Urban Operations

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You might be considered it Nuts! trying to create a realistic and playable design that covers urban operations in the modern era. The idea is fraught with complexity, arm chair quarterbacking and second guessing from military experts to the man of the street. Thus it is appropriate that this difficult mission falls to Nuts! Publishing.

Over the past month or so I have had the privilege of swapping notes with Sébastien the Designer of Urban Operations a Nuts Publishing game of…you guessed it Urban Ops in the modern era.

We ran through some of the usual question stuff which gave us some unusual answers.

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BB:What is your gaming history, what did you like to play, when did you start wargaming?

Seb: I am not a hardcore gamer, but I was lucky enough, when a teenager, to possess a few issues from “Jeux & stratégie”,  with some basic but brilliant games to play. As a platoon leader I was introduced by a mate to softwares  like Panzer Commander and, above all, the first issues of Close Combat series. It is quite hard to find the time to play many board games, but I never stop studying new games systems.

BB: so wow you are almost more of a tactical PC gamer than a traditional hex and counter gamer!

BB: Ahh so you were in the military? Can you tell us a little about your military training and background?

Seb: I do not have the same operational experience as many French officers: you only live once and our HR system selected me most often as a trainer: in our military Academy, in our National Training Center (CENTAC, Mailly) and in our MOUT national training center (CENZUB, France). It was a great experience to study doctrine and lessons learned in depth, to help trainees developing their skills thanks to innovative training processes, and to share our ideas with my fellows of NATO Urban Operations Task Group. When deployed (Balkans, Africa, Homeland security) I took all occasions to deepen my understanding of how military operations are affected by urban environment.

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BB: So does the game play like a training manual then?

Seb: No of course not!

What prompted this design or got you started designing this title?

As a trainer I have always been sensitive to learning processes, and I am deeply interested in serious games. I have been starting to think of a system shaped to support decision making process in urban environment some ten years ago. But I only started to write a draft of Urban Operations in 2011, based on all the feed-back I have integrated from various training activities.

I develop as well basic games for my children and I am involved in the design of “Wars & Battles”, a smartly shaped iOS based wargame system. A first issue (Normandy 1944) was released in 2014, October war 1973 is under construction, and my contribution (Market Garden 1944) will be ready by the end of this year.

What is the catalyst for this design? Why make this game?

Urban warfare is quite complex and many people think that experts only can talk of it. I felt that the best way to let gamers and  trainees experience the effects of urban environment was to use a game.

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Unfortunately too few games really feature urban operations. So I decided to create one, and it was a great pleasure to experience game design.

How did you approach that design process?

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I started with overall mechanism. Even if the system has been completed during all the development process with Thomas Pouchin (game developer – Nuts! Publishing) what is sure is that the main features are still there.

Can you describe the overall system (since this spans many decades of modern conflict), how does it apply to different modern eras?

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Those main features are based on a complete ‘modelization’ of urban environment. Walls, upper position or underground affect moves and fire. Weapons effect is featured, as well as all those issues you can meet on an urban battlefield and which are from no party (population, unexploded  device, technological hazard). The system, based on impulses, empowers the player into using combined arms assets at platoon level. Fog of war is one of the main elements, and the representation of firepower, signals and night vision is fully flexible. Hence blocks.

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With all those data one can adapt the environment to almost any urban environment of the modern era. If one day we imagine a campaign during the Spanish civil war (1936-1938) we will have to adapt the capabilities of units but the main mechanism will remain. For the time being we fully focus on recent campaigns, and make sure the overall system is realistic and easy to manage.

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MOUT is a relatively untouched topic in wargames and often very complex to play (City Fight, Sniper, FireTeam, Phantom Fury.) How is UO different?

Anybody knows that the perfect balance between realism and gameplay doesn’t exist. I think we have managed to find the easiest way to simulate complex effects: firepower and weapons range, non combatants, weapons effect, asymmetry. What keeps complex is the tactical choices a player must make in order to combine as well as possible his various assets. The main complexity is so, not in the rules, but in the mechanism of urban warfare. And I can say that testers – composed of military and civilian teams – have quite quickly integrated the “best practice” in terms of urban combined arms tactics.

Is UO a complex game where would you rate it on a scale of 1-10 with ten being uber complex and 1 being checkers! 😉

For all those reasons, 6. That said, I am eager to collect the feed-back coming from your readers.

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Tell us a little about the game play in typical asymmetrical combat situations. For instance how do battlenet connected, body armoured highly trained forces work against Muj, insurgent style armed and organized combatants?

