Frontier Wars (2019) review
The second world war is one of the most discussed and used themes in any medium. Of course, in our playful passion is no exception. Infact, one of the first things that comes to mind when we bring up the subject, is the big wargames. You know, these games with lots of rules and pieces of cardboard as units. These games which make us relive the event for hours and which require a minimum of commitment. These games that ... oops sorry. Yes ... you know what I mean.
Our game creators are however very inventive on this theme. The mechanics used are quite varied from one game to another. If you take for example: Mémoire 44 , Blitzkrieg !: World War Two in 20 Minutes, V-Commandos, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition or Hitler's Reich: WW2 in Europe, the five games talk about the same theme or rather the same context but their treatment is totally different. Finally, this period and this event in particular are sources of constant inspiration. I must admit, for our greatest pleasure.
The game we are going to talk about today takes you back to the heart of the Second World War. Frontier Wars is a Spanish Kickstarter game from the publisher Eclipse Editorial, in partnership with Draco Ideas. The author, Manuel Agustín Burrueco Pizarro, suggests that we head one of the four main belligerent nations.
But here, we are not fighting for control of a continent, we are not reliving the events of the Second World War. The scale chosen is much more limited and less historic. Frontier Wars is a zone control game on fictional maps that you have just constructed. You are free to create new "historic" missions or to build on what already existed. The basic idea is enticing: immerse yourself in an experience close to an RTS (such as Command & Conquer or Hearts of Iron). Attractive isn't it?
First of all, you will have to choose from the four factions available: USSR, Germany, Great Britain and the United States of America. Each faction has its own troops (represented by figurines) and especially its own individual board. Each of them has two sides. Both sides offer you different starting resources and life points for your headquarters. To know that each faction has different initial resources and capacities. The game offers a little asymmetry between the factions.
Once the destiny of your nation is in hand, move on to the general installation. You will need to prepare the three decks of cards according to their types: attack orders, defense orders and tactical orders. Then you need to install the tray. You have the choice to take a predefined scenario (your choice in the booklet depending on the number of players) or create one by yourself. You’ll prepare by placing the starting troops and draw the cards provided ... that the battle begins.
There are three ways to win the battle:
The game is divided into several rounds, themselves divided into several phases.
At the start of the round, you’ll check who has the initiative. Calculating the points each player has and the player with the most points becomes the first player. Attention, except for the medals, the points from territories are not permanent. If you lose them ... you lose the associated points. But everything is recounted only in this phase. It is also at this time that the players check if there is a winner.
Then, each player will draw a number of cards equal to 1 + the cities under their control. Players are free to choose which deck to draw from. Then comes the reinforcement phase. Depending on the buildings constructed or owned, players can recruit a troop in locations.
Now move on to the most intense phase: the action phase. You are free to do one or more actions, but the order of execution is strict.
You can play one (and only one) attack order card and apply its effects. These cards are powerful and must be played at the right time. However, as you have the possibility of drawing every round and your hand has a limit, be careful not to keep too much.
You can now move your troops. Each troop has its own movements, in other words the number of spaces it can cover. But be careful, as soon as a unit passes through a hostile zone (containing enemy figurines), it must stop to engage in combat. With the exception of planes that can fly over areas carrying troops (in total: two infantry / artillery).
If you are in an enemy-free zone, outside of a city or an airport or a marsh and there is not already a construction there, then you can sacrifice a troop to create a factory or a camp. Attention, for this structure to be active, you must have an infantry available on the tile. If there is none, not only is this building inactive (it earns you nothing and you will not be able to recruit on it) but in addition it does not belong to you. Each player begins the game with a limited number of structures. When you build a building, you earn a medal as a reward.
Once all this is done, you’ll move on to the resolution of the battles. Battles are initiated if new units enter a contested space. The attacker chooses in what order the clashes will resolve. For each engagement, the players will position their figurines on the battle board. Each type of troops has its location and its attack turn, which itself is different depending on whether you are attacking or defending. You start the battle with the unit having the highest initiative, then continue according to the table. Each troop attacks once and causes damage. The units are destroyed in order of priority (infantry first ...). The winner of the battle wins a medal (whether attacking or defending). For each confrontation, the assailant can play a defense card and apply its instructions.
Sometimes, following clashes, buildings can be destroyed. They are not removed from the game but simply put on their ruined side. A player can decide to repair it by spending a troop on this space even if it is not the source of its construction. This does not grant them medals but it can use them normally and according to normal rules. This possibility is also available for conquered enemy headquarters (in a game with more than two players).
Last possible action, play a tactical order. Like attack orders, you can only have one tactical card per turn.
The last phase of a turn before "clean up", corresponds to the arms race. At this point in the game, you can choose a resource card from your hand face down under your board. Each card has a value ranging from 1 to 3. Generally, the higher the value, the more powerful the power is (therefore sometimes difficult choices). These added values give you your technological advancement. If it reaches the limit indicated in the scenario, you win immediately. Be careful though, the number of possible cards is limited by your number of medals.
Finally, one proceeds to the “clean up” of the troops in excess on the spaces and of the cards in excess in his hand. Then it's the next player. Continue like this until there is a winner.
