“Grom-444”

burned-out-soviet-tanks-1956-600x377

… was the radio signal sent to Marshal Konev to begin the military operation to suppress the Hungarian Revolution, on 4 November 1956.

62 years after the event, there are three games on the Soviet crackdown and I have designed two of them:

  • Operation Whirlwind, which has been available in one form or another since 2002 – see here for the historical scenario Operation Whirlwind: more historical scenario.;
  • Nights of Fire, which is due out in, umm, probably February 2019; and
  • Budapest ’56, half of a two-game set on “Cold War Battles” by Joe Miranda (the other game is on Angola in 1987). It uses the “Modern Battles” system that has been used by first SPI, then Decision Games, to cover dozens and dozens of battles. Doesn’t work particularly well to show urban warfare, even when it was used by The Great Dunnigan in Berlin ’85, but that’s just my opinion…   https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/23378/cold-war-battles-budapest-56-angola-87
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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 .

 

 

An early example of an urban COIN megagame

pentagonurbancoincover

Very new from the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry, is a book reprinting rules for making up and playing a multi-player game on urban counterinsurgency, along with analysis of many urban insurgency incidents… including the Battle of Algiers, which was still quite recent as the original documents are from 1966.

Unless I miss my guess, this is “URB-INS”, contained in the “Report on Urban Insurgency Studies”, done in 1966 by Simulmatics Corporation. I remember examining a copy of this in the US Army War College’s library briefly (Back, then forth); I found it by chance there, but I wasn’t going to pass up a look at such an early example of a manual game on counterinsurgency in a generic city. I recall it was pretty sophisticated for its day – double-blind play with an umpire using a third board; time lag on intelligence and movements; uncertain information on sympathizers for either side; interrogation and arrest; etc..

Buy your copy at:

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/pentagonurbancoin.htm

EDIT: I was wrong! Turns out the game in question is URB-COIN, developed by Abt Associates in 1966. It is related to two other games Abt did for the US military, AGILE-COIN and POLITICA. Faithful Readuhs may recall my mention of AGILE-COIN as an early attempt to model rural insurgency in a couple of my presentations, and the game is described in greater detail in Andrew Wilson’s very good book The Bomb and The Computer (also available from John Curry as a reprint).

http://www.wargaming.co/professional/details/awthebomb.htm

Clark Abt did very well for himself and the world of simulations and games, as he was one of the first major designers and promoters of “serious games”. He designed dozens of games on a very wide variety of topics, most of them educational and policy games though he had quite a few DARPA contracts too. He is still alive and his company, Abt Associates, is doing very well (and seemingly not doing work for the military any more, at least not overtly). You can see part of his “Serious Games”, a major work, here:

https://books.google.ca/books?id=axUs9HA-hF8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Clark+C.+Abt%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj238Tq8b_cAhWCJ3wKHf0GD0kQ6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

New free game: Maracas

Maracas mapsnip      Maracas ctrsnip

Maracas is one of the four games I’ve designed so far that uses the District Commander diceless, operational-level counterinsurgency system.

It takes place in Maracas, the fictional megacity capital of the equally fictitious nation of Virtualia (which was also the locale for my game Caudillo).

I am making it available for free print-and-play download as an example of

a) the District Commander system itself; and

b) an introductory game on asymmetrical warfare in a modern large city.

I intend to do more of this kind of thing. I’ve been interested in urban combat for a long time (Tupamaro was one of my first game designs) and I think this is a crucially important topic for present-day and near-future wargame work. There’s certainly going to be a certain amount of the real thing soon enough.

Game components consist of:

The counters are made to be printed out at 5/8″ and the map at 17×22″, but if your eyes are young and strong and your fingers nimble go ahead and print them out smaller. Or if you’re half-blind and near-palsied like me, print them out on 1″ foamcore and as big a map as you can find.

Permission is granted to downloaders to make a copy for their own personal use, under the usual Creative Commons Licence adopted for this website.

NOTICE:

All material on this website, including all its subsidiary pages, that is written by me is made available through a Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

This game, and up to three or more other modules in the system (so far Algeria 1959, Vietnam 1969, Afghanistan 2009, Maracas 2019), will be released over the next year or two by Hollandspiele.

I hope you will give it a try.

Thanks!

Off to Consimworld Expo 2018!

lawrncoarabia_032pyxurz

Best cut in cinematic history.

