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Frontline General: Italian Campaign Introduction» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A double game 'fix' in one package! rss

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John Di Ponio
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Alright then. Time for a review of Frontline General: Italian Campaign.
Please bear with me, this is my first review in a LONG time!

COMPONENTS:
While I will not get into a list of what is included due to the excellent explination in the games description, I will comment on the quality. This is a TOP NOTCH production for a individual game designer/publisher. The box is beautiful, the even and unit cards are well made and the card sleeves are produced by Ultra Pro which is a nice touch. The map has been illustrated by Mark Mahaffey who has been brought on board to do maps for MMP, GMT and Colombia games. The counters are plastic with stickers that need to be applied before play...more about that later. You get all the dice you need to get started and a CD will the rules. The focus is on the unit cards. They have ALL the information needed for movement, strength, purchase cost (which factors into supply), special functions and great artwork.

I DO like having the rules on CD. This allows me to print them out, use sheet protectors and dividers in a binder for quick reference. It comes out looking like an ASL binder and with the added expansions and rules that may accompany those expansions, it will be easy to add them into the binder. I have no idea if having the rules on cd rom was a plan from the start, but I believe it was the right call for this system.

RULES:
You have to be ready to digest the rules set. Take your time and read, especially the tactical section and you should have a good grasp on the system. I did have a few questions in my head but most were solved by re-reading or using common sense on issues. As mentioned in other articles, this is a hybrid war game and getting a grasp on the operational (hex and counter movement on the map of Italy) is pretty straight forward. There are six (6) phases to each turn sequence consisting of Income and events, Production, Supply, Movement, Combat, Deployment. All the actions are taken in order EXCEPT for Production. As one knows, production of battle units took time and this game system reflects this.

Income and Events is the start. You collect your income for the turn and then the active player rolls a ten (10) sided die to determine if an action will be drawn. This occures on a roll of 3 or less.
Events can last anywhere from 'instant resolve' to multiple turns.

Production can only be activated every 5th turn starting with turn one (1). This may seem odd at first, but it really makes for tough decisions espcially when you incorporate the Supply phase which is occuring every turn.

Supply is handled by paying a cost equal to 10% of the unit's cost currently deployed on the board. A really bad result occurs if you cannot pay your supply cost. The units that are picked to be OUT of supply or in supply deficit cannot do ANYTHING! The way to figure this is to add all the supply that cannot be paid and multiply that number by 10...the result is the amount of points on the field that cannot be used this turn. This was a rule I had a problem with at first. I thought units could defend and withdraw.....boy was I wrong and it totally changed the game! Another added strike against you for an out of supply unit, no unit can be out of supply two (2) turns in a row. This means you have to select DIFFERENT units to be out of supply next turn!

Movement is like most other games so no need to really expand on it.

Combat in the operational part of the game is by adjacent hexes. I find it odd that combat is not affected by terrain type in this mode but...this games screams for the tactical part to resolve combat so it's a minor gripe and keeps the rules more generic. On the flip side of my terrain concern, Byron came up with a really neat way of making combat involved but not overly complex. The attacker and defender each roll a 10 sided die and the attacker gets a +2 on the roll. The higher roll gets first shot. A 20 sided is used for each attack with a roll of 20 being an automatic unit kill and a 1 being a malfunction of the attacker's weapon. If you roll a 19, the intensity in which the next roll will determine will be doubled. The intensity roll is made with a 10 sided and is ADDED to the weapon's daage index listed. The total is subtracted form the defensive value of the unit attacked for damage. This value is compared to the endurance number listed for the unit. If equar to or greater than half of the endurance, the unit loses a step (back side of card) if at reduced strength...it is eliminated. This sounds long and complex...but it only takes a battle or two to get use to.

Deployment is pretty easy to understand just remember to think logically...Aircraft must be deploed on airfields not ports or standard land hexes!

The MEAT of this system is the TACTICAL part. I started out playing the scanerio with just the counters, which is fun in itself and good to get the basics of the system down, but this game screams for minatures. I use my FLAMES OF WAR minatues (15mm) to fight the tactical battles. To this point, I have used 4' x 4' table sections to resolve the battles. I can honestly say that I would like a 4 x 6 or even a 4 x 8 to play out some of the battles but with added table size come added game time! I have a set of geo-hexes that I use to create the terrain. Trees and buldings can be added depending on what the hex on the operational map depicts...it's really up to the players. This now takes on the 'minature ruleset' as I like to call it. All mini players will associate with using terrain and line of site for battle as well as unit orientation. It's all here for the tactical side; infantry, armor, vehicles and yes....AIRCRAFT. One has to realize that all the infomation needed for each unit is located on it's card weather you are fighting the old hex and counter way or the tactical way.

