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Subject: OCS is Terrible at Representing Supply rss

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Cameron Taylor
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Here are the reasons why I think the Operational Combat Series (OCS) is a terrible representation of supply chain management (SCM).

Non–existent Supply Chain

Because of how the turn structure works, and perhaps this is an inevitable artifact of boardgame mechanics, there is no supply chain (SC). Throughput in a SC will have stocks in transit, but in OCS they are all aggregated in one space—a super supply dump, if you will—and makes it easy to surgically cut off supply. In operations research there is a technique called maximum flow–minimum cut, which was originally designed to attack railway supply networks. The point of calculation is which nodes in the SC to attack to completely shut down the SC throughput, but in OCS there's no in–transit supply and the player is discouraged from making secondary supply dumps; conversely, they tend to garrison their rear areas quite ahistorically heavily to protect their super supply dump.

Non–existent Logistics Costs

In reality is costs supply to move supply, with each additional mile costing exponentially more supplies. For example, Dupuy (1979) notes that as the front moved closer to the German interior, German divisions' maintenance requirements dropped to as little as 250 tonnes, whereas one could expect them to be significantly higher on the Eastern Front during 1941–42. It also makes no sense that you can only move supply by one mode of transportation per turn.

Wrong Supply Requirements

Ruppenthal (1995) notes that the US Army found its average maintenance factors for combat, regrouping, and rapid advance to be roughly 450 tonnes, regardless of whether they were defending or attacking. Overall tonnage in maintenance factors seems to be determined by whether a formation is in a combat zone or rear area, whilst specific class items (e.g. Class V for Ammunition, or Class III for Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants (POL)) seem to be determined by the level of combat and movement activity. In OCS the defenders pay a maximum of 2T, whilst the attackers pay 1T/step. All units must be able to trace supply to a supply source or eat off the map.



Wrong Stockpiling Levels

Leighton et al. (1995) notes that the US Army's authorised levels of supply in months for an active theatre (e.g. China–India–Burma, or North Africa) is as low as 4 months of ammunition. In OCS you're scraping together SP to make an attack and constantly running out of SP.



Wrong Artillery Usage Levels

Ruppenthal (1995) states the daily ammunition consumption for an army, in this case 1st Army, is enormous. (The 155mm Howitzer was the primary artillery gun for the US Army.) Truly massive barrages were a daily occurrence, not a rare event. Cross–referencing the ammunition consumption with the units of fire held in stockpiles, artillery had roughly 20 days of supply. It's often argued that barrages in OCS represent massive barrages with stockpiled ammunition, which attempts to explain why they are so rare in OCS. Yet, we find ourselves always scrounging for SP to fire our artillery, which means there's less supply to attack with.



...

So this leaves the question what does OCS get right?

Voracious Gaosline Usage

Ruppenthal (1995) notes that gasoline consumption was so voracious, armies often only had 0–2 days of supply, whereas during periods of high activity they may have stockpiled literally no days of supply, instead relying on Just–in–Time deliveries.



References
Dupuy TN (1979) Numbers, Predictions, and War
Leighton RM and Coakley RW (1989) Global Logistics and Strategy, 1943–1945
Leighton RM and Coakley RW (1995) Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940–1943
Ruppenthal RG (1995) Logistical Support of the Armies (Vol. 1): May 1941–September 1944
Ruppenthal RG (1995) Logistical Support of the Armies (Vol. 2): September 1944–May 1945

Further Reading
Green CM et al. (1990) Planning Munitions for War
Ross WF and Romanus CF (1991) Operations in the War against Germany
Thomson HC and Mayo L (1991) Procurement and Supply
Wardlow C (1990) Movements, Training, and Supply
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I don't know enough to argue one way or the other. Buuuutt, if I may make a request, for those that think that OCS is wrong; can you list some games that get it right?
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To the OP - how would you re-write the supply rules so that they are 'done right'?
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Cameron Taylor
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SBGrad wrote:
I don't know enough to argue one way or the other. Buuuutt, if I may make a request, for those that think that OCS is wrong; can you list some games that get it right?