I have made the choice to limit the number of characteristics: units have a firepower value, related to the range. The strength ratio is based on this firepower, a 10 dice roll (hazard) and a few bonuses, related to the environment. The second value is the operational level, which integrates morale and potential. The result of fightings affects this operational level. Experience of units is taken into account and, related to the level of technology, leaders can activate more or less subordinate units. This last element is the main point to modelize asymmetry.

Physical components:

Maps – several geo’s are covered and different terrains, how is that managed on the maps and how many will there be?

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The scenario will take place on 2 central-Europe urban landscapes and 2 Middle-East / Horn of Africa. Maps from the same region can be put side by side, so that players have a certain number of possible combinations, depending on the scenarios.

Every kind of urban infrastructure has its own characteristics, which affects moves, capability of communication and lines of sights. Players will see how much they have to adapt their tactics when they shift from central-Europe maps to Middle-East terrain.

 

The game uses blocks. Are blocks used in the traditional sense such as Columbia Games (hidden information and generic units with ABC’S? )

One of the main characteristics of urban warfare I wanted to feature is the fog of war. After some tests the use of blocks is the best solution. In the real life fighters can feel the presence of various threats but only a permanent intel collection process allows to know who and where to hit, and to avoid collateral damages. Our “classical” blocks display generic units, and the specific characteristics are depicted on play cards. It gives a fantastic flexibility.

Are blocks representing men and vehicles or just men?

One block is one vehicle, or one squad.

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Game Play:

Can you share the sequence of play with us please? Perhaps talking thru at a high level the actions and events of a turn?

Each turn is shared between an initial phase and the impulsions phase. During the initial phase all events which are not directly linked with the units’ actions take place: 3D actions (recce or fire by drones, helicopters or planes, request for fire support), moves of the population, random explosion of IEDs or unexploded devices.

The impulsions phase is a permanent interaction between the two camps (one camp can be played by several players: one company commander from a remote position, and platoon leaders around the map).

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Camp 1 activates during its impulsion a certain amount of units (blocks) which are all under the same platoon leader’s responsibility (squads, vehicles, combat support, command etc.). Units (squads or vehicles) can move and/or take an action (recce, fire, assault, embark, support etc.).

In reaction the opponent player can do opportunity shootings or, if under fire, disengage.

When one impulsion is played, the opponent can play an impulsion and so on, until each camp has played all its impulsions. Playing platoon leader after platoon leader helps players building up tactical effects, with platoons supporting each other or coordinating.

With that separation players are focused on tactical actions during the impulsions phase, there is a permanent effect from non tactical events and the gameplay keeps simple.

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How do you handle – medics, snipers, thermal imaging, drones, chopper insertions, special weapons?

Units are featured with blocks on the map. According to their specialty they can take specific actions on the field: infantry can fire and attack, engineers can fire, attack, breach walls, destroy or set up obstacles, medics can fire, attack and support etc. All the capabilities are defined on play cards (one play card per platoon) or depicted in the scenario: firepower of each kind of weapons, night vision capability, special weapons.

The play cards provide an endless flexibility, any kind of contemporary fighting unit can be modelized with a few blocks and those 4 maps.

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3D actions (drones, etc.) are played at the beginning of each turn. The presence of 3D observers is often necessary to get that kind of support.

Does the game have other unique attributes?  (Chit pull /Card Play/diceless etc.

Dice (10 faces) are used to integrate a limited part of chance in the combat resolutions. I don’t use chit-pull system, as urban fighting is chaotic enough not to put some additional artificial complexity. To me, fog of war is more interesting to feature, and the use of blocks is perfect for that.

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Players will find the capabilities of their blocks on unit play cards. But event play cards are pulled at the beginning of each turn, with some additional available assets (lucky players) or sudden incidents (gas attack, radio network issues, commanders’ temporary weaknesses etc.). Murphy’s Law is behind any wall in an urban combat zone and, according to many testers, players are really immerged in the chaotic conditions of city fights.

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Ok, so, I am order number 84. What can I say. I HAVE to TRY this!  SOLD! 

 

7 thoughts on “Urban Operations

  1. looks pretty cool. thanks for bringing this to my attention! i’ll wait and see how solo playable this is before deciding whether to pre-order or not. someone said on BGG that fog of war is going to be really important in this game.

    • well likely given it is a block game. That said I’ve played many block games that way. You just gotta get up off yer butt and move to the other side of the table.

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