Review: Lines of Fire23 Jul 2013 0
Artificial intelligence is hard. I’m not even a software guy, and I can figure that out. To create a group of ‘1’s and ‘0’s that can mimic human thought and intuition seems to be the Gordian Knot of the current Age. Now, put that problem into the hands of small indie app developers who don’t have the time or resources to act as a modern day Alexander, and you can forgive them if their AI is easy to conquer, even at its hardest level.
It wasn’t until I played Lines of Fire: The Boardgame (called LoF from now on) on my iPad that I realized what every AI up to that point was missing, and what makes every AI infinitely better:
A giant, floating zombie hand!
Sadly, the floating corpse hand might be the best thing Lines of Fire has going for it. This game is absolutely riddled with problems. Many are fixable, and could, possibly, be patched. But at its core, LoF is a boring, and ultimately broken game.
Here’s a starter: the World War 2 theme in this game is meaningless. Completely. Both German and American units are the same, except for the color of their uniforms. Understandable if this was a cardboard game where tracking these differences could cause a complexity not desired by the designer (see Memoir ‘44 for a brilliant example). This game isn’t cardboard, however, and there’s no good reason that the two sides need to feel so generic. Then, take the scenarios. There aren’t any. Part of any good wargame is its ability to simulate an actual, memorable conflict. In a baffling design decision, the boards start empty and you’re only allowed to build one unit at a time, and place them on your bottom file. This means that as one infantry unit begins to storm the beaches, there are no defenders waiting. No pillboxes. No machine gun nests. Don’t even get me started with having the Germans storming beaches being defended by Americans. Compare this to games like the aforementioned Memoir ‘44 or Battle of the Bulge, where the board is seeded with the historical units as they were at the beginning of the conflict. You cannot build an ostensibly historical wargame and completely ignore history. You start with history, and move on from there.
Actual combat is handled with dice, but even this mechanic is mangled by the game’s concept of initiative. If you have the initiative—gained at the start by a coin flip—then you can re-roll the dice even on your opponent’s turn. The downside? You lose initiative. Sounds interesting but, I assure you, it’s not. For example, I’m attacking with initiative and roll 3 misses, so I re-roll and get 3 hits. Unfortunately, the initiative has passed to my opponent who re-rolls. He gets 1 hit and 2 misses. The initiative has passed back to me, and I think I can do better than 1 hit, so I re-roll and get 2 hits. Now he has the initiative and re-rolls… do you have a headache yet? Any other benefits of having initiative are minimal, so there’s no reason not to pass it over and re-roll a bad roll. I have had ping-pong matches in my basement with less back-and-forth than this system.
Couple this with having the UI setup for a tabletop game even when playing single player, so everything is upside down when the AI moves (and lets not mention that creepy hand again). That is, of course, unless you are playing with the Fog of War option enabled, in which case the AI turn consists of the screen going black. Did I mention you can’t rotate maps? You want to defend the beach instead of storming it against the AI? No such luck, tiger.
There is a multiplayer feature to the game, but it’s only face-to-face across an iPad. It does, however, have a cool “Fog of War” feature, that only allows you to see your own troops when you have the iPad tilted toward you. It sounds gimmicky, but works really well, and I can see other head-to-head type apps using something similar in the future. Multiplayer is pretty much requisite for any attempt at enjoying the game as well, because the AI is broken. Seriously broken. I’ve had entire games where the enemy never fires at me, even though they have clear line of sight and are within range. Instead they get all Sir Robin and run away, leaving the hexes you need to control wide open for my infantry.
When I first opened LoF, I thought that maybe it was a Memoir ‘44 clone. It sure looks the part, with a nearly identical board and some artwork. I have a feeling that the designer was going for something along those lines as well, and has even mentioned that he’s working on a cardboard version down the road. Well, Lines of Fire: The Boardgame is not Memoir ‘44. It’s not even close.
The game was played on the iPad2 for this review.