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Christopher Donovan
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Up Front is an old card game.
I think it was aimed at Squad Leader players looking for something to play in between their attempts to take Hill 621. As a result, pretty much everything that's in Squad Leader is in this game as well - Germans, Russians, berzerk Russians, Americans, flamethrowers, pillboxes, demolition charges, AFVs, bazookas, LMGs, minefields, concealment, a design-your-own scenario system, antitank magnetic mines, wire, a campaign game, smoke, panzerfausts, mortars, antitank guns, and the beloved (+/-3) stone building. The similarities pretty much end there.

When I first played Up Front, I wasn't really sure what to think of it. It seemed very random and chaotic. If your opponent gets some lucky terrain in the opening draw, say, a hill, and puts his MG on it you are struggling right off the bat. As I played more I started to notice all the little ways you can nurse your embattled squad of soldiers through the tough times. I could hear Ernest Borgnine in my head, telling his recruits to drop down into the mud and grab a loving armload of earth in the film adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front. Always entrench! Hold onto a rally card or a concealment card. Don't move without somewhere to go if you can help it (a terrain card). Know when to put some distance between you and the enemy. Know when to stop in open ground even though your net fire modifier goes from -1 to 0 because you were advancing out of woods but really need to return fire without halving your fire cards due to moving fire. You get the idea.

I learned how sometimes you must take risks, while other times you need to just weather the storm. And sometimes, if you're lucky and prepared, you get to be the storm.


Up Front is asymmetrical.


Playing the Germans is to live on a knife's edge - you're either cool & collected, plugging away every turn while forcing your opponent into unfavorable terrain and/or sniper fire - or you're desperately performing actions (any actions) just to open up new opportunities (i.e. cards). And then there is that MG34 - master of the steppe & bane of the Allies. Use it wisely and you can win without having to move up and expose yourself to enemy fire.


The Russians, on the other hand, are gamblers. Embrace a wanton disregard for human life and keep moving. With a 15 man squad, rugged morale and the ability to ditch your entire hand, you can really press your luck (in fact you have to press your luck). The Russians can cycle through cards at a frantic pace when necessary. Get them into position, and then draw & dump until the right opportunity comes along.


Play the Americans and you get shiny new semiautomatic M1 Garand rifles. Thay may not seem like much, but firing on the move becomes a much more viable option. More importantly, with a 6-card hand size you can afford to warehouse 1 or 2 cards until you have just the right hand to lay down some devastation. Play cautious and rely on your firepower. They pin fast but panic less and don't need to worry about crewing an MG. They're also prolific smokers.


Up Front is 100% real*.
(*50% of the time)
The amount of theme in Up Front is extreme, and every game will tell a story. I find I can enjoy losing this game like no other. It's not about being the best. It's about making the best of the opportunities you're given. Up Front has a high level of abstraction, yet surprisingly creates a striking level of perceived realism. I would go so far as to say Up Front is the most "realistic" tactical WWII game I have ever seen. You don't know what's beyond that hedge, you don't know when (or if) your fire team will be in position. You don't know when (or if) your men will suddenly pull it together and advance. The only "God's eye view" in Up Front is that of your enemy's composition and the effect of your fire. Given that this game came out in 1983, at a time when so many games where immersed in modeling unit and hardware capabilities, it's impressive. And Up Front still feels very fresh.


Up Front vs. that other card game.
In my opinion, it more than holds its own today. No other game I know of models the uncertainty of maneuver through unknown terrain the way Up Front does. Combat Commander is its closest modern relative, where the abstraction remains but has been tied to a hex-map. I've enjoyed it the few times I've played, but for me, saddling abstracted fire & movement opportunities with precise hexgrid positions and LOS-checks totally destroys the illusion. I have no problem imagining a group advancing on a position in Up Front without the opposing group of soldiers getting a chance to fire. There's no board, so who's to say there just wasn't a good LOS? In Combat Commander you can walk right up to a position across open ground and there's nothing to queue you in to why the enemy doesn't just open fire along a demonstrably clear LOS. I find in Up Front that when the unexpected happens, it supports the narrative, in no small part because Up Front cleverly avoids being pinned down in favor of leaving things up to your imagination. In my opinion, when the unexpected happens in CC it often strains the narrative. A matter of taste, and CC is a fine game, but I prefer Up Front to every other WWII tactical game I've played.



