Russell Gifford
United States
South Sioux City
Nebraska
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Before CityFight, no tactical boardgame recreated the fear of walking into the unknown city, aware that your enemy could be hiding, waiting, and about to strike. CityFight showed players the need to truly understand the tactic of fire and movement, otherwise, forces would be mowed down, trapped, and disposed of with no hope of rescue.

In practice, fire fights flared and ceased in moments. Long periods of probes and thrusts followed. Destroying an enemy proved difficult, since finding them could be almost impossible if they decide to use hit and run tactics. Though careful planning could result in tracking and trapping these guerilla forces, tactics had to be learned to prepare for such events and situations.

CityFight taught players what troops in a city would face, and how little it takes to tie them into knots with a small opposing force. Thus, planning patrols into the City took on special meaning, to pre-arrange exit strategies, reinforcement plans, etc. Squad composition became very important as well, or the special forces team you desperately needed would be out of range.

System Mechanics

The game revolved around action points and commands, which theoretically equaled two actions per troop. In the command phase, however, commanders found out via random die roll how many points they actually had – meaning not everything would get done. Decisions had to be made, prioritizing important tasks.

Commands were given by chits placed on squads. Each player had a copy of the map, and could not see the opponent’s map. Units “searched” megahexes, and called out coordinates and dice rolls, modified by the searcher based on their situation – were they in the hex? Was it a built-up area?

The opponent added or subtracted modifiers from that die roll for their units in that megahex for different situations – if their unit was in a building or in the clear, if they were moving or had gone to ground (suppressed), if they were firing, etc. This was compared to the megahex rating, and the opponent would declare units seen, or no contact, depending on that rating. (There were additional modifiers for weather, lighting, time of day, and the rest.)

If the sighting unit had been given a sight and fire command, they could immediately follow up on a sighting with fire. But – here was the second point of double blind: Did you actually damage the opponent? Unlike in other games, you don’t know! (Something many of today’s computer games still don’t do well, in my opinion.)

Thus, even with a “good” die result, you don’t know if you’ve killed or suppressed the enemy. Are you running into the hex to find out? Again, fire and movement tactics rule.

This is simply the basic game. The rules were set up in increasing difficulty, and moved into higher and higher complexity levels. Remember, this is at a time when Squad Leader and Terrible Swift Sword were near the peak of complexity. There was nothing like CityFight. There still isn’t. It taught lessons in street fighting and house to house combat in modern warfare that had never been addressed in any other game.

Too, in typical SPI style, that was the goal. A huge article on then-current military thinking on urban warfare was part of the package, as well as troop/squad compositions for every known military organization. CityFight was the equivalent of a Master’s thesis for an ROTC course on military doctrine on city combat. Developer Stephen Donaldson had done his work well, broadening the Joe Balkoski design to plumb all the actual and hypothetical situations that SPI reveled in exploring.

Ironically, the game was designed as a follow-up to Firefight, the SPI game to teach small unit tactics to the U.S. military. Personally, I could never see much value in Firefight as a game, but as a teaching tool I remember one lesson clearly from it. If you aren’t dug in or maneuvering defensively, your tank is likely dead already.

But I could see how CityFight could have been an excellent teaching tool, though I don’t think they ever used it as such. (Too bad – it had to be a better method than the sand table training I experienced in the ROTC building.)

CityFight was designed to be linked to Firefight. CityFight’s “old town” related to a small city on the Firefight map – but the scale was a bit off, and in the end they added more megahexes to the CityFight maps to make the town big enough to be worth fighting for!

If you were looking for reality, developer Donaldson later revealed the old town was based on a German town he’d lived in for a number of years, with locations and street names to match.

What CityFight is Missing

There was a huge hole in CityFight that made it annoying and difficult to get started playing. Player aids in the form of scenario cards could have made a big difference. Though there were a large number of scenarios, they were difficult to pull together the forces since they required cross referencing the squad sizes of the combatants with the OOB. Worse, since the generic counters were designed to allow any enemy forces to be simulated, you had to figure out the firepower of the squads/fire teams/special forces, etc. This was a huge pain, though SPI powers dismissed it. They expected the scenarios to be only a “starting point” and that players would use the game to design their own scenarios.

Eventually I made note cards for the different countries and various OOBs. But it certainly hampered play before I did that. Scenario cards like those from Squad Leader and later ASL would have greatly aided playability. Ironically, of course, those SL/ASL scenario cards were based on the ones Redmond Simonson and Jim Dunnigan created for Panzer Blitz a decade before.

I contend that providing those additional items, along with charts, player aids, etc, would have made a big difference in the acceptance of CityFight – but there is still the question of how much interest is there in an intensely complex small unit tactical game for modern warfare? SL was currently sucking up all the air in that field in WWII, and modern still has no real breakaway champion, though computer games are driving on it.

Final Thoughts

Playing CityFight is a challenge. Sadly, it was a challenge few people took up, thanks to the difficulty level of a double-blind game. Coupled with a very poorly considered review, CityFight never achieved what it should have. That is a shame, as it easily deserved the Charlie award, and more respect than it ever got.

