Down But Not Out

Hitler gambled on conquering Russia. In ’41 he came dangerously close to winning. He didn’t and ended up losing the campaign, the war, his country and his life. Invading Russia has, historically, always been an all or nothing roll of the dice. Nobody invades Russia hoping for a draw.

If Hitler had won an argument could be made that it would have been enough for Germany to secure Europe long term and that D-Day would have been nothing more than a logistical pipe dream. Hitler was playing for very big stakes indeed which makes Barbarossa such an interesting campaign. Two giants facing off in a cage fight to the death.

The game models the German side in great detail and enables you to experience the dramatic opening thrusts, the massive encirclements, and the increasingly desperate drive to victory before a cruel winter brings everything to a halt.

But what about the Russians? You could take any period of the Eastern Front and find a way of giving the Russian player a fighting game of parry and counter punch. Any period, that is, except ’41, the time period portrayed by Decisive Campaigns 3.

If you stripped away all the frippery the role of the Russian player in ’41 is to be dragged out onto the street and publicly beaten to a pulp. All he can hope for is that he’ll still be able to stagger to his feet once it’s over.

The single biggest design hurdle I’ve had to overcome is how to make getting kicked in the head fun. I could, off hand, think of ways to do this but they all require the game to don high heels and a feather boa before discreetly removing it’s ‘historical simulation’ badge and lobbing it into the nearest rubbish bin.

Which isn’t acceptable as this is a wargame with a strong historical bent. It has an obligation to model the key factors that influenced the Red Army. If the over arching narrative for the Russian player is to get beat up then that’s what has to happen. The degree and extent of the beating can be allowed to vary and there can be scope for a skilled Russian player to achieve a plausibly non-historical outcome but at the end of the day the player is still going to have to get violently punched to the ground and kicked in the head.

Finding a way to resolve the conundrum of turning such an unsavory historical experience into an enjoyable gaming outcome has been a challenge.

Does it have to be fun? Well it wouldn’t be much of a game if it wasn’t. A strongly historical military simulation still needs to be fun to play. It’s a game, not a masochistic endurance test of your pain tolerance.

Before we talk about my resolution to the problem it’s worth mentioning the different factors that affected the Russians.

There are any number of these but if I had to isolate the main ones I’d go with the unpreparedness of the Red Army (caught, as they were, in the midst of major doctrinal and organisational change), the rigidity of their centralised system, the dearth of experienced commanders, the panic and confusion caused by the German blitzkrieg, the constant reconfiguring of their Command structure and Stalin’s guilt.

A lot of these are intertwined with Stalin’s guilt probably being the most dominant. For reasons lost to history, Stalin chose to ignore any number of repeated warnings that Germany would invade Russia on the 22nd June ’41. Intelligence can be nebulous and flaky at times but when there were multiple corroborating sources it’s difficult to conclude anything other than abject failure to correctly assess the situation.

This was Stalin’s failure alone. It was he who refused to heed the warnings. It was he who deliberately positioned the bulk of the Red Army as far forward as possible against the advice of his senior military advisers. It is he who filled the Red Army with Political Officers and gave them equivalent authority (three quarters of them had no military training). It is he who had ruthlessly scythed through his experienced Officer Corps in the Purges of ’37 and ’38.

When confronted by the reality of Barbarossa, Stalin’s first reactions were shock and denial. He spent the initial days of the invasion in an alternate universe where the Red Army would soon be sweeping through Poland on their way to the Brandenburg Gates.

When he finally came to terms with reality (around D+5) he subsided into a funk and disappeared to his country Dacha for three days, leaving it all for others to deal with. There is speculation that, having caused the mess, Stalin was doing his level best to avoid shouldering the blame.

As it turned out he was asked, by the Politburo, to return to Moscow and assume the post of Supreme War Leader. But the guilt at his misjudgment of Hitler’s intentions and the fear of others blaming him was a factor that fueled his, already, not insubstantial paranoia. Stalin was, in ’41, a man constantly looking over his shoulder.