Where are the tanks?
The AFV rules in Up Front used to be pretty scary until a friend walked me through them. They work quite well within their intent. You won't be fighting out duels between formations of armor. Armor is represented in a strictly infantry-support mode, which is fine because frankly once a platoon of tanks show up the combat is on an entirely different scale. ASL doesn't handle this very well, the only games I've seen it in personally are the PanzerBlitz series and Jensen's new Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division, which gets me thinking someone really needs to make the Up Front equivalent to WWII armored warfare at the platoon level. That would be something indeed.



So what's not to like about Up Front?
It's out of print, tragically. Banzai, the 1st expansion, is quite good but it regularly fetches prices in excess of $100. That's $100 for a countersheet, some cards you have to punch out yourself, and a short rules booklet.
Fortune can come and go in Up Front in a very disturbing manner, and while I have come to enjoy the ordeal by fire those rough patches represent - ordeals you can often press-through to victory - it can be very dispiriting to a new player.
Up Front is not a simple game. It's not all that complex, either, when you get down to it, but it has a lot of detail. And the rules are horrible to learn from. Absolutely horrible. They seem to have been written as reference - which is nice once you know the game - but I wish there was a "learning rulebook" to make it easier to get into.

If you can find it, play it. Then play it 3 more times because the first couple of times it will seem totally random. And you can play 3 games in an evening because for all its grit & detail, Up Front plays faster than Conflict of Heroes, Squad Leader, Combat Commander, or Tide of Iron. Just keep playing it and it will draw you in.

Up Front is my most recently "10"-rated game.
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Bob Roberts

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Well played sir, well played.
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Andrew Saunders
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Great game indeed it is but sadly collects dust in my games cupboard
 
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John Sizemore
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Excellent review, I agree with your assessment.

One thing: I don't actually find the rulebook to be all that bad for a war game. It's pretty dense for a card game, true, but it's manageable. That said, the recent rewrite has produced a much more readable set of rules for those just getting into the game. They aren't totally complete yet, but they'll certainly get you to the point that the included rules can just serve as a reference. See this thread for the latest details:

Beginning Rules Rewrite
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Christopher Donovan
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skipsizemore wrote:
Excellent review, I agree with your assessment.

One thing: I don't actually find the rulebook to be all that bad for a war game. It's pretty dense for a card game, true, but it's manageable. That said, the recent rewrite has produced a much more readable set of rules for those just getting into the game. They aren't totally complete yet, but they'll certainly get you to the point that the included rules can just serve as a reference. See this thread for the latest details:

Beginning Rules Rewrite


Thanks, I didn't know about the re-write!
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Dan Poole
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Nice review. Up Front is probably my favorite game. It is amazingly rich and detailed and is always a joy to play.
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Zerosum wrote:
That's $100 for a countersheet, some cards you have to punch out yourself, and a short rules booklet.


Actually, the unit cards are cardboard, but the action cards are superb quality.


Zerosum wrote:
And the rules are horrible to learn from. Absolutely horrible. They seem to have been written as reference.


They aren't the easiest to digest. Fields of Fire has a rulebook that is similar, but both games are so unusual and innovative that getting the rules down must be difficult (FoF clearly was influenced by Up Front)

Great review, though!

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Richard Irving
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wandererdog wrote:
Zerosum wrote:
That's $100 for a countersheet, some cards you have to punch out yourself, and a short rules booklet.


Actually, the unit cards are cardboard, but the action cards are superb quality.


He was referring to Banzai in that sentence--which does only have punch out personality cards.


Quote:
Zerosum wrote:
And the rules are horrible to learn from. Absolutely horrible. They seem to have been written as reference.


They aren't the easiest to digest. Fields of Fire has a rulebook that is similar, but both games are so unusual and innovative that getting the rules down must be difficult (FoF clearly was influenced by Up Front)



The problem is the Up Front is a game where you basically have to know how every card works, it doesn't have a fixed sequence of play, it has never before seen rules concepts (relative range, adding FP based on RR, movement cards with multiple uses (removing wire, transferring, avoiding morale checks, etc.)

