The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City, by Ty Bomba

 

Issue #9 of Counterfact magazine has a game in it called War in the Megacity, designed by Joe Miranda. It’s in the mail now. On October 27, editor Ty Bomba posted the short piece quoted below on the publisher’s Facebook page, as his take on the subject (permalink  https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1130023770514214&id=189803314536269&__tn__=K-R)

 

The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City
By Ty Bomba

Back in 2014, then US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno set off what amounted to a metaphoric explosion of activity within the military-analytical community. He did so when he authorized the online publication and distribution of a 28-page pdf titled “Megacities and the United States Army: Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain Future.”

The study, co-authored by six of his staffers, pointed up a problem that had critical tactical, operational and strategic aspects. That is, after defining “mega-cities” as urban locales with 10 million or more inhabitants – there are 20 of them today with another 25 likely to have grown into existence by 2025 – the authors lamented the fact the US military in general, and the army in particular, had no doctrine for how to wage war in such places.

The standard formula for attacking a hostile city of smaller size – surround it, and then take the area inside the pocket sector by sector – won’t work in these huge conurbations because they’re simply won’t be enough troops on hand to isolate such vast spaces. The document (still available online by searching on its title) went on to list problem after problem, never intending to offer any solutions but, rather, simply to pose all the relevant questions that had been identified.

Since then, numerous writers – both from within and outside the US military – have offered more. For example, in 2017 one writer, under the auspices of West Point’s Modern War Institute, proposed an exact order of battle for a combined-arms battalion specifically constituted to fight in megacities. (That’s also still available online by searching under its title: “It’s Time to Create a Megacities Combat Unit.”)

Even the International Committee of the Red Cross commissioned a study on the subject, titled “Future War in Cities: Urbanization’s Challenge to Strategic Studies in the 21st Century.” Its focus is on the “development of military methods of operating in cities using appropriate rules of engagement that embrace international humanitarian law” (and, we might add, good luck with that).

As it turns out, an older study, one done at the US Army War College way back in 2001 and titled “Urban Operations: Tactical Realities and Strategic Ambiguities,” may already have shown the practical impossibility of any sustained US military involvement in fighting a ground battle for a mega-city. It used a combination of historical case studies and training exercise analyses, and its grim conclusions ran as follows.

A typical rifle company of up to about 200 combatants can be expected to seize a similarly defended city block after about 12 hours of combat. Total casualties among the attackers – personnel missing, killed and seriously wounded – would average 30 to 45 percent during that time, depending on the competency and ferocity of the defense. At the end of it, the survivors in the attack force would need to be temporarily withdrawn from the frontline for rest and regrouping.

At most, by straining mightily, the US Army might be able to concentrate some 180 assault companies, along with another 60 or so from the Marine Corps, to use in a fight for any one mega-city. Each army or USMC division averages 27 such companies, while an armor division could form a dozen or so. Thus the entire infantry force of the active duty US Army and Marines could be expected to be effectively burned out after about 20 days of steady mega-city combat, with total casualties suffered while doing so at about 15,000 to 22,000.

Even after all that, the conclusion offered was an overall victor in such a battle would likely only emerge through attrition, or when the suffering had reached a point where small margins of difference between the opposing forces’ staying power (morale) became the deciding factor.

Given the phenomena of “casualty aversion” that’s overtaken Western societies since the end of the Cold War – that is, a general unwillingness by electorates to sustain any government prosecuting a war longer than one election cycle or bloodier than a relative handful of total deaths – and it can be seen it’s effectively impossible for us a society to engage in that kind of war.

The only exception would be if the stakes involved were readily perceived by a majority the electorate as truly and fully existential at the national level. In turn, to get to that level, you have to posit near science fictional scenarios, such as the Chinese landing en masse along the US west coast or armies of Jihadis surging into Europe’s cities. Short of such epochal hypotheticals, one is hard pressed to name any mega-city anywhere on Earth the control of which would be important enough for a US administration, or that of any other Western democracy, to be willing to sacrifice so much to get it.

Mega-city wars will therefore likely remain the domains of criminal gang turf fights and civil wars fought among groups with nowhere else to go. Until such time as aerial and ground drones and autonomous robots are further perfected, no Western democracy can make war effectively in mega-cities.

The current issue of the on-paper edition of CounterFact Magazine (no. 9) has as its main topic “War in the Megacity.” It offers both a longer article on this subject and an in-depth wargame that can be played solo or against an opponent. Those interested in that kind of deeper exploration, should go here:

http://ossgamescart.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=5&products_id=114&fbclid=IwAR1nA9D5i3nZbOqWFFvxCkSV-hBieH8g7_8JlM08SLwrGqrciAyHWjX1vtc

I find I cannot disagree with what Ty has written here, having read some time ago all the articles and papers he cites, and more besides. Yes, we will not see the entire rifle-company strength of the US Army and Marine Corps squandered in an enormous mega-Aachen, or even a restaging of the Second Battle of Seoul (not least because Seoul is ten times the size it was in 1950). Ridiculous notion.