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The Russian Experience

It was clear from the beginning that the player would assume the role of Stalin. Not for him is the well oiled machinery of the Wehrmacht and the multitude of masters. No, he will fill Stalin’s shoes and take on the persona of a ruthless, cornered, dictator. This, all on it’s own, is a good foundation for an enjoyable experience.

The game mechanics have been heavily pruned and streamlined. Large components such as the Logistical system have no place here. The Russians had the benefit of interior lines and in falling back onto their own resource base. While there were occasions where logistical restrictions played a role, overall, relative to the Germans, they had minimal impact.

Involved systems such as Mechanical Reliability aren’t needed. You can, as the Russian player, simply assume that every time you move a mechanised force you’ll loose tanks from breakdowns. There is no need for ‘Refit’ cards and a multitude of decisions revolving around repairs and workshops. Tanks that broke down were simply abandoned. The Russians lost more tanks from mechanical failures in ’41 than they did from combat. A large portion of this was due to the lack of parts and basic knowledge deficiencies of the inexperienced tank crews.

There is no point in differentiating this commander from that one in their ability to wage war. In an environment when getting an order to an Army and having it respond in any meaningful manner was a touch and go proposition who was in charge was often irrelevant. How many field radios did the entire Red Army possess in ’41? It’s a ridiculously small number. Communication was done mostly via telegraph and telephone, both highly susceptible to breaks and useless once an Army retreated from previously prepared positions.

The large amount of artillery possessed by the Russians? Not much good once they retreated and were unable to contact, or coordinate with, anyone due to a shortage of field radios. The Russian Air force? Did it play any meaningful role in ’41 other than targeted harassment towards the end of the year when they were flying from heated airfields and dealing with an overstretched Luftwaffe?

Note that all of the above items were eventually successfully addressed by the Russians but in ’41 there was no time to do anything other than hang on tight with white knuckles.

Having streamlined the mechanics the Russian side has been focused, laser like on the aspects that matter. New systems have been put in place to make playing the Russians completely different to that of the Germans. Schnapps and Rollmops, while listening to Opera in the background, it isn’t. Instead it’s a more utilitarian, straight Vodka in a dirty glass, experience.

Commanders are modeled down to the Army level. They have two numerical characteristics, Initiative and Threat, along with a generic ‘type’.

The over riding concern for Armies is their ability to ‘Activate’ (gain Action Points) each turn. A random roll is made that is influenced by the Army Commander’s Initiative, the Front Commanders Initiative and a number of situational factors.

A Division in an Army that doesn’t activate still receives a number of Action Points (40 AP) so it’s not a complete loss. It can also ‘Partially Activate’ as well as the obvious ‘Fully’. Importantly, whenever an Army achieves a level of activation (Partial or Full), it’s Commander’s Initiative increases, thus making it easier to activate as time goes on due to learning on the job.

Threat is the central point of the design. In the game a commander’s Threat rating is how he is perceived by Stalin. Each turn the cumulative Threat ratings of all Commanders are tallied in addition to a range of other factors (loss of Politically Important cities for example). A random roll is made and if it’s less than the total Threat level then Stalin is assumed to suffer a ‘Paranoid Episode’.

What this entails is the total shutdown of your ability to pull the levers of power (you lose access to all Action Cards), a measure of confusion throughout and a number of your Commanders being dragged outside and shot. Best avoided.

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Now I’m not inferring that there is any chance of a military, or political, coup that would remove Stalin but it’s quite feasible that there would be a perceived threat of such in his own mind given his rather dubious historical record. And, yes, he did have Commanders shot for no other reason than to cover up his own blunders.

By early ’42 onwards Stalin was secure enough in his position that none of this was a problem but in the desperate days of ’41 it wasn’t so clear cut.

The dual Initiative/Threat mechanics is straightforward but there are a lot of interesting game mechanics hanging of it.

Commander’s are assigned one of a number of generic ‘types’ which determine their starting Initiative and Threat ratings. A TSARIST is an experienced, well trained Officer who has, miraculously, survived the Purges and can be expected to have a high Initiative level. Any Army he commands can be considered mobile and responsive. But he’ll be a threat.