The wargame that gets it right the most is Gary Grigsby's War in the West, a computer wargame. You have motorpool capacity, which represents your fleet of supply trucks. They receive attrition depending on length from railheads, road quality, and capture by enemy forces. The motorpool capacity determines your length of supply trace.

The supply chain flows through cities and other points of interest on the map, where depots are situated. These depots are assigned a level which tells the AI how much supply to stockpile there. Each rail line has a capacity, unlike a general rail network capacity figure in board wargames. Movement of supply can be interdicted and ports of embarkation damaged. Supply can be stockpiled to overcapacity or can reach to nothing. Everything you do costs supply, either in general, ammunition, or fuel supply. You movement allowance for mechanised units depends on your percentage fuel levels. Combat power is adversely affected by supply shortages, though not as seriously at first. Once you get down to 40% supply you're scraping the bottom of the barrel and your combat power is severely affected.

Best of all, there's very little micromanaging because the AI handles everything for you. Honestly, this game is like a logistician's dream.

EDIT:

Although I've never played it, I have heard The Korean War's supply system described to me and I think it's an elegant way of representing supply constraints.
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I don't think OCS is the end-all-be-all with regards to supply and how it works but as previously mentioned, what games do you think do this better and why? Can you suggests improvements that games should do to get this right or are you simply going to thumb your nose at the system.

I can name a half dozen games that do logistic aspects better in some respects (the Korean War, Victory Roads, Liberty Roads etc) than OCS but I still think OCS does a good job for what it is attempting to model with out being as rediculous as The Campaign for North Africa. I think there are other games that do interesting alternatives for managing supplies but OCS does a good job of showing why armies can't attack with reckless abandon as they do in most other games. Dean explicitly mentions that he does not attempt to perfectly manage supply's but makes simplifications in the system so that you don't have to be a logistics officer to play the game well.

Question, how much OCS have you played? I ask because some of your points are actually covered. It's been several years since I've played a game but Some points to consider:

1) Non-existent Supply Chain - are you aware of 'trace supply' in OCS ... its different from combat supply.

2) Non-existent logistics cost - are you aware that the same resources required to setup trace supplies are also required to truck combat supplies? Are you also aware that as you move further from your logistics head that you get proportionally less supply by virtue of your fixed assets being stretched across ever greater distances?

3) Wrong supply requirement and Voracious Gasoline Usage - Are you aware that Dean intentionally simplified the class of supplies and instead focused on tonnage to transport to make a game playable? Also are you aware that vehicles need to pay a supply cost to move so your average armor division is much more expensive to operate from a supply point of view?

There are many issues with OCS that I have concerns with. I'm sure that there are valid points in what you bring up ... yet, I find it amusing that your getting so passionately upset about a system that to be blunt is better than most with regards to modeling supplies.
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Agip wrote:
To the OP - how would you re-write the supply rules so that they are 'done right'?


I would set a very important condition to that question: The game must remain playable.

Trace Supply

Trace supply has three levels: (1) In Supply; (2) Half Supply; and (3) Out of Supply (OOS). Half Supply is like In Supply, except it has double the trace range but halves combat power, whilst mechanised units can only move at half MA. Like OOS, Half Supply has its own counter.

Combat Supply

Units only require trace supply to attack and defend, including artillery.

Motor Pool

Instead of having one super convoy of trucks and HQs with supply throw, replace them with smaller units of trucks acting as supply nodes in the logistics network. These trucks can't be captured, moving into a hex with enemy trucks causes them to displace. The supply chain of trucks is the Main Supply Route (MSR), which has a supply draw range and a number of units that it can support. Therefore, if you want to extend the range of your supply trace each additional leg of the supply chain costs exponentially more trucks. This means you can either go for narrow depth, or shallow breadth. This also entirely does away with SP.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a bloody fantastic game system. No other system keeps me on edge like OCS. But it isn't even slightly realistic, which is what brought me to OCS in the first place.
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Cameron Taylor
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jeb123 wrote:
Question, how much OCS have you played? I ask because some of your points are actually covered.


I have seven OCS campaigns under my belt, so I'm not exactly a novice. Nice try, though.

jeb123 wrote:
It's been several years since I've played a game but Some points to consider:

1) Non-existent Supply Chain - are you aware of 'trace supply' in OCS ... its different from combat supply.


