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Subject: Why do you like operational level land warfare games? rss

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Øivind Karlsrud
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I like tactical level games, because of the immersion. I like strategic level games because I like making those top-level decisions about which country to declare war on, and what type of units to build, etc. I also think I like operational level naval warfare, like games about the War in the Pacific (many of the decisions you make in Empire of the Sun and World in Flames are actually operational level decisions, and at least I like those). But I don't get the same excitement from operational level land warfare games. Isn't it often a slog? Just moving the front line one hex at a time. So what is it that makes operational level games exciting (apart from the history lesson, which is present in any good wargame)?

The only thing I can think about is if supply is important in the game, and it is possible to cut the enemy's supply. I like the PC game Unity of Command, and it is all about supply, and trying to cut supply. So maybe if good operational level games work like that, I might get excited.

Is this it? Is this what good operational level games (like the Operational Combat Series) do, that is they make maintaining and cutting supply an important part of the game? Tell me why operational level games are not a slog, i.e. not just about moving the front line one hex at a time, which is what the eastern front feels like to me in World in Flames.
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Look for games that have large advances after combat and/or exploitation phases. Part of the thrill of Decision in France is finally getting a breakthrough and zooming across the map after a multiple-turn slog through the boccage.
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fredthomas wrote:
Look for games that have large advances after combat and/or exploitation phases. Part of the thrill of Decision in France is finally getting a breakthrough and zooming across the map after a multiple-turn slog through the boccage.


This sound like good advice. It's related to my idea that you need to be able to cut supply lines. That's what you do (or threaten to do) when you achieve a major breakthrough. This happens sometimes on the eastern front in World in Flames too (especially when the attacker gets a double impulse), and is the fun part of the eastern front. The attacker gets a breakthrough, and the defender withdraws the units he can to the next natural defensive line (typically a river).

France '40 is supposed to be about achieving a breakthrough, and it has rules for advancing several hexes, but it seems to me that it is often stopped by the rules for determined defense, and when I played it, it became the kind of slog I find utterly boring.
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In my limited experience with, e.g., the OCS system, I find the appeal in understanding what is and is not feasible before the game even starts.

Specifically, by counting up all the supply points available for the time period for both sides, I get a pretty good idea of what I can and can't do, and more importantly, I get an idea of what the opponent can and can't do.

And for me it's a beautiful thing to win a game because one's opponent outran their supply, or used up too much of it too fast, or in the wrong place, or didn't garrison a dump, or lost a HQ hence supply throw range.


On the other hand, I also love me some Ogre because free bullets to blow stuff up.

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Øivind Karlsrud
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Eric Brosius wrote:


What you say there is interesting. So it's not just about breakthroughs and cutting supply, it's about maintaining your own supply. I think maybe the eurogamer in me might like that aspect, especially if you have different kinds of supply (the eurogamer in me likes production chains).

Anyway, since it is said that amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics, wouldn't it be fun with a game which completely abstracted combat, and focused solely on building up supply? Maybe a game with some euro-y mechanisms thrown in, but which still managed to feel historical.

I think maybe 1944: Race to the Rhine is a bit like that, but I'm afraid it won't feel very historical.
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Most of the early commercial boardgames were operational-level games; titles such as D-Day, Afrika Korps, and Stalingrad. Certainly these tended to be all about taking and holding territory, so the play of the game was often deciding when and where to attack to move that "front line" from one point to another.

Since that time, operational-level games have added other elements to the situation, supply being one of them. Others include the impact of leadership, command and control with attendant frictions, morale, fog of war/reconnaissance, political considerations, and more. But at the end of the day for operational-level land combat, there's typically some sort of territorial objective involved and the question is how to best get there.

Sure, there are the grinding "snake dances" (the generals sat as the lines on the map moved from side to side) as we see in quite a number of strategic games--particularly on the Eastern Front in WW 2. But not all operational-level games are like that. Much depends on the period and the situation.

One might want to consider operational games where a front line can't be made across the map, so the games tend to be more than shoving matches. It's even better when you aren't sure about who moves when or how far units will move when they get the chance to. For that, consider operational-level games on the U.S. Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of American Independence, or the Seven Years' War in Europe. While there are more modern wars where one can find some pretty open-ended operational situations, you'll almost always have that in the earlier periods.

One of the more popular operational-level game series that show this is the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War. Extremely tense and chaotic and illustrates the difficulty in coordinating operations across expanses of terrain involving multiple corps.