On the other end of the scale is a TOADIE. Not hard to guess how he got the job. Poor Initiative will have his Army marching in circles when they should be hitting the flank of a Panzergruppe. You won’t have to worry about him though as his Threat rating be at an appropriate level for a subservient ‘yes’ man.

Hence the basic conflict. Good Commanders generally have high Threat levels. Whenever a Commander’s Initiative increases it’s likely their Threat level will as well. To much Threat and you’ll begin having ‘Episodes’.

To keep a lid on the rumblings of discontent (the Army Cdr’s are assigned a random type at game start which is heavily weighted towards the dud end of the scale) you have Marshals, each commanding a Front (equivalent to a German ‘Theatre’). Marshal Budenny, historically a ‘WAR BUDDY’ has a big Negative Threat rating which tends to damp down any boisterous subordinates. But how long are you willing to put up with his poor military acumen (low Initiative that acts as a global modifier to all his subordinate Army Activation rolls)?

Note: I’ve had to take a ‘mean line’ through the scatter graph that was the ever changing Soviet High Command structure in ’41.

Stalin has two trusted ‘troubleshooters’ at his disposal. Marshal Georgy Zhukov and Commissar Nikita Khrushchev. Historically these two gentlemen were trusted and used by Stalin in various roles. (I’ve taken a few liberties with history here but they are minor transgressions). As the Russian player you are able to dispatch these gentlemen to any HQ, Army or Front, on the map.

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Zhukov will give an immediate boost to an Army, or an entire Front’s, activation chances. Stalin didn’t ask him to take charge of the defence of Leningrad and Stalingrad for nothing. He’s the man who makes things happen in a military sense.

Commissar Khrushchev is your hatchet man. He’s the person you send if one of your Commanders is getting above themselves. There are a number of things he can do on arrival. The ‘Loaded Pistol on the Table’ is my personal favourite.

Stalin also has, at his disposal, a range of Command options. These allow you to manipulate a handful of key variables that have big picture effects. Importantly, the cost of exercising these options (in Political Points) doubles each time. This represents the rigidity imposed by the centralised Military and Political systems in place. Yes, you have a lot of options but you need to be very careful when and how you exercise them.

A typical game as the Russians might start with you facing the onslaught with an army commanded largely by no-hopers. They’ll be a sprinkling of competent commanders that you’ll be leaning on and you’ll be tearing your hair out trying to decide which crisis needs Marshal Zhukov the most. He’ll be a busy man. Hopefully he won’t get delayed in transit as he races from one HQ to another ‘Instilling Backbone’.

You’ll start with barely any Political Points (the opposite of the Germans) to reflect the initial shock and panic. Do you gamble and ‘Prioritise a Front’ knowing that it’ll be a while before you can afford to change your mind? (doing so grants a global Activation bonus and a funnels more Reinforcements to your chosen Front, away from others).

As time progresses and your surviving commanders gain experience you’ll find yourself squinting at your shadow as the cumulative Threat rating starts climbing above zero. Commissar Khrushchev will need to be active, if he hasn’t already been out there ‘Blaming’ or ‘Investigating’ a recalcitrant Marshal.

If the Germans are still clawing their way eastwards you could try ‘Exhorting Victory!’, heaven forbid ‘Admit to a Crisis’ or declare that there will be ‘No Retreat!’ in a key city. But be careful as there are only so many speeches you can give and so many times you can plead mea culpa.

Remember the cost in PP’s is doubling each time. It doesn’t take long before nobody is listening to your apologies or your speeches. And how many red lines can you draw on the map and tell your soldiers to die where they stand defending them before they, also, stop paying attention?

Is it time to bite the bullet and release a TSARIST Marshal from the Lubyanka basements in the hope that he can pull a demoralised Front together? But never forget that you’re a RUTHLESS DICTATOR. Assemble the Politburo and ‘Demand more Power!’

At least you’ll die standing. And that big Germanic thug that’s been beating you up?

That’s his testicles rolling around in the mud over there.

Cheers,

Cameron

 

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Focus, Man, FOCUS!

