Turn One: Mike Force

Last time, I talked about my impressions of “Mike Force”, a game about Special Forces operations in Vietnam from Joseph Miranda. To get a deeper impression of the game, I’m writing a first-turn report to show off how the game is played. I’m planning to do this with other games in upcoming articles, looking at first turns to show how a game flows.

Setup:
Communists:
I’m playing the Early War scenario here. That means the NVA set up two static units inside Vietnam Communist bases and one static unit everywhere else.
Rolling for initial Infiltration Points, we get a “5”, which brings the communist infiltration level down to a manageable “10” on the IP scale. The level is still at “Medium”, but only just barely. With some good play and a bit of luck, maybe we can knock it down to “Low”.
Free World:
The marker is placed on the “8” space of the Recruit Points track. We roll a “1” and the marker is moved down to “7”.
The Free World sets up with four SF camps, which I put in:
  • Nong Song
  • A Shau
  • Phong Dien
  • Tra Bong
We put a CIDG unit with each of them.
We get 6 SF A-Teams, which I place as follows:
  • 2 in Tra Bong
  • 2 in Nong Song
  • 1 in Hue
  • 1 in A Shau
I put them here because I want to go on the offensive down south and clean up the units there for the first few turns. Meanwhile, I’ll be building up my defenses in the north closer to the DMZ.
Da Nang gets a transport helicopter.
MACV support goes into the draw pile: All fighter-bombers, Air Commandos, Special Operations air support, and the 81st Rangers.
We roll for leaders and get two leaders. Cowboy is assigned to Nha Trang while Blackjack goes to an A-Team over in Tra Bong.
Let’s Start!
1. Free World Events Phase:
We pull an event chit from the cup and get “Communist Reorganization”
“5” is added to the communist Infiltration Points on the infiltration track. We are back to a IP of “15” – Medium level infiltration.
2. Free World Recruiting Phase:
I put a leader in Nha Trang during the setup because I want him to be able to call in help from the 5th SFG during the recruiting phase. However, he has to be stationed with a unit. I recruit a 1 point recon team to Nha Trang and put it there with him. 
I want one more recon team out in the field so I recruit another for 1 point and place it in Tra Bong.
Down to five points, I decide to get some MACV support for the turn. I spend two points and draw a fighter-bomber and the air commandos.
The Air Commandos are, I believe, treated as ground units with airmobile movement factors. I put them in Da Nang.
I have 3 points left and although I probably should save them, I decide to go for it anyway. I purchase a 2 point A-team and place it in Da Nang, hoping that I can upgrade it to an SF company (and possibly even a battalion) in later turns. I decide to hang on to the remaining RP.

3. Free World Movement Phase
Between the Air Commandos in Da Nang and the air support from MACV, I think I should be able to take out whatever communist units are in Que Son and the base south of Tra Bong. Anything else would be a bit risky. I decide to play it safe.
I move in a hatchet team and an A-team into the area south of Tra Bong. Then I move in two SF A-teams to Que Son and hope for the best.
I think this is very conservative play but let’s see how it goes.
4. Free World Recon Phase:
Now, we roll to see what we find. We have to roll a d6 against each of our SF units’ recon factor (that’s the number on the far left of the counter).
Let’s do Que Son first. We get a 5 and a 3. Both rolls fail. I should have used that extra RP to get a recon team and send it in. Oh well.
Now let’s do the area south of Tra Bong. We roll a 3 vs the RT team and flip over a unit to find a truck depot. The other roll against the A-team fails. 
5. Free World Reaction Phase:
Now I have the chance to throw in airstrikes or airmobile assets into areas with revealed communist markers.
Since we’re going to lose all the MACV assets by the end of the turn (they are on temporary loan so if you don’ use ’em, you lose ’em), we’re going to absolutely hammer that truck depot. The airstrike is called in. The air commandos are called in. The show is about to start.
6. Free World Combat Phase:
We roll for the airstrike and get a “3”. Since this result is under the airstrike value, the bombs hit their target and the truck depot goes BOOM and is eliminated.
Now we tally up the body count, which is indicated in the counter’s upper right hand corner. In this case, it is a “1”. So now we can either take that point and choose to reduce the infiltration level by one or we can choose to increase our recruitment points by one. I decide that I need some guys for next turn and do the latter. My RP total is now sitting at a grand total of “2”.
II.
Now that we have finished with the Free World half of the turn, it’s time to conduct the communist half of the turn. It’s pretty much the same as the Free World’s phases, with some exceptions.
1. Communist Events Phase
Event: Communist Big Offensive (B): We add “5” to the infiltration level. It is at “20” now and has changed from “Medium” to “High”. Uh oh!
So there are three big offensive markers in the Events pile. When all three are pulled, the communists get a bunch of new mobile units and make a big push towards Da Nang. For now, we can just set the first marker aside in the Major Offensive box to remind us that it’s there.
2. Communist Reinforcement Phase:
We check the reinforcement table and pull 2 static units and 3 mobile units from the NVA cup.
We roll 2d6 and consult the table to check for their placement.
They get dispersed pretty evenly among the communist bases. One goes to North Vietnam, with the others being distributed among the bases in Laos. The only one that worries me is the mobile unit that gets assigned to 611, which threatens one of my SF camps in the A Shau. 
3. Communist Movement Phase:
We consult the communist activation table and cross reference it with the current infiltration level of “High”. Rolling a “3” results in an Advance result of one space for all mobile units.
4. Communist Recon Phase:
All concealed communist markers in the same space as FW SF camps or major bases are revealed. That means the mobile unit in the A Shau gets flipped over. 
We get a AAA unit with a combat strength of 2. It’s a good thing I already used my airstrike up earlier in the term. However, I probably should have saved my air commandos to go after these guys. With a combat value of 4, they would have been a real match for them. Things are dicey now.
6. Communist Reaction Phase:
I have nothing left to react with so let’s go to the combat phase!
7. Combat Phase:

