Lock n’ Load Tactical Digital Review02 Apr 2020 1
Lock n’ Load Tactical Digital Review
Released 02 Apr 2020
Lock 'n Load Tactical Digital is an imperfect, but fun, adaptation of what I’ve discovered is really a very good wargame. At the best of times I would conclude this review with a recommendation that you go out and snag a copy of the physical game with a module covering a period that strikes your fancy. But these are not the best of times. People are (and should be) staying at home, distancing from friends and neighbours, making this a good time to take a long look at upcoming digital board games.
When I do look at board game adaptations (in a non-lockdown setting) I tend to look for a few key things: does the game accurately implement the rules and theme in a way that works on a digital platform? Does the game save time, energy, and space? Can I get a similar feeling to playing the actual game? Some games do this flawlessly, like Twilight Struggle or the absolute best board game that ever existed, Carcassonne. Some others, which I will not name, fall short in some of the above categories. LnLTD, I’m happy to report, manages the latter two quite well, and only mildly stumbles on the first, but how much of that you’re willing to put up with will dictate whether you enjoy the game.
LnLTD is a tactical wargame with counters representing squads, half-squads, individuals, and single vehicles across 50m hexes. The basics are similar to most other tactical wargames like Advanced Squad Leader, Band of Brothers, etc. in that players alternate between activating certain units to move, fire, or perform special actions to try and secure scenario-dictated victory conditions. LnLTD tries to separate itself through some interesting design choices. I’m sure there’s vivid discussion out there, but these choices push LnLTD ever closer to becoming my favourite tactical game.
Leaders are incredibly important, for example. They, medics, and some other individual counters are the only ones that can rally, or allow other counters to rally. At first, I was unsure about this, but in practice it makes for compelling cinematic battles. During a large engagement in the Vietnam module for instance, I had shaken, damaged squads rotating back to a medic to attempt rallies, while a leader had to swoop in to rouse a platoon that had been pinned by mortar fire. The rest of my squads advanced under heavy fire in fits and starts, and it began to feel like a war movie, following the trials of these ARVN squad leaders.
The cinematics cranked up further when a half squad, after taking fire, spawned a hero unit. These units can appear randomly under certain circumstances. Here, my newfound hero leapt ahead to cover the advance of his unit, allowing them to make it safely across the open field. That is the kind of emergent narrative that games should strive for. Other considerations, like activation by hex rather than unit, narrative markers that drive scenarios, and interesting spotting rules all come together to make LnLT an excellent tactical game system.
I like the game system itself, and whenever the world again approaches normal, I’ll probably be grabbing a set or two for game nights, but what of the adaptation? Firstly, the game is distributed through a starter kit ($5.00) and then separate modules ($9.00). The starter kit contains 4 scenarios, two of which I feel have good replay value, but all of which are great to play at least once as either side. As for modules, at launch there are two: Heroes of Normandy, and Heroes of the Nam, which both include 12 scenarios. I’m happy to report that the scenarios within the modules are much more robust, interesting, and replayable. If you’re not interested in Western Front WWII or Vietnam though, there will be other modules released in time.
Learning the game was a challenge. There are six tutorial videos, but they don’t do a great job of teaching the game; some points are well covered, but others aren’t. I found myself consulting the manual almost immediately to get the full word on activation, which, being hex-based, is a bit different from what I’m used to; shooting (to sort the math the game uses) and terrain. Thankfully they include the full board game rulebook, and there are tons of videos and supplementary writing online to help illustrate some of the more complex ideas.
Visually, the counters and map-boards are easily readable, with status counters featuring adjustable size. The rest of the UI is unfortunate. A large objective window fills the upper right side of the screen above another large box for phase choices and ending impulses, both above a small but much more important feed of dice rolls and AI actions. I feel like the feed should have the lion’s share of the space, or the victory condition box should be removable. There was also a bug with a separate window that appeared to tell you the odds an action had of succeeding. If I zoomed in on the map, it would occasionally shrink to a minuscule, illegible size.
Other information, like potential actions, and movement or fire markers, are also hit and miss. Hovering over an enemy will always give you the option to fire or melee, even when you can’t actually perform those actions. Sometimes this is obvious, but other times you have to keep an eye on the side boxes to read why you can’t perform the action. As I learned the game this became less of an issue, but resolving some of these rule-based complexities is a highlight of well executed digital board games, and a misstep for LnLTD.
These are issues that could be patched out, and hopefully as LnLTD grows, some of these problems will be addressed. Something that is much more difficult to fix is enemy AI. It is not the worst I’ve played, but it makes some crazy decisions. Generally, the AI has trouble attacking, but can defend competently. Several times attackers would rush positions in such a way that subjected units to multiple opportunity fire attacks, when safer routes existed. Other times they would abandon excellent positions to charge, occasionally losing the game in the space of a turn. It’s frustrating, but if you play against a defensive AI, it is much more fun. This can be rectified with multiplayer, both hotseat and online appear to be included, though I couldn’t test the latter early. Multiplayer will be the way to go for sure. It is a board game after all.
In the end, LnLTD is a good buy. The core game system is excellent, and once you’ve learned the rules and tried the starter scenarios, it’ll be a breeze to dive into whichever module catches your eye. The module scenarios are deep, replayable, and fun. The implementation stumbles occasionally, but overall the presentation is nice, and the game readable. I’m hoping they patch up some of the fumbles, but as it stands, and with the world the way it is, I recommend LnLTD, especially if you’re going to make use of multiplayer.
This article was kindly donated to Wargamer.com by the author.