I have played quite a few times just using the hex and counters for the entire game. I did not realize what I was missing until I was able to break out the mini's and fight the battle tacticaly. the game will require your time an patience to play the game with tactical battles...but setting up is part of the fun! It gives you a nice break to get a beverage and stretch your legs before getting into the down and dirty business of war.

The only problem I had with the whole box set are the counters. I had a difficult time lining up the hex counters and the stickers. Plus...they are a little hard to read...but they are beautiful. Maybe the game is telling me I need to wear my reading glasses more often.

CONCLUSION:
We all know there are a TON of war games to pick from these days. Where this one differs from others is it's transition from hex and counter operations to minature tactical battles! The tactical battles are the heart of the system and combatants can make the battles as simple or as complex as their minds, resources and time allow!
There is a lot more to this game then I could describe in this review. Hopefully this gives you an 'in a nutshell' type of review that will attract you further to the game. I believe the the game, although priced high, is justified by what is included in the box....believe me...there are a lot of components included in Byron's offering! If you don't want to buy the system which I always suggest to support a developer on an independent game, get yourself some ink cartriges for your printer and download the free version! If you have questions, ask Byron on the Frontline General web site, he is always willing to clear things up! You can really tell that he poured a lot of effort and knowledge into the system. Go to the Frontline General site and read the developement news to see what I am talking about!

Cheers and good luck in your gaming adventures!!!

-JohnnyD
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Barry Kendall
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Hi John,

Thanks for your review. It answered a few more questions.

The publisher was at the HMGS-East "Fall In" con at Gettysburg in early November and the game components were displayed in all their glory. I gave it a quick look-see but moved on because I misinterpreted the description as requiring the miniatures interface rather than offering it as an option.

The designer/publisher sent me a kindly Geekmail after I wrote a little blurb called "Spotted at Fall In" on The Geek, just to tell me that he'd been there, too, and was sorry to miss me (polite way of saying he was sorry I missed him!).

I really hadn't, but didn't feel qualified to report his game since I hadn't stopped to speak with him. In his message he told me that the game is, indeed, playable without the miniatures aspect, as your review brings out. In my reply I told him I was getting to the point where I don't have enough years of life left to play a board/miniatures game anymore but would look him up at "Cold Wars" if he makes it and take another look.

I'll echo your compliments about the graphics--this is a VERY good-looking game. I noted the stick-on counters (hope those images are pressure-proof!) but the graphics are great, very evocative. I've often wondered why more publishers don't utilize period photos or similar graphics on their counters now that desk-top imaging is so easy.

The supply system sounds fascinating. The one big "Huh?!" that arose in reading your review came when you said terrain has no effect on combat. Holy smokes! In ITALY?! Meaning no offense, but are you sure you didn't miss a rule anywhere?

Is terrain placement in a miniatures-interface battle entirely player-optional, or is it dictated to any degree by the terrain type? It might not be too tough to graft on a fix such as "Defender places four hills, two rough and a town when operationally located in a mountain hex" or "Both players alternate placing any four terrain pieces on a Clear hex" sort of thing.

If there is presently no consideration of terrain in the board-only version, I hope the designer might consider addressing this in addenda or optional rules.

In any case, having seen but not played the game, your review is spot-on for description and quite helpful. Thanks!
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John Di Ponio
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Hey Barry!!
Don't worry...I am NEVER offended when someone points out something I miss in rules....I am a lot more happier if someone points out something I have missed!!!!! The LAST thing I want to do is mislead someone on a rule! ( oh yes...I have done it before cry )



