Continuing the 2013 deluge of hexmap strategies, 20 Fingers Productions’ Lines of Fire is a game of command and control, occupying the valuable strategic locations around the board defending them as you push on to the next target. It’s a charmingly elegant system of rules let down by some crummy AI, but well worth a look for all war gamers.
While on the surface Lines of Fire may have all the appearances of a typical WW2 hex-em-up, under the bonnet is a smart little engine designed to simulate aspects of a real time strategy. Every action in Lines of Fire – be that requesting reinforcements, moving, attacking or going to ground – costs command points to do and, when you run out of these, your foe takes their turns. So far, so standard, but here’s where Lines of Fire starts taking its cues from the astonishingly good Stronghold. Both players draw their command points from the same pool, so when you’re spending points on costly activities, you’re giving your opponent points to use during their turn. The true strategy of Lines of Fire isn’t simply trying to out-position your opponent or overwhelm them with numbers, it’s a game of economy and efficiency.
Never is this more important than in the positioning of your officers. Lines of Fire plays a really nice hand here, beautifully simulating the communication constraints on frontline commanders by increasing the cost of a unit’s activation as it moves away from an officer. In one activation you might rush your Jeeps down a paved road towards the capture point and only give your foe a single command point to play with next turn, but next activation that same Jeep unit will be granting four points that could well give them the time they need to mount an offence.
Combat will remind many tabletop gamers of the WW2 classic, Memoir ’44, where each unit type has a dice pool for its attacks and different icons indicate a casualty, a retreat under fire or simply a miss. Units firing upon multiple units are granted a re-roll on their misses and units under cover cause re-rolls of any hits upon them. Again, so far, so far war game, but the to and fro seesawing that governs the command points appears here as well in the concept of initiative. When a player holds the initiative, they can decide to re-roll any dice result, but with the cost that they pass initiative to the other player. This adds another interesting dimension to the dice rolling of the game, as you’re not simply rolling the bones and hoping for the best – you’re also weighing up the possible rewards of the re-roll with the danger of giving that power to your opponent.
There’s also a degree of rock-paper-scissors in the interaction between units. For example, though the ludicrously expensive tank will wreck pretty much any unit in open terrain, they can be instantly defeated by an infantry unit in close combat. So while you’re dancing your troops around their officers like a heavily armed Maypole, you need to be thinking about where your troops are most vulnerable and where you can exploit your foe’s positioning.
As you might expect in this style of game, terrain plays a huge part in the movement and combat effectiveness of your troops, so it’s extremely welcome that the app comes with wonderfully varied 11 maps. Somewhat boastfully (and incorrectly) the developers have claimed that theirs is the first ever board game to feature a real-time strategy influenced Fog of War. While they were beaten to punch on the innovation, there’s no doubt that their mechanic, which cloaks enemy movement outside of line of sight depending on accelerometer orientation, is a smart feature that adds considerable depth and planning to your game.
There are a few oddities about the single player aspect of the game, it has to be said. The first of which is likely to be a matter of taste, the second is rather more problematic. You see, when the AI takes its turn, a large animated hand appears on the screen and acts out the movements for the player to see. On a personal level, I’m a big fan of this sort of thing and I’ll like to see more of it in games – being able to see exactly what the AI is doing allows me to better understand what’s happening on the map. In a game that relies so heavily on balancing your actions against those of your opponent, that seems really important. On the other hand, I can entirely foresee that a lot of people will just feel frustration at having to watch this playing out when the just want to take their turns.
The other issue is a bit more troubling and universal. The AI seems a bit… thick. I mean, look at this:
In this battle, instead of pressing the advantage and pushing my far weaker force off the bridge, the AI spent seventeen turns building a vast army that it would never be able to control. Thanks to the Command Point mechanic, the absolute maximum amount of units you can use in a turn is six, and that’s if they’re all standing on top of an officer. Sadly, this isn’t the only example of the AI making questionable decisions that have given the game away all too easily. If you’re playing with friends and family, obviously that’s not going to bother you too much, but – for an otherwise great commuter game – it’s unfortunate.
Lines of Fire is an awkward beast to recommend. In its favour are some really cracking rules, undeniably filled with flavour and that lead to some excellently tough decisions. There are also a huge collection of Western Front maps to fight across and decent artwork. Against it though, is an AI that really doesn’t put up enough of a fight and that can cripple a game like this for a lot of players. The developer, 20 Fingers Productions has announced that the game is still undergoing additions and further development, with more maps and an Eastern Front setting, so the AI issues will hopefully be dealt with soon.
I’m aware I still haven’t recommended it or advised against it. Let’s just say that I will definitely be picking up the tabletop edition of the game when it’s released later this year.