Trucking our way to an Early Retirement

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #7

This is a continuation of the invasion of a deserted Russia. We are field testing the logistical systems. For the first part refer to the previous blog post ‘Russia on Ten Barrels a Day’.

By D+12, the 4th July, 1941, Hoepner’s 4th Panzergruppe has crossed the Dvina River and taken Dunaberg and Riga. As you can see from our status report below, their fuel situation is still reasonable, a comfortable full quota remaining.

Guderian and Hoth’s (2nd & 3rd PG’s) in AGC are racing down the main highway to Moscow and have captured Minsk and Vilnius. With over two fuel quotas on hand they are in excellent shape. As AGC has the largest fuel allocation and they have clocked up the smallest mileage to date this is to be expected.

Down south, however, Kleist’s 1st PG are within 120 km’s (there’s a game option, ‘Imperial Measurements’, for those that don’t speak Metric) of Kiev but their fuel reserves are down to half a quota. Next turn, unless they call a halt, they’ll run dry.

This situation warrants further investigation.

Not a Russian in sight! You can see the SS Motorised Divisions, ‘Wiking’ and ‘Adolf Hitler’ closing in on Kiev. Will they get there before they splutter to an ignominious stop? Probably not.

Let’s check the Daily Log for AGS and see if our staff have highlighted any discrepancies.

Ahhh! Our Forward Supply Base hasn’t moved forward. It’s still back across the border at Krakau, in Poland. I thought that I’d sorted that out during the last blog (‘Russia on Ten Barrels a Day’). Apparently I only talked about it and forgot to issue the appropriate orders.

Which is unfortunate, as can be seen from our staff notes above, there is no rail component in use. Because our Forward Supply Base is still back at our Main Depot (the AGS depot – remember each theatre has it’s own independent logistical system) everything is being transported by truck columns. These are effective only up to 300 km’s.

Kleist's 1st PG HQ has advanced so far eastwards that it's not even on the map (there's a second map covering the eastern half of the theatre). Note that our FSB is still residing back at the Main Depot.

By forcing our Truck Columns to travel excessive distances (there is an exponential penalty once the distance exceeds 300 km’s) Kleist is receiving no fuel, up at the front line, where he needs it.

Worse, the large distances involved, plus the fact that Kleist has positioned his HQ off a main road (see the unit pic up above) has caused excessive wear and tear on our truck columns. Indeed, reading our report above, this increased +10% last turn with all of it being due to the poor quality roads (+8%) and the high accumulated mileage (+5%). The mobile repair workshops were overwhelmed (managing to fix only 3% of the damage). If this situation continues deteriorating shortly we won’t have any functioning truck columns left.

Note on Roads: There are a number of different types of roads shown on the game map in addition to various rail types. Any hex without either a road or rail displayed is assumed to have local roads/trails of some form (unless it’s adverse terrain, eg. A swamp such as the Pripet Marshes). As the established roads in Russia were of a very poor quality the local roads can be taken as nothing more than goat tracks. By positioning Kleist’s HQ in an open hex with no established transport network we are forcing our Truck Columns to shake, rattle and roll down rough country lanes in order to reach him.

All is not well in the world of trucks. We thump the desk, kick the nearest staffer in the backside and demand to be shown the latest Truck status report.

As a result of our negligence in not relocating our various Forward Supply Bases in line with our rapid advances we have all three theatres being forced to run their Truck Columns over the 300 km threshold. The problem is most acute in AGS with a crazy distance of 600 km.

Already we have 69 Truck Columns down for the count with mechanical problems. Each Truck Column represents around 20 individual trucks. In fact AGC has almost double that number out of action but they started with a larger pool of trucks and are still managing to get enough through to Hoth and Guderian’s HQ’s.

Have a look at the distance penalty for AGS. Ridiculous! We would need over three hundred Truck Columns, fully functional, to provide a fuel delivery service to Kleist’s 1st PG.

This is because the columns need to cover the 600 km’s for the delivery and another 600 km back to their Forward Supply Base to pick up their next load of fuel. As each turn covers a 4 day period the underlying algorithms calculate the amount of fuel that can be transported, taking into both account time and distance. The greater the distance traveled, the fewer deliveries can be made in the time allowed.

The game engine will calculate the most optimum transport route and tally up the cumulative total of each hexes ‘route difficulty’ (road or rail quality). There is no hiding from the Logistical Auditor.