Obviously. shake

jeb123 wrote:
2) Non-existent logistics cost - are you aware that the same resources required to setup trace supplies are also required to truck combat supplies? Are you also aware that as you move further from your logistics head that you get proportionally less supply by virtue of your fixed assets being stretched across ever greater distances?


Wrong, because instead of multiple MSRs being used a single MSR with unlimited capacity is used to trace supply. You only trace the shortest length.

jeb123 wrote:
3) Wrong supply requirement and Voracious Gasoline Usage - Are you aware that Dean intentionally simplified the class of supplies and instead focused on tonnage to transport to make a game playable? Also are you aware that vehicles need to pay a supply cost to move so your average armor division is much more expensive to operate from a supply point of view?


Thank God for that abstraction, otherwise the game would be unplayable with physical SP. Then again, I don't think SP are required at all.

jeb123 wrote:
There are many issues with OCS that I have concerns with. I'm sure that there are valid points in what you bring up ... yet, I find it amusing that your getting so passionately upset about a system that to be blunt is better than most with regards to modeling supplies.


This is the most hilarious part of your comment. I'm in my final year of a PhD in supply chain management. What you consider 'passionately upset' is merely an intense interest in the subject. You have to understand that not everybody who disagrees with you is getting 'upset'; they may simply have other views.
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Quote:

The wargame that gets it right the most is Gary Grigsby's War in the West, a computer wargame. You have motorpool capacity, which represents your fleet of supply trucks. They receive attrition depending on length from railheads, road quality, and capture by enemy forces. The motorpool capacity determines your length of supply trace.

The supply chain flows through cities and other points of interest on the map, where depots are situated. These depots are assigned a level which tells the AI how much supply to stockpile there. Each rail line has a capacity, unlike a general rail network capacity figure in board wargames. Movement of supply can be interdicted and ports of embarkation damaged. Supply can be stockpiled to overcapacity or can reach to nothing. Everything you do costs supply, either in general, ammunition, or fuel supply. You movement allowance for mechanised units depends on your percentage fuel levels. Combat power is adversely affected by supply shortages, though not as seriously at first. Once you get down to 40% supply you're scraping the bottom of the barrel and your combat power is severely affected.

Best of all, there's very little micromanaging because the AI handles everything for you. Honestly, this game is like a logistician's dream.


Just one thing, IMO, try to do this with a board wargame....... is like compare a book with the film of the same one. The board wargame has many more limitations than a computer game. Another sample but with a board wargame?
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Niko3 wrote:
Just one thing, IMO, try to do this with a board wargame....... is like compare a book with the film of the same one. The board wargame has many more limitations than a computer game. Another sample but with a board wargame?


Err... I don't understand. I did give a board wargame example: The Korean War.
 
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When I read the post wasn't edited, now I can see "The Koren War"
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The system used in The Desert Fox strikes me as pretty strong, without
being as abstract as the one used in the Korean War.

You have to a build a fixed network of depots, which you trace back to.
Presumably, IF the number of depots were large enough, you would never
actually waste supplies, but that is seldom the case. I don't know if
the numbers are perfect, but they seem to put the proper limitations
on the pace of the campaigns.

I'm not sure I agree with your take on the OCS supplies though
(they sure the hell don't need to be massed in singular dumps, for
example - but my experience with the system is less, so maybe there
is some advantage which accrues which supersedes the heavy defensive
investment of a singular dump). The main advantage to OCS is that it
runs on a more 'intuitively obvious' design principle - but it does
strike me that some abstractions (like the cost of transport) and
usage (especially arty) may well generate serious inaccuracies in the model.
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Malcolm Cameron
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SeriousCat wrote:
Trace Supply

Trace supply has three levels: (1) In Supply; (2) Half Supply; and (3) Out of Supply (OOS). Half Supply is like In Supply, except it has double the trace range but halves combat power, whilst mechanised units can only move at half MA. Like OOS, Half Supply has its own counter.



This sounds a little bit like how supply is modelled in 1914: Twilight in the East. Which I think works well.

