Russian Front – PC game review
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/