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Three Moves Ahead Episode 86: Logistics, Supply and News

October 14th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 11 Comments · Design, Podcast, Three Moves Ahead, Wargames


Troy and Rob start the show with a talk about what Derek Paxton’s move to Stardock means for Elemental and the future of Stardock.

They then segue into a discussion about logistics and supply rules constrain the player in interesting ways. Rob tells another wargame anecdote, we debate whether an AI really understands supply rules and again talk about the best RTS ever made.

This is the October pledge drive, as well, so stay tuned to the end for another plea for money. Not for beer.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Hell-Mikey

    Regarding Mr. Paxton’s move to Stardock – I share Mr. Goodfellow’s and Mr. Zacny’s faith in Mr. Paxton’s ability to create a wonderful world ripe for storytelling. I share their concern that the clock is actively against him. But I submit that the real coup in bringing him on board is that he ships. He’s delivered a rich, long-running, team-developed mod from a group of volunteers cobbled together over the internet. In essence, the man has been running a successful ski resort in the seventh ring of Hell. That talent (charisma? organization?) strikes me as more important than his world creation skill. Elemental has a world painted in broad strokes, and Fall from Heaven did mine years worth of source material. Mr. Paxton may not find rich ground for making us buy the story. But Mr. Paxton’s track record for delivery, with what one trusts is a more cohesive team, gives me great hope for great things. The best of luck to him and the Elemental team.

    Regarding the logistics discussion – would that Mr. Zacny tied the lessons he’s observed in Guns of August to Mr. Petraska’s guest blog on theme. I don’t know if the timing made this impossible. I’ve not had the good fortune to play this particular scenario, but Mr. Zacny persuades me that there are ties here, and perhaps a strong refutation of Mr. Petraska’s concern that there is no designer intent in modern strategy games. I am still open to Mr. Petraska’s conceit from the comments that design intent shifts to the scenario designer, and this this scenario is a sterling example of that case.

  • Otagan

    I must confess that I expected Hegemony: Philip of Macedon to come up based on how frequently Troy had mentioned it close to release, as I remember the logistical system of that game being a considerable part of empire management and vital to one’s success with the game. I have yet to look into it too seriously due to the lukewarm reception it received as a whole, however, so I cannot comment with any degree of authority on the matter.

    Conquest: Frontier Wars managed to distinguish itself through its logistic system, which required the player to manage the fleet’s ammunition supplies lest they be stranded without any resupply ships in the area and no ammo in their stores, where they’d basically be sitting ducks for more well-provisioned enemy ships.

    Supreme Commander and Homeworld both had fuel supplies for air units and small fleet ships. In the former, this tended not to be terribly important except on the larger maps, where the large fuel supplies would become more of an issue, but in Homeworld it was critical to have sufficient resupply ships available for your fighters and corvettes if they were a part of your fleet. Running out of fuel was a Very Bad Thing, as your ships could easily get ripped to shreds by an enemy who had refueled before that particular encounter and was not running on fumes. Of course, in both games’ cases, they stripped out these particular aspects in subsequent releases.

  • Jeff Petraska

    I agree that the TAOW scenario Rob describes is an excellent example of a scenario with a specific message – that the Schlieffen plan really had very little chance of success in knocking France out of the war with a single blow. It is also an example of the sub-genre of strategy gaming that I think may be the most likely to have such a message – the operational-level, historical wargame. But I do not think that this one example provides a convincing refutation of my contention that most strategy games lack a clear message. Even if every operational-level historical wargame had such a message, those games still constitute a minority of the strategy genre at large.

    Also, I want to clarify one more point: there’s a difference between a game design having a message, and having a designer’s intent. I think every game has a designer’s intent; that is, a vision of how the game will flow, what will be the primary game elements and how they will interact, what decisions the players will have to make, etc. I’m not convinced that every game has a designer’s message, however. By message I mean some underlying thesis, some moral, some core statement or observation about the real world that my English teachers would make me ferret out of every story they made me read.

    And speaking of stories, I just bought Brad Wardell’s Elemental book, Destiny’s Embers. But please don’t tell my old English teachers.

  • Jeff Petraska

    Oops! I meant TOAW, not TAOW.

