Second Front - From the maker of HexDraw

The manual lacks a lot of detail on how things work.

“Sometimes weapons break, squads try to fix them in the recovery phase and sometimes they do” is the kind of detail you get.

Granted, maybe you can inspect the counter to get all the percentages, etc… but it’s clearly obscured in the areas where there’s no player input.

I’d say it’s aiming to be a something in-between ASLSK and ASL. It’s missing some full game features, but incorporates some others. It’s going to depend on wether they keep developing/expanding it.

How does this compared to some ASL-lite print wargames like Conflict of Heroes or Band of Brothers? How hard would it be for someone who hasn’t played ASL?

Patch is out that unlocks all scenarios/campaigns and more:

Version 1.133

the ‘unlock all button’ for all players
fixed loading campaign scenario from auto save
fixed the wrong symbol in Recon at Prokhorovka Campaign
can not reproduce the “?”-“ß” mistake in german texts
fixed reload chance not shown in unaimed fire description
fixed concealment on loading an auto saved game
I adjusted times for to avoid the hang bug (game is a bit slower now)

@cpugeek13 - Knowing ASL is certainly not a prerequisite to playing Second Front. The game stands on it’s own and FWIW I’m having fun with it.

Version 1.137

fixed a urgent bug what let steam not show the game is stopped

This is a cool product that I hope will get continued support, so I can buy it again somewhere down the road.

I wonder if it supports modding? For instance, adding visible bases to the little soldier dudes would help immensely in screen visibility, and there has to be a better way of doing multi-level buildings. At least in a board game you can have chits clearly showing which floor something is on. In the tutorial on multilevel buildings, the last one I tried before refunding it, I generally had no idea what floor guys were on, even with a lot of zoomed in inspection. Drove me nuts.

@TheWombat No idea on whether it can be modded or not.

Regarding floor levels, there is an icon at the top of the screen that looks like a 3 story house with a roof. Clicking Tab once will remove the roof of all buildings on the map and darken the roof on that icon. Clicking Tab again will cycle down through the floors so you can easily see what troops are on each level. Each level darkens on the house icon as you drill down.

Yeah, that thing was not doing it for me either. I could not tell even then which floor the troops were on, because the transparency levels or contrast or something was making it hard to see.

After coming to terms with some of the wonkiness – So this simply won’t run in a window on my desktop? Really? – I finally sat down to work through the tutorials, because I’m curious to find out more about what this thing is.

Seems very straightforward so far, which has me scratching my head at the ASL associations. I would have assumed an ASL-inspired game would be a lot more, well…elaborate. More complex, with more detail, harder to learn. But this thing looks positively casual to me. Surely ASL isn’t this simple?

But my greater reservation was all but confirmed in the tutorials. I love the tutorials, by the way! I wish more games would do tutorials like this. It’s a set of scenarios set up specifically to show you and let you experiment with some aspect of the game. You get a single page intro, then the scenario loads and you can run through it as quickly or take your time and test the various options laid out for you. All nicely bite-sized, and wonderfully flexible. Very nicely done!

But then I get to the next-to-last tutorial for infantry units (there are a couple more that explain armored units). There’s a building with a German machine gunner in it, and my Russian troops are in a forest across a clearing. The tutorial is going to show me how to advance to capture a position that has no cover in front of it. And it explains it like so:

How To Trick An AI

All that text there explains that a unit’s reaction fire gets weaker with successive shots. So to capture the building, I should first move distant units to draw the machine gunner’s fire against targets it can’t harm. Then, once it has used up its reaction fire, my closest unit just walks up and captures the building, unscathed. Basically, I trick the reaction fire into getting used up on ineffectual shots. It’s a classic AI exploit, and something no human opponent worth his salt would fall for, and it’s explained in the tutorial for Second Front as the way you’re supposed to play the game. :(

I don’t really have a solution for this, and I know bad AI is at once the bane and hallmark of computer wargames. But it’s kind of depressing to see it so explicitly codified into a game design. I’m sticking with Second Front because I’m still curious to find out whether this is just some beer n’ pretzels Unity single-player wargame or something more substantial, but seeing AI exploits as part of the tutorials was a bummer.

(To be fair, there are multiple fire phases, and reaction fire is only one of them. And since it’s automated, a human player’s units will also be vulnerable to the same exploit, assuming the computer knows how to do it. And given that the designer codified it for the human player – the tutorials make it clear you’re supposed to use distant targets to draw out reaction fire – I’m hoping he also wrote an AI that does this as well. Otherwise, we’re getting into the issue of the AI unable to play the game it was designed for.)

ASL’s complexity comes not so much from it’s high level turn and game structure (if you’re even a partially seasoned hex and chit gamer, none of the core basics are a stretch), but more from its ‘there is a rule for everything, and I mean everything’ approach to simulation. Exceptions and rules for every minutia you can imagine, for every order of battle or side case you could think of.

It is often said that in given any game of ASL, 90% or so of the complete rules will never actually have cause to come into effect.

I understand the disappointment, but there’s no way a computer AI is going to be able to play a game like this anywhere within the universe of competently. Thus, if this game has been set up to pose “tactical puzzles” like this where the scenarios are designed for the human to figure out how to use the computer’s weaknesses against it, that’s a plus in my book. It means the developers understand their medium.