Tactical Superiority: We roll against the CIDG unit’s recon factor of “3” and get a “4”. The communists have tactical superiority.
First Round of Battle: We line up our units to determine who takes hits first. The A-team is first, followed by the CIDG team and then the SF camp.
Communist player rolls first and gets a “4” Nothing.
Now it’s time for the FW units to fire. We want to roll equal to or less than our combat values (the middle number on the counter).
We get a 6 for the A-team, a 5 for the CIDG team, and a 1 for the SF camp. The SF camp manages to get a hit on the AAA battalion and eliminates it. Since the body count point value for this unit is zero, we have achieved nothing. The mobile unit is returned to the mobile unit draw pile.
Return Phase: All MACV support goes back to the cup regardless of whether or not it’s been used.
We advance the turn marker and proceed to turn 2. Not a bad first turn for the FW player but nothing special either. Eliminating a truck depot is nice enough but we need to start taking the infiltration level down or else we’re going to get swamped with communist units. Turn 2 would probably consist of purchasing some recon teams and MACV support in hopes of hitting communist bases in the south while shoring up the north.

Mike Force: A First Look

Mike Force is a solitaire game of Special Forces operations during the Vietnam War. If that sentence doesn’t get your heart racing then please put down the horse tranquilizers.

Joseph Miranda (designer of so many games, why even bother listing them here) is behind this effort. It was published in the current (MAY/JUNE 2018) issue of Modern War.

So what you get here is a game that focuses exclusively on the shadowy SOG portion of the conflict to the stubborn exclusion of any other element. It’s like the opposite of Nick Karp’s zoomed-out look at the conflict in his seminal 1984 game, “Vietnam 1965 – 1975”.

With the plethora of decent Vietnam War games already out there (Fire in the Lake, Vietnam Solitaire, Vietnam 1965 – 1975, etc.), you couldn’t be blamed for asking the question: Did this game need to be made?

And the answer I would give is “Yeah. Sure.”

Because this game is the war’s underbelly that you rarely get glimpses of anywhere else. And also because it shows you how small units could influence the course of the war.  Lots of other Vietnam games depict the large-scale use of US military power against small VC units in the field. In those games, you really are trying to hit a gnat with a sledgehammer as American infantry battalions conduct large-scale operations in an attempt to track down an elusive enemy that disappears into the jungle each and every time you try and pick a fight with them.

This game takes a very different approach to the war. Here, you command the agile strike forces of small but highly trained teams of men who track and kill the infiltrating NVA and VC as they come into South Vietnam.

Scenario 1: Early War setup of Mike Force

You’ll push around counters that represent six-man A-teams and you’ll curse and shout when they get overrun by a battalion of NVA. You’ll send in hatchet teams to conduct recon missions and cheer when you call in an airstrike and see a VC supply depot get wiped out. Or you’ll conduct PSYWAR operations and watch in frustration as the operation gets blown. You’ll recruit and lead Hmong villagers to take out targets as they come down the Ho Chi Minh trail.

All these tiny pressure points push the war in certain directions, affecting enemy morale and operations as they infiltrate South Vietnam and push towards free world strongholds such as Hue and Da Nang.

Mike Force really captures the feel of these small unit actions and how and why they fit in to the overall conflict. It also gives you an idea of how special operations were forced to operate within the framework of military planning at the time.

