Tuesday, October 09, 2012

To tweak perfection?

Old news is good news
That cover, the true
story of which can
be found here
Word broke on the internet some weeks ago of news that at first sight seemed almost too good to be true: Valley Games have acquired the rights to Up Front and are working with designer Courtney Allen on a new edition, to be funded via Kickstarter later this year for a planned publication date in 2013. The initial excitement felt by fans of this all-time classic will have been quickly tempered by healthy scepticism upon all-too-immediate recall of the vapourware that was MMP’s ill-fated Up Front 2000. The lapse- in March 2011, of MMP’s licence with Hasbro was nothing less than a mercy killing. No one really believed anymore that MMP were going to bring this one home, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ultimately relieved that some of MMP’s more esoteric suggestions for their new edition of Up Front (first announced in an ad in ASL Journal #2) didn’t see the light of day.

MMP’s infamous advert
in ASL Journal#2
I mean to say, the collectible in CCG is anathema to me because I hate it as a marketing device but I know that CCGs can be good games. So I guess it wouldn’t’ve been completely outside the realms of possiblity that Up Front 2000’s collectible ‘supercards’- eg. the autokill Russian sniper; that these might’ve been positive additions to the game, even as they divided the Up Front player base into ‘purists’ and CCGers. But the other great “modernization” touted by MMP- ie. “no chits”, that for me definitively gave the lie to MMP’s claim that they weren’t trying “to ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken”. Bad enough that this barely made sense in terms of Up Front’s unique range system— relative range without chits?- oh please, give me a break; worse than that it introduced card-tapping into the game, definitively demonstrating that MMP’s plans involved a radical makeover as part of a poorly-conceived scheme to make the game somehow more palatable to CCGers. Like I said, it’s a relief to have been spared this.
Ron Volstad sketch for
the new Up Front (via)
The new team has a reassuring presence on the BGG Up Front forum, and the recent news that card artwork will be done by Ron Volstad- the respected WW2 military artist best known for his work in Osprey books, suggests that real work is being done and progress made towards a new edition that will do this revolutionary game the justice it deserves. I’m more than optimistic, I’m looking forward to this one.

Of course, nothing’s perfect!
Those few games of Up Front I played earlier this year had brought back to mind thoughts about the rules I’d been mulling over for years now. The announcement of the new edition decided me that it’s timely to write these up so I can try them out.

Some of my ideas are just plain disagreements with certain rules interpretations which have emerged in FAQs and errata down the years. My time in the trenches with Up Front dates back to the early/mid 80s, pre-internet days when rules updates- in the pages of the The Avalon Hill General and the game’s 2nd printing, were few and far between. The result was that the official game I found when I caught up with Up Front again a few years ago was subtly but significantly different from the one I’d played so often, different in ways I find eccentric, unfun, or both.

Moving Flanking Fire
12.11 & 17.4 Does the simultaneous halving of firepower for Moving Fire and doubled firepower for Flanking Fire leave a Bolt Action Rifle with its normal firepower? A. Yes.
Houserule: when conducting moving Flanking Fire, weapons contribute their moving firepower to the moving group’s total firepower, which total is then doubled for Flanking Fire.

The standard issue
WW2 American G.I.
Why? Well, do bolt-action rifles suddenly become easier to operate while moving depending on your spatial relations on the battlefield? That’s what Flanking Fire is after all- a group’s spatial relationship with 2 other groups on the battlefield; the effect of that spatial relationship being to double the group’s firepower- not the firepower of each man in the group, that firepower being calculated according to the conditions pertaining to the group and its members. And yes, this doubly penalises bolt-action rifles’ moving Flanking Fire- that’s precisely the point: the Americans’ semi-automatic M1s really were that much better suited to squad-level fire and manoeuvre than the WW1-vintage bolt-action rifles of the other WW2 armies. (Eccentric and unfun.)

Individual Transfer
17.8 INDIVIDUAL TRANSFER: The man being transferred is moved between the sending and receiving group, and is marked with a Transfer chit.
This rule is logical enough although the Schrodingerian uncertainty about the man’s group position makes it untidy, as witness the Q&A:
14.2 & 17.8 If a group that a man is transferring to is fired on by a Sniper, is he also a legitimate target for the Sniper? If so, what position is the transferring man considered to occupy? A. Yes. The first position.
17.8 When a man is in the process of transferring and the receiving group is fired on, what position does the transferring man occupy for purposes of the fire resolution? A. Transferring men are always attacked first.
Personality Card?
Houserule: men who’re Individually Transferring are marked in their current position in the group out of which they’re transferring, being attacked in/retaining that position if the group is attacked and/or they break so that their transfer is cancelled.

Why? Tidiness, like I said: no more ‘floating’ men, plus this brings Individual Transfer into line with all the other single-man chits, ie. they don’t by themselves change a man’s position in his group.

