Release Date: 31 January, 2023
Platform: Windows, MacOS
Genre: Turn-based strategy
By Chris Picone, 10 February 2023
To be honest, when I first saw Second Front releasing, I thought it must have been a remaster of some Microprose strategy game from the 90s that I’d missed. It isn’t, though it easily could have been; it reminds me of Close Combat or Steel Panthers. The developers have clearly focused on design and gameplay, with graphics coming a distant third place – which is perfectly fine for a serious strategy game.
Graphically, Second Front is very functional; everything’s tiles and tokens. It looks and feels like you’re playing a boardgame. Camera functions are limited, allowing view from only four directions, although you can pan and zoom freely. Second Front does feature a busy user interface, however, an indicator of the level of complexity built into the game.
Second Front doesn’t just look like a boardgame, it plays like one. The board utilise hexagon tiles and you play revolves around moving your tokens (crawling, walking, or running) across the board, using the environment to your best advantage as you sneak through forests, occupy buildings, and use elevation to control fields of fire. Second Front is also quite comprehensive – I haven’t faced them all yet but the website brags more than 40 types of infantry and 200 types of tanks, other vehicles, and guns. This adds layers of complexity to the game as you need to position your troops in such a way as to support each other rather than just bum-rushing your enemies. For example, in one game I was facing enemies bunkered down in some buildings which I needed to control for victory points. I had my troops crawl into position where they were able to bring concentrated fire onto their position. This led to a prolonged fire fight as we shot at each other from covered positions: Risky, because while rushing to take a defended position would invite heavy losses, if I moved to slowly I would find myself flanked by enemy reinforcements from the west. No sooner had I captured these buildings when an enemy tank, flanked by a platoon of infantry started moving down the road toward me, coming from another little village to the north on the other side of the river. I had to leave the buildings to find better cover, biding time until I could move my RPG-equipped troops into a firing position to take out the tank. A lucky shot took the tank out but their infantry managed to break my rocketeers, a preciously rare resource. Simlarly, in other maps I might have to rely on artillery or mortar fire to soften a position before I could press my attack. Infantry are invaluable, not just for capturing enemy positions but also for protecting my specialist troops and even preventing my own tanks from being shot in the flank by enemy RPGs. The AI’s actually pretty decent, relying on emergent behaviour rather than scripts, so you’re up for a real challenge.
If you haven’t worked it out yet, Second Front’s pretty damn big. You can play as the Germans, Russians, or Americans, each with their own campaign, totalling a whopping 48 scenarios (so far!). Each scenario’s quite big, too; boards are relatively large, battles are prolonged, with various stages of conflict, recuperation, and reinforcement. Better yet, Second Front also features its own scenario editor and workshop sharing.
I’m enjoying Second Front but it won’t be for everyone. If you’re only a fan of the “popular” strategy games that are more about fast-paced action, lots of explosions, and the rule of cool, probably give this one a miss. This one’s more about re-creating historical battles; it’s much slower and more thoughtful, with lots of moving parts, and feels very much like playing out a lengthy boardgame. If that sounds like your jam, or if you enjoyed your hardcore military strategy games from the 90s and want more, jump all over it.