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Going Downtown: Smart Cities in the Last War

by Daniel Oney
January 26, 2018

Ogre gives players a fast-moving tactical combat experience. It is also a great framework to add new features to keep experienced players engaged. This essay suggests how to turn the town terrain into an interactive environment. Players will be able to manage towns for tactical advantage.


Big Cities and Lessons of Urban War

A query in 2016 by Steve Jackson to the Steve Jackson Games Ogre forum motivated me to create these rules. He asked players about interest in a potential expansion map with a large city in the center. I took that as invitation to rethink towns. I started with some lessons from history. First, cities have never been passive players in war. They react and fight back. Urban reaction to combat challenges military operations. Second, urban combat is different from battle in the field. City fighting is more intense, results in higher casualties, uses supplies faster, and cancels technological advantages. Also, as a city degrades under combat, refugees, rubble and shattered infrastructure hinder operations. Third, because of these aspects, soldiers seldom choose an urban fight. When armies are forced to clash in a city it is usually because of political or strategic thinking. Those strategic motives give ideas for new tactical scenarios. A few historical examples include:

  • The Prussians were already winning in the field, but besieged Paris in 1870 to a strike a blow to French morale.
  • Stalingrad, in 1943, was a convenient place for the Germans to push south toward the Caucasus. The Soviets used it as an opportunity to pin down the enemy.
  • Urban insurgencies take to the cities because victory in the field is unlikely, e.g. Hue (1968) or Fallujah (2004.)
  • Regardless of why players choose to wage a big-city battle, that battle can be made more interesting by imagining what the city of the future might be like, and modeling its effects in the game.

    Using the Smart City in Combat

    Fighting in cities is older than history, with siege evidence from Mesopotamia before 3000 B.C. Since then, the arts of war and city building have advanced in parallel. Cities thrive because they concentrate and speed up social and economic transactions. Their systems for quickly moving people, material, energy, and information around a small space give them resilience and flexibility. By the Last War, those systems should be even smarter and more capable.

    These rules assume the smart city revolution comes to at least some cities before the Last War. In a smart city, everyone and everything is networked. The details must be abstracted for the game, but to understand the proposed rules, let's consider this city as represented in Ogre: the town hex.

    A lot is going on in that little 0.75 square miles of real estate. It contains five to ten thousand people (or more), thousands of vehicles, and almost innumerable smart devices. Buildings, infrastructure and public spaces are continually monitored. Transportation, utility, social media and other networks are remotely managed. Effective control over that data and those systems gives an army significant advantages. Troop locations, even inside buildings, are apparent. Precision maps can guide munitions to their targets. City infrastructure can be deployed to hinder or attack an invader. Imagine a convoy of automated garbage trucks being directed into an advancing column. Or, think about an entire city's smart car fleet turned into moving blockades – rivers of steel. Even so, once the shells start flying, the order of the city can unravel. That chaos can confuse and slow forces on both sides. This is the kind of city I envisioned when Steve Jackson asked about a map with a big town in the middle. Now, how can we play in it?

    Basic Urban Warfare Rules

    Note: Rule references are to Ogre Designer's Edition.

    Player Role. The player who begins in control of a city is the defender. The other player is the assaulting player. From the city's standpoint, its defender may be friendly or an occupying enemy, depending on the scenario.

    City Scope. These rules assume a scenario with a city of between 60 and 100 contiguous hex spaces. Smaller or larger cities have not been tested.

    Damage to Town Hexes. Use the damage to terrain rules as in section 13.01 modified as follows: Infantry operating alone cannot cause spillover or overrun damage to a town hex. Armor units, however, are more destructive. Spillover attacks involving armor receive a +1 die roll bonus.

    Civil Affairs Teams. These are special infantry squads with skills to manage embattled civilians and operate enemy municipal assets. These soldiers are often reservists with full-time civilian jobs in areas like public administration, finance or civil engineering. They are essential to restoring local government functions after a battle. They also help conventional units in urban fighting with their intelligence, liaison, and engineering skills. They are lightly armed. The Civil Affairs Team's statistics are attack strength 1, against infantry only; range 0; defense strength 1; and move 2. They are considered Infantry in all other circumstances. When stacked with other infantry units, they add to the defense strength as usual, but to the attack strength only during an overrun with enemy infantry. A Civil Affairs Team costs the same as a regular Infantry squad (i.e. 2 VP.)

    A Civil Affairs Team can take effective control of an unguarded enemy municipal asset. This gives the player the benefits of that asset and denies them to the opponent. Any enemy force defending the asset must first be defeated. An occupying Civil Affairs Team must remain at the asset to continue effective control. If they leave the asset unguarded, the friendly player automatically takes effective control.

    Civil Affairs Teams also help armor units recover in panicked areas, and can try to pacify a panicked area, as discussed under the panic rules below.

    Effective and Physical Control. Effective control of a municipal asset allows a player to use its features to influence the game. In a friendly city, a player has effective control when the asset is not occupied by an enemy unit. In an enemy city, a player must keep a Civil Affairs Team on an asset to have effective control. An enemy player has physical control of an asset by keeping any combat unit on it. Physical control does not give the player effective control. It merely denies effective control to the friendly player.

