One of the more prolific wargame designers I know of is Ty Bomba. He always has something cooking and has a very interesting selection of what-if and near future designs, such as America Falling: The Coming Civil War. One of his upcoming designs that has caught my attention is The Revelation War: The Coming War for the Middle East which is coming to Kickstarter (here is the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/563992304/the-revelation-war) near the end of this month. I reached out to Ty to see if he wanted to dish on his newest design and he was more than willing.
Grant: What were the assumptions you used in your latest upcoming design The Revelation War: The Coming War for the Middle East?
Ty: It’s based on the theories of current-day geo-strategist Peter Zeihan. He maintains the defining feature of these times is the voluntary US withdrawal from its former global imperium. That’s due to the fact newly exploitable (fracking) North American energy deposits, coupled with newly arriving manufacture-on-demand industrial techniques, is essentially turning our continent into an autonomous and self-sustaining economic unit. Therefore to go on spending vast sums of money on overseas military commitments – the main mission for which was to keep in place the global free-trade regime set in motion at the 1944 Breton Woods conference – is no longer cost efficient. With that withdrawal will come a whole range of regional wars, to be fought by the various powers for whom the areas abandoned by the Americans are their home territories. This game covers such a potential war in a near-future Middle East that’s been abandoned by the US.
Grant: What is the historical basis for this possible all out war for the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy?
Ty: Essentially, whenever the Middle East isn’t being regionally overseen by one imperial power, war breaks out. There are just too many mutually hostile cultures packed into too small an area – which is itself not the most lush or hospital environment in regard to water, heat, natural resources other than oil, etc. – for it to be otherwise.
Grant: I also understand that while the game is not necessarily tied to the prophecies, you have included 15 counters that depict these in the game. What are these iconic counters and how do they effect the course of the struggle?
Ty: We had the space on the counter-sheet, so we included those iconographic counters simply as a source of entertainment for any players inclined to use them that way on the map. At the same time, players who do subscribe to the belief the Biblical “Final Days” are to be soon at hand will be easily able to make up their own rules for using them in that more structured way.
Grant: What are the two sides involved in the conflict and what are their goals for the game?
Ty: It’s the state of Israel versus the “Anti-Israel Coalition” (AIC) – which is my shorthand rules term for the coalition of (in no particular order): Hezbollah, Hamas, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, Jordanian, Turkish, Chinese and Egyptians who are coming against the Israelis. The AIC goal is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state; the goal of the Israeli player is to prevent that.
Grant: What is the scale of the game and the force structures?
Ty: Each hex represents 7.5 miles (12 km) of terrain, and each turn represents one day of ‘real’ time. The orders of battle are drawn from those of today using brigade, division, corps and armies as units of maneuver.
Grant: What was your basis for the Orders of Battle used in the design?
Ty: The regional nations get all their current ground force orders of battle. The Russians field one unit, First Guards Red Banner Tank Army, which is Putin’s ideational equivalent of the World War II Germans’ Sixth SS Panzer Army, and which starts in Syria. The Chinese get their “Airborne Corps of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force,” which was formerly, XV Airborne Corps. It’s restricted to operating along the banks of the Suez Canal, which is now part of their “One Road, One Belt” system. That allows the Israeli player to avoid conflict with the Chinese, except for the fact there are good victory points to be had in Cairo, and its capture also fully knocks out Egypt and its armed forces from the war.
Grant: What is the anatomy of a Combat Unit Counter? Can you provide us examples of a few of the different factions units?
Ty: Everything is pretty standard for NATO-style units, except for the three large numbers across their bottom edges. The first number there is their attack factor; the second is their defense factor, and the third is the number of steps contained in them at that particular level. There are numerous multi-step units in the orders of battle, with the strongest starting with six steps represented by three back-printed counters (only one of which is ever on the map at any one time). The Hezbollah and Hamas units don’t have any numbers on them because they’re all one-steppers; their defense strength is rolled for each time they’re attacked, and they’re incapable of attacking.
Grant: How did you go about the process of assigning Attack and Defense factors and balancing out the two sides?
