Review – Popular Front from Numbskull Games
Designer – Patrick Stevens
note – thanks to Numbskull games for providing a copy of this game for review.
I admit that as an American of Hispanic descent, I have been remiss in my study of the Spanish Civil War and this is something I need to rectify. When I think of the Spanish Civil War I am reminded of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War.
“¡No pasarán!” or “They shall not pass” was a phrase used during the Spanish Civil War, at the Siege of Madrid by Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, a member of the Communist Party of Spain, in her famous “No Pasarán” speech on 18 July 1936. The leader of the nationalist forces, Francisco Franco upon gaining Madrid, responded to this slogan with “Hemos pasado” (“We have passed”). Yes, this colourful game for 2-6 players ages 12+ is a tough, brutal Euro-style war game which can be played by 2 players, and 2 teams of 2 or 3 although you can adjust things with odd numbers as well. Personally, I would suggest that 2 3-player teams brings out the best in the game.
The game comes in a compact box with a nicely designed slip-cover with a very strong image from a political poster from the conflict. You have a very nicely designed map of the Iberian peninsula with clearly marked roads, rivers and cities overlaid on a very nice map showing the topography.
The military units are represented by coloured discs – 3 different red-ish and blue-ish shades so that those on the same team can easily see their allies. A very nice deck of cards with political posters is used to manage troops, combat, etc. The 8 pages of rules is reasonably clear are nicely laid out with good illustrations.
Victory is checked at the end of each round and the winner of the game is decided once the Republicans or Nationalists have moved their economic marker passed the current position of the political marker on the victory track. As you capture or lose cities, victory points are collected. Simple.
A Euro style game that is simple? The process is as follows –
Determine player order – This is done randomly each turn and simulates the changing ebb and flow and chaotic nature of a civil war with up to 6 groups loosely arranged in 3-faction allied armies. It makes it difficult to plan ahead and means you have to consider carefully before taking risks with troops and maneuvers as you are forced to deal with events on the ground.
Player turn – the player draws 2 cards, performs any number of actions by playing cards including Mustering troops, Moving troops, political commitment and Recruiting troops.
Resolve political – at the end of the round, political card values are totaled and whichever side has the greater commitment points moves their political marker closer to their economic marker.
Combat is declared and resolved – cards are played, cities are won and lost and victory point adjustments made
The game process flows very well once you get going and works very well. The challenge and heart of the game is all about the cards and using them to best effect. There is always a balance to be made as to where and how you use them and your forces as your abilities will always have limitations. On top of this, you aren’t allowed to see your team mates cards and this makes coordination very tricky and challenging.
Did it work for me?
I really like this game. It is simple, although not quite as clear as it could be but doesn’t take long to work out any confusion in the rules. The simplicity of a Euro-style mixed with the challenge of conflict in a military/political arena is very nicely done. The 6-player version is genius in its challenge and fun in its play. Lots of trash talk went on amongst my game group. Although you can’t share or view each other’s cards you can talk in vague generalities about strategy and it all works really well. You don’t have to worry about getting bogged down in military detail or Euro mechanics and brain burning. Conflict and taking cities from your enemy is key. This isn’t a gentle, soft and cuddly Euro. The design captures a wonderful balance of Military strategy and conflict and Euro feel. The components are nicely done, it looks great. Not sure if I could ask much more. Popular Front is tense, challenging and most of all really fun. Not perfect as there were some slightly confusing bits in the rules which were sorted out but definitely one of the best games I’ve played in a long time and I highly recommend it!
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 9.5 out of 10
No, not for families really but this is a game that could be ok for those relatively new to gaming.
For more information about Numbskull games, go to – http://www.numbskullgames.com/