Unfortunately, I missed the kickstarter and, to date, I only have a retail version. I admit having recovered this a little bit by chance. Big thank you to the one who gave it to me. As Frontier Wars is a real surprise, and a very good one above all.
Under the air of simple games, barely eight pages of rules, Frontier Wars offers a real challenge. Far from being a simple positioning and area control game, the game is a real race where each action counts, each card played can bring you closer to victory, but each bad decision or badly timed thing can make you fail. Simple in operation, it provides immediate pleasure. The game has great ideas, like the medals. These earn you permanent victory points, but only every two medals. Suddenly, you are a little forced to try to win, especially since the arms race also depends on them. So, you are forced to play with others to try to acquire them by fighting or building. Impossible to play alone in your corner. Especially since the map is generally small.
This constant pressure reinforces a pervasive interaction. You always have to be careful what other people are doing, where they are, what they are doing, the cards played, how many are there, etc. There may be welcome reversals. The choice to have made the majority of points won non-permanent increases this pressure. The technological race offers a round counter, which, if you are not careful, can hurt a lot. At the same time, thinking about the use of powerful cards to obtain it can cause long periods of hesitation. The choices are multiple and feel great when found.
The system of contested tiles is also very well thought out. You are forced to bring in new troops to try to conquer the area, or you must leave it at the risk of letting the other earn the bonuses. It can also be used as leverage to prevent a player from scoring points or receiving bonuses. As in chess, you have to know when to lose in order to win better.
Regarding replayability, it is very important. In addition to the available scenarios, the possibility of creating random maps, the choice of boards A or B, drawing cards, adding mini rules to make the whole more complex (such as fog of war, special tiles, trenches ...), the ability to play as a team and the weather, the game also has two expansions: trucks and new armies. Trucks were mini extensions available during the kickstarter. Unfortunately, I only have the rules and not the components. So, I haven't tried it yet. As for the real expansion, it adds two new factions: the French and the Japanese; new maps and some variations. Unfortunately (again), I can't find a copy and haven't been able to play it yet (but if you know a way I'm interested and I will hasten to make a return and I do not speak to you not buildings and ...). The slight asymmetrical side at the start also allows a bit of renewal.
Component level, I was at the start a little puzzled about the choice of tiles. But once assembled, it gives the stamp of an old war map. This looks really good and justifies the scale of the figures compared to the rest. Matias Cazorla and Jaime González García, the two illustrators, did a very good job. It is regrettable, however, that the individual trays as well as those of scoring and battle are too thin (which makes them a bit fragile). Only downside, because the rest is really good. The iconography is clear and once in the game, you’ll have no questions. As for the figurines, this is classic Risk.
Frontier Wars behind a mechanism that may seem artificial, is in fact extremely thematic. Even if it does not offer the possibility of reliving the great moments of the second world war (at the same time so many games do it already). On the other hand, it plunges you into the hell of the countryside with a lot of pressure, joy, frustration and sadness. Luck is relatively rare, except in the drawing of cards. Despite this, the reversals of the situation exist and the advantage of a good card can quickly diminish the next time.
Going completely unnoticed, the game offers a real challenge for 2 to 4 players(6 with the expansion). Do you want more? There is even a solo version and even the possibility of adding an AI during games with other players. And all this for parts of a relative but respectable duration. Big plus, it is very much fun in all configurations. It is sure that depending on the number you are going to be, the way of playing will be different. At the two player count, it’s more controllable, calculating and direct mode. In addition, your nerves will be even more put to the test and you will have to pay attention to the threat that can arise from everywhere. All of this offers delicious, controllable chaos.
As for the RTS side sold with the game, it's a bit like the fact that Scythe is sold as a 4X, in other words it is far from this reality. There are a few ideas that come close to that, it's true. But far from matching a video game of the same type and we are far from the richness of a real RTS. However, the possibilities of construction in progress offer interesting decisions to be made and being able to capture those of the enemies and to be able to use them, brings a little variety. The different troops with their own characteristics also makes it possible to make sometimes crucial strategic choices.
Frontier Wars allows you, not to relive History, but to relive moments of war. Pleasure and immersion are really present. Behind immediate accessibility, the game conceals a very welcome depth of play which only needs to be tamed. Of course, we are far from the complexity or the correctness of a classic wargame, but the game conceals these little moments of decision making that are sometimes difficult. A very good surprise, a game that deserves to be played and shared. A tense game, well thought out and which has a great replayability. Too bad it is so difficult, here, to find the other components as the other factions. Frontier Wars deserves to cross borders (yes it was easy that one).
Technical score 9/10
9/10 Too bad the individual trays and those of battles and scoring are too thin. The overall finish is good. The rulebook is well done and reads quite well. The rest of the components are pleasant to handle and everything is very readable. Of course we can criticize the quality of the figurines, but they do their job.
My BGG score 9/10
Excellent - very much enjoy playing.
I really enjoyed the games I had the opportunity to play. Despite sometimes abstract limit mechanisms, the theme is very present especially if one delves into it. With two or four players, the game turns out really well and offers quite different sensations. Simple in learning, it remains deep and offers good deceitful moments or reversals. A war game in the big feeling for the race to victory.
Combined score 9/10
Now it's your turn to play ... (well, if you can find it)