Ty: That’s simultaneously and inescapably an inductive and deductive process. I always start out by identifying what I perceive to be the weakest unit to be included in the order of battle. That becomes a 1-1 or a 1-2, or something of that equivalent, based on its size, reputation, combat record (if there is one to be looked at), etc. Then I build up from there. Then we playtest and adjust up or down according to what we find out there.
Grant: Why are AIC movement factors determined by a die roll? What was your basis for this inclusion?
Ty: The operational overarch of the game rests on the idea the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have large doctrinal, logistical, morale and organizational advantages of their opponents. That’s been the case since their first war in 1948, and I don’t see any major change in that relationship between the opposing sides, at least not when it comes to an all-out existential war like the one being modeled here. So, the idea is, the AIC units, their command chains, their logistical support, etc., simply aren’t dependable in the same way, or to anywhere near the same degree, as those corresponding characteristics within the IDF.
Grant: I also noticed that certain AIC units can only conduct combat in geographically restricted areas. What does this model from the command control structure of those nations?
Ty: It’s a simple way of getting at what would otherwise have to be much more complex and lengthy command-control and logistical rules. The entire campaign being modeled here lasts only seven one-day game turns. So the operational limits (due to pre-war planning and preparation) which would be in place at its start can be safely presumed to remain in place throughout its short duration.
Grant: I see that Hezbollah and Palestinian unit’s are static and are placed in specific locations on the map at start. What does this represent as to their inability to move?
Ty: In recent years both those organizations have gained a media reputation for having improved their combat skills vis-à-vis those of the IDF. The thing is, though, when you look at the operational and tactical details of that improvement, it’s almost exclusively due to their continually digging in deeper into fortifications, and then further up-gunning those positions with ever heavier artillery, missiles, etc. To attack on what’s otherwise a mechanized battlefield, you have to be able to come out of your bunkers and conduct maneuver warfare. In that crucial regard, both those organizations remain weak.
Grant: Why is the onus on the Israeli player to go out and win the war through offensive operations?
Ty: Reading through the literature published in various Israeli media and military sources, there are two things they’re determined to avoid in any major new war. The first is a defensive objective: to keep any Israeli population center from falling into enemy hands, thereby preventing any scenes that would amount to this century’s repetition of the Holocaust. On the offense, they understand their armed forces’ manpower, their national economy, and their overall morale can’t hold up indefinitely. So the IDF’s idea is to move swiftly to defeat their opponents in such a way they are as soon as possible rendered operationally impotent, while also demonstrating that at the strategic level the war is indeed also over.
Grant: How is victory won by both sides?
Ty: Here, in full, is the “How to Win” section from the rules.
4.1 In General
Both players have the opportunity to go on the attack and win the game offensively. The AIC player may also win defensively by preventing too large a debacle from taking place within his coalition. The inescapable burden of going onto the strategic offensive is therefore on the Israeli player.
4.2 AIC Sudden Death Victory
If, at any time during play, an AIC unit enters any Israeli city via advance-after-combat (see 11.11 & 11.17), that game is ended and the commander of the AIC has won the game (and nuclear Armageddon is assumed to follow shortly thereafter).
4.3 Victory or Defeat on Points
At the end of the last turn of play (see 5.8), the Israeli player should total his “victory points” (VP) based on the list below in 4.4.
• If the Israeli player has four or fewer VP, that game has ended in an AIC victory. That means another and similar war can be expected to break out almost immediately, and Israel will likely have to go atomic soon after its start. That will probably bring on a strategic-level nuclear exchange with China and Russia, thereby in turn bringing on global ecological collapse and Armageddon.
• If the Israeli player has five or six VP, that game has ended in a draw. That means another and similar war can be expected to break out again in the intermediate future, though Israel may yet win that rematch without having to go atomic.
• If the Israeli player has seven or eight VP, that game has ended in an Israeli minor victory. That means another and similar war will likely be fought several years later in order to try again to finally resolve the issue.
• If the Israeli player has nine or more VP, that game has ended in an Israeli victory of Biblical proportions. That means peace will reign across the region for the foreseeable future (possibly as long as 1,000 years).