Gameplay

Each game is seven turns long and takes place on a map depicting the area of and around South Vietnam (this includes parts of Laos and North Vietnam). The various spaces on the map show different types of terrain and base areas. These spaces connect to each other to form infiltration routes that the communists use in order to eventually capture key cities in South Vietnam.

There are four scenarios included in the game, each of which takes place during a different stage of the war.

The game starts with random draws of communist unit that are placed face down by the players in the different communist bases. There are two types of communist units – mobile and static. Static units are quite often “soft” targets such as supply depots and motor pools or advisors. But you might run into some infantry there too. On the other hand, the mobile units are usually infantry and some of them are pretty well-equipped and can put up a hell of a fight.

My A-Team led by Cpt. Simon finds a Soviet adviser at Que Son.

Your units are varied. You get everything from SF camps to CIDG units to gunships and transport helicopters. You also get White Star teams that are airborne-capable, PSYWAR units, MACV SOG support units that include air support, etc. Basically, you get an entire toolkit of units to choose from and you can fight your war however you see fit. Be warned, however, that you need to spend Resource Points (RPs) to purchase these units. And pretty much the only way to get RPs is to rack up the body count and impress the guys back in Washington.

Anyway, you set up your units and each game turn follows the same pattern. You draw a random event from the cup and implement it. After that, you can recruit forces by spending RPs. Then you move your guys around the map and conduct recon missions. If you manage to succeed at a recon mission (by rolling against the concerned unit’s recon value rating), then you flip over the enemy unit to reveal what it is. Then you can react to it by sending in airstrikes or transporting units into the combat zone by helicopter.

After that, the combat phase begins and you line up all the revealed enemy units to face off against your own units in the same space. You roll for tactical initiative (against one unit’s recon value) to decide who rolls first in the attack phase. Results are implemented immediately so having tactical advantage lets you get the first shot in without having to worry about return fire.

After the winner is declared, you conduct the body count. Each enemy unit has a BCP (Body Count Point) on it. When you kill an enemy unit, you can choose to either increase your number of RPs by the same number of Body Count Points – or you can decrease the enemy infiltration points by the same number of BCPs. Conversely, losing friendly units means either decreasing RP or increasing IP.

The last half of each turn is given over to the communists. The phases are pretty much the same. You choose an Event from the cup. Then you roll a die and consult tables to determine both how many new units the communists can recruit (this largely depends on the communist infiltration level) and also what the general strategy of the communists will be for that turn (also depends on infiltration level). They might stop and lick their wounds, advance, or withdraw.

Enemy units will ultimately try and go for Da Nang. If they manage to capture it, the free world player automatically loses the game. But even if they don’t get it, they can also inflict some pretty bad VP losses by capturing other free world bases such as Hue or Khe San.

After communist movement is conducted, the free world player again can conduct reaction airstrikes and other missions against revealed communist units in the same space as friendly units.

Some thoughts:

Mike Force is a pretty easy game to learn. I was clear of the rulebook after my second playthrough. An average game will take anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, which hits my “sweet spot” for gaming these days. The rules are fairly simple and well-written and organized. I had no problem finding information I needed. The rulebook is 16 pages long. There are 30 sections, each of them with a few subpoints underneath. I found the rules quite intuitive after a very short time.

Joe Youst drew the map and it is beautiful. More importantly, it facilitates gameplay. There is plenty of space for the game’s units without having to resort to stacking them. The graphics and font captures the era and theme of the game quite well. The large size of the font makes it easy to read and quickly find information. Tables are included on the map, not in the rulebook or the magazine (thankfully).

The counters are nothing special but they’re functional and easy to read. The free world counters show recon value, combat value, and movement values underneath a NATO symbol. The communist counters show a single combat value along with its BCP. Infantry units get a NATO symbol. Other units get a nice silhouette.

For me, a good game is one that teaches me something new and presents me with lots of interesting choices.

Did I learn something? Yes. I learned about another aspect of warfare that’s often glossed over or ignored in wargames. Before I played Mike Force, I had no idea how unconventional forces played a role in Vietnam and how they were used. I came away from the game with a better appreciation for a.) how the definition of progress (body count) colored everything that happened in the war and how it was conducted and b.) the huge amounts of firepower that could be called down by just a few men in the right spot and how this ultimately influenced morale and the enemy’s ability to move men and material down various routes.

More importantly, I have a better understanding of why these units exist. They conduct very high-risk operations that require extensive training. The most important role these guys played in the war was to pinpoint enemy positions and serve as the eyes and ears of what was out there. To survive and do their jobs well, they need a hell of a lot of support. Without it, they are mostly sitting ducks. For this reason, you have to have a good sense of when to push an operation and when to hold back.

