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Sandy Petersen
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Up Front – a card game of squad-level combat in WW2. It was published near the end of the wargame heyday, and was deeply out of step with its peers. It has so many obscure rule exceptions and modifications that it is literally impossible to remember them all. Hence, in almost every game played, someone unknowingly breaks some rule.

Unlike most wargames, you lack omniscience, and even control. When a game starts, you have no real idea what the terrain will be. You often lose control over your men, or frustratingly cannot get them to do what you want. For example – a section will not shoot unless you have a Fire card in your hand that they can use. Sometimes you are forced to sit idly for several turns, discarding cards, while your enemy’s plan advances implacably.

Yet it is, to me, the most fun tactical wargame ever created. I still play my 28 year old set.

Two types of cards are used, plus a variety of counters. One set of cards represents soldiers or vehicles. Thus, we have a card for Private Peterson (no relation), Private Schmidt, etc. His card lists his morale rating (his most important stat) and has a little chart showing how effective his weapon is. You always have a squad of such soldiers, ranging from the courageous to the slacktastic, and lay them out on the tabletop, after divvying them up into 2-5 teams.

You also get a hand of playing cards, which do the bulk of the game’s work. These cards fall into a few basic categories – one type represents actions for a team to perform (Rally, Fire, Move); another type are terrain (Building, Wall, Forest, Gully, etc.); yet a third represent one-off powers, such as temporary heroism, or letting your men hide behind a tree (Concealment), or even random sniper attacks.

Like any card game, the cards you use control the action. You can perform one action per team, which is an incentive to have multiple teams. Some actions (entrenching and infiltration) can be performed without a card, but that team still only gets one action. Most armies (Germans being the notable exception) can either play cards, or discard them. Not both. So if you get a bad hand, and need to discard, you might take 2-3 turns to do this, depending on how many cards you can discard (which varies by nation).

It generally takes several turns to get a team to complete a task. For example, if you want one of your teams to move forward and dig in, first you must play a Move to get them on their way. Then the next turn you play a Hilltop card on them which halts movement in the desired terrain. THEN you can try to dig in on the third turn. That’s three turns to Move-Hilltop-Entrench at the quickest. The turns move very quickly, but the enemy still has every opportunity to react to your team’s actions.

The cards serve multiple purposes. All the cards carry numbers in the upper right hand corner that are used to generate random numbers. For instance, an entrenchment attempt succeeds if you pull a card with a 0 on it. Which means it fails over 2/3 of the time.

At the end of a turn, you fill up your hand. As you play, you seek to fulfill victory conditions, usually something along the lines of “get a team deep on the enemy’s side of the board”. There is always the automatic victory of “break the enemy’s squad” which in my experience is usually how a game ends. But the other victory condition is needed so that the game has a driving motive.

Why is UP FRONT so good?
Fast Playing
Interactive
Two-Stage Death
Variations

FAST PLAYING – turns are quick. The most actions you can possibly take is 5, if you have 5 teams. In most turns you make far fewer actions than that – often just a simple discard. So you need not sit around waiting for your opponent to move a million counters.

INTERACTIVE – the basic interaction is simple: when he shoots at you, you decide whether to play a Concealment card. But there is more to it than this. When an enemy team starts to move, you think about discarding a (bad) terrain on him, thus causing his men to get bogged down in a marsh rather than climbing to a hilltop. If you see that his frightened soldiers are not rallying, you realize he may not have a Rally card in hand, and plan to focus fire on that team before he manages to pull the right card. Each move your foe makes gives you possibilities to consider.

TWO-STAGE DEATH – it’s almost impossible to kill a man in UP FRONT in a single shot. The first hit usually causes him to Cower, which renders him useless till he is Rallied. A second hit on a Cowering soldier, in effect, kills him. The fact that your units die in this manner is a huge part of the game’s fun – as you play, you don’t immediately run out of units. But you DO see your team become less effective. Moving onto that Hilltop is harder now – instead of just Move-Hilltop-Entrench, you may need to Rally-Move- Hilltop- Rally-Entrench. This can be a challenge, especially if you don’t have all the needed cards in your hand (which is most of the time). To retain a needed Rally card, you may need to Move your team without a terrain card in hand, hoping that one comes up in the next draw, so your team finds somewhere safe to jump into. Or at least a Concealment card might turn up. The Russian player only has a four-card hand, so he spends most of a game in this half-panicked state hoping to high heaven next turn’s card pulls will save his bacon.