The problem with terrain not having an effect on combat has to do with sticking to the hex game to resolve combat. I checked the rules again and the whole operational combat resolution is listed nicely in the inset of page 28 of the rules. Unless I have missed something earlier in the rules....it mentiones nothing of terrain bonuses in combat for the operational resolve. I can understand this abstraction to battle due to the concentration done on the tactical side. Sure, it is out of the ordinary but the combat resolve has a plenty to keep things going.
The minature side has all the terrain effects for combat. The way I have worked it out in playtesting is to deside what the hex might contain and then use a die rolling system to determine what is located in the battle area. I have used this method in minature systems before and it adds quite a bit of variety and uncertainess to the battle. Lets say I am attacking the city hex of Anzio...it is a town hes...but I have no idea where in the city the battle will take place. Is it in a highly dense part of the city or a place where there is less buildings to hamper my movement and LOS? I or my opponent roll a D20 and consult the self made chart to determine the amount and types of buildings. I works quite well. I have used charts like this to develope lanscapes for wooded terrain and fields. Only kicker....you need to have the avaliable terrain to make this work.
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Byron Collins
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John, Thanks for the review. I'll chime in a bit to answer some questions on terrain. I'll be referring to the rules PDF, linked below:

http://www.frontlinegeneral.com/FrontlineGeneral_ICI_Rules.p...

Terrain at the operational scale mostly affects movement. Movement check rolls are made by certain Unit Types entering hexes with certain terrain features. These types and checks are covered in Section III.3.1. in the rules (Page 11).

I consider 'city' to be a terrain type. Therefore there are some effects on combat, at least in Cities, even at the operational scale. These effects are not covered in the combat sequence mentioned by John since they don't always apply (you're not always fighting in a city). Controlling a Key or Ruined city provides certain benefits in combat for the defenders of that hex as defined by section VII.1. and VII.2. (Key and Ruined Cities). These benefits (and some drawbacks) are defined in Insets VII.1. and VII.2. See page 48 in the rules.

In summary, defending infantry within Key or Ruined cities all receive a bonus of 1 Defense, cumulative with the bonus applied by "digging in", which may be done by infantry in any hex. In addition, all defending Units receive a bonus of 1 for Defensive Initiative. Vehicles attacking Units located in a Key City are more vulnerable. If a vehicle enters the city hex and the player declares that vehicle is attacking, the normal Attack Initiative bonus of 2 is reduced to 0. There are some other benefits and drawbacks, but those are the main ones.

There used to be additional terrain effects at the operational scale, however, these were removed during testing to speed up combat, and because they were tough to determine in a hex of that scale, and tough to track. I found all of the modifiers to be more frustrating than beneficial.

Tactical scale terrain placement is covered by Section IX.4.2. Bascially, it's broken up by two different types of terrain- "Basic" and "Subjective". "Basic" terrain attempts to mimic the major features of the operational hex terrain (i.e. mountainous with a bordering river, road through the middle, city, etc.) and is based on the map hex where the battle originates. Once set, players then take turns placing "Subjective" terrain on the battle table. This allows for features such as trees, actual mountain locations, buildings, etc. And is done until both players are satisfied with the setup. Units are then placed according to the rules for setting up placement zones, etc. Using a randomizer and chart as John mentions is certainly a good idea to determine terrain 'density', as an option.

Tactical scale terrain expands on terrain effects, but does not overly-define them. In other words, I leave it up to players to determine what blocks line of sight and what doesn't- which is the main addition terrain effect-wise at this scale vs. the op scale.
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Don Lowry
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How "tactical" is the tactical combat? Does each miniature tank (for instance) represent 1 real tank? a platoon? a company? a battalion? what?
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Byron Collins
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Old Campaigner wrote:
How "tactical" is the tactical combat? Does each miniature tank (for instance) represent 1 real tank? a platoon? a company? a battalion? what?


Don,

Each tank in miniature represents a single tank. Each infantry group is a squad unless that infantryman is an individual supporting element such as a Fwd Observer. During the game, you're basically sampling deployed forces. This greatly cuts down on turn length while providing much of the same strategic challenge.

I'm working on rules for battalion level combat at the Operational level with tactical level combat saved for miniatures battles and detailed tactical engagements (player's option in most cases to resolve either way). This will expand the system and allow card-assisted battalion level units to drive the operational game (in a more traditional way) while the current detailed tactical level unit cards continue to drive the tactical game- basically two systems in one that are linked together and work well between the two scales. There will be more detail on how this will work in future newsletter articles in case you're interested.

Thanks for checking out the game- if you have additional questions let me know.
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