Wednesday, January 13, 2016

OCS, The Learning Curve Pt 1

For no other reason than I own Reluctant Enemies, which is supposed to be a good starting point as it has an extensive walk through. I've decided to start the learning process with this product. The game covers the Commonwealth invasion of the Vichy held Levant (Syria and Lebanon) in response to some French and German shenanigans in Iraq in 1941. The counter density is low, at least for an OCS game, with obvious objectives and relatively light special units, such as air. 

The game comes with a four page overview of the system, which first runs through the sequence of play, then goes into some detail on specific systems, then finishes with some play tips. It is useful primarily as a primer for the extended example of play that covers the first turn of the game, the other component targeted at new players. When first published, the EoP lacked specific info on some unit placement, at least without doing some detective work, but an updated version is available on the MMP website that shows initial placement (although not the commandos or CW trucks, which you will locate when it becomes necessary). Perhaps more important is the document that adds in an index of the rules referenced, although this is mostly included inline in the example, and also the full second turn. OCS requires an example of this scope because there are so many moving parts.

And none of those parts feels like it moves more than supply. Mein Gott, but this game makes you count a lot, and most of it has to do with supply. You need to get supply to pretty much everyone you can, with occasional exceptions, and getting it there is a little crazy. You start with an offmap supply source or an on map supply dump, which consists of supply counters, then trace five truck movement points, which means ten road hexes, to the unit in question, or if there is an HQ in range of the dump it can throw the supply more movement points, which may or may not be truck movement points, to the unit that needs it. You can also use truck units (which are not the only units that use truck movement points) to extend throws and direct draws. This happens when you check trace supply, when you move units that have tracked or truck movement factors, during combat, when you refit air units...

It's a lot of counting. The map does include "mileposts" along the main arterials some locations that typically house supply dumps, such as Haifa or Damascus. But it's still a lot of counting. Did I mention that trucks have 45 MP? I'm starting to think fondly of vehicle MPs in ASL. 

Making matters worse is that supply is measured in points. Wait! That doesn't sound like a problem! Of course you have points, because most of the things you need to trace supply for also require you to spend supply, so that makes sense. Supply is really an on map currency. A currency that has dollars, but also quarters. Because the base unit of supply isn't the point, it's the token, which is a quarter of a supply point.

That always works out well, using fractions that use a different but related metric. So instead of 0.25SP to activate a unit, you use 1T.

I'm sure this came from the original game and a desire to keep at least some backward compatibility. The rules are in version 4.1a as I type, and my guess is that there were no tokens originally, but as the game started to branch out to areas other than Southern Russia they needed a smaller unit to include battalion level units and possibly a finer detail for refitting aircraft. Who knows? Who cares? 

If anything will keep me from enjoying this system, it will be this aspect. Oh, I get why it's there. OCS is all about demonstrating operational tempo at this scale. Most wargames let you move everyone with no thought as to where your tanks fuel up other than to assume the gas cans can get to the tanks. Not here, where you need to build up supply in order to move and attack, and you need the supply network in place and of sufficient mass to do that. And, as we all learned in kindergarten, professionals know logistics. 

It's not like this is a surprise for me. I have actually played OCS, once, some years ago with my good friend Myk, who I think had different letters in his name at the time. We played a scenario from Tunisia, long considered the entry level OCS game until RE. I did read the rules, but I was the Axis defending Tunis from the advancing Allied forces, and most of my supply was there to keep my air force functioning and for defense. I didn't need to do much shuttling around of bullets and beans other than via air and sea, so I never really got a good sense of how involved supply was. That said, let's just say I knew the job was dangerous when I included OCS in my list this year.

Consider it me giving it the old college try. 

How much do I love love love supply economics that use fractions? I gave my copy of Fire in the Sky to a friend because the Oil point system was so incredibly annoying, and it didn't even up have supply points on the map. You tracked them via a numeric track, keeping fractions by rotating the counter to a different orientation. I suppose you could use counters, but after swapping supply counters in RE for an hour, and that was just the first third of the EoP for the first turn, I'm not sure I am cut out for this kind of bean counting. 

Don't get me wrong. The operational tempo system used in Unconditional Surrender is similar, although a point is a point there. Same goes for the Holdfast system. Triumph and Tragedy uses action cards to generate operational tempo at a very high level, and it's effective. I think it's a valuable thing to simulate in a consim. I'm just not sure I will have the patience for it. 

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning the system. I have most of the games, all but Hube and Sicily, and really want to like it. I'm unlikely ever to play an eight map Case Blue campaign game, but there are a lot of scenarios out there and a lot of people whose opinions I respect that like it. So I shall plod along and see if I can't figure it out, although it's clear that a game of this complexity is going to require more than just me pushing cardboard around by myself. Plus, MMP has announced two redux titles for Tunisia and Sicily that are supposed to be, again, smaller and thus introductory games to the system. It's just that having what is essentially an extra game system that is so tightly integrated and central to the series will require someone to tell me I'm doing it wrong.

Perhaps the trick is to just put a lot of small denomination markers down for supply and avoid too much change making, which is where I got a little discouraged. I could see getting distracted at a bad time and forgetting where I was in the process. This is normal for wargames, but this series seems to be fraught with peril in this regard. Identifying those gumption traps will make the process easier (a relative term) and keep my head in the game better. However, knowing as I do from seeing games in progress that there can be a very high counter density in critical sections of the map in larger games, I am concerned that this may be a supply dump too far. 

So personal morale check passed, but barely. I do intend to get through both turns and then decide if I want to continue with OCS for now, or shift to GOSS. At least OCS has tried to make the system approachable with these kinds of products, whereas GOSS gives you an introductory scenario, let's you hunt and peck through the rules, then sends you off on your merry way.

Like ASL, though, it's always better with two.

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