Sutler's Lot by Matthew Hartley

Issue: 17

Sutler's Lot
Some notes on supply in campaign games
by Matthew Hartley

Here are some answers to the logistics problem that I've seen (more or less) successfully used over the years.

1) Don't Bother.

Not on the face of it a terribly helpful suggestion. However, are you sure that your campaign actually needs a logistics system? If you have relatively small forces moving around a reasonably prosperous area, you could assume that they could easily forage their supplies and carry more specialised supplies (ammunition and weapon spare parts) integral with the units (although this should of course be factored into strategic movement rates). Alternatively, if the time scale of the campaign is short (like several days in the case of a SF "seize the strategic centres" spacedrop game) all supplies could be regarded as integral with the units.

2) Fixed Integral Supply.

Simply: a force is given, as part of the campaign scenario, a fixed number of days worth of supplies in which to achieve its campaign objectives. Again, the supplies are taken to be integral with the units. This is arguably less of a logistics system and more a means of limiting the time of a campaign and putting pressure on the attacking player.

3) Scaled Decline.

This assumes that over the course of the campaign the logistics of one or both sides becomes increasingly disorganised. This is based, broadly, on the principle that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and, once disorganisation emerges, it grows and spreads. Accordingly, each side has a fixed percentage rate of decline in its combat effectiveness and strategic movement applied at the end of each time period (weekly decline seems to work well for fantasy games). Broadly speaking "regular" armies will have a lower rate of decline to "irregular" armies.

4) Lines Of Supply.

This is the favourite supply system in old SPI boardgames (amongst many others). On the campaign map, certain sites are designated as supply centres / dumps (the later may be movable within the campaign time frame) units must be able to trace an imaginary line of supply from their current position to a supply centre (although not always the case in the boardgames, I favour, in fantasy campaigns at least, lines of supply being traceable only along defined roads/tracks and waterways). Units which cannot trace such lines are counted as out of supply with associated penalties. Supply centres / dumps could be limited in either their range of supply or how many (or which) units they can supply. Units can be given interception radius (similar to boardgames units zones of control) through which enemy units cannot trace lines of supply. This system sound simple but can get horribly complicated if you use OS or Kriegspiel maps instead of the hex or square overlaid maps used in boardgames.

5) Fixed and Variable Supply Forage Maps.

Take the campaign map and section it off into different supply areas (based around settlements and their hinterlands, or areas of similar terrain for example). Give each area a different supply total, numbered in terms of unit / time periods supplied (to represent local partisan activity and friendly / hostile locals this amount could differ between the opposing forces). For each time period units spend in a particular area the total number of unit / time periods supplied is reduced by the appropriate amount. Once the number of units / time periods supplied is reduced to zero then that area can no longer support troops. With the Variable Supply Forage Maps - more appropriate to SF games - areas can have their units / time periods increased by supplies brought in from off-map. This type of supply system allows for sides to engage in "scorched earth" tactics.

6) Supply Units.

A system of specific "supply units" which move on the campaign map as per normal units. Each unit carries x amount of supplies which keeps a unit or units in supply for y number of time periods when the supplies are delivered. The supply units must then return to a supply centre before they can resupply another unit. This system allows for specific attacks on supply convoys. Be warned however, this system can generate huge amounts of paperwork.

The systems listed above are not exhaustive but, I hope, give a range of different ways of dealing with supply and logistics in campaign whilst still concentrating primarily on the movement and combat aspect of campaigns. It is quite possible to produce a "supply-orientated" game which looks at the issue of supply in far greater detail (by breaking "supplies" down into constituent parts - food, ammunition, spares, fuel, tents, boots, Playboy mags, etc, etc, etc, and looking at their weight and volume characteristics in relation to the capabilities and requirements of the supplying forces and the nature and extent of the supply mission). Whilst this can be an educational experience, it can also descend into an advanced accounting exercise with hideous multiple equations.

When introducing some element of logistics into your campaign game, it is vital you think carefully about how much effect you want supply to have on the game and how much game time you are prepared to put into the logistics issue. In the systems I have listed above, the time commitment varies from the minimal to the considerable. The most complex system I have seen run successfully was a combination of a Fixed Supply Forage Map (supplying food and non-specialist supplies) and Supply Units (for specialist supplies). This did, however, require quite a bit of effort on the part of the players and referee concerned.

I hope this is some use to members in their campaign games.