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Posted on Oct 3, 2014 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Russian Front – PC game review

Russian Front – PC game review

By Patrick Baker

logoRussian Front. PC, Mac and Android Game. Developed by Electric Rune and HexWar. Published by Hunted Cow Studios. $9.99 digital download for PC and Mac, Android or iPad.  

Passed Inspection: Low price, Good AI, good depth of play

Failed Basic: fixed unit starting positions, cartoonish unit symbols

Hunted Cow’s Russian Front is an engaging and involving operational-level wargame set in World War Two in the East. It joins the recent spate of wargames by other companies set in the same theater, such as Battle Academy Two and Lock N’ Load’s: Heroes of Stalingrad, as well as Hunted Cow’s own series of Eastern Front tactical games. Russian Front is one of those games that will have the player wanting just … one … more … turn.

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Historical Background
The confrontation between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, frequently identified only by the name of its largest state, Russia) and Nazi Germany during World War Two was the single largest military conflict in human history. From June 1941 with the German invasion (Operation Barbarossa) to the Fall of Berlin in May 1945 tens of millions of soldiers fought and died from Leningrad to the Black Sea and from Volga River at Stalingrad to the Reichstag building in the heart of Berlin. No one really knows the numbers of dead and wounded, but estimates are over 5 million Germans and their allied soldiers died with over 10 million Russians killed. These numbers exclude the tens of millions of civilian deaths that also happened in the theater.

The Game
Russian Front is a hex-based, fully 3-D, turn-based strategy game. It has eight scenarios: four short 16-turn scenarios, called operations on the game menu: Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the USSR; Case Blue, the Summer 1942 German attack into the Caucasus Mountains to seize the Russian oil fields; Operation Citadel (better known as the Battle of Kursk), and Operation Bagration, the Russian counterattack into the Ukraine and Poland. And four longer scenarios, called campaigns in the game: a massive 108-turn scenario of the entire war and three shorter campaigns which start in June of each 1942 to 1944 and go through to the end of the war. All the scenarios are playable from both sides.

The map graphics are neat and clean. It is easy to tell what terrain type your unit is in, be it open, marsh, mountain or city. The units’ types are also clearly identifiable. Infantry units are three soldiers dressed in either brown for the Russians or grey for the Germans. Mechanized infantry (Panzergrenadier) units are a half-track, which again are either brown or grey. Armored (Panzer) units are a single tank of the national color. A unit’s total combat strength is expressed as a number displayed on the unit symbol. There is no confusing one unit’s type with another. However, the units’ graphics are a bit on the cartoonish side. I quickly found myself wishing for standard NATO symbols.

Navigating around the battle-space is easy. Left click and hold to “drag” the map around. The mouse wheel lets the player zoom in or out at will. There is an available strategic map but I found navigation on the full map to be so quick and smooth, I rarely referred to it and soon just turned it off.

There is no tutorial scenario, but there is a nice page-turner set of instructions accessed from the first start screen. However, experienced hex-based PC gamers should just be able to plunge straight into the game without going through the instructions if they like.

Game Play
Russian Front has three settings: easy, normal and hard. The player selects the side, difficulty, and scenario to play and hits start. The game opens with all the units already in position. The player cannot move the units into a new starting location. They have to “play them as they lie.” I much prefer to be able to place the units at the start of a game. Fixed starting positions are very limiting for the player.

At the start of each turn units that can move are outlined in bright yellow. Select a unit and green arrows indicate possible moves, while units that may be attacked are outlined in red. After all action points are used for a particular unit, it is no longer outlined. This makes tracking game play a breeze; no more wondering if you have moved a piece or not. Also, at the start of a turn, reinforcements may appear in cities and a certain number of replacement points may also appear. The player assigns the replacement points to units which have yet to move or attack, increasing their combat strength.

Russian Front also has a supply element, which allows the player to cut the enemy’s supply lines, denying cut-off units replacements and limiting their movement. Also, generally the AI-controlled side will try and breakout if cut off. This is a good way to dislodge units from a strong defensive position without having to attack head on.

Armored and mechanized infantry units can move two hexes and can attack twice in the same turn, while infantry may only move one space and attack only once; however, units that are distant from the fighting may move more spaces. All units have a surrounding six-hex Zone of Control (ZoC). Infantry units cannot move from one hex in a ZoC to another. Also, a ZoC can cut the enemy supply lines.

The terrain in the defending unit’s hex affects the combat resolution, e.g., tanks don’t do well in swamps or mountains but are very powerful on open ground. Both attacking and defending units may lose points during combat. If the defender loses enough points that piece will retreat or be wiped out, and the attacker will automatically advance. Attacking units can also lose enough points to be destroyed.

