players experience
I found the scenarios to be rich in variety with even a handful of units. The depth that comes from the system on top of the unit variety made for engaging gameplay. The tactical choices are deep enough to require some thought, but not so much as to bog down the game.
The command units have names, but it would be interesting to see squads or tanks also be name-able. Naming ones own officers could add realism to scenarios, Lt. Dick Winters for example in a Normandy scenario. (There is already a Brecourt Manor scenario in the Workshop).
The challenge in cities is immense. Every movement and turn brings tension and fear. What lurks in the next building? This is one of the few games where I actually rotate the map to check lanes of fire and am surprised at the detail of the buildings and maps.
The game also features a Garage where you can browse units and compare them in combat. There are sliders for both the year of the game and also the engagement range so you can see where one tank can harm another.
Does the game work?
Is it a good game?
Yes. It may be one of the best war games released in the last 10 years, if not ever.
Who would be most interested in the game?
Someone who likes the tactical level. Players of titles like WDS (Tillers) Squad Battles, Combat Mission, Advanced Squad Leader, Lock n Load Tactical, and other tactical titles.
Is the game a good value?
Price is unknown as of July 16, 2022.
This review copy is a current Playtest and provided to me on June 30th, 2022. There was, interestingly enough, not an embargo on reveals or reviews. This leads me to think it is not far off from release. My personal opinion, this is an amazing game. This is no diamond in the rough awaiting a dozen QA passes, or a shell of a game awaiting attention. In its current state it is a complete and damn near finished product. I’ve seen zero bugs, glitches, or even mis-spellings.
It will be available on Steam : https://store.steampowered.com/app/1148490/Second_Front/