4.4 Israeli Victory Point Awards
The VP in the list below can be accrued by the Israeli player in any order throughout the game.
1) The Israeli player scores one VP for fully eliminating the Chinese unit. In further regard to the elimination of the AC, also see 7.2.
2) The Israeli player scores one VP for fully eliminating the Russian unit. In further regard to the elimination of this unit, also see 7.2.
3) The Israeli player scores two VP for having eliminated every Hezbollah unit in Lebanon from the map.
4) The Israeli player scores one VP for having taken control of Amman (3912) at any time during the game. Once that’s done, he needn’t keep control of that hex in order to retain this point. If Amman is taken while one or more Jordanian units are still in play, fully eliminate them at that time.
5) The Israeli player scores one VP for having taken control of Damascus (3900) at any time during the game. Once that’s done, he needn’t keep control of that hex in order to keep this point. If Damascus is taken while one or more Syrian units are still in in play, fully eliminate all of them at that time.
6) The Israeli player scores one VP for eliminating all Iranian units.
7) The Israeli player scores one VP for eliminating all Turkish units.
8) The Israeli player scores two VP for having taken control of Cairo (1026) at any time during the game. Once that’s done, he needn’t keep control of that hex in order to keep these points. If Cairo is taken while there’s still one or more of Egyptian units in play, fully eliminate all of them at that time.
9) The Israeli player scores one VP for having eliminated every Palestinian unit in Gaza.
10) The Israeli player scores one VP for having eliminated every Palestinian unit in the West Bank.
Grant: What is the general Turn Sequence?
Ty: Here again is the pertinent information from the rules.
Game Turn Sequence Outline
I. Israeli Airpower Phase
II. Mutual Cyberwar Phase
III. Israeli Movement or Combat Phase
IIII. Israeli Combat or Movement Phase
V. Anti-Israel Coalition Movement or Combat Phase
VI. Anti-Israel Coalition Combat or Movement Phase
VII. Administrative Phase
Grant: What specifically occurs during the Israeli Air Power Phase?
Ty: On Turn 1 there is no Israeli Airpower Phase, nor are any of those markers available for that player’s use that turn. The Israeli Air Force is assumed to be fully committed that turn in destroying the AIC air forces on their bases. At the start of every subsequent turn’s Phase I, the Israeli player openly rolls a die and receives and deploys that number (one through six) of airpower markers.
Grant: How are air power markers used in the game?
Ty: The Israeli player gets to deploy a certain number of air power markers on the map each turn. They’re effect is to slow (+1 per hex) enemy movement and enhance friendly combat power (one column shift) within their hex and the six hexes adjacent to them.
Grant: What is the Mutual Cyberwar Phase? What is the determiner of Cyber Dominance?
Ty: The Cyberwar Phase represents both sides’ efforts at gaining a combat advantage through the use of networked computers, the internet and the cloud. At the start of every turn’s Mutual Cyberwarfare Phase follow the procedure given below. The player who wins that comparison has the temporary cyberwarfare advantage for that turn. The winning player (reroll ties) should select the number of Cyberwarfare Point (CWP) markers from the counter-mix equal to his overall CWP superiority point count. For example, if the Israeli player’s dice roll totaled 12 and that of the AIC player totaled nine, the Israeli player has dominance that turn with three CWP available for him to deploy into play. The general rule in regard to the number of dice to rolled is: the Israeli player will roll four dice, and the AIC player will roll three. If, however, the Chinese AC unit is fully eliminated, the AIC player will thereafter roll one fewer die on that account. Similarly, if the Russian 1G unit is fully eliminated, the AIC player will thereafter roll one fewer die on that account. So, if both those units are fully eliminated, the AIC player would roll only one cyberwar die on that account. If the AIC player’s die roll number has been decreased by one or two, it may never be increased again afterward.
Grant: How does Cyber Dominance benefit each side?
Ty: You can use the points to slow enemy movement and decrease his units’ combat power, or to attack your opponent’s cyberwar capabilities (the number of dice he gets to roll next time), or remove Israeli airpower markers from the map, or (Israel only) interrupt the AIC movement of combat phases to insert a single IDF move or attack inside that phase.
