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.
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.