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #9

In Decisive Campaigns III you are dealing with Armies. They each have a Commanding Officer. Nobody wants blancmange Officers in charge of their Armies. Having the same General Blobbo with the same blobbo lack of characteristics in charge of every Army isn’t much fun. It’s safe to say that we all prefer a measure of individuality. Some way of delineating this Officer from that one.

This creates a design dilemma. The Germans have around twenty Armies, each with it’s own Commanding Officer. I can easily give them all a set of numbers representing various characteristics but that’s a lot of numbers.

When are those numbers used? Are they turn by turn modifiers for various acts that the divisions under their command perform? That’s a pretty obvious route to take, give an Officer an offensive or defensive bonus that peculates down to all it’s divisions.

The disadvantage of this approach is that it’s very passive. The Player has ‘x’ Army with ‘y’ Commander and he gets ‘z’ bonus. What decisions can he make here? Swap Commanders willy nilly between Armies until he gets the right combination of bonuses where he wants them?

Well that might make sense if the game was pitched at a lower level but Army Officers weren’t flipping around the place like contract cleaning ladies as a rule. Whoever was in charge of the 9th Army, for example, at the start of the campaign was likely going to be the same person in charge at the end of the time period portrayed by the game. Not much scope for interesting decisions here.

Another way of tackling the problem is to use Action Cards. Each Officer can get access to a different hand drawn from a deck of Cards. This is the approach taken by the previous Decisive Campaign games and it works well with the cards adding variety and interest.

However the current iteration of the series has a strong focus on Command Decisions. With twenty odd Officers, each having their own set of cards, this isn’t really Command, it’s more like busy work.

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I’ve taken a different approach.

In Decisive Campaigns III each Army Officer is treated the same. Yep, hello General Blobbo. This is clearly not the case in reality but from the perspective of the Operational Commander of the entire Eastern Front, an Army Officer is an interchangeable cog in the big machine. He has to deal with what he’s got and he’s isn’t going to send the 9th Army over there just ’cause it’s Commanding Officer is better at Defence.

From a long term, strategic, viewpoint he might but it would be unfeasible from a tactical point of view as Armies aren’t something you can shove around here and there. They’re big, gnarly, inflexible organisations of thousands of men which move with all the grace of a beer-gutted, club footed, ballerina.

But…

An Army is part of a larger Theatre. an Army Group. The Theatre Commander, for example F.M von Bock of AGC, has at his disposal a range of theatre level resources. At any point in time he could decide to focus on a particular Army within his group.

Doing so might entail releasing specialist battalions, prioritising logistical support, allocating staff time to facilitate plans or simply giving the Army Officer their head. Whichever way it happens he is putting his finger on the map and allowing this Army and it’s Commanding Officer greater operational scope.

Game wise the Army Officer, who indeed has a unique set of numbers, is given a set of Action Cards. The Cards he is given depend on his current Posture. The numbers influence the effect of the Cards.

This isn’t a lot different from what I’ve previously described but the key point is only one Army in each Theatre can have focus. This means you are only dealing with three Armies at a time that have Action Cards, not a whole tribe of them.

The set of numbers that defines the individual Officers also only comes into play when an Army has focus and a Tactical Card is played. An Officer, like anyone from a lowly grunt all the slippery pole to the top, will only shine when they are given sufficient space to do so.

Do you want a cookie cutter, generic wife or girl friend? All you have to do is insist that she dress in the same work clothes every day, talk over her every time she ventures an opinion and demand she serves beans for dinner at five o’clock every evening. With sauce.

On the other hand if you leave the choice of clothes, dinner and opinions to her good self you’ll find yourself with a unique individual. Hey, it may even be you doing the cooking. You do know that real food isn’t fried?

It’s the same thinking with Officers. By focusing on their Army of Panzergruppe you’re giving them room to be themselves. They are no longer just a cog in the machine, they are an individual.

As the overall Operational Commander, the Player gets to decide which Armies have focus. As there is only one per theatre this decision matters. The Tactical Cards that are enabled through this decision matter. Now, with a handful of decisions that have meaningful impacts, we’re close to the sweet spot.

