PREVIEW: Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital

Apr
11

PREVIEW: Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital

Bringing the grim reality of tabletop warfare to your computer.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player
Genre: War, Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Lock ‘n Load Publishing
Publisher: Lock ‘n Load Publishing
Release date: 3 Apr, 2020

Lock ‘n Load is a family of tabletop wargames that got its start back in 2003 with Forgotten Heroes: Vietnam. It was an attempt at making a slightly lighter and faster tactical wargame than what was popular at the time, like Advance Squad leader. Numerous other wargames have been released since, but Lock ‘n load seems to have found its niche, and the rules are still getting used in games focusing on different wars around the world, from World War 2, to the Falklands. This is a straight up digital adaptation of the tabletop game, using the same rules and recreating the same scenarios that were present there.

Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital tries a slightly novel business strategy, the base game is very cheap, but comes with little content (only four small levels and a tutorial), and then you buy the modules à la carte, with each bringing somewhere in the region of 12 levels, most of which are more substantial than the ones from the base game.

This is not the first time there’s been a digital adaptation of Lock ‘n Load. All the way back in 2005 there was a game based on Lock ‘n Load: Band of Heroes, which is no longer sold, and in 2014 Slitherine published Heroes of Stalingrad, which is still available.

Beating back the US forces as the NVA and Vietcong

Graphics & Sound

Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital is based on a hex-based tabletop wargame, that has small cardboard counters representing soldiers, the maps are flat with printed terrain features and it aims to remain true to the game it’s based on. The presentation is simple, the maps are just flat images with a hex-grid on top, troops are represented by counters with numbers and small pictures that look just like the ones from the board game. There are some simple graphics effects for when units fire upon each other, and some other touches like that, but nothing really beyond that.

The interface might, at first glance, look somewhat cluttered, but it does a good job at presenting all the information you need, in a clear and easy to read way. Some UI elements might be a bit too small, but other than that, the UI is quite good, even if it’s not great looking.

Lock ‘n Load has surprisingly good sound effects. The sound effects used when units fire upon each other is better than one would expect from a game like this, and the soundtrack is no slouch either. Lock ‘n Load simply sounds good. It could use more variety in its sound though.

Major Tom and a few brave soldiers are holding the building, despite the Germans doing their best to dislodge them

Gameplay

Lock ‘n Load is a turn-based tactics game that uses an impulse-based system. That means that each player takes turns doing actions, and once both players have done everything they can, or chose to pass, the turn ends and a new one begins. These actions include moving units, shooting, trying to spot hidden enemies and so on. Some actions might allow you to do more than one thing, like an assault move lets you move and shoot, but they’re still treated like one action.

One thing that might trip up people who are not aware of the rule is how the game represents hidden units. By default you, the player, always has perfect information, but your troops don’t, so in order to shoot at an enemy that’s not out in the open, and who have not done something that turn to make them visible (like shooting or moving), you need to tell your units to try and spot them. Succeed and you can shoot at them, fail and the enemy remains hidden. You can change it so the game uses a fog of war system, but even then, you still need to spot enemies that are hiding in the bushes, even if you know that they’re there.

Being out in the open when fired upon is a recipe for disaster, and thus a big part of the game is trying to use cover as much as possible, while at the same time managing to accomplish your objectives, two things that sometimes are mutually exclusive. Running out in front of the enemy is also not a great idea, and if a unit sees an enemy unit move, they can use up their action for the turn in order to shoot at them. Thus running between two pieces of cover is not necessarily safe, if the enemy can see the ground between them. And when a unit attacks, it usually attacks an entire hex, rather than a specific unit, thus if a lot of troops are huddled together, they all risk getting hit if the enemy opens fire. There are exceptions to this rule, like sniper rifles will only hit one unit, but in the vast majority of cases, spreading out is safer. But units spreading out can’t pool their firepower when shooting together (this increases the odds of wounding the enemy), and bonuses from officers require troops to be close to them. Also, if a unit has been shaken, which is the most common damage result, they need to be together with an officer, medic or other “inspiring” character in order to recover, thus spreading out too much is also dangerous. Shaken units incidentally can’t contribute in a fight, and further damage is more likely to deal permanent damage.

Some actions might trigger certain events, often accompanied by some flavour text

Each scenario has two sides, and you can choose which one you want to play. The game has support for multiplayer, or fights against the AI. The AI is not overly challenging though, and tends to be too aggressive for its own good. It might put up a fight against a brand new player, but once you’re comfortable with the game, it’s a bit on the easy side.

Lock ‘n Load’s tutorial is good at teaching you the basic concepts, but it does not go into a lot of details. At the moment at least, the tutorial is a series of short videos, which are presented in a similar way to how someone would explain how a board game works in real life, but does not overwhelm you with information. It’s enough for anyone who wants to get started, but if you want to learn the inner workings of the game, you need to read the included rule book, which is just a PDF of the rules for the board game. There is also, right now at least, no tutorial that explains how more advanced units like tanks & helicopters work. Luckily the game does a few things that make it easier to play, even if you don’t know all the rules. It handles all the bookkeeping for you and will display the percentage chance of success for actions. Thus you don’t have to know exactly how much the terrain, firepower, leaders and such contribute to an attack to know that you have a 60% chance of dealing damage to an enemy.

There’s a lot of content planned for this game, by the looks of it

Closing thoughts

I don’t know how well suited I am to talk about the user-friendliness of this game. I’ve played the board game in the past (although it was quite a few years ago at this point), so I went in knowing how the game works. But what I can say is that this is a good adaptation of the board game.

There’s still a bit of work that needs to be done before the full release, particularly with the AI and multiplayer modes, but even in its early access state, Lock ‘n Load is quite playable, and it really does not feel like it’s far from being a complete product.

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