Saturday, March 15, 2008

Up Front, Quarter-century retrospective

Up Front appeared 25 years ago in 1983.
It's one of the most innovative wargames ever done and has a large and devoted following.
It ranks very highly in both the general ratings on BoardgameGeek (43) and the wargame-specific (49) rankings.
But for such a well-respected and popular game, it's had surprisingly little impact on the wargame hobby as a whole.
It's still played quite a bit, especially for a 25-year-old wargame, (6 playes reported this month on BGG) which is a testimony to how satisfying a game experience it is. Still, it's also clearly game from a different era.
The style these days is for games that ruthlessly concentrate on the key elements of the design and keep extraneous elements to a minimum.
Now historical wargames have some limits in this regard, because real-life is not very tidy and it's hard to focus on just some elements of war without making the game too bland.
Like many 1980s wargames the essential game structure in Up Front is not overly complicated and it's not too hard to teach the basics of the game to someone. But like many wargames from its era the rules are pretty dense. This is because, typically for wargames, about 90 percent of the rules are devoted to parts of the game that come up less than 10 percent of the time.
Despite the 80s-style game approach there's a lot of support for a reprint, although chances for that ever happening seem to be slim. Multi-man Publishing holds the rights to the game from Hasbro, but there's been little progress reported for years on a planned reprint. A straight reprint is out of the question as it seems almost certain that none of the original artwork survives.
Given that new artwork will be required, it makes sense to update the game and streamline the rules. This is apparently where the rub comes in, because the design effort to do that seems to have hit a stone wall. There's no reports that anyone is currently working on the project now.
Yet the fact that Up Front is stalled wouldn't necessarily stop anyone else from doing an Up Front-style game on the same or a different topic. The game is copyrighted but the idea is not.
The are many hex-and-counter wargames but different publishers. card-driven wargames are appearing left and right. Even the long exclusivity that Columbia Games enjoyed with block games has come to an end as other publishers come up with their own variations on the idea.
But with the lone exception of the vaguely similar Attack Sub, no one has tried to do another card-wargame with a system like Up Front. The closest have been the Lightning series and the Down in Flames series, although I think they're still pretty far removed.
Given that Up Front doesn't seem to be coming back, perhaps someone will make the effort now.

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