A Near Run Thing: The Battle for Hue is decided by air power as an NVA infantry regiment and a division attack

Were there interesting choices? Yes, in two ways:

First, there was the unit variety. As I mentioned above, there is a very wide variety of forces that you can purchase and they all do some things better than others. Some of them are fragile and finicky.

You can spend 5 RP on a PSYWAR operation that can either get blown in the very next turn or ends up turning things around for you. You can try to recruit Laotians into the White Star program and end up with a potent force to work with – or you can end up with nothing. You can ask for MACV support and not be given the kind that you really needed. Yes, luck is a central part of it. But so is the ability to play the hand that you are dealt. I can see how some players might not enjoy that though.

Another interesting choice is the agony of whether to increase RP or decrease IP when conducting Body Counts. In my first game, I chose to decrease the Infiltration level and managed to keep it to a “Medium” level. However, I didn’t have any points to recruit new guys so I ended up getting hammered by the enemy and losing what little forces I had. After that, my choices for hitting the NVA were extremely limited as I watched them pour into Hue. It was only through some last minute air and gunship intervention that I managed to save it from being overrun.

Vietnam: 1965 to 1975: Final Update

Well, I can safely say now that I’ve finished a tour of duty in Vietnam: 1965 to 1975 from Victory Games.  And what a ride!

Between the extreme of busy-ness of work and home right now, I’ve shoehorned in the time required to play about as much of it as I can at the moment.  Many games, you can sort of sit with for an hour or two after work and lose yourself in them despite being already tired.  Vietnam is not that kind of game.  It demands a lot from the player, both in terms of time committment and mental energy and if you don’t give it the right amount of time and concentration and respect, you’ll probably get burned pretty badly.  Rather than watch things degenerate into farce, I’ve decided to stop the game here and take stock of what happened.

To wrap things up, early 1966 started off with a failed NVA offensive against Saigon itself as two full divisions were repelled by American and SVN forces defending the capital.  The NVA units retreated north towards the border.  Over in Kontum in the interior, the 1st Cav moved in and started cleaning out the province of VC, although two regiments were known to be operating somewhere and Pleiku was still very much in the hands of numerous VC.  The ARVN were only effective in IV Corps and although they were trying their best, they simply didn’t have the manpower to effectively deal with all of the VC incursions coming from Cambodia while new VC units sprang up along the coast.

By the spring, things were looking dire.  South Vietnam suffered yet another coup, driving morale down even further.  The US was forced to throw in huge amounts of economic aid to keep the government and the people happy.  There was a tiny ray of hope after the ARVN Chief of Staff was finally replaced and a much more loyal commander was put in charge.  There were still several bad apples in the ARVN leadership but small victories like this really do tend to matter in the long haul.  I suspect though, that had I kept playing, SVN would have been prone to another two or three coups before slowly becoming politically stable.  I don’t think this would have happened in a short enough timeframe to make for a potential US-SVN victory.

American committment crept up past the 150 mark as more air power was thrown in to Vietnam.  With the bad spring weather, air power was hampered and not as effective in other seasons.  The VC were able to build two supply conduits in South Vietnam – one in IV Corps near the border with Cambodia and the other in Pleiku.

Elements of 1st Cav and the ROK forces worked together very well in the boundaries between III Corps and the area around Saigon, almost entirely clearing the region of VC.  In other good news for the American player, a huge Search and Destroy operation mounted against the VC holding out in Pleiku was incredibly successful.  Three VC battalions were destroyed and a regiment was sent fleeing west towards the border.  Pleiku was retaken and the VC supply conduit was destroyed.

The 1st Division sent a brigade of troops and artillery to start working in IV Corps and although they were able to retake one of the provincial capitals just west of Saigon, they too found the VC problem in the area to be largely insurmountable.  Much of the population in IV Corps was friendly to the VC or at least totally unsympathetic towards the SVN government.  It was starting to look like the area was a write-off, especially with so many VC battalions coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail and pouring into the area each season.  With the ARVN division ineffective this season, there was little to be done about it all.

Up near Da Nang, the 3rd Marines dealt a huge blow to the VC by trapping and destroying an entire regiment in the hills to the west.  By this time, much of the US air power and airmobility was spent and there was little else to do.  The VC licked their wounds and sent many of their forces into the countryside.  Clearly, the Americans were at their best when facing a concentrated force of enemies in a single location and the VC could no longer hope to forge strongholds in provincial capitals without losing them to US attacks.