But the good news is, that means there are many copies of the game still out there, and easily obtained. Also consider this: In typical SPI style, the game was considered a toolbox for gamers to create their own scenarios. The methods are clearly explained, and as with all SPI games, the goal was to simulate real and potential battle situations. The lessons from CityFight could be more pertinent today than they were 25 years ago.

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PAUL OCONNOR
United States
Encinitas
California
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
Thanks for the comprehensive and nostalgic review.

I wonder if an enterprising club might convert this game to miniatures? You'd build a single model of the town and have players maneuver on the maps, only placing figures on the map when it came time to fight, when contacts were made, casualties placed, etc.
 
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Russell Gifford
United States
South Sioux City
Nebraska
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
Paul -

I don't see why not. If you were using a GM, it would be VERY easy to use City-Fight for tactical combat in a built-up area. And the result would be exciting, too.

(Funny I never considered this. I used Yaquinto's Panzer/Armor/88 for tactical mech warfare WWII style, and later replaced it with ASL for the same purpose. But never once did I consider using City-Fight! I think it would work great!)

 
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PAUL OCONNOR
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Encinitas
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
Russ G. wrote:
Paul -

I don't see why not. If you were using a GM, it would be VERY easy to use City-Fight for tactical combat in a built-up area. And the result would be exciting, too.

(Funny I never considered this. I used Yaquinto's Panzer/Armor/88 for tactical mech warfare WWII style, and later replaced it with ASL for the same purpose. But never once did I consider using City-Fight! I think it would work great!)



When I consider reexamining older wargames, it's almost always with an eye toward miniatures conversion ... it's an interesting way to give them a graphics bootstrap for modern sensibilities. I do like the classic SPI look, though, so maybe it isn't such a big deal. And the best boardgames-to-minis conversions are usually the simpler boardgames. But something about your review struck a chord and set me wondering.
 
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Drew Heath
United States
Galesburg
Illinois
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
I've never played this, but am getting into module creation in VASSAL and am wondering how well it would play this way? Would it need to be played simultaneously, or would PBEM be acceptable?
 
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Clinton Smith
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Port Arthur
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
Because of the highly interactive nature of City-Fight, with actions constantly alternating between the players, PBEM probably wouldn't be feasible. I have to admit, I would love to see a VASSAL module for, at least, the basic rules level of City-Fight. It would also be great to have some new maps to play on. I believe that I might know my way around Gerlafingen better than I know my way around the actual town I live in.
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Steve Bishop
United Kingdom
Lytham St. Annes
Lancashire
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
This is a brilliant review of a game I only played once but so much wanted to take further. I doubt now whether I'd have the patience to take it up again but your review made me go and dust it off for another look. As you say the package you recieved with this game was something else; I don't own ASL but doubt the designers of that game ever went into such detailed 'design notes' as this!

A Vassal module of this game could be superb, Vassal is ideal for hidden units. I play Combat Commander:Europe on Vassal and the way the module has been implemented and improved (Thanks to Tim McCaron) to automatically calculate Fire Attacks for instance; leads me to believe that a City Fight version could also handle the complexities of the megahex searches automatically.

I for one would gladly take up the game again should such a module become available.

Once again great review thumbsup
 
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Russell Gifford
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South Sioux City
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
I'll take a look, Michael! (But remember, back then, my TRS-80 didn't print on cardstock so the notecards were all handwritten....
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Russell Gifford
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South Sioux City
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Re: City-Fight: Ahead of It's Time? (Game System Review)
Quote:
Once again great review


Thanks!
 
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Jim Daniels
United States
Montgomery
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anybody ever make any progress on a vassal mod for CF?
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Terence Fuller
Canada
Winnipeg
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13 years later and I just managed to score a copy of this game from BGG, it should be at my door in a week or so and I can't wait to give it a shot! It's been high up on my list for a long time. I'm surprised there are no videos for this posted? maybe I'll change that.....
 
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Keith Rose
United Kingdom
New Malden
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.... and see if you can spot the punk band members names on the leader counters...
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Terence Fuller
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oh yeah? I'll keep a look out!
 
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Russell Gifford
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South Sioux City
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Irony is this game is made for Skype play.

1 - The board is folio sized - easy to fit next to the computer.
2 - The early scenarios are a small number of units.
3 - You don't see the opponents counters until you spot them, so you are only moving your units, and all you do is offer search coordinates and a dice roll.

There is likely NO game more made for today's technology. There is no absolute need for a VASSAL version - you can't see anything anyway!

OK - and open declaration of spoting - a very good tactic - puts units on the board - but again, the duo map system makes this a VERY GOOD GAME for Skype or via phone.

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Thomas Beach

Burlington
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I played this probably three times back in the '80's and just loved it. I'm wondering if you, Russ, or others have any opinion on this as a multiplayer game? I know Joe has multiplayer and umpired rules (I own two copies) and that CF is designed for multiplayer/umpired. But I'm curious to know if anyone has actually tried it this way and the results? Thanks.
 
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