So, very early tomorrow we take off for a week and change in Tempe Arizona, to attend Consimworld Expo 2018. This convention gets bigger every year, there will be at least 275 hardcore gamers there this time.

I am taking lots of things with me, to show and/or test with people:

The Brief Border Wars quad:

Four minigames on border conflicts. Uses a development of the system in The Little War. Pretty much done testing but they are fun and short. El Salvador-Honduras 1969, Turkey-Cyprus 1974, China-Vietnam 1979, Israel-Hezbollah 2006.

Thunder out of China:

4-player COIN system for China 1937-41, I got this one to the 50% mark in 2015 but had to stop due to the need to finish off Colonial Twilight. Event Deck needs work as do a few tuneups. This will be a different twist on the COIN system but only slightly; twist of emphasis, not addition of mechanics.

The District Commander quad:

What, am I bringing back the Quadrigame? This is a diceless system of counterinsurgency at the operational level that I have been working on for a few years. Standard rules are rather long but they are “chatty”, the system is pretty simple and there are lots of possible options/ variations on play; each set of module exclusive rules is written as additions and exceptions to the standard rules.

Four modules: Mascara (Algeria 1959); Binh Dinh (Vietnam 1969); Kandahar (Afghanistan 2009); Maracas (imaginary megacity 2019). Modules feature things like population resettlement, airmobility, insurgent logistics, Agent Orange, monsoon rains, Phoenix Program, non-state militias, criminal gangs, insurgent command nodes, informers, sabotage, etc..

Caudillo:

Multi-player game on Latin American power politics, this brings up the tension between cooperation and competition. Not testing but CSW is a good place to try and snag people for multi-player games (3-5).

We Are Coming, Nineveh

Something new, not my design but I am helping on its development and need some playtester input. Designed by two graduate students of Rex Brynen, a Political Science professor at McGill University in Montreal who uses games in his classes a lot. This is their first essay into game design and it’s good enough that Rex and I are helping on its development for commercial publication.

It is an operational-level game of the Iraqi government campaign to liberate the western half of the city of Mosul from the forces of Daesh between 19 February and 9 July 2017. This was one of the largest and most difficult urban operations of the post-WWII era, and marked a major defeat for Daesh and its so-called “Islamic State.”

Area-movement map of west Mosul, including the densely-built Old City where Daesh forces made their last stand. Unit scale is groups of 100 or so Daesh fighters each, or battalion-sized units of the Iraqi Army, Ministry of the Interior, and elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). Time scale is about 2 weeks/turn but this is flexible, and not that important. Blocks for both sides, to maintain uncertainty and the “fog of war.”

Capability cards: Before the operation starts, players choose a number of special capability cards. Gives great replayability.

Also during each turn, event cards can be triggered at any time by either player. Some of these indicate the growing collateral damage done to the city and its people. Others generate tactical vignettes: troops can get lost in the maze of small streets, communications can break down, and commanders can be faced with difficult moral and operational choices.

Victory: Unlike most wargames where there is a single measure for victory or loss, the game assesses three key aspects of the campaign: the speed at which the operation is completed, the casualties suffered by Iraqi government forces, and the collateral damage done to Mosul. One might outperform the historical case, capturing the Old City faster—but at a terrible civilian cost.

Going to be HOT and sunny, every day!

I may post from there, probably not as I will be working off a tablet with a tiny keyboard that is an exercise in patience to use.

Be good to each other while I’m gone.

Nights of Fire: Kickstarter day at last!

nofbox

Cover art by Kwanchai Moriya

It’s taken a year and a half but today is the day – the designing is done, the testing is completed, the components are composed – and Nights of Fire is launching on Kickstarter!

Here are two videos to entice you, if you hadn’t made up your mind already… and of course, if you had, these will make you feel good about doing it!

 

Paul Grogan explaining how to play the game. This should answer any questions you may have left about play mechanics, especially after reading the long interview I did with The Players Aid blog recently where I went into the sequence of play.

Nights of Fire: quite long interview at The Players Aid

 

 

And here are Grant and Alexander from The Players Aid blog, giving you their impressions after a good play-through. I really appreciate the help and attention these guys have given me and my games over the past year and more. I wonder if we’ll ever meet in person… but if we do, I owe them several beers!

And finally, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: the link to Kickstarter!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mightyboards/nights-of-fire-a-sequel-to-days-of-ire

Let’s go, man, GO !!!