By the end of the season, I was sure of two things.  The first was that the damage at this point was nearly irreversible in terms of losing popular support in key provinces and keeping SVN morale bouyant enough to turn the ARVN into an effective fighting force that could help assist the Americans.  No, the fighting and dying here was all done by the US and that would remain the same so long as South Vietnam was in the depths of political chaos.  Secondly, the VC had employed a questionable strategy by trying to take and hold provincial capitals by piling units into them and putting them in Hold operations.  The nature of the war would change into small-scale engagements in the countryside as the VC slowly turned the population’s loyalty towards North Vietnam instead of directly attempted to face down the Americans and ARVN.  To take care of this problem would require huge American committment and this would only increase morale for North Vietnam.

Here are a bunch of photos to try and explain as best as I can what I’ve written.  Sorry for the poor quality!

If I had to do things over again, as the US player, I would have given a much bigger commmittment than my initial brigades in the first year.  Although this may lead to a dangerous situation of over-commitment, it seems to make more sense to go big at the start and then slowly scale in troops as needed instead of trying to solve the problems by throwing in a brigade here and there once a season.  By trickling in forces over time, the VC player sees what the US is trying to do and just shifts their energy to another area of the country that’s not as well defended.  This creates a “whack-a-mole” approach to Vietnam and needless to say, it doesn’t work at all.

I’m going to put Vietnam away for now and I’ll come back to play it again some day.  I really enjoyed it for the time I had with it.  A lot of monster games can be dry academic exercises but I never felt that with Vietnam.  It is a proper wargame that tries well to reflect the realities of what politicians and military leaders were dealing with and although it’s not a really complex game, there are a lot of moving parts that make the game shine when you put it all together and see the result.

Vietnam 1965 – 1975 Campaign Update #4

Fall & Winter 1965

South Vietnam is in political chaos as two successive coups have happened in the fall and winter season.  The generals in charge of the ARVN Corps are demoralized and disloyal, preferring to focus on bitter in-fighting rather than getting the job done of securing the countryside from an increasingly bold VC presence.

Fall 1965 starts off with the US choosing to save its air power for operations in the field.  No bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail or the North happens at the start of this season.  Big mistake.  The VC use the trail to good effect, throwing in men and supplies everywhere, especially in the interior near Kontum.  The Viet Cong take control of several provincial capitals in this area and they now have a stronghold from which to launch attacks on the US and ARVN forces further to the east.

The SVN capital finds itself under siege as rumors of NVA regiments moving down the trail are preparing for an offensive against Saigon itself.

With the ARVN in disarray and completely ineffective in the field, the Americans find themselves with little choice but to commit more men and troops to help prop up the flailing South Vietnamese government.  The 1st Cav and the 1st US Army Division are sent to help out the Marines with their efforts to fend off VC incursions in I and II Corps.  Meanwhile, the South Koreans decide to get involved and send off a regiment to Saigon.

The VC spend most of the season consolidating their gains in the interior of the country.  Capital cities in Kontum and the surrounding regions are filling up with VC.  Population support for the South Vietnamese government drops precipitously in these areas while the limited US and Korean forces go on offensives to clear out vital areas.  The Koreans help secure some roads east outside of the capital and then use the rest of their forces to try and dislodge the VC forces holding up in the the port city of Vung Tao.  The capture of a South Vietnamese city so close to the national capital is a political and military embarassment for the ARVN, who are unable to clean their own house.

S. Koreans prepare to lay a beating on the VC operating southeast of Saigon.

The Koreans attack the city and deal out severe punishment to the VC but they are unable to take it successfully.  American air and naval power is being used up at precipitous rates further to the east,while the 1st Division hammers away at VC attempting to hold in Phan Tiet and along the roads through the Binh Thuan region. The Americans do an excellent job against the VC regiments causing the VC replacement rate to fall rapidly.

1st Division works its way down the coast through Binh Thuan, clearing out VC-held cities.

Meanwhile, the 1st Cav recaptures a port near Chu Lai as the VC are forced to withdraw after facing a battle they cannot win. The Marines up near Da Nang are also operating nicely, conducting several search and destroy and security operations to push the VC out of the Quang Tri and Thua Thien area.

Interseason Fall/Winter 1965

Although the American and Korean performance is admirable, it is still not enough to keep the VC at bay.  Their numbers in the countryside are increasing and the supplies seem to keep coming down the trail.

As fall turns to winter, the US decides it has had enough and commits an impressive amount of air power to bomb North Vietnam (30 points of air allocated for unrestrained bombing), scoring several hits against it.  The Ho Chi Minh trail is also bombed, which helps to slow the flow of supplies.  The North Vietnamese player has no choice but to spend his commitment points on air defense and repairing the trail.  The Americans also have 3 naval points committed to the blockade of North Vietnam.  Supplies for the VC start to dry up this turn but the US committment required for this means that the North Vietnamese morale increases while American morale starts to drop.  Photos of North Vietnamese villages bombed by American planes have a dramatic impact on the American public.  Citing the political instability in South Vietnam, many people back home start to wonder if the war is worth it.