The ill-fated UF 2000 was to have a tutorial, essentially showing a sample game one turn a time--which really makes it much easier to learn, with a separate reference book for the rules (not in a programmed instruction format--when makes particular details difficult to find, when were pillbozes introduced, etc.)

Quote:
Great review, though!


Agreed!
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Lowell Drake
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Well, nuts! Now I have to find and buy this game.
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M King
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Great profile of a great game. I heartily agree with your assessment, especially your comments about Combat Commander. It is such a shame that this game remains out of print.
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Eric Lai
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wandererdog wrote:


They aren't the easiest to digest. Fields of Fire has a rulebook that is similar, but both games are so unusual and innovative that getting the rules down must be difficult (FoF clearly was influenced by Up Front)

Great review, though!



Odd... I had NO problems with the Up Front rule book, but had a HORRENDOUS time with the fields of fire rule book. (the latter probably because of all the new lingo, more so than other reasons)
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Eric Lai
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rri1 wrote:


The ill-fated UF 2000 was to have a tutorial, essentially showing a sample game one turn a time--which really makes it much easier to learn, with a separate reference book for the rules (not in a programmed instruction format--when makes particular details difficult to find, when were pillbozes introduced, etc.)



Since MMP has given up the rights to UF... wonder if someone could wiki-leak the new rule book draft? hint hint wink wink
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Don Schoemaker
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There is a very good updated rule book here in the files section. It is much more comprehensible than the stereo manual that came with the original box and has quite a few examples.
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Roar Stensrud
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Standing ovations to this review! I think you have captured the essence of Up Front extremely well. I really liked the presentations of the three basic nations. And I'd like to add something to that:

Up Front has variations that are almost endless. If you feel the Russians often have a hard time (which they indeed do), try to play them elite. That changes the picture some... Testing out elite/2nd Line troops for the other nations too will also give you new playing experiences.

Also, with time, diving into campaigns is VERY recommendable. If you play well and luck is with you, you might end up with a Senior Sergeant, granting you an additional card. Elite Russians with a SSGT I actually believe is the most potent force of all that you can have in the game. Imagine a five-card hand with the possibility to do one action and still discard TWO cards! I have purchased Tom Cundiff's excellent Waffen SS expansion (as opposed to the rather lousy shot at the Waffen SS made by Vaipa Magazine with "The Fanatics"), but even this force has had the crap beaten out of it by the SSGT-supported, elite Russians.

And in a recent campaign, I actually had the pleasure of playing elite Japanese with a SIX-card hand for part of the scenario. Now, how THAT is possible is something to chew on for you guys (Richard, please let the other guys think this one over for a while ).

I have also had the opportunity to try Combat Commander. And I wholeheartedly agree upon the comparison between UF and CC. As far as I can see, CC tries to mix ASL with UF. It fails to portray the fog of war like UF and I feel the rules are a bit too scarce to make it a good simulation of combat on the same level as ASL. I like the game because I recognize aspects of Up Front and because the rules are simple enough (though, as mentioned, a bit lacking) to make it a good introductionary wargame, which neither UF or ASL is.

I'll take a scenario of UF over one of CC any day, though.

R.
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Davide Banchini c/o SELED
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While I don't agree 100% with you, mostly on the CC part (but probably is due to the fact that now I cant find opponents to play UF like in the past, so I play only CC and not UF anymore shake) please let me quote entirely the following words.

Zerosum wrote:

The amount of theme in Up Front is extreme, and every game will tell a story. I find I can enjoy losing this game like no other. It's not about being the best. It's about making the best of the opportunities you're given. Up Front has a high level of abstraction, yet surprisingly creates a striking level of perceived realism. I would go so far as to say Up Front is the most "realistic" tactical WWII game I have ever seen. You don't know what's beyond that hedge, you don't know when (or if) your fire team will be in position. You don't know when (or if) your men will suddenly pull it together and advance. The only "God's eye view" in Up Front is that of your enemy's composition and the effect of your fire. Given that this game came out in 1983, at a time when so many games where immersed in modeling unit and hardware capabilities, it's impressive. And Up Front still feels very fresh.