Edited to add: Sometime during the night we made the first goal! 0900 PST right now, 19 hours after the launch, and we are at over $29,000 US pledged, over the first goal of $25,000 and past the first stretch goal of $28,000, which sees two extra leader cards added. So the world will get this game, after all, and then some.

Twenty-seven days to go in the funding period… let’s see how it goes.

Further edited to add: some people on BGG and on the Kickstarter site have complained that the $35 expansion kit is composed of cards (with short rules for playing the game with added details, and the campaign game that joins the two) and 28 miniatures (which are usable in both games). They would like to have just the cards and not the minis. I will quote the publisher, from the Kickstarter site, who explains the economics of the decision quite well:

With regards to questions regarding the combination of campaign mode and the minis in one product, this is related to economies of scale, and it is actually what makes that product possible.

If we were to separate the two, the mini pack would still need to sell at the current price point due to a high Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ), whilst the campaign mode, with the costs of new packaging design and material, additional warehousing and added costs in fulfilment and management of pledges, would need to sell for a separate 15-20$.

Because our game has no miniatures in the base game, and they are an optional add on, for us to be able to create them we need to commit to a very high comparative MOQ (when considering it is an optional add-on). This means that combining the two, and therefore increasing ever so slightly the attach rate, is what makes the product possible at all.

Thanks to this we feel we have achieved quite an aggressive pricing range for our entire Days of Ire line. The game is now cheaper than it was in the original Kickstarter and the Days and Nights pack is the best value Mini-Pack we have ever offered (in comparison, the Vengeance Saboteurs pack went for 45$ for fewer miniatures on KS).

This way, we are able to offer the Expansion for NoF AND the campaign mode, in a product that would essentially still cost the same without them. We feel this is much better way of doing this, as you, the backers are helping us reach that steep MOQ, while we offer you more content at no additional cost.

Furthermore, notice that our first few stretch goals (which we seem to be getting to soon!! :D) are specifically directed to adding value to the Days & Nights pack, with even more content at no extra cost as we reach more economical numbers.

Even more edited to add: It’s just over 24 hours in and total pledges have almost hit the $32,000 mark which is the second stretch goal. There are 423 backers at the moment of writing, distributed as follows:

Support (pledge without a reward): 10 backers
Access to Pledge Manager (choose a reward later): 26 backers
Insurgent (Nights of Fire only): 60 backers
Leader (Nights of Fire plus Days and Nights expansion pack): 213 backers
Combined Insurgent (Nights of Fire plus reprinted Days of Ire): 24 backers
Combined Leader (both games plus expansion pack): 81 backers
Army (“if you want lots of copies, contact us for a good deal!” – this must be for people doing a group buy in a remote city or maybe a dealer): 2 backers

Interesting.

Aw c’mon, just write another post already huh: Publisher Mighty Boards has decided to listen to the complainers above (some of whom had written on BGG that because they didn’t like the way the extras were offered, they were going to pass on the game completely, in any version) and partly decoupled the expansion cards plus miniatures, for early backers only:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mightyboards/nights-of-fire-a-sequel-to-days-of-ire/posts/2120640

Good for them for responding to customers, albeit a small number of vocal (real and potential) ones… though this does pose a small but real risk for them, because of the Minimum Order Quantity issue discussed in the publisher’s quote above. Hopefully it will not come back to bite them in their fourth point of contact.

And the next day: we are at $37,000, and a new stretch goal has been revealed – if they make it to $45,000 you can read my designer’s notes!

Days and Nights: preview of expansion kit!

nof exp pack box

The Kickstarter launch is imminent. And today we have a preview of the expansion kit that adds to and joins both Days of Ire and Nights of Fire!

Days & Nights: Red Army Pack is an add-on pack that contains 28 miniatures compatible with both games. It also contains a small deck expansion to Nights of Fire, and an additional deck allowing campaign play.

In Campaign mode you can play a game of Days of Ire followed by a game of Nights of Fire (solo, cooperative, or conflict mode up to 1v2 supported), and have the winner decided only at the end!

BGG link: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/247103/days-nights-red-army-pack

I have seen the renderings for the miniatures and they are very, very good. There are three figures: a T-54 (12mm tall including the base, so about 1:200 or around “Z” scale), a standing infantryman with a PPSh41 sub-machine gun (34mm tall including the base, so about 1:64 or “S” scale), and a kneeling sniper with a scoped Moisin-Nagant (15mm tall).

Purely coincidentally, the infantryman bears a strong resemblance to Yul Brynner, as he appeared in the role of “Major Surov” in the film The Journey!