Obligatory end-of-year-review, 2018

FranklinHowe_o

Can you mansplain convincingly while wearing breeches, stockings and buckle shoes?

Well, another year has zipped by. Maybe a bit early for year-end post-mortems, but I have been busy:

Game publishing

  • February: the Kickstarter launch for Nights of Fire. We made the first, most important target in 12 or 13 hours, and ended up with $87,821 pledged over 30 days. Nights of Fire: Kickstarter day at last!
  • February also saw Tupamaro come out, in folio format from One Small Step. Tupamaro is out!
  • March saw the release of Chile ’73 from Tiny Battle Publishing. I was pleased that this came out, but there were a number of unfortunate changes/additions of art, physical components and rules that lessened the “bang” for me. Chile ’73: errata file
  • May, and out came Strike for Berlin in #11 of Yaah! magazine. Very nice art and production, a really great overhaul of Freikorps. I was quite pleased with it, but it doesn’t seem to have garnered a lot of attention on BGG and other places. Strike for Berlin has struck
  • July: I posted District Commander: Maracas, for free print-and-play. This is presented as an example of how the District Commander system works (this and three other modules will be published by Hollandspiele over the next couple of years) and as an introductory essay of mine into operational level urban combat against irregular forces in a large city. New free game: Maracas
  • September: a second edition of Summer Lightning came out, from Lock n Load Games. This is a physically enlarged (one might say engorged) edition, the rules are the same – just all of the components are bigger. Pretty spiffy looking though! Summer Lightning: Second Edition!

Game design work and future publication

Work and or testing continued throughout the year on some of the following, while others have likely publishing dates in 2019 or later:

  • Thunder out of China (now renamed China’s War, at least until an even better title comes along): testing testing, and hoping to have this ready for GMT P500 by Consimworld Expo time.
  • Strongman, an extensive rework of Caudillo that may be a while coming, and publisher not completely confirmed.
  • Brief Border Wars Quad, from Compass Games – I handed this over to the guys at Consimworld Expo and understand that it will be up for pre-order in the next couple of months. Will be published all four in one box.
  • District Commander series, from Hollandspiele – I handed over four modules (Algeria 1959, Vietnam 1969, Afghanistan 2009, and Maracas 2019) to Hollandspiele at Consimworld Expo and they will be publishing these as separate single titles over the next two years.
  • We Are Coming Nineveh: This very clever game on contemporary urban combat (Mosul 2017) was designed by two of Rex Brynen’s students in a trial course he ran in getting students to design games. Rex and I have done a considerable amount of development on it, without changing its basic concepts, and I’m quite pleased at how this came out. Will likely be published in 2019 or early 2020.
  • Nights of Fire: Pretty sure this will be out in March 2019 or so. I think people will be pleased.

Conferences and conventions

Another busy year on this front, a week or more away at each of these events:

Writing

  • Only one formally published piece, the foreword to a book of wargames rules on irregular war situations published by History of Wargaming Project, John Curry’s imprint. New book out – Small Wars

Near-meaningless digest of site statistics:

  • I seem to be cruising still at just below 2,000 views per month, a bit higher than the preceding two years. The five most curious countries were: US (by a very wide margin), UK, Canada, Spain and Italy. One guy clicked in from Venezuela!
  • Besides the then-current post, popular pages or posts included the BTR Games and Free Games pages, and the post containing the corrected Tutorial and errata for Colonial Twilight. Also popular was a new page of Scenarios and Variants I added in July, incorporating material lugged over from my old website as well as some new pieces (e.g. the 4-player variant for Colonial Twilight and the historical scenario for Operation Whirlwind).
  • The most clicked-on documents were the rules, corrected tutorial and playbook for Colonial Twilight, followed by the free PnP files for Ukrainian Crisis, Third Lebanon War and Desert Leader.
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The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City, by Ty Bomba (and Maciej Jonasz)

 

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 .

Somewhat later (16 November), edited to add another section from another article that Counterfact will run in a later issue:

The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City, Part 2: The Tactical Nitty Gritty,

by Maciej Jonasz

A tactical-level offensive operation conducted inside a hostile mega-city would, at least initially in regard to its organization and approach, be conducted in much the same manner as a standard assault operation in any urban area. That is, it would ideally call for an outer cordon, an inner cordon and an assault element.