  • Rob Zacny

    TOAW is an interesting game. I always thought that Koger’s intent with TOAW was to create a platform for representing a certain type of warfare at a certain level of command. He’s not making a comment about any individual campaign or war, but creating an engine for translating any industrial, mass warfare into a game. Where he does come close to making statements is in some of the rules he created to govern the game. The importance of formations. Of supply and readiness. Of events beyond the theater commander’s control.

    But beyond that, the statements fall to the scenario designer. This was TOAW’s strength and weakness. In the hands of a good scenario designer, TOAW was and is one of the greatest wargames ever made. But that system also allowed in a lot of crap, and even invited it. The other thing is that a scenario designer really had to take the time to make sure the scenario played correctly, because just entering historically accurate information and maps didn’t necessarily make a scenario work correctly. TOAW is a system that requires some judicious fudging and elision. Most scenarios didn’t rise to that level.

    As a case in point, there are two August 1914 scenarios. One is what I described, but there is another that has a much larger-scale map and models the opening of the conflict at the battalion and regimental level. It’s terrible, because all it does is create busy work. You’re still shoving divisions around, only now you’ve got move 20 counters instead of 1.

    Anyway, I agree with Jeff’s point that “message” is rare in a strategy game. It has to be. A strategy game is a possibility space, and it’s hard to square that with a coherent message. If I’m playing a game, I want my actions to have an impact. Can I have a free hand in a game with an over-arching message? I’d say that’s pretty hard. Paradox games make a comment about how the world works, and that’s vague enough where their message and my actions don’t have to collide. But if the message is, “The Schlieffen Plan didn’t have a snowball’s chance,” then all I’m doing is playing a part in someone else’s script. I think most designers are wary of that, which is why so many strategy games are open-ended 4x games.

    Let me put it this way: a lot of wargames like Combat Mission, or TOAW might have a message, but their message is usually procedural, not diagnostic. So playing Achtung Panzer, I am learning about the proper way to employ infantry and armor across mostly open terrain and how different equipment and doctrine informed German and Russian tactics. That’s a kind of message, but it still falls to the player to extrapolate from that a coherent argument.

    Whereas something like the WWI scenario does make a clearer argument, just from the way it sets up the board and the problems you will always, always run into as you play. It’s answering a direct diagnostic question: why did the Germans fail in August 1914? Whereas a game like Combat Mission is asking how small-unit tactics worked across various theaters in WWII. One scenario presents an argument, one game is presenting an illustration.

  • Ralph Trickey

    I think you’re right about Mr Koger’s intent with TOAW was. I know that since I’ve taken it over, my intent is to create as realistic a simulation as I can to attract the people that can create the good scenarios, I’m also creating the game I want to play, which is not quite the same game it was when I took it over. It’s tough since realism and creating a game are in direct competition. I’m sure that some people would like to be able to set how many bullets are going to each individual unit in the supply phase and micromanage logistics to that level of detail, but that extreme level of detail isn’t likely to happen, since I don’t think it would be fun. That doesn’t mean that logistics isn’t going to change, just that I know that there’s a difference between Management and that level of micro-management. I also think that there is a definite art to keeping only the important things in. I’ve seen too many games ruined because they were designed by commitee (worse than a focus group design.)

    TOAW is such a completely open-ended game that I don’t see how it could have a message in the normal meaning of the word. Individual scenarios can definitely have messages, and can’t avoid them. I am changing the influence of TOAW in subtle ways in the next patch, logistics now makes more sense, it’s related to the wheeled vehicle movement. There are optional popups that will show you the effects of terrain on combat to highlight that.

    I think that there are more 4x games for several reasons.

    They are a lot easier to learn. and introduce concepts slowly, one step at a time. First you learn about city management, then about axes, and later about ranged units, and finally about nuclear bombs. No wargame that I’ve heard of has had that slow a tutorial. Intead of one town, you start with ‘many’ units and no clear indication of what you should do with them. Games which do tactical combat have it easier, Steel Panthers seemed like it was much easier to learn. I’ve wondered what a tutorial for TOAW would be like which started at Napoleonic, then WWI, WWII, and finally modern warfare would be like.

