#508 – Frontline Defence

Box

2 – 6 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy online? (Will update if I can get a link.)
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Frontline Defence was provided by Shepherd Kit. Also, that’s not how spell defense, but, you know, that’s what it’s called on BGG. Just wanted to call that out.

Alright, let’s get another four out, this week. We’ve got a range of titles both local and abroad, which is always exciting. But we’re focusing on Frontline Defence in this review, so let’s talk about the latest game from Shepherd Kit, a fantastic family game publisher out of Taiwan.

Frontline Defence notes that it’s based off of and reimplements most of Ocean Crisis, a delightful cooperative game that I reviewed earlier this year. While it’s a bit odd to see a reimplementation of a game that only fulfilled on Kickstarter like, two days ago (as of writing), it definitely wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve seen, so let’s just kind of get into it. It’s a trimmed-down and simplified version of Ocean Crisis (think the Sushi Go to Ocean Crisis’s 7 Wonders), but your goal remains the same: trash is getting into the ocean and you gotta clean it up. Will you be able to clean the rivers before they flow to the  ocean?

Contents

Setup

Setup isn’t too bad. Assemble the board:

Board

Put the five River Tiles above it:

River Tiles

Shuffle the Garbage Tokens and place them into four stacks on the right side of the board:

Garbage

Divide the player pawns equally between the players (placing the white pawn on the Eco-Base). Remove any extras from the game:

Meeples

Give each player who takes a meeple that meeple’s corresponding badge:

Badges

If you’re playing a four-player game, use two Ocean Vacuums; at five, use one:

Vacuums

Set the die nearby:

Die

Place the Round Cards in order, with 1 on top:

Round Cards

And shuffle the Enhancement Cards by level, placing five Is face-up on the first row, four IIs face-down on the second row, and three IIIs face-down on the third row:

Enhancement Cards

You should be all ready to start!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

Alright, so, similar to Ocean Crisis, you are a group of planeteers trying to protect the ocean from filling up with trash. In real life, you’re a bit late, but in the game, you can stop the Garbage Patch from filling up even more with the truest weapon of all: community organizing! That’s a nice message; I really have nothing sassy to say about it. Anyways, the game’s played over six rounds, and if you can prevent the Garbage Patch from overflowing, you win!

Setup

Gameplay 2

To start a round, first flip the Round Card (or use the topmost one, if you’re just starting the game). This tells you how much trash to add to each of the five River tiles (A – E). Some cards also have an increment threshold, which is a point where you add an additional token if there are too many tokens already on the tile. Rough stuff. Just remember to not add garbage with its reduced side (lower) side up; it should always be the higher side.

Planning

This bit happens simultaneously; all players assign their meeples to any of the River Tiles or Enhancement Cards. You may freely discuss where you want to assign things, as only one meeple can be on each Enhancement Card (as many meeples as you want can be on River Tiles, though).

Action

Gameplay 3

Now, take your actions.

  • If there’s a meeple on an Enhancement Card, take it. There are many types, such as one-time-use cards and cards with a permanent power, but only for that meeple. In the latter case, place the meeple’s badge on that card to indicate it. If the two cards above an Enhancement Card are both taken, flip that card face-up. It can now be taken next round.
  • Garbage cleanup happens next. For that, each Meeple on a River Tile can choose a piece of garbage to attempt to clean. To do so, roll a die — if the value you roll meets or exceeds the number on the Garbage Token, it’s cleaned! You can remove it from the board. If not, it gets Reduced, instead. Flip it over and leave it lower-side-up for the rest of the game.
  • Then, use the Ocean Vacuums. If you’re playing with four or five players, the Ocean Vacuums activate after Garbage Cleanup, allowing you to potentially remove some trash before it gets to the Garbage Patch.

River Flow

Gameplay 4

In this phase, the river moves towards the sea, carrying any trash with it. Place any Garbage Tokens in Sector A (the leftmost river tile) on the Garbage Patch, and then move the tile on Sector A to the rightmost end of the line and shift tiles towards the left.

In the final round, rather than doing this, roll the die; the number corresponds to one of the tiles. In addition to the tokens from Sector A, add all the tokens from that tile to the Garbage Patch.

Game End

Gameplay 5

If at any point you have all four spaces on the Garbage Patch filled up, you lose!

If, after six rounds, you have at least one empty space on the Garbage Patch, you win!

Player Count Differences

Pretty much none, unless you get to four and five. When that happens, you start using the Ocean Vacuums, as I mentioned previously. They’re not particularly incredible; they just kind of help mitigate anything getting piped over to the Garbage Patch (as a good fifth / sixth player would, if you had them). Personally, that makes this game’s sweet spot about two or three players, for me. I’d rather have lots to do and not a ton of people to coordinate with, though I appreciate that it can scale up to that level. You’ll definitely be fine with six players, I just like getting to roll more dice, personally. Thankfully, all the play is simultaneous, so even if you do add additional players you’re not pushing the playtime through the roof.