The report tells us that to adequately cover the 600 km distance we’d need at least 310 Truck Columns. As we only started the campaign with 300, have already lost 69 to breakdowns, have another 100 dedicated to resupplying the other Armies in the theatre, 15 to handle PG ammunition and supply requirements and would need an additional 17 columns to allow for the poor roads, it appears we have an unsolvable problem.

We could, if we wish, reduce the number of truck columns allocated (100) to supplying the line infantry Armies and Artillery. Doing so runs the risk of them suffering from ammunition shortages but it would free up more trucks for fuel deliveries. There are political implications with this decision.

Yet all we need in order to adequately supply Kleist’s 1st PG are a meagre 15 Truck Columns. How many do we have available? Zero. Nor are there any truck columns getting through with ammunition.

The advance of 1st PG across the steppes of the Ukraine has effectively come to grinding halt on day 12 of the campaign. This is despite the fact that there isn’t an angry Russian to be seen anywhere.

Before we slink out of the Command Centre in disgrace, we’ll take a quick look at the Logistical Report for AGS.

You can see that 1st PG HQ has 3,646 bbls of fuel remaining on hand. This is the aforementioned half a quota and Kleist’s panzers will be running on empty before the turn is done.

Unfortunately we have exceeded the reach of our Truck Columns and subsequent turns will see the desperately needed fuel stockpiling up at our Forward Supply Base with no means of getting it from there to where it is needed (Fast Divisions draw their fuel, not from a global stockpile, but directly from the amount that resides at their relevant HQ, in this case 1st PG).

To rectify the situation we will have no choice but to halt the advance of 1st PG and wait until our Forward Supply Base is relocated. Because we are way over to the east this is probably going to take another 16 days (4 turns). By moving the FSB we will be able to shift the main transport burden off the shoulders of our Truck Columns and onto those of the Rail Network (which, as can be seen above, is idling with nothing to do).

Worse, by the end of the current turn we will have trashed close to one hundred of our Truck Columns, a third of our starting pool. Trucks are in short supply and the shortage will severely curtail our future ability to operate Panzers any further than a stone’s throw from wherever our Forward Supply Base is located.

However are we going to explain this to the Führer?

Feeling a mite queasy, it’s about now that we pick up the Bat phone and call the Luftwaffe. We request an emergency Air resupply of Fuel (we could also do the same for Supply but not both in one turn).

Luftflotte Four has, it turns out, the capacity to airlift 3,021 bbls of fuel, around 2/3rd’s of a full quota. This is a substantial amount that would have enabled 1st PG to remain operational for another four days. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope with continual airlifts covering the gap while we wait for our Forward Supply Base to relocate?

Unfortunately the weather (drizzle, poor visibility) and, mainly, the excessive distance from the main AGS airfield whittled this down to a paltry 375 bbls.

For receiving this pittance we have managed to dilute Luftflotte Four’s ability to provide Tactical Air Support by a third. Not a good exchange.

Memo to self. Remember to roll the main airfield eastwards as well as the Forward Supply Base when advancing.

As you can imagine, our relationship with General Wagner, the man in charge of all Truck related matters, has suffered a sharp deterioration in the space of less than a fortnight.

Having General Wagner offside so early on in the campaign will crimp our ability to rebuild our logistical pipeline. General Gerke, as can be seen above, is happy to work with us but he’s the man in charge of Trains, not Trucks.

All in all we (hey, you’re reading this, you can take some of the blame) have made a mess of our advance in the South. Through our negligence it has come to a grinding halt and, even when it resumes, will continue to struggle with ongoing logistical and relationship issues.

I was hoping to cover a lot more ground with this post and was keen to see how close to the Urals my panzer columns could get before everything collapsed in a big heap of smoking trucks and trains. Instead I disappeared down the rabbit hole and got distracted by one part of the bigger picture.

There is a lot more to see, logistical wise, that I haven’t covered yet but that will have to wait till another post.

If you’ve read this far it’s worth remembering a few things. Firstly, the logistical system, while detailed and involved, is fully automated.

Your input, as a player, is in deciding when and where to relocate your FSB, how far ahead you are willing to advance your Panzergruppes, how far you are willing to deviate from the main transport routes and in knowing how far you can stretch the individual components that make up the three independent logistical pipelines.

