Monday, September 18, 2023

Wargame Design: Adding Logistics to Miniature Wargames


They say that amateurs talk tactics, while professionals talk Logistics.  However, when you look at most tabletop miniature games logistics is rarely mentioned.  In a basic sense, the logistics is making sure your units have ammo, food, fuel, etc. that keeps them in fighting trim.  Forces with poor logistics tend to have a tougher time fighting against a better logistical prepared foe.  Many times, strategy is about creating those logistical mis-matches.  

Why Skip Logistics
I can think of several reasons why Logistics is rarely a component of tabletop miniature games.  

1. The focus is on the tip of the spear.  Players want things that go boom.  Logistics do not make things go boom.  Maybe, it makes your foe's tummy grumble.  That is not exciting.  

2. Cognitive load is limited.  Players can only track so much from a rules level, they want to focus on things that go boom!  Logistics is seen as secondary. 

3. Players want to focus on tactical challenges and not strategic challenges on the table.  Strategic challenges are for pre-and post battle sequences, not on the table itself.  

4. Imbalanced logistics can lead to lop-sided battles.  Lop-sided battles are not perceived as fun. 

5. These are games and not simulations.  Real life is only tangential to the reality of the game.  

A Freighter in Aeronautica Imperialis V1

Why Include Logistics

Perhaps, the better question is; why include logistics in the first place?  They seem like a pain to try and implement rather than fun!  Of course, this depends on your tolerance for friction.  

1. It is a great way to add Friction to a game! 

2. Mirrors real-world scenarios 

3. Logistics wins wars

4. Adds a novel bit of Chrome or a unique niche for your wargame

Let's face it.  Logistics is the key to real-world warfare.  It is not tactics and strategy, it is which ever side can get the fuel, ammo, and food to their troops that tends to win the wars.  Therefore, adding logistics seems like a critical element that many wargames "gloss over".  

Of course, when considering logistics you also want to consider the "scale" of your wargame.  Skirmish games will represent this differently from Mass Battle games, that will reflect Logistics differently than a Grand Strategy game.  In skirmish games, it is getting ammo or similar key resources to the troops in a timely way.  In Grand Strategy it will focus on the procurement and resource development needed.    

Aeronautica Imperialis V1 Convoy Raid

How I Have Seen It Used
Here are a few sample games that I have seen use Logistics to varying degrees: 

  • Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse - Skirmish
  • Battlegroup: Kursk - Unit vs. Unit Battle Game
  • A Billion Suns  - Unit vs Unit Game
There are other games where I have seen Logistics play a part, but these are three that I wanted to highlight to demonstrate just a few different approaches available and how Logistics can make a great hook for a wargame.  

The supplement Seasons adds a whole new level of detail for Logistics to the game of Zombie Survival.  After a game, individual models are assigned tasks to complete.  Each of these lead to a post-session mini-game with pros and cons.  One of the key functions is to scavenge.  If models do not gather enough food, water, or materials then some of the individual models may face penalties in the following game.  Often time, the objective of any given scenario is to recover resources to make it easier to support the group in the post-game session.  

In this example, Logistics is immediate and visceral.  It is a primarily a component of the post-game campaign sequence of events.  However, the impacts apply to individual models.  This is a great way to add Chrome to a game.   

Battlegroup: Kursk
In this game, as players take "casualties" they draw chits that erode the force morale.  Some of these Chits also force breakdowns, running out of ammo, and other additional effects.  In force creation, players can choose to spend resources on specific units that can off-set these "Fog-of-War" effects, and can often also give on field benefits when other units interact with them.  

In this example, the Logistics take place immediately on the table and require the player to make pre-game choices in their force composition to avoid potential logistical problems later.  Every point spent on a ammo truck is points you can not spend on other units.  The player has to decide how much they want to invest in Logistics, but failure to do so will lead to in-game drawbacks.  This is an interesting way to create meaningful strategic decisions that impact gameplay.  

Logistics make good Objectives

This is a game of space contractors trying to fulfill corporate contracts with the minimum amount of resources in order to maximize their profits. Resources are used to deploy units, and fulfilling objectives provides resources.  Therefore, the win conditions are based on the logistics of the game.  

In this example, Logistics are the Victory Conditions of the game.  You need to consider how much to spend in relation to how much you will earn from completing the objective.  Logistics are the KEY feature of the game.  This acts as a hook to the game.   

Final Thoughts
Logistics is a key part of warfare, and often it is not represented in Miniature Wargames.  There are a number of reasons for this omission.  However, as a tool or mechanic they can be a great way to add friction to a game, and friction often forces a player to make Meaningful Decisions.  Logistics can be a great way to add Chrome or a Hook to your game.  They are also a great way to create strategic decision making in your games.  Used correctly, Logistical elements can add a lot of depth and re-playability to your wargame.  

Don't overlook this key aspect of miniature wargaming.  

Bonus Content
Kill Team has really helped us grow the community in our local, rural area.  It seems to attract eye-balls and players.  This time, I took my Eldar Corsairs against a Craftworld list.  I provided the Craftworld list to help a new player learn the rules, as they had just picked up the Ork vs Guard basic set.  Therefore, I arranged a time to show them how to play.  In addition, we had one onlooker who was eager to learn what it was all about.  

Since this was a beginning game, we skipped some of the ploys and such.  We also used only a handful of special rules.  It was mostly Shuriken Catapults vs. Shuriken Catapults and one heavy weapon a piece.  Most of the Tactical and Strategic ploys we skipped for now.  Afterall, they guy just wanted to grasp the basics of moving, shooting, melee, and morale.  We managed to do it all in this game thanks to there being a lot of terrain!  

I ended up losing by 1 VP again.  However, it was a good game and the new player and observer seemed to have a lot of fun!  They both quickly grasped the basic rules easily and quickly.  I look forward to playing with them again as they were a good opponent and fun to play against.  

Until next time......

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1 comment:

  1. I once spent 18 months playing an SPI game once, even twice a week in which logistics were so important it was derisively Nick named “Supply In The Pacific” . Gave a whole new depth to any book I’ve read since.