I'd also recommend Kevin Zucker's operational games covering Napoleonic campaigns; there's nothing else like them. Some of the better recent ones include The Habit of Victory, Napoleon at the Crossroads, and The Seven Days of 1809. Among older titles, the best is Napoleon at Bay: Defend the Gates of Paris, 1814.

Some other titles to look into include: 1777: The Year of the Hangman, Washington's Crossing, Frederick the Great (not all that difficult to find, despite it's age--Avalon Hill edition is the best), Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, and the Lace Wars series of games put out by Red Sash Games.

If you simply have to have games dealing with 20th Century warfare, then there are certainly situations where land campaigning is fairly fluid/wide open; yes, some might be about moving a front line from place to place, but the illusion of movement is so high that it's not a grind. Here's just a handful to consider and I'm sure other posters will give you a lot more than just these:

Games on the Battle of Tannenburg, 1914 (quite a number of them out there)
Reluctant Enemies
Beda Fomm (feels like Space Invaders!)
Gazala: The Cauldron
Panzergruppe Guderian (out of print but worth tracking down)
A Victory Lost: Crisis in Ukraine 1942-1943 (out of print but worth tracking down)
Games on the first year of the Korean War (e.g., Korea: The Forgotten War)

Why I love operational-level warfare is because playing the game most resembles the kind of "war upon the map" that historical counterparts engage in. It's fun to try different campaign concepts/theories to see how well they work. For example, if the German player thinks closing the Kiev pocket in September 1941 was a mistake and Moscow should be the objective instead, he can try it. He might take Moscow with mobile forces, but can he hold it with all those Soviet forces still in play that were not surrounded?
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Brian Train
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There are games that have tried such.
SPI, a long time ago, ran a proposal for a game called Logistics One where the production, transportation, and delivery of material to the front was as detailed as the combat procedures found in other games, and the combat part of the game was as abstracted as the logistics procedures found in those other games.
It was only half a joke.

Something a bit closer to what you were thinking of, that was actually made, was Westinghouse Corp's Logistics Command.

More recently, and more available, is the interesting mini-game Siege of Leningrad: Logistics Module I.

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Mike Hoyt

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When I first played EastFront ( a truly classic game) I was focused on moving the "line". And I struggled playing either side.

But you soon learn that cutting supply lines, or threatening to, is what really moves the line. Out maneuvering your opponent and putting him in a situation where he voluntarily retreats from a key position is an awesome feeling.

And then you have to learn to husband your own supply so you can move forward and claim your gains, while retaining enough to be ready for the inevitable counter-stroke.
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I find that operational level games capture the history that I've read more than any other scale. Think about it - all of the major campaigns of World War Two were operational level engagements - France '40, North Africa, The Solomon Islands, the Drive on Moscow, Case Blue, Sicily, the Italian Campaign, Normandy, Kursk...the list goes on. These are all classic combined arms operational scale actions, and that's where most of my historical reading is centered as well. It's with operational scale games that I can recreate the great campaigns of WW2 and see if I can produce a different outcome.

Grand strategic level games can be fun, but can also vary greatly from the historical record and produce results that have little to do with the real war (again, though, they are enjoyable). Tactical level games generally leave me cold because they are the furthest removed from their real world analogs, with their god's eye view of the battle field and sequenced turn order, when in real life tactical battles are a flurry of chaotic violence. I have the most difficulty suspending my disbelief when I play a tactical wargame (though I still enjoy a game of PanzerBlitz from time to time).
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desertfox2004 wrote:
I find that operational level games capture the history that I've read more than any other scale. Think about it - all of the major campaigns of World War Two were operational level engagements - France '40, North Africa, The Solomon Islands, the Drive on Moscow, Case Blue, Sicily, the Italian Campaign, Normandy, Kursk...the list goes on. These are all classic combined arms operational scale actions, and that's where most of my historical reading is centered as well. It's with operational scale games that I can recreate the great campaigns of WW2 and see if I can produce a different outcome.

Grand strategic level games can be fun, but can also vary greatly from the historical record and produce results that have little to do with the real war (again, though, they are enjoyable). Tactical level games generally leave me cold because they are the furthest removed from their real world analogs, with their god's eye view of the battle field and sequenced turn order, when in real life tactical battles are a flurry of chaotic violence. I have the most difficulty suspending my disbelief when I play a tactical wargame (though I still enjoy a game of PanzerBlitz from time to time).