SeriousCat wrote:
Combat Supply

Units only require trace supply to attack and defend, including artillery.



My ignorance of supply chain considerations is almost complete, so the above may be a better model.

But I think the problem it presents in terms of playing the games is that it would result in too many attacks each turn.

The main game effect of literal supply points is to limit how much attacking can be done (and how much mechanised movement too).

The designer's justification for that limiting effect is that the pace of operations played out in the game should end up roughly reflecting the pace of operations that in fact occurred in the historical campaign.

I don't have any idea if the games achieve that effect.

If they (or some of them) do, then at least at that higher level of abstraction the effect of supply on the games' modelling of the campaigns may come out right - even if the modelling of the supply chain itself is inaccurate.

So it might be that the accuracy of the supply sub-system is sacrificed (deliberately or otherwise!) to the overall depiction of how the forces involved move and fight over time compared to the historical forces.


SeriousCat wrote:
Motor Pool

Instead of having one super convoy of trucks and HQs with supply throw, replace them with smaller units of trucks acting as supply nodes in the logistics network. These trucks can't be captured, moving into a hex with enemy trucks causes them to displace. The supply chain of trucks is the Main Supply Route (MSR), which has a supply draw range and a number of units that it can support. Therefore, if you want to extend the range of your supply trace each additional leg of the supply chain costs exponentially more trucks. This means you can either go for narrow depth, or shallow breadth. This also entirely does away with SP.


I think this sounds a little bit like how extenders work in the game, although broken down into more bite sized chunks.

You could house rule it so that an extender consists of 1 transport point, not 5, and has a range of one fifth of the current extender range.

That might end up being more accurate. It might also be a bit fiddlier (although handling physical SPs can be pretty fiddly).

Interesting stuff.


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Please tell me your PhD paper revolves around the modelling of SCM in wargaming. That would be an awesome way to justify wargaming all the time.
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I think the supply problem plagues wargaming community for a long time. OCS is perhaps the first to address that "problem" with a good mix of balance of play and simulation value. Although an accountant myself, I also tend to avoid games requiring bean counting. OCS may be the next best thing. But then I don't have a say because I still haven't played any one of the game in OCS that I own quite a few. I played some of the older wargames by 3W (World Wide Wargames) back then. The supply counting is always dull and almost kill the game.
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calandale wrote:
The system used in The Desert Fox strikes me as pretty strong, without
being as abstract as the one used in the Korean War.

You have to a build a fixed network of depots, which you trace back to.
Presumably, IF the number of depots were large enough, you would never
actually waste supplies, but that is seldom the case. I don't know if
the numbers are perfect, but they seem to put the proper limitations
on the pace of the campaigns.


Is this still in The Desert Fox (Deluxe Edition)? That looks like an amazing wargame. I actually have a friend who owns a copy and was showing us back when I was in Hong Kong. The maps are absolutely gorgeous.

Malcolm C wrote:
But I think the problem it presents in terms of playing the games is that it would result in too many attacks each turn.


IIRC, some games have attack and fuel tracks, limiting how many units can do an action in a turn. That seems to be a more elegant solution.

Malcolm C wrote:
I think this sounds a little bit like how extenders work in the game, although broken down into more bite sized chunks.


I'm a big fan of extenders in OCS. I can definitely see how smaller extenders that can be chained together would work well.

SeanFR wrote:
Please tell me your PhD paper revolves around the modelling of SCM in wargaming. That would be an awesome way to justify wargaming all the time.


I wish! It does involve simulations of supply chains however (e.g. flow of goods and information along supply chain echelons).

Lawrence Hung wrote:
I think the supply problem plagues wargaming community for a long time. OCS is perhaps the first to address that "problem" with a good mix of balance of play and simulation value. Although an accountant myself, I also tend to avoid games requiring bean counting. OCS may be the next best thing. But then I don't have a say because I still haven't played any one of the game in OCS that I own quite a few. I played some of the older wargames by 3W (World Wide Wargames) back then. The supply counting is always dull and almost kill the game.


