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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”