There are also a multitude of logistical decisions (such as the ‘Tires’ one in a previous blog post) that require your attention, all of which have a meaningful impact. These have been omitted as they probably require a post each in their own right. Nor have I mentioned the equally important relationship aspect of managing your logistical situation, except to provide a brief update at the end.

As you can see there is a lot going on and all the various components – logistics, relationships, decisions – are intertwined. There is very little, if anything, that you can change without there being a flow on effect on some other, related, aspect.

It’s also pretty obvious how quickly it can go pear shaped after seeing how I’ve managed to get all tangled up in knots, by forgetting a few basics, after only 4 turns on an empty map.

The logistical aspect of the game, while being micromanagement free, does require your full attention. The nature of the campaign is that you will, when playing as the Germans, confront increasingly severe problems the further you advance but not normally so major at such an early stage.

This part of the game can’t be delegated however there is a more forgiving option of ‘Easy Logistics’ available.

The design aim has been to provide a detailed, interesting, micro free, decision space that is easy to manage but challenging to get right.

It’s also a lot of fun.

Cheers,

Cameron

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Information Flow – A Torrent or a Trickle?

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #6

Before we return to the Wehrmacht’s continued advance through a deserted Russia, as a way of seeing how far we can stretch the logistical systems, we need to talk about information.

Nobody likes to play a game where the underlying mechanics are opaque. You make a decision and something happens but the game won’t tell you what or why. It’s frustrating to find yourself poking around in the dark.

The cornerstone of any decently designed game is that it provides ample feedback to the player. If you are going to provide a decision space you need to also provide the necessary information that enables players to make those decisions in an informed, educated manner.

Decisive Campaigns 3, as already mentioned, is striving to be micromanagement free as possible. It also has a fairly high level approach – divisions, 30 km hexes – to it’s chosen subject. Does this mean it there will be straightforward and simple game mechanics?

Half right. Straightforward yes, simple no. The underlying mechanics are involved and detailed.

Which creates a dilemma. In order to provide the player with adequate feedback there are all manner of reports. Squillions of them. Add to this a variable number of decisions that need resolving each turn. The end result is the player having to wade through an awful lot of reading each turn to find out what’s happening.

Clearly that isn’t workable. Who wants to spend twenty minutes each turn reading endless reports on this or that? Some of us, perhaps, but not all.

To bring some order to the raging torrent of information flowing through the game there are a series of ‘Daily Logs’. These act as summaries. There is one for each theatre, one for staff matters and one for game related items, making a total of five.

blog_info_1
The daily logs are dynamic. Sections within the reports will only show if there is anything of interest. Your staff know you are a busy man and won’t bother you with trivialities

The intent of the designer, that’s me, is for the player to imagine themselves pacing up and down their headquarters, staring at the latest updates on the operational map. Before them on the desk are a big pile of reports compiled by their staff from information provided by the various components of the forces under their command. There’s another pile of reports that are decisions needing the player’s input.

The headquarters staff have put together summaries, daily logs, that highlight everything they consider important. Everything they think the player should know in a concise, short form.

The player can scan these each turn and has the option, if he wants, to then delve deeper into the big pile of reports to get further information on a particular item.

None of the matters highlighted in the daily logs will resolve themselves. It’s up to the player to deal with any problems. Which isn’t easy as there will be, as time progresses, more and more of them. He has tools and resources at his disposal to resolve various issues but these don’t include the ability to handball the important stuff over to a minion.

blog_info_2

The other pile on this desk, all those decisions needing his approval, or otherwise, can however, be delegated. The player’s Chief of Staff is on hand to deal with any decision that are sitting in the pile. But that’s all he’ll do. He won’t run the war for you and his judgment isn’t always going to coincide with yours.

The game presents the player with a few, key, pop-up messages at the start of each turn. Need to know stuff – Weather, Panzergruppe status, pending decisions.

Once the turn begins the player can click on the report tab and have everything available to him in the one spot. Right at the top is the ‘Decisions’ pile. Followed by the Daily Logs. Below this are all the detailed reports.

A typical turn would have the player scanning the list of pending decisions, dealing with some, delegating others. He’d also look at his Daily Logs. Doesn’t have to, but he can expect a short command if he chooses to remain ignorant of what’s happening. The detailed reports are there to be dipped into at his convenience. The player can choose to be a ‘big picture’ or a ‘tell me everything’ commander.

The information flow is layered. You can play the game by interacting with the outer layer only or you can start peeling away, Shrek-like, and go deeper. It’s up to you.

