April 20, 2024

#UnboxingDay ~ War in the Megacity by One Small Step Games (OSS), Counterfact issue #09

Aaron Danis, 21 December 2023 ~ #UnboxingDay

BLUF: A generic sandbox urban resistance/combat game that will not allow you to recreate the heavy combat occurring in Gaza. Playing the game may be a challenge the first time through.

Urban Resistance/Combat in the Near Future

wimc all

This is an almost standard 21.75 x 33.75 inch map. There are (88) 5/8th inch and (140) ½ inch counters. As you can see, Joe Miranda’s lead article is on-topic, S&T-style

click images to enlarge

I picked up this 2018 magazine game from Noble Knight games for cheap as the result of a chat with the UrbanWargamer on X. This is my 2nd unboxing/review (the first was Beirut 82) of what I expect will be several urban combat wargames over the coming months (you can throw in my older WWII Breslau and Cassino reviews as well). With combat still raging in Gaza, it’s useful to survey existing games for what they do and don’t offer to simulate urban conflict.

 

wimc counters
There are a wide variety of capabilities represented in this countermix. Unfortunately, there are several errors as well. (Counter scan courtesy Javier Romero, via BGG)

 

The city in War of the Megacity is generic, representing common components and areas in what co-designer Joe Miranda (along with Ty Bomba) defines as a city with 10 million or more inhabitants. As Miranda points out in the opening to his article, there are more than 30 megacities in the world as of 2018, with 20 more expected by 20501. On the surface, this appears to be a timely game. Speaking of time and scale, it varies in the game from 2 days to 2 weeks over 7 turns (each with an A and B sub-turn), and from battalions (500 men) to brigades (5,000 men). The map uses a point-to-point system to move between sectors named after their predominant infrastructure (ex: the National Palace) or main activity (ex: telecom). This provides a lot of leeway to create your own scenarios, which is good because the game has only one.

The units (the 5/8” counters) represent 9 different government conventional and unconventional forces: command & control, police, light and heavy conflict groups, airborne, paramilitary, emergency response, special operations, helicopters, and something called 5th Generation Warriors, who have high-tech gear. They are countered by 7 different insurgent units, covering crowds, urban guerillas (hello Carlos Marighella!), Main Force, No Go Zone forces, Cadre, Commands, and their own 5th Gen Warriors. The ½ inch counters are largely a variety of markers, including the victory chits (you have to pick your strategy from 3 choices prior to the game starting).

 

wimc map
here are 31 sectors in which you can maneuver your forces, but unfortunately maritime aspects don’t come into play. (map scan courtesy Javier Romero, via BGG)

 

I teach a graduate school course on violent non-state actors (VNSAs), and many of the adversaries and rules appears to be pulled out of the current academic literature on the issue. The game is trying to span the recent past to the expected future based on what some futurists are saying about urban warfare. So far, so good. Additionally, the game has rules based on some of Miranda’s other games: Hyperwar, Infowar (with an Infowar index), and differences between kinetic and non-kinetic warfare (with 3 combat results tables: Kinetic, Confront, and Disrupt conflict resolution, which seems a little much). Again, interesting stuff, but everything happens on or above ground level, with no representation of subterranean warfare, city sieges (and external supply), infiltration and exfiltration of areas, the role of NGOs, hostage-taking and rescue, and use of engineers. To be fair, these issues are a problem in most commercial urban wargames, and in the case of tunnel fighting and movement, usually are put in the “too hard to do” box because the rules overhead would be great, and you can “design for effect” some of these issues away.

The avoidable problem with the game appears to have been in the playtesting, proofing, and quality control of the rules and components. There are some unhappy gamers out there because there is a lot of errata (a relative judgment), missing and wrong counters, and alleged tardy customer support from designers Miranda and Bomba (who also were the game’s only play testers) and One Step Games (which has suspended Counterfact magazine for the indefinite future). These problems can be overcome, but only if you make your own replacement counters and consolidate all the errata (hint: I gave you the key links to help do that above). A couple of gamers who stated they have played the game claim it is worth the effort.

One of the cool aspects of the game is that each side’s accrued victory points are kept secret until the end, which is either by sudden death if your Info Warfare points hit zero, or by victory point differential at the end of all 7 turns, where each side counts their points according to their selected strategy. As I did not play it yet, I don’t know how well that works. Once I can get the counters and rules fixed, I may have my students take this game for a spin. Despite the favorable design of the map (a waterside city), we won’t be trying to refight Gaza2 with this game because some of the Gaza movement is occurring underground, and Israeli ground forces are supported by what some experts contend is a gratuitous amount of airpower and artillery. Hostages and possible atrocities also are playing a big role in the crisis. I hope that my next unboxing, We Are Coming, Ninevah! by Nuts Games, will come closer to current realities. I think this game is better suited to simulating violent urban resistance than all-out modern urban combat.

 

 


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Footnotes

  1. Joseph Miranda, “War in the Mega-City,” Counterfact #09, 2018, p.4
  2. Note: Gaza is not considered to be a megacity by Miranda’s definition, with only slightly more than 2 million inhabitants before the current conflict started.

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