    City Hall. City Hall is a type of municipal asset. It is the nerve center of a smart city. A player in effective control of City Hall runs the citywide network of cameras, sensors and infrastructure systems. This allows a player to gain additional information on the opposing forces and frustrate their actions. In practice, this denies the opposing army their full defensive bonus in town hexes. Instead, infantry defense is only doubled, and armor defense is unchanged. A D0 unit still defends at D1 in this circumstance. Players may represent City Hall with an Admin counter having 30 structure points.

    Panic. Panic is a general concept for a city's response to combat. It interferes with military operations. Panic includes things like: refugee flight, traffic jams, overwhelmed communications, riots, and looting. Panic can be indicated in a hex with a marker (chits or tokens.) Pacification removes a panic marker from a hex (see below).

    Damage to a town hex causes panic in that hex. If a town hex is turned to rubble, place panic markers in all adjacent town hexes.

    A Cruise Missile impact causes panic in every town hex within five hexes of the impact site.

    Attacks from a panicked hex suffer a -1 die roll penalty. Panic has no impact on overrun combat.

    Panic automatically disables armor units as a terrain effect. This happens if a unit enters a panicked hex or if the hex it occupies panics. Units can recover as in section 4.02. If a Civil Affairs Team accompanies panic-disabled units, those units stay disabled only on a roll of 1 (e.g. they recover on a roll of 2-6, as opposed to the usual 3-6.) If City Hall has been destroyed, subtract two from the recovery roll.

    Cities can recover from panic. The player with effective control of City Hall may, but need not, remove one panic marker each turn from anywhere in the city. A town hex thrown into panic by damage remains damaged.

    At the end of a player's combat phase, if any of their Civil Affairs Teams are already in a panic hex, they may try to pacify that hex. This counts as the combat action for the Team and they succeed on a roll of 5-6 on one die. If successful, remove the panic marker. Thereafter, that Civil Affairs Team must remain in the hex or it will return to panic status. If nearby combat causes the hex to fall back into panic, the Civil Affairs Team may attempt to re-pacify it on its next combat phase.

    Partisan Cells. Large cities can raise these paramilitary forces to harass an invading or occupying enemy. They are not maneuver units, and only participate in overrun-type battles in town hexes. For each 20 town hexes in the city, rounding to the nearest 20, the friendly player is awarded from 1 to 3 Partisan Cells. For example, a 70 or 80 town-hex city provides between 4 and 12 Partisan Cells. A city with 69 town hexes will produce from 3 to 9 Partisan Cells. At the beginning of play, randomly generate Partisan Cells with chits or other counters and do not reveal the number to the enemy player. Retain these chits for accounting during and after play.

    When an overrun battle begins, the friendly player may try to activate as many Partisan Cells as they wish, up to the number available, to join the battle. Each cell activates on a roll of 1-3. Each activated cell contributes 2 attack strength points. Cells combine their attack strength into a single Partisan attack against one enemy counter. They always attack first regardless who initiated the overrun. Partisans attacking an Ogre may only damage its tread units. After their single attack, Partisan Cells are eliminated and the chit(s) discarded. Partisans who fail to activate were unable to coordinate with conventional forces. Missing this fight, they are still available for future overruns.

    The friendly player may also attempt one or more ambushes during enemy movement in town hexes. When the defender moves a unit or stack, the friendly player announces the ambush and identifies the hex where it will happen. The ambush must be announced before the enemy player releases the counters. The enemy units end their turn in the ambush hex. The friendly player can try to activate any number of available Partisan Cells to participate in that ambush. Each cell in an ambush is successfully activated on a roll of 1-4. Combine Partisan attack strength into one attack against a single enemy counter in the ambush hex, without overrun defensive bonuses. The Partisan Cells are then eliminated. Cells that fail an ambush activation are automatically eliminated, and unavailable for that ambush or any future action. Assume they lost the element of surprise and were destroyed before they could trigger the ambush.

    "Night Hunt" by Rob Goodwin


    Author's Notes: A big battle in a town by itself may be less interesting than having a large town, with these rules, as a feature on the map. The town need not be the objective. Just like real commanders, players may try to avoid it, but as the battle unfolds it might be worth the risk to take the fighting to the streets.

    These rules were tested in a generic hexagonal-shaped city with 61 town hexes. The town had a ring road around the perimeter town spaces and two roads bisecting the town through the center hex. Be sure to include a road network! They helped movement on both sides and the intersections quickly became the scene of intense battles.

    Having effective control of City Hall means a balanced fight probably involves a two to one unit point advantage for the assaulting player. Partisans are effective; they are a wild card.

    The panic rules went through many versions. This feature seemed key to making towns more lifelike. It certainly shows how city fighting can become a morass as more and more panic hexes block the assaulting troops. These rules seem to have the right effect, but scenarios may warrant changing the chances of panic or the ability of City Hall to pacify the city.

    For more information players can consider these sources:

    The City: A Global History by Joel Kotkin. Modern Library, New York, 2006. Kotkin provides the best general introduction to urban history.

    Sharp Corners: Urban Operations at Century's End by Roger Spiller. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2001. This is a great mix of city history and a high-level analysis of modern urban warfare.

    Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism by Stephen Graham. Verso, London, 2011. Graham offers a dark, politically-grounded criticism of technology and recent military thought.

    White papers from companies like RAND and IBM also have more information.


    The Ogrezine PDF, combining all of these articles with additional new material, may be purchased on Warehouse 23

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