Strategy

  • You gotta get that seventh meeple, if you can. It literally gives you an extra person to do actions with; that’s going to be pretty crucial, especially if you can get it early enough that you can use it to start cleaning up trash while the other meeples get more useful Enhancement Cards. That said, sometimes that card isn’t in the game, so, bummer.
  • It’s okay to let one tile get kind of bad. There are worse fates. Naturally, just make sure you send someone to clean it eventually; you can’t risk it actually getting all the way out to the Garbage Patch. That’s pretty much an instant game failure condition.
  • Early enhancements are going to lead to better late-game results. I think you can use these to set yourself up for success, especially with the ones that give you full-game abilities. You can use these for rerolls, to avoid 0s, whatever, and that will likely give you more of an edge than just going in without any Enhancements whatsoever.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your single-use cards. People hold on to them until the end of the game for some reason, and I keep having to remind them that if they don’t use them, the game might end a lot earlier than they planned. Because we’d lose.
  • You’ll likely want to have claimed every Enhancement by the end of the game. I think there are almost too many good abilities sitting on the board to just leave any one there. Even if you don’t particularly find the Is useful, they block you from getting the much-more-useful IIs and IIIs. You really want every III, so, you’ll probably want every I.
  • Be careful in the last round. The worst thing you can do is set yourself up so that one bad die roll will end your game. Try to make sure you’ve cleaned up enough that that won’t happen, and make sure you remember that you still have to roll the die and dump one sector into the Garbage Patch.
  • Don’t just let garbage make it through to the Garbage Patch. This should be fairly straightforward, but what I intend this to mean is that you should make sure you’re keeping an eye on the A sector and not letting anything through unintentionally.
  • Once you’ve got a permanent enhancement, switch over to cleaning up trash. Let the other players get the temporary and single-use Enhancements; you’re now far more useful on cleanup detail.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Much faster than Ocean Crisis. I mean it plays in less than 30 minutes, every time. Ocean Crisis is definitely 30 – 60, trending a bit more towards 60. It’s a good speedup and I appreciate it.
  • Still got great art. Some of the art is recycled, which I’ll complain about later, but I still really like it (and I love the River Tile art in particular). The game really does look great.
  • Still a very important theme. Conservation games are awesome! I’m glad they’re making them, especially marketing them towards kids. It’s a good lesson to teach that this stuff is important.
  • Much smaller game footprint. This is almost a travel version of the game; it doesn’t take up nearly as much space as the base game, and they’ve drastically reduced the component count, which I also appreciate.
  • Much less complicated than Ocean Crisis, as well. This one is pretty key. It does a bunch of things for the game. It makes it a more kid-friendly game (since I feel like the pathing component made Ocean Crisis a bit more advanced?), which is great. It makes it a lot easier to teach, which is a huge boon for me. It also just feels more streamlined. Like, I’m going to complain later that I miss the path-building component, and I do, but honestly this feels like a cleaner version of Ocean Crisis, and it’s hard to get too mad about that.
  • I really appreciate the River Tile strategy as opposed to having to move the individual tokens down in the previous game. It honestly makes the game so much faster since you’re not moving those chunky tiles; you’re just moving one tile every round. It’s a particularly good innovation, and I think that it elevates the game, a bit.

Mehs

  • Seems like it’s fairly light on content. I kind of miss the Scenario Cards from the core game and the extra difficulty Round Cards; it seems like this is priced to sell, and I respect that, but I hope they’re considering expansion avenues for this one, as well.
  • Still dislike that you have to have one empty space. Usually games shoot more for the “if you try to add a token and you cannot, you lose”. I can imagine a few players thinking they have an extra free space when they do not — it would be nice to have an indicator or symbol on the space so you know that you lose when it’s covered.
  • I don’t really love that they used the same box art. I get it, box art is expensive, but I think this is going to cause more problems than it solves. It looks like an expansion of the game or just a smaller implementation of the base game (like Ultra-Tiny Epic X), when really it’s a slimmed-down, optimized version. I don’t know if it was great to tie the branding together so strongly. Then again, that’s just me and I’m not really an expert.

Cons

  • I miss the path-building component. I love path-building, and now it’s gone. Sad. Oh well, at least I still have the base game for that sort of thing.
  • It feels a smidge easy? This is kind of odd, but we’ve not only won pretty consistently, but we’ve also won with, like, one piece of garbage on the Garbage Patch, maximum. Maybe we’re just good, or maybe the base difficulty has been dropped a bit? Who knows. Either way, I don’t have a huge problem with the difficulty, but it might be nice to provide a wider range of difficulty options for players beyond “shuffle the Round Cards and ~see what happens~”. That’s not a bad option, but I think players would prefer more determinism in their difficulty increases.

Overall: 8.25 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think I like Frontline Defence more than the base game of Ocean Crisis! That said, I’m assigning it the same rating because I think it makes some trade-offs in other places and hits some pitfalls that Ocean Crisis managed to avoid. One thing that Ocean Crisis did a bit better, in my opinion, was thoughtfully manage its own difficulty level; it included additional cards to allow players to step things up (or down!) to their need, and I’m a bit disappointed that Frontline Defence does not. While I do still really like the art, the decision to use the same art as the base game was flummoxing, to be honest, and I worry that will confuse people. I’ve never seen it happen, being honest. So on the reviewer end, I should emphasize that while these games have a lot of elements and themes in common, they are different games. I think this one is successful because they chose to focus on and refine what made Ocean Crisis already strong: a great theme, some slight luck elements with a good amount of luck mitigation, strong cooperative elements, and a sort of modular gameplay that easily accommodates 1 – 6 players. By trimming some of the other elements away, they let the core of the game shine, and I think that’s really awesome. Now I’m just waiting to see what they do with it next. If you’re looking for a quick cooperative game with great art and a great theme, I’d recommend checking out Frontline Defence!

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