With the bulk of the ARVN likely ending up as ineffective again this season, the US player decides to increase committment again.  More air is committed to the campaign and elements of the 199th as well as another brigade from 1st Cav are deployed in-country.  The 199th is sent to Saigon to help with defending the capital from NVA attacks while the 1st Cav is sent to supplement efforts in II Corps, deploying in Qui Nonh.  Without a doubt, they will be committed against the VC strongholds in Kontum to the west.

Meanwhile the US has provided cruiser support down near Vung Tao and the South Koreans look to be spoiling for a fight over the city again this season.

Although there are plenty of ARVN and a US brigade now sitting in Saigon, the defense is brittle.  The ARVN Chief of Staff is disloyal and unhappy about his position so the defending ARVN are ineffective.  To the west, there are over a dozen VC units operating in IV Corps sector.  Although the 21st ARVN division looks strong and effective on paper, it is surrounded by VC and clearing the sector of VC will be a Herculean task.  It looks like the Americans will have to help out here again or this part of the country will go to the VC.

Winter 1965

The 1st Cav conducted a massive search and destroy operation around Kontum.  The Americans blasted the city from the air (declaring the whole province a free-fire zone) and then the surrounded it with three battalions.  The attack on the city eliminated a political section and sent a VC battalion scrambling into the jungle.  The ROK troops near Vung Tao finally managed to dislodge an entire regiment from the city on a security operation and the 1st Division followed up the retreating units and eliminated a battalion, sending the VC in a retreat near the marshes southeast of Saigon.  The road between II and III Corps was finally…finally clear after six months.  Again, lots and lots of air spent here to get these results.  I found out what a wonderful thing airmobility is here (“Surprise, assholes! We’re here!”).

1st Cav conducts a very successful Search & Destroy operation around Kontum and starts to reclaim the area.

Another search and destroy operation in Quan Ngai found an entire regiment of VC operating in the area and used cruiser and air support in an attempt to destroy it.  The VC were able to move away after taking 3 replacement point losses and the pursuit ended there.  The regiment was in now in the mountains further west, giving the coastal cities a chance to breathe but it was evident that the S&D operation was pretty much a failure.  Several VC units moved from Kontum east towards Binh Dinh, a real danger since this province has a large SVN population that’s half-and-half on its support.

The year ended with two NVA regiments on the road directly north of Saigon and VC in the area poised for an assault on the capital.  Despite some limited successes in breaking two key VC strongholds, the SVN grip was indeed tenuous, especially considering the political instability in the country.

As an aside, I am learning a whole bunch about this game.  I can see the mistakes I made in the first few turns in terms of rules and also a bit in terms of strategy.  The rulebook is actually quite short but it’s really concise so it’s quite easy to miss vital information if you don’t read really closely.  I made errors in terms of air power numbers for the US (you recover them after each turn unless they’re lost or temporarily unavailable due to using them for strategic bombing – didn’t know that).  Economic aid programs boost morale in the season after the US donates them to SVN.  Also, morale losses for captured capitals accrue over time.  I also see more clearly how support works in an operation in terms of rounds.  I’ve fudged a bit here and there to make up for the mistakes but overall just kept going regardless.

Strategically, I made a blunder early in the game by not purchasing SVN regiments to protect capitals so the VC basically walked right into them without a fight.  This has led to the mess that we’re now in.  As for the repeated coups (3 in one year!!), I don’t know if that’s because of my bad judgement or if it’s just a function of the hand I got dealt at the beginning of the game and the unusually high rolls I’ve been making on leader replacement attempts.

In any case, wow.  Vietnam is really quite an experience to play.  You start to feel like this thing is less a game than a real journey.  I’ve learned a heck of a lot about the big picture of the Vietnam conflict from this game.  It certainly teaches more than any book or documentary on the subject that I’ve read or seen.  I admit that I was put off by the length and complexity of it at first but I find that every time I sit down with it, I end up engrossed with the sheer number of decisions to be made, both on the map and on paper.

The real frustration on the part of the US player is evident here.  South Vietnam is like a patient that’s bleeding from all sorts of wounds and the US is just frantically trying to plug the holes and hoping to stop the bleeding somehow.  The VC are elusive and slippery.  You hit them in one place and they pop up in another.  You start securing the interior of the country and they start showing up along the coast.  You make progress in one Corps area only to see all of it lost in another.  Despite all the men and all the support, you simply can’t cover all of the country. You train and supply the ARVN only to see their leaders fumble along so badly that the units under their command are ineffective.  To that extent, the game seems realistic enough.

