Urban Nightmare: The tactical challenges of urban fighting in Armored Brigade

By John McArdle 16 Oct 2018 1

The morass of urban fighting is the ultimate tactical Rubix cube. The cramped layout of citified areas plays host to a whole range of tactical problems that plague the attacker. Not being able to bring the majority of your force to bare on the enemy, the uncertainty of where exactly he is, and the lethality modern weapons all add up to a quagmire best avoided when on the offense.

Slitherine’s upcoming title Armored Brigade captures both the burden of attacking an urban environment and the calculus of defending one with equal aplomb. Armored Brigade’s panoptic view of the modern battlefield allows for the player to strategize and command from the regiment level before zooming all the way down to ordering and facing individual units and weapons systems, and it is this continuity of scale that makes the urban combat in the title stand out from other games in the tactical genre.

The sweeping maps offer ample opportunity for deciding how to tackle the objectives at hand. The spaciousness of the games various landscapes give the impression that the various cities and towns peppering the battlefield can be easily bypassed by the era's speedy armored and mechanized forces. However, this is very much not the case, as the range and lethality of cold war era tech can transform even a few buildings into a veritable castle from which the surrounding area can be turned into a no-man’s land for the opposition. Additionally, urban environments make grand bases for vulnerable on-map support such as anti-aircraft or artillery weapons, as this environment naturally obfuscates the line of sight of all but the closest enemy units. Even when one of the games many air attack units makes an appearance in the form of a fuel air bomb and turns the city into rubble, the area is still a defender’s paradise due to Armored Brigade’s incredibly detailed cover system which considers everything from concealment to height to infantry trafficability. Tackling urban operations has been done before in tactical wargames, but Armored Brigade’s freewheeling take on the grand-tactical scale showcases attacking or defending a city within the context of a larger on-going battle.

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The town of Klein Meckelsen, as seen from the "eye in the sky" compared to a more tactical viewpoint.

To illustrate the strategic importance of towns and cities, consider this anecdote from my time with the beta. The United States Army had to protect a section of road that was exposed from all angles about 700 meters from a pack of warehouse and apartment buildings on the outskirts of a much larger urban center. The incredible range of the games modern weaponry meant that the road objective may as well have been in the town, as the US was able turn the defended area’s lack of cover into an advantage as it observed the scoring area from the safety of the nearby buildings.

Additionally, defense such as this puts the onus on OpFor to come dislodge you, eating precious time that could be spent securing the objective. To further compound your opponent’s agoraphobia while on the attack, Armored Brigade allows for dictating your units “Standard Operating Procedure”, meaning defending units can hide in wait until opening fire to devastating effect. Or perhaps a mixed SOP amongst a defending force, providing the illusion a pocket of defenders has been wiped out or routed while the other half of your force remains hidden, waiting to greet the attacking force up close.

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Red team might want to consider a mad dash to that unoccupied objective...

Once the need for an attack on a patch of built-up terrain has been decided on, Armored Brigade offers the aggressor a bevy of options for dislodging the defense. And they will need it too, as not only does the game's cities provide a menacing fortress for defenders in the form of cover from buildings, the game allows for scenario defenders to begin dug-in and/or fortified behind fieldworks to boot. Although such defenses may have a hard time withstanding the title’s wide assortment of period accurate gunships, helicopters, and artillery barrages. With the aforementioned as a means of softening up the neighborhood before sending in the infantry.

Armored Brigade allows for those micro-management averse to issue orders to formations, with the A.I delegating specifics down the chain of command, so you can focus on the big picture. When attacking a city however, you’re going to want to zoom down and issue orders at the squad and platoon level. In an environment where one section of one building can hold certain doom for whoever comes up the street, urban fighting in Armored Brigade rewards a slow measured advance, with lots of bounding movements and LOS checks before proceeding.

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Armored Brigade's destructible terrain on full display.

This game's level of detail is quite granular, quantifying a slew of hard and “soft” factors. Two of which are morale and training, with morale being especially germane to a stubborn defending force where you’re going to need your units to stay put, even when the building they’re holed up in is the target of a 164-gun artillery barrage. This attention to detail also rears its head in the form of a command delay on unit orders, with a variety of variables that effect the time between the player issuing orders and them being enacted by your forces on the screen. This delay makes wading into a fortified city block as the attacker require some foresight, as once contact is made, changing plans in time to avoid that formerly hidden RPG team probably isn't going to happen in time.

Considering all the nuances of the urban fighting in Armored Brigade, it is staggering when you consider its only part of the enormous this world war 3 tactical sandbox. Its depiction of the modern battlefield has quite a few moving parts, with each interacting with one another in emergent ways. In an era, where being spotted is tantamount to being dead, the refuge of developed areas like cities and towns cannot be overstated.

Armored Brigade is due to drop later this Fall.

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