The two-stage death is simple in concept, but it affects play by forcing you to take chances (Move without terrain, for instance) and it means that your plans are always impacted by your foe’s decisions. There is a sort of friction as the game runs and it makes the conflict feel realistic. Winning is not a matter of Who Has the Best Plan – it is a matter of who can GET their plan, bad as it may be, to work.

VARIATION – it’s impossible to have a game of Up Front between identical forces. The different armies play by different rules, plus your squads have different levels of morale, and are equipped differently . The Red Army, as previously stated, only gets 4 cards, while the Americans get a generous 6. But the Russian can discard his whole hand at once whereas the Yanks can only discard 2 cards. Plus more of the deck’s cards can be used as Concealment for the Russian (which mitigates the danger of moving without terrain). These two nations play totally differently. The Russian must trust more to luck. The Americans, with their huge six-card hands, can make better plans, but they are unwieldy – it’s hard to discard a bad hand for them, so when things go wrong, the Americans cannot react quickly.

This is a game that surpasses its flaws, and turns some of them into strengths. If you can find someone else who knows the game, let him teach you – the rules organization is discouraging, to say the least.
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Mike Szarka
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It's a great game, I have probably played more UF than any other single wargame. However I do believe it has been surpassed by Combat Commander: Europe which, although at a slightly different scale, does many of the same things well and a few things better. Where UF still continues to be unmatched is:

- even less player omniscience since there is no map
- plays in 60 minutes or less compared with about 150 for CC
- highly portable with a small footprint

Highly recommended.
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Joel Langenfeld
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usrlocal wrote:
Thanks for your review Mr. Petersen, which quite succinctly nails down just why this game is so damned good. Coincidentally I read your review just after listening to an interview with Don Greenwood from an old Point2Point podcast (Episode #26, around 58:50). Mr. Greenwood described Up Front as his all-time favourite game - perfect in its treatment of fog of war. Being involved in its development, he mentioned that Courtney Allen's design was so good and so solid from the start that it needed very little development. Quite an accomplishment!




Nevertheless, he couldn't help messing with it. Most of the turds in the rules came as a direct result of forcing chrome onto a system that didn't need it.

I love the game, but there are a few places where I just shake my head (wounding, stealing an opponent's weapon, probably all of the vehicle rules, etc).
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Mike Szarka
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SkunkyBeer wrote:
usrlocal wrote:
Thanks for your review Mr. Petersen, which quite succinctly nails down just why this game is so damned good. Coincidentally I read your review just after listening to an interview with Don Greenwood from an old Point2Point podcast (Episode #26, around 58:50). Mr. Greenwood described Up Front as his all-time favourite game - perfect in its treatment of fog of war. Being involved in its development, he mentioned that Courtney Allen's design was so good and so solid from the start that it needed very little development. Quite an accomplishment!




Nevertheless, he couldn't help messing with it. Most of the turds in the rules came as a direct result of forcing chrome onto a system that didn't need it.

I love the game, but there are a few places where I just shake my head (wounding, stealing an opponent's weapon, probably all of the vehicle rules, etc).


Agreed. The vehicle rules in UF show precisely why vehicles would also make CC a worse game. Too much comes down to getting a lucky hit on the AFV.
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Dan Williams
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Certainly a solid gold classic, and sets the standard for aging well. Having played through most all of the scenarios, I found the introductory one was always full of interesting strategy, from initial deployment to battle plan, which made it quite re-playable. Most of the difficult rules come from the advanced scenarios.
That being said, I cannot think of a more frustrating game. The succession of suspense/tension/anger is typically the norm in this game. Fortunately, when things go wrong for you, you're probably going to be dead soon, and your suffering will be over.
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Mike Szarka
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earthboot wrote:
An excellent summary of the game, well written, easy to read. I also like the fact that you stayed on point rather than rambled on like a lot of reviewers.