Ty published the designer’s notes to the game over on Consimworld some time ago, wherein Joe seems to be walking back the game’s initial impression that you are fighting a massive, primarily kinetic battle for a huge city (wherein Fallujah or Grozny would fill only three or four of the map’s 30 abstract sectors). He uses the triple-CRT, units-rising-and-falling-in-strength method first done in James Dunnigan’s game Chicago-Chicago!, and reused by him in LA Lawless, Decision Iraq, and by me in Greek Civil War (this last by order of Decision Games, though somewhere in between my submission and eventual publication there were a lot of changes to both my game and to Joe’s system, including collapsing the 3 CRTs into one, and radical changes in unit typology and abilities). He also speaks of the ridiculous troop-to-space ratio in a city of 10 million or more, but does note that the troop scale in the game is brigades (thousands of uniforms) vs. crowds (tens of thousands in size); even the guerrilla units are estimated to be a thousand or more fighters (though in fairness, because it’s a Joe Miranda near-future game, there are also small detachments of “”Fifth Generation” troops whose weaponry, and sometimes their own physicality and mental states, have been enhanced by leading-edge technologies.”).

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1ddb038b/479

But I added the emphasis in Ty’s penultimate paragraph. Megacities will not be the arenas where entire brigades and divisions square off against each other, but they will see a great deal of low-level irregular conflict, by and among irregular forces, who will be opposed much of the time by uniformed forces in modest amounts. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for autonomous robots.*

Joe and I are on the same wavelength on a lot of things, but often we differ considerably in our design approaches to the same kind of problem. To my mind, a more realistic and sobering pair of books to read on this subject are Planet of Slums by Mike Davis and Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen (especially his chapter on the Tivoli Gardens operation in Kingston, Jamaica). What would be interesting from my point of view would be a game in a megacity that emphasized limited intelligence, surveillance, building and degrading organizations, positioning and threats, information warfare, for both insurgent and counterinsurgent. All precursors to kinetic operations, which are kept to a minimum. So far the megacities in the world that have experienced problems severe enough to see actual conflict involving their national militaries have all been outside of NATO, and the conflicts have all been pretty one-sided; government moves in against insurgent gangs, they scatter obligingly and civil disorder continues, though turned down to a dull roar until the uniforms leave and the gangs return.

I tried to do this in one of my first games, Tupamaro, which took place entirely within one large city (1.5 million, which was kind of large for 1968). And maybe that’s more typical of what went on in Baghdad (pop 6-7 million, give or take) for years. This was my thinking in developing the “Maracas megacity” module for the District Commander system over the last couple of years, available here for free PnP at least until Hollandspiele publishes it some time in the next few years.

New free game: Maracas

*PS: I mentioned this before, but here again is mention of Crisis at Zefra, a conceptual book written by a science fiction writer named Karl Schroeder in 2005 for the Canadian Armed Forces about how Canadian soldiers would deal with asymmetrical threats in the imaginary African city-state of “Zefra” in the near future (2025). Again, a bit too goshwow with respect to the technology for me – nano-this and nano-that – but these things are valuable just by having been written down. Here’s a copy:  Crisis-in-Zefra-e and the work is also available at Schroeder’s website at http://www.kschroeder.com/foresight-consulting/crisis-in-zefra/Crisis-in-Zefra-e.pdf .

 

 

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Podcast: Harold on Games meets Brian Train

buchanan intvw

Being interviewed at CSWExpo for Harold Buchanan’s podcast “Harold on Games”. Photo: Harold Buchanan.

Sorry, I would have posted this a bit earlier but my last few days in Britain did not have reliable Internet.

While I was at the Consimworld Expo in June, Harold Buchanan interviewed me for his podcast “Harold on Games”. He let me ramble on for nearly two hours; I didn’t envy him the task of editing it down.

Go and have a listen!

https://soundcloud.com/harold-buchanan/harold-on-games-podcast-12-with-brian-train

(Normally I can’t take a good digital photo either: it’s as if some kind of Photoshop macro automatically engages, a macro with a name like “Moronify” or “30% Drunk”. However, Harold seems to have found a filter that prevented that this time.)

Chile ’73: The Most Dangerous (War)game

 

c73 tbp cover

Tiny Battles sends out a short piece on their experience of playing Chile ’73 after I handed it in… one of their playtesters was felled by a heart attack during play! He recovered, though.

In an interesting aside, the design of the game’s cover is based on the layout of El Mercurio, Santiago’s main daily newspaper. I like little arty touches like that.

(Web version at link below)

https://gem.godaddy.com/p/add90c?fe=1&pact=38341-144918937-10719805120-f5de019cec6b1b6615b5feaefcd657b3d7d67b13

Finnish Civil War Ludography

This year is the centennial of the Finnish Civil War. Not surprisingly, people are marking the event, pushing the number of games on the war from “almost none” to “some”. Here is a partial ludography, certainly a work-in-progress, that shows the games on the war that I know about, sorted by publication date:

image: Boardgamegeek.com, showing a copy in a display case in a museum in Tampere.

