Möbius Front ‘83 is a new tactical wargame where America must fight itself from another dimension

By Joe Robinson 27 Oct 2020 0

In-depth wargame experiences can emerge in the strangest of places. As much as Advance Wars was a poster child for strategy gaming on a handheld console aimed at families and children, its design was very much in line with the same ethos and principles that powered something like Panzer Corps.

Zachtronics is a studio known for making gaming experience that plays with the idea of the puzzle, or rather, the idea of presenting the player with a problem and providing them with a sandbox of tools to attempt to construct a solution (rather than just waiting for them to find the ‘correct’ solution). It’s a legacy that’s taken them from strategy-based card-games, to more narrative experiences and yes, straight-up puzzle fests.

But now they’ve turned their sites to strategy war games, and Möbius Front ‘83 is their new offering. It’s a turn-based tactical wargame, operating at roughly a 1:1 scale (so a tank is a tank, a group of soldiers a squad etc.) using a hex-grid and pixelated graphics. It’s set during the Reagan years at the height of the Cold War, but America’s deadliest enemy turns out to not be Russia but… itself from another dimension?

It’s a wonderfully barmy sci-fi twist on the usual Cold War narrative that still lets you play around with all of the military hardware from the age. This tactical wargame is the studios attempt to blend not only their unique design philosophy, but also the designs found in Advance Wars and even something like Steel Division.

And all inspired by some random military manuals from the era, something which I asked studio founder Zach Barth about:

A few years ago I was at a thrift store and I found a U.S. Army soldiering handbook from the 50s. It was interesting in a lot of ways, but what struck me most was how Zachtronics-like it was. Every topic had maps and diagrams, lists of equipment, and specific sequenced steps to be followed: here’s how to make a fixed machine gun emplacement, here’s how to eat your rations, and on and on. So this is a lot like a Zachtronics game, except instead of machine parts we’re talking about people, real human beings. At one point it even includes instructions on how to kill someone with a shovel. (As far as I can tell this was removed in later revisions of the manual. It was a little upsetting!) In every Zachtronics game we talk about the tension between abstract problem solving and the resulting effects on the real world, so a wargame seemed like the perfect way to continue this exploration.

I wanted the game to take place in the 70s or 80s, so I tracked down more U.S. Army manuals from that era. The ten or so “TRADOC Bulletins” from the 70s are my favorites, and are focused specifically on how to fight Soviet forces from a ground-level tactical perspective. These are not for generals or people in a command center somewhere, they’re specifically instructions for soldiers on the ground. “The Soviets will array their equipment this way, so you should deploy your equipment this way to counter it,” and so on. There are some interesting historical concerns about the future of the main battle tank in these documents as well, since this was an era when cheap anti-tank missiles had recently been developed that could disable much more expensive equipment. So all of that kind of stuff ended up in the game. You can’t just mow everything down with tanks. There’s an appropriate use for them but maybe they’re not the game changers they used to be.

The narrative may be slightly camp, the graphics reminiscent of older games aimed at other demographics, but there is a serious wargame to be found here. Barth even cites wanting to recreate the load-out and weapon stats info screens from the Wargame games, and the challenges the players will be facing will be as real and difficult as anything you’d find in Unity of Command 2.

mobius front 83 gameplay

The stated intent is also not to offer a tactical puzzle. Barth doesn’t necessarily believe in deterministic design, although it remains to be seen how big an influence the nature of ‘optimum choices’ will be.

This is being offered as a simple, solitaire experience with a single-player campaign that can span up to 40 hours, depending on how many side activities you engage in. There are no plans for multiplayer, although further solo modes may be considered down the line and the campaign will be scattered with thematic mini-games you can engage in as well.

Möbius Front ‘83 is due out next week on November 5th via Steam.

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