If you have 1 ton of clay, make a sculpture. Don’t write a sonata. That would require different materials.

The fact that it’s automated it’s what makes it the way to play the game, since there’s no “choice” to make whether to take a shot or not.

It’s one of the ways the changes to the turn structure change the game from the board game version (where first defensive fire is a choice).

It is an interesting little game. And it’s mostly ASL but then it diverges here and there and misses this and that. I’m interested to see what direction it will develop. Originally I thought the plan was to bring it more in line with the board game, but reading the Discord, it seems the developer is leaning towards making it it’s own thing (which I agree with).

The chrome is one reason for the complexity, yes.

The other reason is that the rules are written in a very non-approachable way. They are a great reference document that manages to leave very, very little from for ambiguity in a game with a lot of moving pieces. But they do so though a set of acronyms, cross references, really extended examples of play that break flow, and in general lawyerly language.

ASLSK is, I think, a great idea and significantly more approachable to start, but it gets there by taking out a lot of rules so you can still avoid ambiguous situations, while my preference would have been a more complete subset of rules but not caring too much about edge cases.

As a non-wargamer, this was the tutorial that surprised me:

I was a bit shocked to see such ‘gameiness.’ I don’t know yet if I’ll ignore or embrace it myself, but I am enjoying the game immensely, the little I have played.

This is called skulking and it’s the gamiest of the gamiest in ASL. But fully supported by the rules so you have to do it.

20+ years old games with active communities have that problem. You could just write a rule so that units keep their heads down (no firing or movement) in a LOS blocking hex adjacent to a hex the enemy has no LOS to, and thus can’t be fired upon by defensive fire and get 90% of the results without the gaminess of having to move them, etc… but adding such a rule would create edge cases and ruffle some feathers, so skulking is it.

Thanks for the explanation! I can justify it that way if I engage with it - I imagine I will at some point as I have only played the one-star scenarios so far and I expect things will ramp up significantly.

I knew I spelled gaminess wrong also, cheers :)

I think all of this boils down to a personal preference sort of thing. I don’t really like the gaminess, as I don’t usually play these sorts of games with a priority on winning. I generally play more as a way of experiencing a sort of fleshed-out, interactive narrative of a battle let’s say. For a lot of games, I also play both sides, if the game allows a “hot seat” two-player mode.

I definitely get the argument about AI and the limitations of the medium. If you are a competitive player, that approach really makes sense, because getting a semblance of balance between the AI and the human player is important.

What I am less sure of these days, in the age of OpenAI-style approaches to AI generated responses to human-generated queries is the argument that competent game-playing AI is impossible. Good AI has been possible for a while, it’s just not been economically feasible. A number off big time wargame developers I’ve spoken with over the years have asserted this; sure they could create a much better computer opponent, but the cost and time would simply not be worth it given the likely sales of the product.

And today, I can definitely see new horizons opening up with things like ChatGPT. Not necessarily in its current state, but think about it. If the bots can answer complex, university-level exam questions (and they can, which I have confirmed for myself with my own assignments which I then immediately modified!), I think they can figure out not just the rules of a game but the theory and strategy of using those rules. The current state of things, with its need to connect to a central processing point, Internet connectivity, and the time it takes for turnaround of a request for a solution might make it impractical, but going forward I can’t see why such tech can’t be embedded in games as a specialized subset of the broader system.

Not terribly germane to this discussion I admit, but I find it intriguing. For this game, I’d simply be happy if there was a better way to see those little infantry dudes :).

Ah, to skulk or not to skulk, that is the question.

Some say it’s simulationist, but the gamified representation IMO leaves a bad taste. Worse still, scenarios are designed with skulking in mind, even though it is an unintuitive ‘exploit’ of the rules ill-suited for new players to grok naturally. And as a solo player, it seems to me to just add counter shuffling busywork. Que Sera, Sera…

Re: History of Skulking
The move that has come to be known as ‘skulking’ has been around since the original Squad Leader. It’s possible use was deliberately built into the system by the developers and has been known since before the game’s development was complete. There was an actual rule called Go To Ground’ in early versions of the Squad Leader playtest which simulated troops avoiding enemy fire and only moving into firing positions when enemy fire had slackened indicating that some or all of the enemy was maneuvering.

The powers that be decided that the Advance Phase allowed for a similar result without an added rule, and the rest is history. Its use is hinted at in the very first Series Replay of Sqaud Leader scenario 1 where Greenwwod’s comments talk about how the playtest results were dramatically changed from one side being favored to the other as playtest groups ‘discovered’ tactics to counter the Russian firepower advantage…he was talking about Skulking.

I watched a YTer (probably DasTactic) play a scenarios called “Find the Gun”. You have a tank and some infantry. They have an AT some where. On the first or second turn he moved his infantry and the gun came out of cover to fire at it. That kind of ruined it and put me off from buying it right away.

I haven’t used skulking in any of my game play. It’s more an artifact of the turn sequence that a realistic tactic. Can’t see why a unit would leave the cover of a building and then skulk back in for example. If they were in less dense cover and worried about getting shot it sees they would withdraw, but then not move back into the same spot so as to be subject to fire anyway. If the only way to win a scenario is with skulking then I’ll just write off that scenario and move on to others.