I can see how you would prefer operational level from a simulation perspective. It's different for me, because I don't care too much about that aspect, and thus have no problem with tactical level games (ASL is one of my favorite games). In the end, I guess I want games to be just games, but to have flavor. Now, I am serious about that flavor in my wargames. I don't want the eurogame kind, which has no consequences for the mechanisms. Nor the Axis & Allies kind, with bombers that can fly straight across the Pacific etc. The game must make sense from a historical perspective, it just doesn't have to be a good simulation, with everything that entails (including a realistic Command & Control model).

Several times I have thought of starting a thread on why I don't want a realistic Command & Control model in ASL, so maybe now is the time. I must find some way to generalize it, so it's not just about ASL.
 
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oivind22 wrote:
Eric Brosius wrote:


What you say there is interesting. So it's not just about breakthroughs and cutting supply, it's about maintaining your own supply. I think maybe the eurogamer in me might like that aspect, especially if you have different kinds of supply (the eurogamer in me likes production chains).

Anyway, since it is said that amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics, wouldn't it be fun with a game which completely abstracted combat, and focused solely on building up supply? Maybe a game with some euro-y mechanisms thrown in, but which still managed to feel historical.

I think maybe 1944: Race to the Rhine is a bit like that, but I'm afraid it won't feel very historical.



Not to disparage the importance of logistics, but this is very much an American viewpoint, as it plays to American strengths.

As Vietnam showed, you can have the best logistical support in the world and still lose.
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Westie wrote:
oivind22 wrote:
Eric Brosius wrote:


What you say there is interesting. So it's not just about breakthroughs and cutting supply, it's about maintaining your own supply. I think maybe the eurogamer in me might like that aspect, especially if you have different kinds of supply (the eurogamer in me likes production chains).

Anyway, since it is said that amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics, wouldn't it be fun with a game which completely abstracted combat, and focused solely on building up supply? Maybe a game with some euro-y mechanisms thrown in, but which still managed to feel historical.

I think maybe 1944: Race to the Rhine is a bit like that, but I'm afraid it won't feel very historical.



Not to disparage the importance of logistics, but this is very much an American viewpoint, as it plays to American strengths.

As Vietnam showed, you can have the best logistical support in the world and still lose.


Well, yes, lose the war in a political sense. However, from a purely military standpoint, the best logistical support in the world did enable the US military in Vietnam to be successful from a battlefield standpoint, which is what most operational wargames attempt to portray. Of course, if the mission is ill-considered from the outset, and the objectives given are poorly chosen, battlefield success will not translate to ultimate strategic/political victory. Point being that the ultimate result in Vietnam does not negate the value of logistics to a warfighting organization at the tactical or operational level.
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Westie wrote:
Not to disparage the importance of logistics, but this is very much an American viewpoint, as it plays to American strengths.

As Vietnam showed, you can have the best logistical support in the world and still lose.


Yes, but I think the lesson from Vietnam is that military might isn't always the best solution. Logistics could still be more important than tactics when it comes to military planning. Or any other kind of planning, for that matter. A soldier can't fight without bullets, a truck driver can't do his job without fuel, and a computer programmer can't do his job without an office an computer. Logistics is always what enables people to do their job. Logistics would also be an important part of a civilian solution to the Vietnam War, in the form of food, building materials etc. Indeed, this was part of what the US did, although this effort was probably undermined by the military forces alienating the vietnamese population.

Logistics is always important for any endeavor, but it's mostly forgotten, especially by amateurs which haven't seen what happens when logistics doesn't work.
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Which is my point. No one factor, including logistics, can guarantee victory. Over emphasis on any one aspect can lead to defeat.

I am reminded of an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, of a conversation during the Paris peace conference. A high-ranking American officer said to his Vietnamese counter part, "You know, we won all the battles." After a pause, the Vietnamese officer replied, "You're right. But it didn't matter."
 
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Westie wrote:
Which is my point. No one factor, including logistics, can guarantee victory. Over emphasis on any one aspect can lead to defeat.


I agree. I guess it's just that logistics tends to be underestimated/underrepresented.
 
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oivind22 wrote:
Westie wrote:
Which is my point. No one factor, including logistics, can guarantee victory. Over emphasis on any one aspect can lead to defeat.


I agree. I guess it's just that logistics tends to be underestimated/underrepresented.


No argument there. In a different thread, I suggested that supply rules in American wargames tended to be simple because the US rarely had to worry about being supplied.
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I like operational level games because it is difficult to comprehend the scale of forces involved in strategic level games where each counter represents an army or a corps, or the nuances of the terrain where each hex is 50-100kms. The level of abstraction of this scale often is a turn-off for me. Likewise, tactical level games can't possibly simulate all aspects of combat at that level, resulting either in dense rulebooks or more abstraction (although I love my Combat Commander). I also hate LOS rules - they do my simple head in.