Winter is hard on both sides, with the weather able to deplete units at random and making replacement points come slower. Also, Russian units gain an advantage when defending during the winter turns.

Cities are the victory hexes. Taking and holding them is the way points are scored. Also, since cities are resource generators, controlling them disrupts the enemy’s resource flow.

Players, regardless of which side they play and even without having the flexibility to position units at the start, must still make a number of operational decisions during the game. Early in the game, as the Germans, do you drive hard with your armored spearheads to quickly capture the vital cities, although this leaves your units vulnerable to being cut off? Later in the game do you retreat, trading space for time, or do you contest every piece of ground? As the Russians, in the early turns, do you take “not one step back” or trade space for time? Later in the game do you go for the fast breakthrough, or do you steamroll the Nazis with your numbers?

The AI is a good opponent. Even on the “easy” setting, I fought to a draw as often as I won and on the higher difficulty levels the AI is downright unforgiving, especially to the novice player.

Bottom Line
Hunted Cow’s Russian Front is an interesting and involving game with some real depth of play. It will also often leave you wishing that the scenarios were just a bit longer so you can at least fight to a draw. The game would only be improved if the players were allowed to position their units at the start of play. Also, using NATO unit symbols would be a nice addition.

Game requires iOS 7.0 or later.

Armchair General Score: 91%

About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, European History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He uses all his education to play games and irritate his family. His website is: https://bakerp2004.wordpress.com/

9 Comments

  1. I got the game and enjoy it. However, the complete absence of air power bothers me intensely. The least they could do was have off-board elements to disrupt supply or aid attacks. I’d give it 87%.

    • I would also point out that the victory bar gets higher as time passes, making quick thrusts even more important for the Germans.

    • I agree, missing out any effect of airpower is a material fail for me too.

      • The irony is that Hunted Cow uses air assets very well in its tactical games.

  2. I’ve very impressed with the nuts and bolts of this game. But it desperately needs more chrome to give it an Eastern Front feel.

    I haven’t won Barbarossa as the Germans on Easy because performing giant encirclements will lose you the game. Instead currently you need to pound through the Soviets taking big casualties, and then campaign through winter (!)

    However, the scale and complexity is perfect, the game is very solid, and the the development team does seem to be actively working on patches, so I’d give it an 80% now with the potential to go to 95% without any huge changes.

  3. I found the game intensely annoying, in the end. My complaints were: -it was difficult (although not impossible) to make breakthroughs – it is certainly hard, if not impossible, to reproduce the historical success of either German or Soviet offensives. -The supply system is bizarre. It is possible for a unit to be out of supply indefinitely without suffering combat effects. Cut-off units are able to exist indefinitely; the only effect of being out of supply is that there are no reinforcements. -It is difficult-to-impossible to dislodge units from cities, so Soviet units are able to hold cities fantastically longer than they ever did historically. Likewise with German units once they are on the defensive. -Winter starts at the BEGINNING OF SEPTEMBER. There is absolutely no distinction between that point and mid-February. (And this is basically a deal-breaker for me – seriously?) -The defense has a huge advantage, so, for example, there was no point in even attempting to take Leningrad in 1941 – I found it better to concentrate on taking Moscow. -Infantry unit movement is ridiculously slow – it was impossible to reproduce (again) historical events. In the end, I was able to squeeze a victory in the 1941 scenario, but the result was absurdly ahistorical. Now, having said that, this game is an amusing game that has little or nothing to do with the actual war that was fought in the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945. Just think of it as Space World War II, fought in an alternative universe, and you’ll be okay. It is modestly amusing on that level, nothing more. To give it 91% is just … well… okay, did I mention that it was fun? And had nothing to do with history?

  4. I have beat the campaign fighting as the germans on every setting except hard for the barbossa setting and as the russians in every setting in fact attacking as the russians no mattter what the odds I win on all the settings with the german never advancing much from the starting line..

  5. I like this Game! The graphics are gorgeous, the interface is straight forward (on the iPad), and everything works. Sadly, it gets boring fairly quickly. Movement is so limited that breakthroughs are impossible. Even when you break completely through the lines, it takes far too many turns to exploit it, giving the opposing force too much time to prepare their defenses. The Panzer Juggernaut is reduced to a slow motion train wreck. This system should be used for a WW1 game, the movement would fit well there.

  6. I love this game, but I have an issue. it is not supporting in my system. my o/s is Ubuntu. any solution?

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