Like a lot of newer wargamers (I've been playing since 2006) I've never seen a copy of this, but have been very curious.

I have to say though...from what you've written Combat Commander does sound very similar in its card-play mechanisms.

Care to comment?


I can comment:

The principle of discard limits related to nationality in CC show a clear lineage from Up Front, although in CC hand size depends on posture (attacker/defender) and the maximum number of actions is scenario-defined. In UF hand size is a national characteristic and does not depend on posture. However, in Up Front the players have a common deck rather than each his own as in CC, and in UF there are many "split cards" which will allow a certain action for one player and another thing for a different nationality. Just a different way of accomplishing the same thing. There is no "opportunity fire" on an opponent during the other player's turn in UF because that mechanism is not needed since movement is abstracted into "move" and "terrain" cards. You play a move and you cannot play a terrain during the same turn so the other guy always gets a chance to shoot (assuming he is holding the right card). In CC card play and actions rely mostly on activation of leaders, whereas in UF card play is team by team (leaders are more important in CC).

The biggest differences are scale (platoon instead of squad) and the lack of a map in UF. Of course there are many others.
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Joel Langenfeld
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topdeckgames wrote:
Certainly a solid gold classic, and sets the standard for aging well. Having played through most all of the scenarios, I found the introductory one was always full of interesting strategy, from initial deployment to battle plan, which made it quite re-playable. Most of the difficult rules come from the advanced scenarios.
That being said, I cannot think of a more frustrating game. The succession of suspense/tension/anger is typically the norm in this game. Fortunately, when things go wrong for you, you're probably going to be dead soon, and your suffering will be over.


It's the moments of frustration that give the game its charm. There are few things as sweet as drawing that rally card just as your opponent breaks cover. You can't recreate that experience unless you know that, more often than not, you'll still be pinned as the bad guys close and take up firing positions. And why would your opponent every break cover unless he knew that as well?
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Sandy Petersen
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I guess I have to go look up Combat Commander.

I admit I rarely use the tanks or "chrome" rules in Up Front. Who needs them? For me, even the Japanese and British armies are a little too chromey for me, though I love the Japanese so much it's worth it.

I have found that it is a good game to play with someone who has never played a wargame, oddly enough. It's pretty straightforward if you don't mess with the weird stuff, and it plays fast. Questions are easy to answer, and the non-grognard really identifies with his men.

Probably makes a better gateway wargame than it is usually credited for.
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Mark J
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Nice review.

At times the game seems to make no sense. I was just playing a solo game on Vassal where the Americans moved to RR5. The Germans, who were the defenders, could not get a single stupid fire card. "They are at point-blank range... just pull the damn trigger!" So out of desperation I just sent the Germans off to attempt to infiltrate. The 3rd deck ran out before the attempt was complete and the Germans won (one downside to playing on Vassal is you can't tell how far down you are in the current deck)

The frustrations with the game is also the beauty of it. Things don't go according to plan... just like in real war. You'd think your men are properly trained but crazy things do happen.
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Joel Langenfeld
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Sandy Petersen wrote:
I guess I have to go look up Combat Commander.

I admit I rarely use the tanks or "chrome" rules in Up Front. Who needs them? For me, even the Japanese and British armies are a little too chromey for me, though I love the Japanese so much it's worth it.

I have found that it is a good game to play with someone who has never played a wargame, oddly enough. It's pretty straightforward if you don't mess with the weird stuff, and it plays fast. Questions are easy to answer, and the non-grognard really identifies with his men.

Probably makes a better gateway wargame than it is usually credited for.


If you have someone to explain the rules, and maybe calculate relative range, then the game is extremely intuitive.
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earthboot wrote:
An excellent summary of the game, well written, easy to read. I also like the fact that you stayed on point rather than rambled on like a lot of reviewers.

