Mobius Front ‘83 is not a wargame, but it comes pretty close05 Nov 2020 1
A common complaint levied at games like Panzer Corps and Unity of Command is that, really, they fit more within the realm of a ‘tactical puzzle’. Your mileage will vary on the truth of this, but what can be stated is that games that follow this model like to offer a set-piece or a specific challenge. Your job is then to find the optimum way out of the predicament put in front of you.
The argument is that this differs from ‘real’ tactical games where there is a more loosely defined objective, and you simply have to use the tools you are given to achieve it. I suspect this kind of distinction really comes down to how easy a developer finds it to code a challenging AI.
We were very excited when we learned of the impending release of Möbius Front '83. On the surface, it looked like a tactical hex wargame set in the Cold War. The developer, Zachtronics, are known for their creativity in playing around with different genres and how they intersect with puzzles, but this gave all the appearance of being something new entirely.
Having spent most of the past week playing it, I can say that while it’s a very competent game, I suspect it might fall short of some people's expectations.
I’ve only played around six hours so I’ve not experienced the full breadth of the game but it’s a slow burner for sure. It’s also challenging and you’ll find your AI opponent tenacious, but at times Möbius Front can be just plain frustrating. This is not down to a sense that the game is too difficult, rather it doesn’t quite explain its own rules of engagement as well as it could.
This is the height of the Cold War - the role of the tank on the battlefield is being severely challenged, air power is becoming dominant, and everything is decidedly more lethal than it would have been during the good ‘ol days of WW2. The units you’ll have access to range from truck-loaded infantry, to mechanized APCs, tanks, Cobras & Helos… later missions introduce aerial bombers and jets as well.
The game drip-feeds you these new additions - perhaps a bit too slowly - and you never have access to the same set of units in every level. Experimenting with what you have and how you apply it to the tactical problem in front of you is rewarding, but the balance of the game can be quite unforgiving.
Typically, a unit will move OR shoot, but many units can do both (for a damage penalty), and movement ranges and lines of sight can be quite generous. Setting up ambushes or kill zones can be tricky, especially as if the AI even gets a whiff that you have some kind of AT unit in place it will just sit there and wait for an opportunity to blitz. Enemy artillery and airpower can become quite common as the game progresses, means you can’t just sit around and wait either. There is a constant tension, and sometimes this is thrilling, other times not so much.
You’ll probably find most of your time is spent trying to figure out how best to apply your heavy-hitters, while keeping them out of harm's way. Infantry tactics can still prove decisive, even if they are easily taken out of the way. One wrong move however and you’ll quickly lose your best units. A unit is always capable of dealing out 100% of its damage until it dies, so ‘managing’ the potential vectors for return fire becomes the strategy. There were several doctrinal problems that arose during this period, especially around the role of the tank (something that still hasn’t been resolved to this day) and you can tell the developers are quite taken with the problem.
You can probably tell I’m a little subdued about Möbius Front - that’s true, to an extent. But this is still a decent game; it's well made, has a great art style and the challenges it poses are - at their best - very engaging and will test your tactical prowess to the max. It’s just not a wargame, and it’s important to keep that in mind.
Möbius Front '83 is due out via Steam later today.