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But this isn’t the whole story. The Player, as Operational Commander, is instructing the relevant Theatre Commander to focus on a particular Army. As he’s your subordinate he’ll snap to attention and carry out your wishes. Or will he?

One of the fault lines that ran through the German campaign was the ongoing conflict between the New Age Panzergruppe Commanders and the WWI Old School, Infantry Commanders. Men like Guderian, Hoth and Hoepner were determined to advance as far and as fast as possible in order to sow confusion and chaos. Lagging far behind them were the resentful Commanders of the slow moving Infantry Armies who were left to reduce massive pockets of Russians without the aid of armoured support.

It was a conflict that was never satisfactorily resolved. At times it festered away in the background but it occasionally flared magnesium white hot and people got burnt. Guderian, the leading exponent of fast moving armoured warfare, found himself sacked before the year was out.

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As this was an important theme I wanted to model it in some manner. I initially tried calculating the distance between a Panzergruppe HQ and it’s associated Infantry Army HQ. The longer the distance the more strained relationships might become. However this approach ran into spatial problems. Distance needed to be matched with direction. What if the Panzergruppe was behind the Army HQ? Even this didn’t tell the full story because a large distance with the correct inclination still might not make sense if the PG and Army HQ’s were both well behind the front lines.

Too many edge cases. Too complicated. My second pass at it was to wrap the conflict up into a series of Decisions. This was an improvement but it still suffered from the same problem of when to trigger the decisions. Lots of maths, lots of scope to get it wrong. Having a Decision pop-up that is completely out of context is worse than not having a Decision in the first place.

But what if it was tied up with the relationship system? The Player already has an ongoing relationship with the three theatre commanders. By playing a ‘Focus’ card you are asking them to carry out your orders. The theatre commanders were all old school. None of them were inflexible but they all found difficulties in accommodating the new style of armoured warfare with the need to protect theatre flanks.

They’ll happily help out any Infantry Army that you care to Focus on. No problems. These are Armies that need all the help they can get, tasked as they are with reducing the bulk of the Red Army.

But ask them to provide extra assistance to a Panzergruppe raging far ahead of everybody else and their natural instinct to carry out your orders will rub hard up against their fear that doing so will only make a bad situation worse. Those extended flanks that they are personally responsible for will only stretch further.

If your relationship is positive then they’ll grudgingly obey. If, however, you aren’t getting along, this will be enough for them to find a way of saying yes but doing nothing. Experienced subordinates are good at that.

From a gaming viewpoint, when you play a ‘Focus’ card, you can select an Army HQ at any time but you can only play the card on a Panzergruppe if you have a positive relationship with the relevant theatre commander. There are appropriate messages in your Daily Logs indicating which way the wind is blowing.

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From my point of view this is a good solution. It’s straightforward, easily understood and gets the message across. It also gives yet another reason to pay attention to your web of relationships.

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A counter shuffling experience only really becomes fun, and immersive, once people get involved. The more you can bring these people to life, the better the experience.

Yep, it’s all about People, Planning, Preparation and Persistence.

Then again I’m the person that grew up wanting to be a crocodile wrestler.

“It’s not a l-o-n-g term career option, is it? You might loose an arm.”

‘It’s O.K Mum, I’ve got two of ‘em!”

Cheers,
Cameron

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Head Up, Shoulders Back!

Decisive Campaigns III design blog #8

It’s about time we discussed the nitty gritty of Operational Command. The game’s basic unit is the division. They are grouped together in Armies, or Panzergruppes in the case of the fast divisions.

Which is pretty standard fare for a wargame. Shuffle your divisions around the map and keep divisions from the same army together as there is bound to be a bonus in there somewhere for doing so. Armies serve mainly as a container for your divisions and a means of keeping everything reasonably tidy.

However Decisive Campaigns 3 takes a different approach. Armies are your main focus. In a reversal of the standard wargame design, your armies are what you consider first and foremost. Your command decisions revolve around your armies, not your divisions.