Like a lot of newer wargamers (I've been playing since 2006) I've never seen a copy of this, but have been very curious.

I have to say though...from what you've written Combat Commander does sound very similar in its card-play mechanisms.

Care to comment?

If you finally get to play, your view will be that Up Front is a cheap ripoff of Combat Commander. That, plus you'll be frustrated because the enemy is right in front of you and you can't fire (this is more the ASL player's reaction).
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Joel Langenfeld
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jumbit wrote:
earthboot wrote:
An excellent summary of the game, well written, easy to read. I also like the fact that you stayed on point rather than rambled on like a lot of reviewers.

Like a lot of newer wargamers (I've been playing since 2006) I've never seen a copy of this, but have been very curious.

I have to say though...from what you've written Combat Commander does sound very similar in its card-play mechanisms.

Care to comment?

If you finally get to play, your view will be that Up Front is a cheap ripoff of Combat Commander. That, plus you'll be frustrated because the enemy is right in front of you and you can't fire (this is more the ASL player's reaction).


Who peed in your rootbeer?

Also, how can a game that's nearly 30 years old be a cheap ripoff of a game that's barely five?
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jumbit
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SkunkyBeer wrote:
Also, how can a game that's nearly 30 years old be a cheap ripoff of a game that's barely five?

Well, that's my point. The facts are there, but the perception is the opposite. To someone who's only played CC, UF feels like a copy.
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Mark J
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jumbit wrote:
SkunkyBeer wrote:
Also, how can a game that's nearly 30 years old be a cheap ripoff of a game that's barely five?

Well, that's my point. The facts are there, but the perception is the opposite. To someone who's only played CC, UF feels like a copy.


If you've only played CC and therefore haven't played UF then how would you know how much of a copy it even is?
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You guys are misreading Jumbit, he is a fan of the game.

His post from the thread he linked to:

Quote:
Good ol' Up Front. The ultimate answer to the whiny "the dice screwed me!" gamer. Who cares? Set up again and play another round! The game is mostly an exercise in managing chaos, anyway. Sometimes, the cards say that you're screwed no matter what you do. Gosh, just like being a real-life squad leader! Whoda thunk it?

Also, don't discount the German's ability to discard a card every round. This is actually quite powerful. Play a few more times and you'll figure it out. I have never quite seen a game as elegant as Up Front for abstractly representing the fog of war and the flexibility (or lack thereof) of the different commanders' nationalities.
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Out of step with its peers? Up Front has no peer.
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Up front is actually a very different beast to CC.

The similarities are that the game is card driven, requiring an appropriate action card to get your men to do something; and that the cards are also used for other purposes as well as for the listed actions:- dice rolls, various triggers, random hexes, Actions and Events in the case of CC; random numbers, random positions, breezes, radios and flanking & fording movements in the case of UF.

That's it.

CC's counters represent leaders, teams (5 men) and squads (10 men) . UF's cards represent single men.

CC has a 'traditional' hex & counter movement system on a map which is visible to both players. UF relies on you playing a terrain card on a moving group. It takes at least two turns for one of your groups to change position, and this gives the opponent the opportunity of discarding unfavourable terrain on your group in the meantime. This may make you 'change course' by rejecting the terrain, or result in your group occupying poor terrain.

CC uses LOS. UF does not have LOS, but firepower is much more effective and dangerous at closer range.

The way fire attacks are resolved are very different from each other in these two games.

jumbit wrote:
If you finally get to play, your view will be that Up Front is a cheap ripoff of Combat Commander.


I believe that what some posters on this thread have failed to see is that jumbit had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he said the above.

Chad Jensen has said that his inspiration for CC drew on ASL, Up Front and Ambush. The Up Front influence is really confined to the use of cards for actions and 'dice rolls' (random numbers in the case of UF), but they are very different games that play differently.

I love both CC and UF. I suspect that I love UF very slightly more, but I keep coming back to both of them. My boardgaming church is broad enough for them both!
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Does anyone like the vehicle rules, chrome, etc.?

