Saturday, 9 April 2011

Logistics in Wargames

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I played a very simple wargame campaign.
It was set in a valley. The Royalists had a fort at one end, the Parliamentarians at the other, and there were a few villages and so on in between. One aspect of the campaign was that the losses for each side would be replenished, after a suitable time, to the home fort of each side, and could then move, at normal rates, to the main army.

There was no clever stuff in the campaign – no side roads or long outflanking movements or anything of that nature. The bookkeeping was quite straightforward. I seem to recall, and here memory becomes a little fuzzy, that the losses were divided into five categories and returned at one category per week, or something like that.

As you would expect, the first encounter occurred somewhere in the middle of the map, and resulted in a victory for one side or the other, I forget which. The losing force recoiled and another battle was fought, which they also lost and they then fell back on their base fort.

But now, something interesting happened. Having fallen back to their base, the losing side regained its casualties at a faster rate than the winners. Thus, the force back at base and on the defensive was stronger than the attackers, and easily shrugged off the attempt by the other side to take their fort.

After that, of course, the initially losing side took the offensive and drove the others back to their base in a series of battles. Then, the same circumstances pertained, except the other way around, and the roles were reversed, until the other side were back at their home base again.

The campaign thus ebbed and flowed until I gave up in frustration, neither side being able to land the killer blow. I’ve always regarded that campaign as a good generator of battles, but flawed in the execution of the campaign aspect. Surely someone should have actually been able to win it.

A recent comment column in the (London) Times made me thing otherwise. It was talking about the fighting in Libya, and how it had ebbed and flowed from Tripoli to Benghazi and back again. It compared this with the desert campaigns of World War Two, where the fighting between the Commonwealth and German-Italian forces ebbed and flowed in a similar way.

This ebb and flow was for logistical reasons. The victors outran their supplies and were forced to stop, while the losers fell back to positions closer to their own logistical support. The columnist, whose name I forget, suggested that the same might happen in the Libyan civil war, even with a no fly zone.

This article reminded me of my own failed campaign. Perhaps it wasn’t so flawed after all. A mind numbingly simple rule, albeit one only about casualties and replacements, had reproduced a similar sort of ebb and flow in a wargame campaign.

Now, of course, World War Two logistics was about much more than the supply of replacements. For that matter, so were logistics in the English Civil War, but the strategic situation in both my campaign game and the desert were similar. There basically was only one route for the forces and their logistics. In my game, it was up and down the valley, in the desert it was along the coast.

Logistics is usually ignored by the average wargamer, as I think I’ve mentioned before. Usually this is because they are regarded as being too difficult and too boring. But in the context of a campaign game, particularly a solo one, they do seem to add an extra dimension. And, as my example shows, they do not have to be that complex.

The mechanics of my replacement was, I think, 5 margarine tubs per side. At the end of each battle, the losses were split equally between the five categories (I think they were unwounded, lightly wounded, badly wounded, severely wounded and dead). I seem to recall that the basic dynamic came from Charles Grant’s The Wargame, but I couldn’t swear to it. The movements of the replacements could be kept track of on the map until they joined the main force when they could simply re-join their units and be counted; that is, the margarine tub would be opened and the models therein added to their comrades in the unit boxes.

This simple mechanism had the complex result to which I have already alluded. This was, of course, before the days of personal computers and sophisticated spreadsheets, but it strikes me that if such a simple mechanism could reproduce such a real world effect, something even slightly more complex could generate a much more complex scenario in our wargaming, without much cost in terms of book-keeping and other dull as ditchwater activities.


  1. I appreciate the timeliness of this post in relation to the rules I am writing at present. All the more so as I hope to have the rules operate as flawlessly as possible for solo-gaming as well as group-play.

    It has been a long while since I last solo-war-gamed. I will have to make time for that again, soon.

    Thanks. :)

  2. As soon as I started reading about your ECW campaign, I immediately thought of the Benghazi handicap. You make me want to dig out my British, Italians and DAK forces and set to on the table! :-)

  3. Hi,

    I hope you keep us updated with progress on both of these projects.... :^)

  4. I've seen similar mechanics in other Charles or CS Grant stuff so it is probably from there. If you could just think of a simple 'food' mechanic to go along with it, I think that would be pretty much there for simple horse-and-musket campaigning.



  5. And while I think on, I think I have read that both Napoleon and the Germans in WW2 wanted to destroy the Russians next to the Polish border to prevent this very problem...