1918: Punaisten ja Valkoisten taistelu Suomesa 1918

The first board game on the War, this was apparently produced for the Christmas market, only seven months after the end of the war. It is a simple roll-and-move game with red and white pieces occupying different towns. Point-movement map, 14 wooden pieces, abstract scale.

BGG link

Katalog 1

2009: Finnish Civil War

I put my game Finnish Civil War up for free download at the end of 2009, making it the first “standard wargame” treatment of the conflict. It was available for free download until 2012 – I think maybe four people might have taken advantage of the offer – when I was offered a spot in Paper Wars magazine for the game, and was asked to take it down. I thought it was going to come out more promptly than it did, but it did come out at the beginning of 2017, with a very nice presentation and a few changes from the earlier version. 270 counters, hex map, company to brigade scale (two versions to play).

The Paper Wars version has a historical article in it by me on the War, but for some reason they printed only the first half of it – you can get the whole article at the link below.

BGG link

Finnish Civil War (Paper Wars #84) has arrived.

image: boardgamegeek.com

2010: Under The North Star

Designed by Dennis Bishop and published by White Dog Games. A rather standard look at the military aspect of the war. 160 counters, hex map, battalion to regiment scale.

BGG link

Enter a caption

2018: Veli Veljea Vastaan (Brother Against Brother)

Card-driven, point-movement game on the War by Antti Lehmusjarvi, published by Linden Lake Games via Kickstarter.  I did find a photo of a prototype of Antti’s game that was played at “Warcon 2013”, a game convention in Tampere. About 200 counters, 55 cards, point movement map, company-battalion scale.

BGG link

 

image: gmtgames.com

2018 (?): All Bridges Burning

This is a COIN system game designed by the brilliant VPJ “Vesa” Arponen, who remade the ‘bots for A Distant Plain and designed the ‘bot for Colonial Twilight. Man’s a genius and he has made the COIN system work for three players. Has done very well on P500. About 90 wooden pieces, 47 event cards, a card-driven (!) solo system of 36 cards, point movement map, scale abstract.

BGG link

image: boardgamegeek.com

2018: Helsinki 1918

Designed by Hannu Uusitalo, produced by U&P Games. This one is kind of interesting: a card-driven, hex map treatment of the battle for Helsinki in April 1918. As German forces approach the city, the Red defenders prepare to receive them but there is a secret group of White forces ready to rise in revolt within the city. Even more interesting, the game is for three players. BGG description:

The German player must execute an effective attack to defeat Reds and avoid too high casualties especially in the fights on the streets of the centre. The Red player focus to keep their morale high and recruit new fighting groups to the Red Guards while Whites player must wait the right timing to deploy hidden troops in the streets of Helsinki.

80 counters, 40 cards, hex map.

BGG link

image: Lenin Museum website

2018: Suomi 1918

Not really a wargame as such, I did find mention of this on the net, as being on offer at the gift shop of the Lenin Museum in Tampere. This is the only museum dedicated to Lenin outside the former Soviet Union: elsewhere on their site you can buy things like busts of Lenin, and fridge magnets of Urho Kekkonen and Leonid Brezhnev.

Thrilling new game Finland 1918 is a card game about the start of the Finnish state, the civil war and the events that led to it. The game describes the birth of the Finnish state and possible social models: what if history had been different?

Finnish-language cards, but English rules are available here:

http://www.suomi1918.fi/in-english/

And you can buy the game here:

http://tkm.fi/museokauppa/en/home/286-suomi-1918-peli.html

Article on the Lenin Museum from Atlas Obscura:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/lenin-museum

 

Burden of Command

696df3e1d2d5e4cee08b9872a346292b

Nope, not quite…

I never made a practice of playing computer wargames much, and I don’t think I am about to start now.

But it seems to me that there are a few digital designers and developers out there who are thinking about what a game about war should be, and what it should mean to its players, quite deeply. This is an interesting article.

https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/j5v3kp/meet-the-developers-behind-a-wargame-about-people-not-weapons?utm_campaign=sharebutton

If You Can’t Talk About It, Point To It

Warsaw lawmakers pass Holocaust bill to restrict term ‘Polish death camps’

Poland’s president to sign Holocaust speech bill into law, defying critics

Canadian historian joins uproar in Israel over polish holocaust law

Card #30

ADP card 30

30. Urban Specialists

TGWC
TALIBAN CAPABILITIES

Ineffective: Taliban Terror in Kabul requires Activation of 2 Underground Guerrillas.
Effective: Taliban Terror in Kabul costs 0 Resources and does not Activate the Guerrilla.

Insurgents need to go where the people are, and a lot of them are in the main urban center of Kabul. The Taliban have been ingenious in using technically skilled fighters to collect intelligence, plan assassinations, and conduct spectacular high-visibility attacks on government buildings. (Moreau; Giustozzi p. 70)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/afghan-military-academy-attack-1.4508324

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/kabul-afghanistan-attack-aftermath-1.4498165