Grant: Why is it important to the design that players have to announce whether they will Move/Fight or Fight/Move at the beginning of the side’s Combat Phase? I would think in modern warfare communications would allow independent actions from each unit stack. Why is this not the case?
Ty: I have used alternating action sequences where one unit or stack is moved and fought at a time. Here, though, I wanted to create the ‘feel’ of massive mechanized armies rolling off to battle in huge formations, etc. So the one declaration-per-side seemed theoretically most applicable prior to playtesting, and playtesting then showed it worked dramatically well and smoothly.
Grant: How does combat work in the design?
Ty: It’s pretty straight up stuff, with attacking always voluntary, etc. Here, though, the CRT uses columns based on combat differentials rather than odds.
Grant: What is your basis for the Combat Results Table? Why is the upper limit greater than 30?
Ty: I know no sure and certain ‘science’ when it comes to the building of combat results tables. I always start by pulling one from whatever already existing design I deem to be most like the one on which I’m working in regard to era, scale, desired operational tempo, etc. Then I adapt as needed, as revealed in playtesting.
Grant: Why are Palestinian and Hezbollah units defense factors determined with a random die roll? What is your rationale for this choice?
Ty: My feeling is, in this kind of high-intensity war it would, in the practical sense, be impossible to attack the ‘same’ Hezbollah or Hamas unit twice. That is, personnel would come and go; their logistics would quickly break down or at least become erratic; here or there some stellar low-level leader would be revealed, or mass surrenders take place, etc. They’re essentially polished up militias; they’re not well trained and disciplined regular forces in the same sense as the IDF Armored Corps or the Russian tank army, etc.
Grant: What are Israeli Probing Attacks and how do they work?
Ty: That’s a mechanism to inhibit the stack-a-hex-skip-a-hex syndrome that’s otherwise endemic in games with zone of control rules. An Israeli unit adjacent to one or more hexes containing actual enemy units, but that’s also adjacent to one or more hexes that are empty except for enemy zones of control, can be used to ‘attack’ into that EZOC hex and thereby automatically advance after combat into it without loss. Also, by allowing that capability for the IDF but not the AIC, it’s another good way to show the former’s operational and tactical edge without having to write a lot of rules to do so.
Grant: Overall, what has been the experience of playtesters? What has the differential of victory been between the sides and why do you think this is the case?
Ty: We had a blast playtesting it. One of the playtesters summed it up as: “Barbarossa in a small tight place.” I think the outcome is biased toward drawn games. That’s because both sides get to attack and, indeed, must attack if they are to win. It’s a question of the AIC taking quick advantage of some early-game Israeli weak spot and thereby capturing a city. From the other side, the Israeli player has to defeat the initial AIC offensives. That’s pretty much a sure thing with competent play, but it must be done quickly enough, and while retaining enough IDF strength, to allow for that side’s late-game acquisition of enough victory points to actually win the war. There is no rules requirement the AIC player must actually attack, but if he remains solely on the defensive, the Israeli player will simply be able to pick his targets and blast his way to victory by the last turn.
Grant: What has changed in the game through playtesting? Please provide a few examples.
Ty: Actually, this was one of those infrequent designs that just fell together smoothly, requiring only some victory point adjustments.
Grant: How long are typical gaming sessions?
Ty: Two experienced players can bang out a game in about two hours. It can be fudged solitaire in about that same time.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Ty: Everything, there’s nothing that displeases me about it. My feeling is, anyone who isn’t philosophically dead-set against the idea of near-future what-if games (yes, there are such people) will enjoy this game a lot.
Grant: What is the timeline on the game and will it be a Kickstarter?
Ty: Jon Compton tells me he wants to have it up on Kickstarter by the first week ofSeptember, and be shipping it out to purchasers by the start of the summer of 2019.
Thanks for the insight into the game Ty. I will try to amend this post once the Kickstarter campaign starts by adding a link. In the meantime, here is a link to the video for the game just posted by Canvas Temple Publishing: https://www.facebook.com/CTPCOM/videos/299842977485426/
As promised, I have added the link to the Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/563992304/the-revelation-war