Frontiers board game review

Frontiers coverFrontiers is a light, miniature-less tactical war game that is everything it promises to be. Fast to learn, fast to play, the game recreates the feel and decisions of a miniature game without the requirements of multiple miniature purchases and figures.

Appearance: Frontiers comes in a single, inch and a bit tall box that contains the battle-map and all the necessary pieces. And by pieces I mean cardboard punch-outs and two decks. Lots of punch-outs; which is really the point of a miniature-less war game as these punch-outs take the place of all the terrain features, the characters, the required equipment and even rulers. Art work on all these counters is quite thematic and suitable, there is no issue at all about reading the counters (which include all the unit statistics) and all the counters are double-printed. The card board pieces and the map are all of good quality as well so you’ll be playing this game repeatedly with it showing little worst for wear.

My largest complaint? The lack of an insert. With so many counters, a well designed insert (or multiple ziplock bags) would have been appreciated. Set-up time without the use of this insert increases exponentially as you will find yourselves flipping each counter/character over repeatedly trying to figure out who is who.

Another nice to have feature would have been a simple ‘cheat sheet’ of what the various special ability icons are – and what they do. As it stands, thelongest part of putting together an army is remembering what each icon does.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Frontiers are extremely easy to learn – each unit has a movement and armour rating and three attack ratings. These attack ratings correspond to the three types of armour available – body armour, heavy armour and armour for structures. Each unit will have a bonus for firing on each of these different types of armour, with combat (and damage) resolved via a roll of a die. The bonus is added to the die roll with any result greater than or equal to the armour rating of the defender equaling damage. Depending on the unit, this can result in either death, a wounded unit (flip them over to their damaged side) and/or damaged parts (for vehicles).

That really is the essential part of combat for Frontiers. Two things complicate the game and make it more than a straight out slug-fest. Firstly, order counters are placed during the Order Phase. Players place the order counters at the same time, with each order counter hidden in the beginning. Two blank (bluff) order counters are available and each player starts with a minimum of 2 order counters. Additional counters are gained through special unit abilities (normally from leadership units like Lieutenants, etc).

During the Activation Phase, players flip over order counters according to their numbers in ascending order, with units activated at the same time acting at the same time. So it’s possible to destroy units simultaneously – or destroy units before they are activated.
Lastly, to increase combat and add a certain ‘fog of war’ to the game, action cards are available for both sides. Each action card deck is unique, though there are a number of similar cards available. In addition, players can only start with 25 cards (from an available 30 cards), so a level of customization is possible as well.

The only other area of complication, which is what takes up the most time to learn, are the various special abilities. These range from simple additional orders to smoke bombs to tripod and medical/mechanical options. All are pretty familiar to miniature / war game players and would not take too long to understand.

Gameplay: Firstly, because build points are entirely subject to the players, games of Frontier can last from as fast as an hour to a few hours. Players can customize and create their own armies as they see fit, along with the deck of cards to suit their play style. This set-up phase does not take long at all, and this includes setting up the board. In our games, we randomize set-up by just tossing pieces onto the map. Equipment crates are up to players, in half our games we go without just to simplify and speed up the game.

The two sides (the Legionnaires and the Zirl) are rather interestingly balanced. In our games, the Legionnaires generally have had more order markers, spread out across a variety of units. The Zirl have the majority of their additional order markers concentrated, providing a high level of vulnerability.

In addition, in most of our games, the Legionnaires have had a lot of good infantry while the Zirl have focused on more tanks. This is partially due to the make-up of the actual units – the Zirl’s Vega Tank for example has the ability to shoot twice and is overall a better tank the Legionnaire’s equivalent.

While there are natural tendencies for each army, the build point system obviously allows you to customize your armies for your play style, providing a surprising amount of strategy and depth. No major hitches seem to arise, especially since combat is simple and easy to assess and resolve.

Conclusion: Frontiers is a light miniature-less war game. It is run on a battle level of strategy, so no requirements are made for resource allocation beyond your army at the present moment. On the other hand, it’s perfect for what it is and quite addictive. This is probably one of the most under-rated war games around.