Impedimenta: Divide and Conquer23 Sep 2016 0
For my own contribution to our 'Impedimenta' article series, I've decided to divide 'Logistics' and 'Supply' into two separate concepts. While often taken to be the same thing (especially when abstracted in the context of games) the two can have quite different implications and focus. There are two games that I've spent a fair amount of time playing that I think epitomise the separate paradigms quite well, and I'd like to share them with you today.
Devil in the Details: Men of War and the Art of Logistics
Men of War was and is, a great franchise. If ever a videogame captured the essence and presentation of a WW2 table-top wargame, it's this one. Published by Russian company 1C and developed by quite a few studios over the years it's a franchise that seems to be in a permanent state of not quite reaching its potential.
A real-time World War 2 tactical skirmish game, Men of War has a feel to it that's akin to something like Company of Heroes, but completely devoid of base-building or resource management. Using the rather excellent GEM engine, players would fight battles of varying size and complexity across beautiful, highly destructive environments. In the various single-player offerings especially, you could go from controlling a small unit of infiltrators to an entire company's worth of troops, alternatively defending or attacking objectives or locations.
As far as the topic of the week is concerned, Men of War has a very hands-on system when it comes to the idea of logistics. Almost like an RPG in-fact, every soldier and vehicle has an inventory where ammo, items and other items can be stored. For infantry, weapons also went here as an individual soldier could change guns if they needed to. Vehicle load-outs were fixed. Assuming a soldier or vehicle survived long-enough (which if you've ever played Men of War, you would know was actually quite unlikely), it could run out of ammo. Depending on what you were playing, there were a couple of solutions to this:
- Call in a Supply Truck, which was stocked full of ammo of varying types (In solo-play, it's more likely there'd be ammo dumps dotted around the map).
- Pick up ammo from a dead comrade.
- Pick up a new weapon entirely and use the ammo associated with that.
- Simply get the unit killed and replace him with another unit (not recommended for tanks).
Prior to early 2015, the problem with many of these solutions was that it required a player to interact with some very fiddly interfaces. In fact, Men of War was often at its weakest during the small-unit or highly story-driven missions. Concepts like infiltration & stealth were brought in and the game has always had a rather 'busy' UI – you can toggle behaviours, stances, position... even take direct control of an individual unit. All these systems – including the inventory – were a bit cumbersome, and seemed to suggest that secretly, Men of War wanted to be some kind of RPG.
Even outside story missions (and Men of War became increasingly MP-focused as time went on), the systems were fiddly. To resupply a troop you would have to move him close to a supply truck, open the inventory of both the soldier AND and supply truck and then transfer the required ammo between the two. For tanks it was worse – you had to use a crew-member to carry the ammo from truck to tank!
Something magical happened in February 2015 however when current developer DigitalMindSoft released a patch for Men of War: Assault Squad 2 (the latest iteration of the franchise): The resupply system finally got an overhaul! Supply Trucks and ammo crates now instead have a points value associated with them, along with a highlighted zone around them. Provided it has the right kind of ammo, a troop can walk into the zone and automatically resupply ammunition. This depletes the 'Supply Points' of the truck, although these can regenerate over time. Units also now display an 'Out of Ammo' symbol above them when they've used up all their bullets.
It's a relatively subtle but important change that really allows the Men of War series to do what it does best – offer a big, destructive sandbox to fight pitched battles in. The fact that everything is in real-time means that your cognitive resources are pushed to the limit, and the less micro-management (however realistic) the better. I'd like to see them go one step further, perhaps code in some AI behaviour that will allow them to go seek ammo, but this will do.
If you've yet to play a Men of War game, I'd highly suggest jumping straight in with Men of War: Assault Squad 2. They've recently released a DLC that adds in the story missions from the original MoW game, which I think were the most fun (especially with the terrible voice-acting).
Impedimenta: The Hegemony Series & Supply Lines
The Hegemony series by Longbow Games is a rare attempt to deliberately model a videogame around the idea of supply and the logistical needs of armies in the field. The first game set itself in Ancient Greece, while Hegemony: Rome covered the period during Caesar's Gallic Wars. The latest entry, Clash of the Ancients, takes place on the Italian peninsular and covers a pre-republic era where the Latin and Greek tribes fight for control of central Italy.
Whichever version you were playing though, the fundamentals remained largely the same. The basic resources of Hegemony are Gold, Wood and Food. All three are generated from resource nodes but Food/Wood is then stockpiled at locations on the map. Gold is a fixed global value that you then spend through lump-sums and upkeep. Wood is mainly use for the construction of buildings and isn't in constant need, while food is a constant requirement used to feed growing populations and army units. It's important to be generating a surplus of Food because the amount of resources you generated is affected by the seasons, with zero food generation during Winter.
Given that Food/Wood needed to be stockpiled locally for a game element (like a city population or army) to draw from, supply routes became Hegemony's other most important feature. Apart from certain exceptions, the food and wood resource pools can't be accessed at will, although there is an abstract network that can be 'tapped' into by linking up cities together via supply routes. These routes could be blockaded and cut off by enemy army units, and over long distances required the use of forts and/or bridges. These could also be captured or destroyed.
Within your own territory, this was all quite easy to manage, but it's when you went on offensive campaigns that things got really interesting. Army units can carry food with them, although it's a finite limit and the basic amount won't last long (although you can upgrade units to either carry more food, or use less while outside a friendly zone). These are the where the forts come in. Forts are fixed building you place on pre-determined points on the map – usually in strategically significant locations. Essentially, the flow of a military campaign would be to invade enemy territory, build a fort, and then use that fort as a staging ground for further expansion. Building a fort is the exception to the resource rule – the wood needed could be drawn directly from your empire's global supply. Any upgrades though would then require the wood to be stockpiled locally, which required a supply route. Food could then also be sent to this forward outpost to resupply armies and allow for the campaign to continue.
These fundamentals aside, the 'focus' of each iteration has changed someone what. Hegemony: Rome, for example, allowed for larger armies and campaigns of conquest. Forts were placed in places that allowed them to act as forward bases, and it was a real pleasure to be able to 'plan' a campaign during the winter season. Group up the army units, make sure the fort has plenty of supply and come spring the offensive is launched. The design of the Alpine regions was especially challenging, as heavy penalties choked supplies from getting across the alps, making expansion slow. During winter entire passes were blocked.
Clash of the Ancients, however, takes a less aggressive stance. Since you play tribes, the armies fielded are typically smaller (and the in-game economy isn't designed for large armies anyway), and is less about expanding your empire and more about regional control and asserting dominance. The most obvious demonstration of this is through the fact that 'winning' a game is done through collecting Hegemony points, and you can get these through many different means. Forts are placed more defensively as well, and feel less important than they used to be.
If you've yet to play a Hegemony game, they're worth checking out. Depending on who you ask, it's tough to say which is the better game. I rather liked Rome, but it's by no means a perfect game and can get quite boring quite quickly. Ancients is good, but its focus on pre-republic Italy might not appeal to some, plus I feel there's still a lot of room for improvement. In my current game I'm playing a more pirate-focused Illyrian tribe, but hit-and-run/skirmish style warfare isn't supported as well as it could be. People generally remember the original Hegemony quite well, but it is an old game at this point.
And that's it for our 'Impedimenta' special here on the Wargamer. We hope you enjoyed this more focused-series of articles, and hopefully you learned something new about this often maligned aspect of warfare. As always please leave any thoughts or questions in the comments below.