Oh, I agree. Too much accounting makes for work, not play. I think that's why they introduced trace supply after Guderian's Blitzkrieg (1st Edition) and OCS v2.0. That's why I'm a fan of trace supply systems. They may be simplistic, but they tend to work. For limiting attacks and fueled movement, supply tracks limiting the number of actions per turn seems to be a reasonable tradeoff.
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You might want to take a look at the Winter Storm series, all OOP though you can probably find Edelweiss or Prelude to Disaster easily enough. There is a rewritten ruleset here on BGG.
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Interesting points. Ultimately, it sounds like you'd probably have to design the system that you would want to model.
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I agree with you about OCS, too much work for little historical result (the player wearing too many hats), there must be a way to abstracts this more.

Worse: the unit frontage/scale is also way off, the air system is problematic.

Too bad because I liked the combat system. At one point I owned almost all the OCS games, I have all given them away but one (Tunisia). blush

Edit: At one point in the late 90's I did redesign parts of the OCS game system I did not like; adding ZOCs, removing most of the breakdown counters and simplifying the supply and air systems: Worked nicely, but I prefer smaller games.

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I don't know much about the game but does Race to the Rhine have any interesting and helpful mechanisms in it that simulate what you are after?
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Many thanks for a very interesting read, Cameron.

Impressive analysis, thoughtful insight and I love you are able to trace a parallel between your studies and the games.

I personally do not own OCS. I have played but one simple game once and got whipped because my opponent showed me the importance of defending my supply line, but I a m far from qualified to comment on any of it.

And at the risk of sounding disrespectful of more "serious" wargamers, I was wondering if you had a chance to play 1944: Race to the Rhine and what you think of its (very simplified) supply model.

Also, it may be interesting for you to evaluate the other games proposed here: Logistics: Wargames that focus on or have a strong logistics component

Best of luck with your PhD!
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licinius wrote:
I agree with you about OCS, too much work for little historical result (the player wearing too many hats), there must be a way to abstracts this more.

Worse: the unit frontage/scale is also way off, the air system is problematic.

Too bad because I liked the combat system. At one point I owned almost all the OCS games, I have all given them away but one (Tunisia). blush

Edit: At one point in the late 90's I did redesign parts of the OCS game system I did not like; adding ZOCs, removing most of the breakdown counters and simplifying the supply and air systems: Worked nicely, but I prefer smaller games.



Curious Carl about the unit frontage/scale - I think I've seen a criticism along those lines from others but can't recall the specifics. Is the issue from your perspective unit zocs are too weak?

I actually like the way supply is modeled in OCS. It does a brilliant job of recreating the German offensive towards Moscow where accounts show that offensives were being run on a shoe string with parts of units intermingled based on how little supply was available. Recently read Jack Radey's account of the action around Kalinin in 1941 and the problems encountered by the Germans.

Doug
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Supply (along with air) is admittedly the most abstracted element of the OCS system. (Perhaps not surprising, those two elements are also the most criticized elements.) In the case of OCS, the abstraction of the supply system does entail at least two important things.

The first is that supply is more of 'design for effect' factor in OCS. Accordingly, a critique should to show that the effects of the system, rather than the processes of the system, are erroneous. I think some of Cameron's criticisms get at this (e.g., garrisons), while others miss the mark by pointing at processes that don't directly model processes in real life. For example, when transporting supply on trucks, those trucks are representing not a single caravan but the abstracted supply network on which the supply is able to travel over that half-week period.

The second thing the abstraction entails is that the representation of supply in OCS is not a wholesale modelling of all of a front's supplies. Instead, I have always understood the supply being represented is 'on the margins'. When a player spends supply to make an attack, it is not the case that he is spending supply only on that attack, while the rest of the front stays quiet without any spent supply. Rather, that supply represents a concentrated use of supply, to accompany a concentrated use of force. Similarly, the supply dumps in OCS are not the only locations of supply 'in reality'; rather they more often they represent concentrations of supply 'in the area'.

That isn't to say that Cameron's criticisms are unfounded, but I do think that the abstract nature of supply system does mitigate some of the initial bite.
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SeriousCat wrote:
It also makes no sense that you can only move supply by one mode of transportation per turn.