Vietnam 1965 – 1975: Weekly Campaign Update #3

Summer of 1965 has just ended and gives way to fall colors, Hogan’s Heroes, Sandy Kofax, The Hollies, and a deepening conflict in Vietnam.  The first hints of change in American culture begin with the protests of thousands of people across America on October 16th.

Well, I never thought I’d get through a single turn of Vietnam 1965 to 1975 but here we are in Fall 1965.  Over the summer months, the Viet Cong have been steadily gnawing away at South Vietnam’s population support.  Starting the summer turn, most of my ARVN divisions ended up being effective, except for the 2nd division up in Quang Nam near Da Nang.  I didn’t worry about it too much because I had the 2nd and 3rd Marine regiments sitting up there ready to pick up the slack for them.

This is my life now…

What did concern me were the two full NVA divisions sitting just across the border to the north.  I also had a ton of VC sitting on the roads along the coast, cutting off the ARVN divisions from each other and limiting their ability to cooperate in any meaningful fashion.  I decided that needed to end quickly and so spent the first part of the summer 1965 turn ordering the ARVN in Khanh Hoa and Binh Din to conduct security operations.  They actually did manage a nice job of eliminating VC resistance all the way through to Quang Ngai in the north and Bin Thuan in the south, giving the SVN some breathing space.

Makin’ room:  The 7th and 18th ARVN push the VC out of coastal areas.

The problems happened mainly in the interior.  By the time I had finished conducting the security operations along the roads and absorbing losses through the use of replacements, I had no real means of pursuing the VC sitting in the interior regions of the country.  By the end of the turn, the VC basically ruled Kontum and its surrounding provinces while they were able to hold on to the regions in the southwest of the country near Saigon.  A slew of provincial capitals were inhabited by VC and there was really nothing the US could do to help them.

Ownage:  The VC basically own the interior right now.

This is because the Americans got caught up in a huge scrape with an NVA division near Dong Ha.  An ARVN regiment from the 5th Division was in a holding operation along Route 1 just south of the border and the North Vietnamese threw their regular army at it.  The US sunk in defensive reserves after the first round of the fight and managed to fend them off but the replacement cost for ARVN and the US combined was staggering.  By the end of it all, there was just no gas left in the tank to go chasing the VC around the interior.

NVA units retreat back across the border after a fight near Dong Ha.  VC units pushed back into Laos.

In the second half of summer 1965, very little actually happened.  The US and ARVN basically licked their wounds while the VC were content to sit out in the countryside and gain more and more popular support.  The NVA was a non-factor here as well, having had its replacements depleted by the huge battle near Dong Ha earlier in the summer. Summer passed into fall and the pacification phase began.  I cringed and made my rolls, ready for the worst.  Fortunately, for the SVN, I rolled quite high for some reason and managed to hang on to popular support in the usual strongholds (Thua Thien actually went up while the presence of VC all around IV corps’ stomping ground didn’t seem to make a big splash with the locals there).

Slowly losing SVN hearts & minds in summer ’65.

I learned a few very important lessons in this season.  The first one is not to overlook the amount of replacements each side needs.  With less than 10 RPs for the US, ARVN, and NVA, they really were not very effective at all.  Probably the smartest thing the NLF player could have done was launch its offensive at Dong Ha, which drew the US Marines in and kept them too busy and too short of replacements to fight the VC.  Clearly, both sides are going to need to commit more to RPs in the coming season.  Secondly, the VC should try to pile units into a regional/provincial capital if possible in order to quickly swing the population towards it.  Finally, the VC are probably better to put just off the roads instead of directly on them so they aren’t vulnerable to Security operations. The most important lesson here is that even with lots of support like air and naval points, it is not nearly as useful without troops on the ground to work with.

As for the game itself, I’m starting to slowly see how it all goes together.  One thing I’ve noticed is that everyone seems to have a slightly different way of playing it with some rules being a bit more ambiguous than others (do the VC get an alert roll during bombardment – the debate over this seemed to rage on and on in the forums).  It is not really a difficult game but it does take time to sit down and play through.  I really recommend using the worksheets at grognard.com and also the online resources available at BGG.  Also, I found a great iPad app (Vietnam 1965 to 1975) for figuring out combat.  All of that has helped considerably to cut down on the time spent slowly calculating combat odds and modifiers.

Vietnam 1965 to 1975: Campaign Game – 1965

Well, I didn’t get much time to play my first Vietnam campaign game this week due to the insane amount of work I had on my plate.  However, I did get the chance to sit down through Saturday morning and afternoon and get things rolling a bit.  I’ll be updating this blog with weekly progress.

I haven’t moved any units yet but holy cow, SO MUCH has happened anyways.