    They have very clear short-term goals. Open up your favorite wargame and try to figure out what your short-term goals are. You should form long-range goals in any game like sweep these units to the left and these to the right and we’ll encircle him and force him to retreat, but those aren’t short-term goals. Most games out now have short term goals, they have clear indicators for what to do next. Civ V did. I started it up and it immediately guided me through my first game. Elemental didn’t and I think that was one of it’s biggest failings.

    The AI is easier to write (I know I’ll get arguments on this one). A 4x is more complicated since you need to worry about city management, build orders, diplomacy, etc. but the individual components can be simpler. It has the HUGE advantage that each scenario is only played once. An AI for a wargame would ideally learn from replaying a scenario just like a human does, or understand how to play a good strategic game in order to keep it fresh. I’ve got articles that talk about terrain analysis and a number of other topics related to AI design, but almost nothing related to strategy.

    Wargame designers seem to univerally (be really bad) at interface design. I’m not sure why, and maybe it’s just my perception. It may also be because ‘Wargames’ spans a large number of game types. I can open up any 4x (OK, Elemental took longer) and be playing in about 5 minutes because the concepts are the same. Wargames are so different I HAVE to read the manual before playing. Without any standards, wargame designers have to re-invent the wheel for each game, and each one does it differently.


  • Derek Paxton

    Thanks for the good wishes. Keep up the great podcasts.

  • Peter (Mind Elemental)

    Hmm, you guys touched on the need to bring up reinforcements. I’d say that’s how pretty much every general (non-wargame) conflict-based strategy game has handled it, from Total War all the way to Heroes of Might and Magic (which is also a great example, in that in the earlier games, you needed to have a ‘supply train’ hero running back and forth to town).

  • TMT Bars

    This is conflict-based strategy game. I like it. Its handled very easy.

  • kenny b

    Since you were at a loss about how Kohan did supply: Kohan had a supply system of sorts but it had more to do with your overall economy and replenishment of units.

    You only controlled companies of units, which after losing health/soldiers needed to return to a supply area (which radiate from cities and forts) to recruit new units and heal existing ones. In effect, it did create a sense that your armies had a “supply trail” of sorts; a path of retreat. Elite companies performed significantly better than rookie ones, and making new companies costs money (whereas healing existing ones does not) so there was quite a bit of incentive towards not leading suicide missions. This meant that you would usually conduct assaults / raids with an idea of where your companies would retreat and heal if things weren’t going well, especially earlier in the game where gold is not plentiful and having to re-recruit companies could cause serious setbacks since that money wasn’t being used to make economic buildings. This was even more important if you ever let your companies rout, since a rout is basically a retreat that you have no control over; generally companies would just run in the opposite direction which would hopefully be into friendly territory.

    At a more strategic level, there were resource points throughout the map that, alongside buildings inside your cities, influenced your resource inflow, which were represented by positive or negative numbers for several resources; gold is the only resource that accumulated. If any of these non-accumulating resources went negative, your gold inflow would weaken (your kingdom had to “buy” resources on the “market” to keep up with demand). Resource points tend to provide much more for much less time/money than the equivalent resource-producing buildings inside cities, so taking particular cities close to resource points could greatly improve your economy or greatly damage your enemy’s.

    There’s one case where your units would actually lose health when not in a supply zone: if your accumulated gold dropped below zero (I forget if it could go negative or not). It was a very rare situation that I only saw a few times, and generally only when I was going to lose the game anyways, so unfortunately it didn’t really come into play in an interesting way.

  • Jorune

    Logistics Tycoon!

    Company of Heroes did logistics/supply routes in an interesting way. You went out to capture ‘capture points’ which besides giving you resources, also meant you controlled the zone. For you to collect those resources, you needed to control zones that led all the way back to your HQ. If an enemy took control of a zone in between, you would no longer get resources from those areas no longer ‘connected’ to your HQ. It was a great way to get someone pounding on your base to back off. You send a single squad out, capture a flag and you broke his supply route. The player see’s less resources coming in and immediately backs off pounding you to reconnect his zones. If you kept up on it, a player would divert units to protect his flags. So by hitting his ‘supply routes’, you could alter a players plans.