There are lots of divisions. The AI needs a certain unit density for optimal outcomes. While there might be a few units on the map, managing them is straightforward. Divisions are uniform. Sure there are differences to accommodate a diverse TO&E but overall they are of a standard configuration. Deliberately so. For the Germans, you could narrow it down to only three main types of divisions – Infantry, Panzer and Motorised.

The games focus isn’t on excessively detailed units, each one unique from the other where you need to spend time optimising your on-map moves. Instead there are standard division types with enough variety to allow for the major differences within the forces but no more.

There are no artillery, air or ancillary support units cluttering up the picture. They are dealt with in a different, and detailed, manner, but one that maintains the streamlined, micro management free design ethos. The only thing you’ll find on the map are combat divisions and HQ’s.

Another factor that keeps the ‘counter-shuffling’ to a minimum is having the battlefield separated into three theatres. Each is it’s own mini-campaign. You’re coordinating and allocating resources between theatres. But within each theatre the unit count is low and the ‘shuffling’ involved is manageable. To give you an idea, the Germans, in Army Group North (the smallest), have only 23 divisions in three Armies (excluding the Finns). AGC has less than 50 divisions in four Armies.

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The four Armies of AGC

None of this is to infer the game is simple. Not the case. There is a significant amount of depth here. What the game isn’t about is having a map jammed full units that need to be moved each turn. Instead it aims to put you in the shoes of the man who was charged with carrying out the invasion of Russia. This was a man who spent his time making decisions, COMMAND Decisions, not getting bogged down worrying about the 155th Anti-Tank Regiment and which division to attach it to.

Which brings us back to Armies. While the base unit is the division you’ll be thinking in terms of Armies. You set your air and artillery support on an army basis. You can dedicate staff time and theatre resources to a particular army. You determine a posture for each army.

An army is represented by it’s HQ. It exerts a command presence a certain distance from this HQ and any subordinate division that is outside of it’s parent HQ’s Command Radius will suffer adverse effects.

This isn’t a new idea. It already exists in many games, including the previous Decisive Campaigns. What’s different is the extent of the effects. As an example if the Army is suffering from an overall ‘Limited Ammunition Shortage’, any division outside of command range will have this upgraded to a ‘Severe Ammunition Shortage’. Tactical Air Support, Direct Fire Artillery or Counter Battery Support aren’t available to any division outside of the command net.

Within the game the Command Radius is set at 5 hexes which translates to 150 km’s. Given the communication technology of the day this is probably overly generous, even more so for the Russians, and may be dropped down a notch by the time the game’s released.

As a player this becomes a very basic, turn by turn, decision. Moving a division outside of it’s Army Command range is, on occasion, is a necessary evil, but you are choosing to isolate that division from all forms of support and placing the division beyond the reach of the Army’s organic resupply capabilities.

pos_21st Army and the extent of it’s Command Range

Armies are the key. This blog is about Army Postures. Head up, shoulders back, soldier. A-a-a-ttention!

An Army, taken as a whole, is configured for either an Offensive or Defensive posture. To round things out I’ve added a Neutral, or Balanced, posture.

Think of a boxer in the ring. When attacking (offense) he is on the front foot, advancing, leading with his left or right hand, jab – jab – jab, aiming to create an opening for a combination that will end in a knock out blow. This is very different to a defensive stance where he might be leaning back against the ropes, ducking and weaving, hands and arms configured to protect his face and body. In one posture he is aiming to hurt his opponent, in the other he is trying to prevent himself being hurt. One posture burns up energy while the other conserves it.

Armies are no different. Within a particular posture there is scope for both offense and defence at any given time but, from an Army level perspective, you are configured one way or another for an overriding purpose.

In game turns you have the ability to set postures on an army by army basis. Whatever posture a particular army has will be reflected in identical posture settings for all it’s subordinate divisions.

An Offensive posture grants all divisions within the Army a +40% Offensive bonus. It’s a sizable amount and makes the divisions of any Army with this posture 40% more powerful when attacking. Why wouldn’t you set all your armies to Offense and be done with it?