This is a limitation of a manual boardgame that is not played in real time. The trucks and other modes of transportation have movement allowance calibrated to allow the truck (or whatever) to move the appropriate distance for the time segment a turn covers. If you want to allow movement by multiple means of transportation, you have to keep track of the amount of "time" the supply has been in transit in addition to tracking movement points. IIRC, supply can move any distance by RR in a single turn in OCS. But if you want to also move it by truck in the same turn, you'd have to figure out the actual time it took to get from RR Station-1 to RRS-2 and then prorate the truck's MPs accordingly. The problem gets even more difficult when you consider that a truck can load/unload multiple times in turn, have to track (likely with markers) how much "time" each logistics unit has used to a certain point so that you could use the truck for other things while it waited for the SPs to get to the end of the RR line and then be carried on by truck.

Without such a system, all of a sudden supplies are flying across the board at 200 mph.


SeriousCat wrote:

jeb123 wrote:
2) Non-existent logistics cost - are you aware that the same resources required to setup trace supplies are also required to truck combat supplies? Are you also aware that as you move further from your logistics head that you get proportionally less supply by virtue of your fixed assets being stretched across ever greater distances?


Wrong, because instead of multiple MSRs being used a single MSR with unlimited capacity is used to trace supply. You only trace the shortest length.


Aren't extenders used for trace supply? I think the point was that as you push your supply network out from the RRs that you have to sacrifice your trucks you've been using to shuttle explicit supply around to use to create the trace supply.

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jeb123 wrote:
3) Wrong supply requirement and Voracious Gasoline Usage - Are you aware that Dean intentionally simplified the class of supplies and instead focused on tonnage to transport to make a game playable? Also are you aware that vehicles need to pay a supply cost to move so your average armor division is much more expensive to operate from a supply point of view?


Thank God for that abstraction, otherwise the game would be unplayable with physical SP. Then again, I don't think SP are required at all.


Removing explicit SP from the game fundamentally changes the game and also presents its own "realism" problems. One of the things that OCS does that 99% of other wargames do not do is force players to plan ahead and allocate scarce resources (and all resources are scarce). When you do away with explicit SP points, resources magically appear where they're needed, when they're needed.
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patton1138 wrote:
Supply (along with air) is admittedly the most abstracted element of the OCS system. (Perhaps not surprising, those two elements are also the most criticized elements.) In the case of OCS, the abstraction of the supply system does entail at least two important things.


I would agree and disagree. OCS supply is fairly abstract. But... it is far less abstract compared to 99% of other wargames. Most wargames only model "trace" supply. The assumption is that the resources are available and will get where they're needed, so long as a unit can trace a supply line. OCS gets rid of this assumption and requires players to get supply to where it is needed.

Quote:
The first is that supply is more of 'design for effect' factor in OCS. Accordingly, a critique should to show that the effects of the system, rather than the processes of the system, are erroneous. I think some of Cameron's criticisms get at this (e.g., garrisons), while others miss the mark by pointing at processes that don't directly model processes in real life. For example, when transporting supply on trucks, those trucks are representing not a single caravan but the abstracted supply network on which the supply is able to travel over that half-week period.

The second thing the abstraction entails is that the representation of supply in OCS is not a wholesale modelling of all of a front's supplies. Instead, I have always understood the supply being represented is 'on the margins'. When a player spends supply to make an attack, it is not the case that he is spending supply only on that attack, while the rest of the front stays quiet without any spent supply. Rather, that supply represents a concentrated use of supply, to accompany a concentrated use of force. Similarly, the supply dumps in OCS are not the only locations of supply 'in reality'; rather they more often they represent concentrations of supply 'in the area'.

That isn't to say that Cameron's criticisms are unfounded, but I do think that the abstract nature of supply system does mitigate some of the initial bite.


I think it's important to keep in mind the scale a game is portraying. It's not just that OCS supply is representing what is necessary for a concentrated use of force; it's that it's representing what is necessary for a noticeable use of force at the scale depicted. As you allude to, there may be things happening all over the map that are too granular to show up in the game. But as gamers, it's important to remember that just because two divisional units are sitting adjacent to each other without combat happening, it doesn't mean that there aren't actually minor skirmishes taking place.
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