And by like, I mean the sense that they work well, are not excessively fiddly, and make for a great game (as opposed to like in the sense that, "WWII is cool, vehicles, YEAH!").
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Mike Szarka
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SlyFrog wrote:
Does anyone like the vehicle rules, chrome, etc.?

And by like, I mean the sense that they work well, are not excessively fiddly, and make for a great game (as opposed to like in the sense that, "WWII is cool, vehicles, YEAH!").


Yes. Although I like the scenarios best with the weaker recon vehicles, as opposed to the scenarios where an infantry gun is desperately hoping to get a shot off on a main battle tank. Some of the chrome is superfluous (e.g. Russian berserk rules).
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SlyFrog wrote:
Does anyone like the vehicle rules, chrome, etc.?

And by like, I mean the sense that they work well, are not excessively fiddly, and make for a great game (as opposed to like in the sense that, "WWII is cool, vehicles, YEAH!").


Absolutely. I don't really have a problem with the vehicles. They are (generally) very powerful, but are also relatively vulnerable to even a light AP attack. They are also 'expensive' - ie they cost a lot of points in a DIY scenario, and they are often accompanied by small numbers of relatively weak infantry in the 'official' scenarios. Losing a vehicle is a painful experience!

I quite like the rules for ordnance and how the 'to hit' process and fire attack resolution works.

Most of the 'chrome' works well - you can use as much or as little of it as you like, thanks to the programmed instruction approach of the rulebook.

The different nationalities' different hand size & discard capabilities are fascinating and make each nation a very different experience to play. I wrote about the interesting benefits & difficulties of playing as the Japanese in this session report.

The rules for infiltration (a prerequisite for entering close combat) seem a bit strange at first, but when you understand what's going on it boils down to a chance, with various factors increasing or decreasing your chances of success - just the same as most actions in every other wargame, just done in a different way.

Up Front is clearly an established 'cult' game with a large group of dedicated fans playing this out of print but remarkable, strange and exciting game.
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Mike Szarka
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elirlandes wrote:

The different nationalities' different hand size & discard capabilities are fascinating and make each nation a very different experience to play. I wrote about the interesting benefits & difficulties of playing as the Japanese in this session report.


Yes, but some work better than others. The Brits can be pretty challenged with small squads and lots of SMGs which have no firepower at long ranges. The Italians and French can be pretty depressing to play as well. I do not recommend the French for a PBEM game, that's for sure (Discard one card. Discard one card. Discard one card...). I also own the Folgore expansion which is a far more entertaining treatment of the Italians.
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mcszarka wrote:
The Italians and French can be pretty depressing to play as well.


I have often thought that wargames tend to be a bit hard on the Italians & French at the tactical level, and Up Front is particularly hard on them.

I quite like playing as the Brits in Up Front - they are able to use Fire cards easily with their bonus FP rule, and can use most of the split action cards.

I got Desert War on eBay earlier this year, but haven't had the courage to play as either the Italians or French yet.
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Mike Szarka
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elirlandes wrote:
mcszarka wrote:
The Italians and French can be pretty depressing to play as well.


I have often thought that wargames tend to be a bit hard on the Italians & French at the tactical level, and Up Front is particularly hard on them.

I quite like playing as the Brits in Up Front - they are able to use Fire cards easily with their bonus FP rule, and can use most of the split action cards.

I got Desert War on eBay earlier this year, but haven't had the courage to play as either the Italians or French yet.


You feel good when you win with the Italians or French, that's for sure!
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The French aren't so bad - I actually like them due to the lack of SMGs and long-range firepower. The Italians are ridiculously bad and represent the worst of 70s/80s wargamer zeitgeist. They just needed someone to laugh at, and the Italians provided a self-fulfilling situation.

I can be said that the Italians and French were meant to fight each other in Desert terrain. I posted something before about how to fix the Italians.
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IMHO it's the best wargame ever made. Tense yet fun. I didn't have the problems others have had with the rules, but I can understand why the rules are a bit of an animal to tackle.

Thanks for the review.
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