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Well, just like the boxer who is geared up to hurt his opponent, an Offensive posture sacrifices the ability to effectively defend yourself. There is an associated -20% Defensive penalty. If you are steamrolling your Panzers through stunned and panicking ranks of Red Army troops this isn’t a concern but perhaps it might be if the shadows flitting through the twilight snow have Siberian names.

If you chose to reconfigure an Army over to a Defensive Posture (Has the Führer approved this? Gott im Himmel man! Does he even know what you are doing?) then these would be reversed. Now you have a -20% Offensive penalty and a +40% Defensive bonus. A Neutral posture grants no bonus or penalty, it’s just, well, neutral.

Postures are important decisions. Changing an armies posture even more so. Historically it took around a week to switch an army over from one posture to another as there were a significant amount of internal changes, dispositions, staff, administrative and logistical reorganisations that were involved. But once set to the new posture there is that very tempting +40% bonus.

pos_4Note the cost (PP’s) to switch to a Defensive posture. You can petition the Führer to lower the cost. 

All German Armies and Panzergruppes commence Barbarossa with an Offensive posture. You can change postures at any time but there is a period of disruption as everything reconfigures. Rather than a full week which would equate to 2 turns I’ve reduced it down to a single turn (4 days) to enable greater flexibility.

During this turn your Army will be vulnerable and labouring under a combined -20% Attack and a -20% Defence penalty. There is also a moderate movement penalty (-30 AP). Ideally you’d aim to pull your Army out of the line while this is going on but ‘ideal’ never went to war, he only read about it.

This isn’t the whole story. Whenever an Army is set to ‘Offense’ it, like the boxer, is burning up more energy than normal. If it’s a slow, Infantry, Army then it’s divisions will accumulate fatigue. Leave them on an Offensive posture for too long and they’ll become combat ineffective, keeling over from exhaustion.

There are options available to rest individual Divisions or even an entire Army but you’d want them well to the rear before you exercise these as you can’t expect much from a man when he is asleep in a bunk. A Neutral or Defensive posture won’t accumulate any more fatigue nor will it dissipate what’s already there. To do this you’ll have to authorise a Rest.

Imagine walking from the Polish border to the Gates of Moscow carrying a weight equivalent to a heavy rucksack. That’s a distance of over 1000 km’s, largely cross country.

Perhaps you could sell this in a travel brochure as an ‘extreme sport’ holiday. Perhaps. Throw into the mix some seriously adverse weather, refuse to issue proper protective clothing or decent hiking boots and the only customers your fledgling travel company will get are crazies who have forgotten to take their meds that morning.

Now tell the few crazies that have signed up for the tour that the natives will be actively trying to kill them and that they are going to have to actively fight their way to Moscow. Turn up next morning and there will be a bankruptcy notice pinned to your door. Clearly the Travel business isn’t for you.

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What’s described, however, wasn’t far from the reality of a typical German infantry soldier. Sheer exhaustion was never far away.

Panzergruppes, instead of fatigue, burn extra fuel when on Offense. Nobody advances their Panzer, into enemy held territory, in a straight line. For each Panzergruppe there is an additional 1000 bbls of fuel, per turn, expended. This doesn’t sound like much but it adds up. AGC has two Panzergruppes, that’s 2,000 bbl’s per turn to keep all those Panzers belching terror and confusion.

If there isn’t enough fuel available (at the point of use, not sitting back in the Main Depot) then the Offensive bonus is canceled for the turn.

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The Germans found that the fuel expenditure of their mechanised forces in Barbarossa were way beyond anything they had experienced in their previous French and Polish campaigns. To reflect this you’ll be presented with an event, fairly early on. You can choose to continue pushing hard but at the cost of increased fuel consumption (the 1,000 bbls per PG jumps to 1,500 bbls) or you can scale back your Offensive ambitions to a more appropriate combination of fuel expenditure and bonus.

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If a division loses contact with it’s Army then that big 40% Posture bonus won’t apply. Unlike the penalty. Lost sheep stories usually don’t end well.

“Like I keep telling you, son. If you keep slouching, you’ll end up at the chiropractor.”

Cheers,

Cameron

Posted in DC3:Engine, Game Design, Upcomming releases | 17 Comments

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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