But operational level games hit a sweet spot for me. Everything must be accounted for - terrain, supply, etc while they use units whose scale I can comprehend (I can imagine a battalion or regiment-scale attack) and also allow vital terrain features such as bridges or hills to be meaningfully represented. Mark Simonitch's France 40, Normandy 44, and Ardennes 44 operational level games are anything but hex by hex slogs and yet also show all that detail that I mentioned above - the scale allows such sexy chrome to be included but can still be captured in 20-odd pages of rules which I find manageable.

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oskacat wrote:
I like operational level games because it is difficult to comprehend the scale of forces involved in strategic level games where each counter represents an army or a corps, or the nuances of the terrain where each hex is 50-100kms. The level of abstraction of this scale often is a turn-off for me. Likewise, tactical level games can't possibly simulate all aspects of combat at that level, resulting either in dense rulebooks or more abstraction (although I love my Combat Commander). I also hate LOS rules - they do my simple head in.

But operational level games hit a sweet spot for me. Everything must be accounted for - terrain, supply, etc while they use units whose scale I can comprehend (I can imagine a battalion or regiment-scale attack) and also allow vital terrain features such as bridges or hills to be meaningfully represented. Mark Simonitch's France 40, Normandy 44, and Ardennes 44 operational level games are anything but hex by hex slogs and yet also show all that detail that I mentioned above - the scale allows such sexy chrome to be included but can still be captured in 20-odd pages of rules which I find manageable.



In general, I agree with you. Operational level is the perfect level from a simulation perspective. You avoid the major abstractions at the strategic or tactical level. But my impression was that France '40 (at least the Sickle Cut scenario) is the kind of 'continous frontline' slog I don't like. I just never managed to get a breakthrough as the germans. With determined defense it is very difficult, unless you have very high odds, and if you want high odds, it is difficult to make enough attacks to really break the french line. The guy I played against played the french really well, and always managed to patch up the line. Part of the problem is probably that you don't have fog-of-war. The defender can see the attacking coming a mile off, and can prepare for it. I suspect this is a problem in many operational level games: You have rules for breaking through, but a good defender will usually prevent it. I guess OCS avoids the problem by it's detailed supply rules, and I'm guessing you can break through if you are better than your opponent at building up the necessary supplies.
 
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I guess OCS avoids the problem by it's detailed supply rules, and I'm guessing you can break through if you are better than your opponent at building up the necessary supplies.

Getting a double-turn doesn't hurt either. ;-)
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Edward Pundyk
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oivind22 wrote:
But I don't get the same excitement from operational level land warfare games. Isn't it often a slog? Just moving the front line one hex at a time.


Perhaps if you played something other than World War II games, you'd find operational level more to your liking. 18th Century and Napoleonics, for example, make for excellent operational level games.

Either that or change this thread's title to: "Why do you like WWII operational level land warfare games?"
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Also ACW has some fun operational systems like the GCACW series of games.
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fightinlegalist1 wrote:
oivind22 wrote:
But I don't get the same excitement from operational level land warfare games. Isn't it often a slog? Just moving the front line one hex at a time.


Perhaps if you played something other than World War II games, you'd find operational level more to your liking. 18th Century and Napoleonics, for example, make for excellent operational level games.

Either that or change this thread's title to: "Why do you like WWII operational level land warfare games?"


You have a good point there. It is games which has a continous front line that feels like a slog to me, at least when it's impossible (or at least difficult) to achieve a breakthrough. Such continuous front lines were not typical in pre-WWI wars.
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You seem to be drawing the line as between operational and strategic, but call World in Flames strategic. So I am not sure exactly what you mean by operational. To me there is strategic (which is an entire front but no production or diplomacy) and there is grand strategic (an entire war with production, diplomacy etc).

Would you consider a game on the entire 1914 campaign in France, or the entire 1941 campaign in the East, to be operational or strategic? To me they are strategic, but you might consider them operational. My favorite games tend to be strategic and grand strategic. You might consider the strategic ones operational which is why I being up the definition issue.
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oivind22 wrote:
It is games which has a continous front line that feels like a slog to me, at least when it's impossible (or at least difficult) to achieve a breakthrough. Such continuous front lines were not typical in pre-WWI wars.

What OCS depicts is that there really isn't a continuous unbreakable front line. Almost any line can be penetrated, given enough supply, attackers and determination. The question is whether the enemy can effectively counterattack, and whether the spot where you penetrate allows you to cause problems that justisfy the cost.
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