An additional aspect of the games approach to information management is how it deals with individual units. Each division can have a wide range of factors influencing it (ammunition shortages, command problems, fatigue, counter battery artillery support, cold weather preparations, postures, interference from the Führer are some examples to give you an idea of the scope of these) and there are multiple ways of accessing this. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Cheers,
Cameron

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How to Make Logistics Fun

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #5

Now might be a good time to have a chat about logistics. This is a very difficult concept to get right in games.

Most people tend to bounce off logistics faster than a rubber raindrop. Wargamers have a higher tolerance setting but not by that much. Logistics aren’t inherently fun and they involve, typically, big doses of micromanagement.

Yet they are always present in one form or another in wargames as it’s difficult to do justice to your chosen topic without a logistical system of some kind.

An awful lot of wargames tend to take the easy way out and provide a token, bare basics, logistical model. Which is O.K for a lot of situations and ensures that game play isn’t affected by the Many Tentacled Logistical Beast. The designer has ticked the box without managing to upset anybody.

Unfortunately this isn’t a route that can be taken with a game simulating the invasion of Russia. For Barbarossa this is a make or break topic as it was a key plank of the campaign. There is going to have to be a decent, detailed, model lurking in there somewhere.

The overall design of DC3: Barbarossa has, at it’s core, a rabid desire to strip out all forms of micromanagement. This is a GOOD THING but it puts a ball and chain around the implementation of an involved logistical system. How do you manage to portray the complexities required without being able to insert a mess of variables that need to be actively manipulated by the player?

The basic requirements for a Barbarossa based logistical system would be that it delves into a higher level of detail than normal, is easily understood by the player and, as mentioned, is micromanagement free.

Here’s how it is done.

Firstly there is an underlying structure. In each theatre, eg. AGN, there is a base, referred to as the ‘Main Depot’. This is a fixed location close to the border that is constant throughout the game. It has as much variability as your local, geologically stable, boring, mountain.

All the action happens at your Forward Supply Base (FSB), which is, once again, unique to each theatre. This moves forwards or backwards according to the whim of the player. The game will offer you, at frequent intervals, a list of possible locations that it can be relocated to. All of these exist on the main rail lines for obvious reasons.

You don’t have to physically move a counter on the map. The decision system handles this for you. There’s an example of how this works in the previous blog post. The map shown dynamically portrays the position of your Main Depot, your FSB and any Panzergruppes.

Which brings up another topic. The logistical system is all about getting enough Fuel to your Panzergruppes. Ammunition and supplies are handled as well but these are secondary issues to fuel.

The Wehrmacht that invaded Russia was a straightforward organisation. There were a large number of slow divisions (line infantry) and a small number of fast divisions (panzer). This was a result of a conscious decision by High Command to concentrate all mechanised and motorised assets into the four Panzergruppes at the expense of everybody else.

It is these four, highly mobile, hard hitting, PG’s which will win or lose the war for you. Attempting to march on Moscow, supported by horse drawn panje carts and a lot of spare shoe leather, would be an exercise in futility hence the strong focus on providing fuel to the Panzergruppes.

Back to the main topic. Your FSB’s will leapfrog their way forward in each theatre as you advance. A simple analogy here is looping a large rubber band over a fixed point at one end and your left hand index finger on the other. As you move your hand forward (the FSB) the rubber band back to your Main depot (fixed point) stretches. The ever-stretching link between the two is your rail network.

How many trains per day are you going to be able to get through the rubber band link? The further you move your Left hand into Russia (FSB) the more tenuous the link will be.

The analogy goes further. There’s a second rubber band looped between your Left hand (FSB) and your Right hand (your PG/s). This link is handled by your truck columns. Advance your PG’s to far ahead of your FSB and your truck columns will struggle to get enough fuel to where it is needed.

Unlike DC1: Warsaw to Paris and DC2: Case Blue, there is no global pool of fuel. Instead there are individual allocations to each theatre (which you can change via decisions) which then have to be rail freighted from your Main depot, along the first rubber band, to your FSB. From here it needs to be shuttled via your truck columns along the second rubber band to your PG HQ’s.

Whatever Fuel makes it to your PG HQ’s is what your fast divisions draw down from. As time goes on you may well find that you have plenty of Fuel but it’s either stockpiled back at your Main Depot or at your FSB, because your trains or truck columns are unable to move it forward. You’ve overstretched your rubber bands.