The role of the outer cordon is to isolate the target area from external factors. In this case, the primary task of would be to keep civilians or reinforcements from entering the target area in order to minimize collateral damage and hold the enemy response to a minimum.

The outer cordon doesn’t need to be too robust, but it should be sufficient to establish blocks along roads and other access routes. In case a counter-move against the operation is seen to be developing from outside the target area, a Quick Reaction Force should be nearby as well.

The role of the inner cordon is to prevent any hostile personnel from escaping the target area. Unlike the outer cordon, the inner cordon needs to be robust, as key individuals and whole enemy units may attempt to breakout. Since such breakout attempts will probably be in the form of large numbers attacking out in several directions, the cordon needs to be equally strong along its entire length.

As it would be unrealistic to create a wall of personnel all along a perimeter that may be a mile or more in length, the best solution will be for the inner cordon to consist of barbed wire and other barricades with personnel and sensors interspersed along its length.

Ideally, a section of infantry would be employed along 100 yards of perimeter, as that will allow for a speedy set-up of the cordon and a strong presence along it. Given that standard, a 3,000 yard perimeter would require about three battalions – which is a significant amount of manpower.

The inner cordon also needs to cut enemy communications between the target area and the outside, while also disrupting those same communications within the target area itself. Some of that can be accomplished by shutting down the civilian telecommunications networks – both landline and mobile – but an electronic warfare element would also be handy. In addition, that will enable the friendly command structure to control the messaging going out to the media, thereby preventing false information from reaching the wider public.

The role of the assault (a.k.a. “search”) element is to enter the target area and conduct kinetic operations against enemy units and individual “high value targets” within it. Ideally, such operations will deploy one assault element for each of the target area’s buildings, so all of them can be hit simultaneously and, in cases of large buildings divided into separate segments, there should be an assault element for each of those segments.

While the cordon elements have a relatively simple task and composition, assault elements will require some personnel with specialized skills and will be composed of different teams. First, each will require teams to go through targeted buildings room by room. Those entry teams need to be supported by extraction teams to remove prisoners and friendly casualties as quickly as possible, thereby allowing the assault teams to move forward as quickly as possible.

The size of the extraction teams is important, as they will need to have enough personnel so the assault teams aren’t kept waiting to hand over prisoners or wounded. That’s especially true in high-rise buildings, where it will take time for personnel to bring prisoners and casualties down 20 or more floors, load them into vehicles or temporary holding compounds, and then return. Depending of the size of each building, a minimum of a platoon will be necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of this aspect of the operation within each one.

A security element, practically another inner cordon, needs to be placed around each building that’s being assaulted. The role of those elements is to interdict escapees (or reinforcements) trying to make their way out (or in) through lower floor openings. As they will be operating outdoors, and will therefore be fully exposed to gunfire coming from high up inside targeted and neighboring buildings, as well as the sewers below them, these elements will need to be equipped with armored personnel carriers for their own protection.

The manpower requirements for an assault element would be even bigger than those for the inner cordon. With a section or two dedicated to over-watch on every floor, with at least one platoon as an extraction element, and another platoon deployed as an outside security element, each building will require anything from a company to a battalion to clear it speedily and fully. For example, in a six-floor building with two separate staircases, the requirement would be for two companies of infantry – and each target area may consist of up to dozens of buildings.

The first troops to go in need to gain control of staircases, corridors and the immediate surroundings of those areas. To speed things up, parts of those elements could be airlifted to the rooftops of taller buildings, from where they can most quickly secure the upper floors. Ideally, the main units assaulting a building would work their way down from the top floor. In buildings with multiple staircases, separate ones could be designated for friendly upward and downward movement.

A tactical offensive within a mega-city like the one described here would inescapably be an undertaking on a massive scale, due to the large amount of resources it would require and the casualties that would be generated. Even the most highly trained assault force would likely suffer at least 10 percent casualties per day. That means a single neighborhood of three or four blocks would likely require as much as a brigade’s worth of manpower to launch and sustain such an operation to its conclusion, which would take an average of about 12 hours.

Emphasis added at the end. These seem to be fairly realistic estimates of the infantry numbers involved, just for the fighting and extraction. Add in another hefty chunk for protection and/or security of prisoners, LoCs back to whatever passes for an MSR, and whatever other elements are needed to support the bayonets (medical, logistics, engineer equipment and assembly areas). And then the casualties start to pile up, even more after the first 2-3 days when people start to get really tired….

Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty if it’s done on this scale.

 

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