That can be carved in stone and used on the back-box of the new (?) Up Front edition, or used to advertise the game.
Thanks for your review.
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Iain K
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Nice review. However I would submit that Up Front's closest decedent is Frontline: D-Day not the Combat Commander series. Just my 2 cents ;-)

I think your review highlights aspects of hand management and play (such as cycling) that within a few years of Up Front was to explode in the Collectible Card genre. Now these techniques are common place, I like how you've highlighted them here.

PS - if Ned Kelly was king, he'd make those robbers swing.
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Garfink wrote:
rri1 wrote:


The ill-fated UF 2000 was to have a tutorial, essentially showing a sample game one turn a time--which really makes it much easier to learn, with a separate reference book for the rules (not in a programmed instruction format--when makes particular details difficult to find, when were pillbozes introduced, etc.)



Since MMP has given up the rights to UF... wonder if someone could wiki-leak the new rule book draft? hint hint wink wink


Given up the rights? Or simply chosen not to reprint it?
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David Janik-Jones
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Brilliant review. I was able to reacquire an unpunched, near mint copy recently and it is my only 10 rated game. It has yet be exceeded for a tactical WW2 game. Brilliant tension, narrative and fog of war.
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M King
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GamesOnTheBrain wrote:
Garfink wrote:
rri1 wrote:


The ill-fated UF 2000 was to have a tutorial, essentially showing a sample game one turn a time--which really makes it much easier to learn, with a separate reference book for the rules (not in a programmed instruction format--when makes particular details difficult to find, when were pillbozes introduced, etc.)



Since MMP has given up the rights to UF... wonder if someone could wiki-leak the new rule book draft? hint hint wink wink


Given up the rights? Or simply chosen not to reprint it?


I think the more accurate phrasing, based on what I read, would be: Gave up on getting the rights. It was implied that no one could figure out how to obtain the rights to the property.
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Warren Davis
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It IS a d*mn shame that nobody can seem to reprint this.

shake

As for my view & opinion of Up Front, just access my collection & read my comment.

One more thing: I have 4 copies so I can run a double-elimination Up front tournament on my own. And it was very worth the price I paid to get my other 3 copies, which will be torn from my cold, dead fingers. arrrh
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Dan Edwards
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Wow, I thought I was extreme at three copies.

Great review! I'm with DaveyJJ, after decades of sampling various tactical games, I have yet to find one that captures the spirit of infantry combat as well as Up Front.

As to the lack of reprint: I don't think the fault can be laid at one door. After reading the Up Front! forums here and elsewhere, I gather that several entities are claiming rights to all or part of the game, and the potential money to be made isn't worth the legal cost and hassle.

I doubt that an official reprint will occur during my lifetime, and that's a shame. The only way I can see it happening is if a wealthy Up Front! obsessed eccentric pursued it. One of us Up Front geeks needs to hit the Powerball lottery.

If there is a gaming Valhalla, and I am to stand before the entrance and plea for admittance, the most persuasive argument in my favor will be that I have taught at least a score of people to play Up Front. I am sure that Sgt Stahler, Pvt Degi and the rest of the gang will be waiting for me when I get there.



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Paul O'Connor
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Zerosum wrote:
Up Front is my most recently "10"-rated game.


And our church grows by one.
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Christopher Donovan
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goldenboat wrote:
Zerosum wrote:
Up Front is my most recently "10"-rated game.


And our church grows by one.


I've indoctrinated two new disciples, brother! One of whom even brought another two lost souls into the fold all of his own volition. Hallelujah!
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Zerosum wrote:
I've indoctrinated two new disciples, brother! One of whom even brought another two lost souls into the fold all of his own volition. Hallelujah!


Praise the Holy RPC and Black Sixes for all true believers! Preach on!
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David Janik-Jones
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Zerosum wrote:

I've indoctrinated two new disciples, brother! One of whom even brought another two lost souls into the fold all of his own volition. Hallelujah!


Praise be for bringing the lost out of the stream of bogginess and into the light of UF, amen!
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