So there is the basic structure – Rail link from Main Depot to FSB, truck link from FSB to PG’s.

logistics_pipeline

All of this is handled automatically by the game. The Player is given plenty of feedback on what’s happening and can, if desired, delve down into the nitty gritty detail and immerse themselves in the numerical soup bowl. Importantly, the Player doesn’t have to.

They can, if they wish, approach the logistical system solely as a high level operational matter.

To enable this we have, with a flurry of trumpets, the DECISION system. This allows the game to throw all kinds of logistical detail at the player but in a straightforward, easily digestible, manner. Decisions are micromanagement free zones. A previous blog post highlights ‘Tires for your Truck Columns’ as one example of this.

The Player makes a decision on Tires and this flows directly into the Logistical system. There are a heck of a lot of decisions covering all aspects of the system that will occur as the game progresses.

Design wise, we now have a pretty good simulation of the logistical difficulties with no micromanagement involved and with the player having input into all the key factors via the Decision system.

To enable them, if they wish, to get a closer look at the inner workings and to see the effect of various decisions that they make, there are many detailed reports. With numbers. Lots of them.

I’d call this a win but only a marginal one. It’s interesting and playable but it isn’t necessarily fun. Not yet.

To make logistics fun you need to get people involved. People under stress. Sometimes they are happy but mostly they are grumpy. Who are they angry with? You. Why? Because you’re the person in charge.

The logistical system described above is practical, functional and playable. But it’s just a bunch of numbers being manipulated and shuffled around. Now place a person in charge of each part of the system and, all of a sudden, it comes to life.

There is a problem with scheduling on your rail network? Rather than this being another set of numbers indicating a problem, you’ve got a report in front of you from General Gercke who is DEMANDING you take action against the dorftrottel’s who run the truck columns. Which would be General Wagner and he’s FURIOUS with the lack of consideration being show by General Gercke’s transport staff who run the rail network.

YOU get to decide how to untangle the mess. Whatever you do will have consequences, not just with the provision of fuel but with your relationship with both men, as well as your theatre commanders. Relationships have consequences. Good begets good and bad begets headaches.

You are no longer interfacing directly with the logistical system. You have lost your god like powers to manipulate the underlying numerology. Instead, just like in real life, you have to ask/cajole/order/plead with a small, eccentric, cast of characters to do your bidding for you.

Now it’s fun.

Cheers,
Cameron

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A quick update on Shadow Empire

Shadow Empire design blog #3

Just a quick word I am still alive and kicking. Designing a new engine is not easy. I have to juggle a lot of different tasks at the same time, but slowly everything is moving forward and integrating. The unit and landscape map artwork is close to completion, I am almost halfway through with the design of the campaign scenarios and the random game maps are starting to become more and more interesting.

The gameplay has had some live testing against friends and with a few select alpha testers from previous games. And it is good! As you might remember there are 3 modes of play: simple rules, basic rules and full rules. Especially the advanced parts of the rules need more fine-tuning. They were often a bit to overwhelming and confusing. But I am making a lot of changes for the better that keep the depth but provide a more tranquil playing experience.

I guess everything is taking a long time because I am not choosing the easy route very often. With the landscape artwork for example I chose to have dynamic generation of maps, but also dynamic generation of some hex tile artwork, moving water and quite some animation with some units and locations.

The same for the campaign. Definitely not the easy route… Every scenario has a semi-randomized map, meaning that the core logic of a scenario stays the same, but every play is subtly different. The campaign comes with a story that can be influenced by the player. Every scenario is a little mini story where you can actually make some choices and in between the scenarios you’ll find some time to wander around your base and talk with your leaders.

Big task ahead of me now is the creation of the final user interface. Moving your units around on the map is already a pleasure, and just a few days ago I worked on improving the flow for combat. It is quite amazing how approaching combat between two units like a little movie script pays off. Also experimenting with some audio feedback. Which works amazingly well, although I get tired of my own voice used in the placeholders. It is a lot of work to make sure the key rules are visible and audible to the player, but it pays off. Also a clear game flow and visibly transparent rules makes me reflect more on my own design and it already happened quite a few times a change in the game flow or interface also caused a change in the game rules.

The interface and the game flow are the areas where I really try to make an enormous improvement compared to earlier engines. We will soon see if I succeeded or not :)

Best wishes,
Vic

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