19. Weapon Malfunction
Three cards of dread
The essence of the issue here is simple enough: some people don’t like the idea that those 3 6’s (a flat 1.9% probability) automatically break LMGs firing at RR0, with the attendant- less than 1% all told, chance of having to fight a scenario without an LMG. Tough titties frankly: those extreme games are part of Up Front’s richness, the irresistable charm of its endless replayability.

Houserule: if there is only 1 weapon with usable FP at the given RR, that weapon is the sole firing weapon; it will malfunction without recourse to RPC selection if its malfunction #s are drawn during the resolution of a fire attack (EXC. eg. pinned men’s weapons are always subject to malfunction if their malfunction #s are drawn).

“Oh no, not the LMG!”
Why? Eccentricity: if there’s only 1 weapon actually contributing any firepower, why should all the other weapons be liable to breakdown (this interpretation makes even less sense as the RR extends into the negatives)? Unfun: those epic games where you fought your way back from the ‘early LMG catastrophe’- or not, are legends amid all those routine manoeuvres.

Variant rules
V2.4 First player
Variant: randomly select which side goes first in encounter scenarios. A straight 50/50 is good enough (we use an RNC: black- Axis; red- Allied).

It has long irked me that the Axis player always goes first in encounter scenarios. It doesn’t make sense that they’d always enjoy the tactical initiative in the various situations and it stereotypes the scenarios because the Allied forces’ scope for tactical experimentation is limted because they always set up in response to the Axis setup. This variant could be developed and expanded for campaigns and historical scenarios.

V3.2 & 17.7 Groups with the same ID chit
Variant: a group can make a Lateral Group Transfer onto the same ID chit as a friendly group if the 2 groups are on different range chits. A group on the same ID chit as a friendly group cannot play a Movement card to advance or retreat to the same range chit as that other group unless: the group is already moving or the group has a Movement card played on it that same turn. Terrain discards abort this manoevure exactly as for transferring groups swapping ID chits.

Squads should be able to deploy in line ahead as well as line abreast: proper screening is impossible otherwise. I think the write-up above is all the rules burden this variant needs.

V36.3 Entrenching in different terrain types
Fortified Buildings
Variant: entrenchments can now be placed in Buildings, Gullies and Walls, using the normal rules (36.1) for placement during play. Specific effects of entrenchments in these terrain types are noted below:
  • Buildings
  1. TEM: +1 TEM.
  2. INF from: 1 left
  3. INF versus: 1 right
  4. Placement: a group cannot place entrenchments in Buildings during play; they are allocted by SSR.
  • Gullies
Cresting in a Gully
  1. LOS: a group entrenched on a Gully is not subject to the attack restrictions of 8.2.
  2. TEM: when fired at, a group entrenched on a gully must always claim the entrenchment TEM- and only the entrenchment TEM.
  3. Remove: a group entrenched in a gully may play a Movement card into the discard pile to remove the entrenchments and return to the gully (EXC. not in Wire).
  • Walls
Dug-in out of sight
behind a Wall
  1. LOS: A group entrenched on a Wall cannot attack or be attacked except by Snipers; mortars and radios; groups on a Hill, or at Relative Range 5 or beyond; and in Close Combat.
  2. TEM: when fired at, a group entrenched on a wall must always claim the entrenchment TEM- and only the entrenchment TEM (EXC. The entrenchment TEM is cumulative with the +1 wall TEM for indirect fire).
  3. Remove: a group entrenched on a Wall may play a Movement card into the discard pile to remove the entrenchments and return to the Wall (EXC. not in Wire).
This whole line of thought began years ago with the idea of adapting ASL’s Crest rules for Up Front: taking up firing positions on the lip of a gully is a tactic which should be available in the game. Entrenchments were the obvious solution. Keeping it simple, I decided to retain the normal rules for placement but allow the option of discarding a Movement card to remove the entrenchment to return to the Gully- that firing position is quite exposed after all.

I decided more recently that this variant could be extended. Entrenchments in Buildings represent some degree of fortification instead of the familar quick scrapes, which is why they can’t be placed by a group during play. The Infiltration modifiers represent the effects of fortifying buildings: they’re harder to get into; and there’ll be boltholes and the like making it easier to sally forth.

Also derived from ASL, entrenching on a Wall represents withdrawing behind the wall and using it to hide- hence the LOS implications. A group on a wall can’t claim the Wall TEM because you’ll be attacking over- not across, the wall if you can attack. Indirect fire is the exception because the entrenched group is assumed still to be close enough to the Wall for it to offer some protection. Removing the entrenchments was a logical option too.

Unless my memory fails me completely, those 6 are all the improvements Up Front’s mechanics need. Not bad at all for a game that’s nearly 30 years old and has a rulebook legendary for its mind-bending attention to every detail! I’ve put these houserules and variants into a PDF for readers who might want a concise copy. Meanwhile I’ll be trying them out myself just as soon as I can find a willing playtester. More soon, I hope. ;)
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