Here’s a rundown as summer of 1965 begins.

The NLF player places a division within arm’s reach of the SVN/NVN border.  They look ready to sweep down into South Vietnam, which is a bit alarming.  I only have a handful of ARVN regiments protecting it.

Map after NLF set up.

As the NLF player, I decided to purchase 4 regiments and 20 battalions of VC and placed them throughout South Vietnam, especially in the inland areas.  The VC are basically everywhere on the map.  I don’t think I left a province untouched with their presence.  It is going to take a long time and it will be a really hard fight to root them out of these areas.  If I can’t do that, they will eventually win over the South Vietnamese civilians to their side.

The capital is basically under siege, surrounded by about a dozen VC units.  The wide swath of South Vietnam that separates III Corps and II Corps are filled with VC.  Many of the Viet Cong are on the roads running through these provinces, nicely preventing the ARVN corps from operating together in any coordinated fashion.

Okay, so there were lots of enemy units sitting in the countryside and at unknown levels of strength.   Here’s a look at the map I’ve made of Vassal to show key areas.  Please note that I’m playing this game on paper map in my office so the troop strength for VC is not accurate.  I have no idea of any of the VC counter troop strength on my map as you can see from the above photo.

Area around Saigon and Bien Hoa surrounded by VC.

The area that stretches between Binh Dinh and Quang Nam is VC dominated
Further east of Saigon all the way to the coast is full of VC units.

After skipping the Pacification phase, it was time for the American player to declare his strategic bombing missions.  Since I’m playing solo, I just decided to roll a d10 to determine how many air points I would be spending on hitting the Ho Chi Minh trail and bombing the North.  As it turns out, we spent 6 air points on the trail and 2 on the North.  It was a paltry amount, I’ll agree, but this war was just starting.  The US player scores 1 hit on the Ho Chi Minh trail.  With only 2 points assigned to bombing the North, I decided that these had better count – so I allowed the planes to conduct unrestrained bombing.  As it turns out, the bombing was totally ineffective.  It reduces US morale by 2 but the South Vietnamese are delighted and morale goes up by 4.

Next up was the Trail status and Blockade segment.  I really doubt I did this right but I muddled my way through the rulebook and gave it a shot anyways.  The Ho Chi Minh trail had been hit by US air power and it’s effectiveness went from level 4 to level 3.  The NLF committed 3 supply points to running the US blockade and had 17 supply points available by sea.

Now it was time for the US/SVN to try and replace the two 2-star generals who were less than trustworthy.  Rolling a 7 for both the chief of the SVN air force and the chief of the SVN navy, this meant that I failed to replace them.  Their loyalty sunk down to 5, the lowest possible level.  I did manage, however, to replace the 1-star leader of the 2nd ARVN division with a terrific guy whose loyalty was maxed out at 13.  Well, at least there was some good news here.

Next, I checked to see if the military had had enough and went for a coup.  I rolled an 8 for the coup roll and only two members of the chiefs of staff stayed loyal while the rest wavered and my army and navy chiefs plotted a coup, which succeeded.  The South Vietnamese government fell (-8 morale SVN, -3 US morale) and Bao Dai was replaced as my 3-star leader.  Suddenly I was dealing with General Minh, who was much more agreeable to the South Vietnamese military (-1 morale for SVN, 0 morale for US).

End of SVN Morale Adjustment segment – 2 star leaders

The SVN Morale Adjustment segment came and it was time once again to pay the butcher’s bill in terms of leaders.  With an SVN morale that had dropped from an initial 65 down to 60, I rolled on the loyalty table and found that all leaders of C faction dropped by 1 loyalty.  Things were not looking so good for the South Vietnamese.  The US morale stayed fairly steady at 515 down from 520,  a small drop due to the unrestrained bombing campaign and the recent government coup.  NVN morale popped up by 5 from 10 to 15.

End of seasonal interphase – 1 star SVN leaders

During the recruitment segment, I decided to try some new things.

I decided that the US was going to try and primarily leave the war to the South Vietnamese to deal with as best as they could.  This may be a huge mistake but I’ve always kind of wondered what might have happened if the US had opted to resist the temptation to send in many thousands of their own men.

To this end, the US decided to grant lots of economic aid to South Vietnam, lots of US flags, food and medical programs in the villages, etc. as well as significant amounts of military aid.  The US spends 3 commitment on economic aid and SVN morale goes up by 5.   American military equipment flows in after spending 6 commitment for a total of 42 supply points that the SVN can use to upgrade their regiments in the field.  12 ARVN regiments are upgraded (that’s four divisions) at a cost of 36 supply points.  The remaining supplies go to buying 8 replacement points for the ARVN, 2 armored cavalry battlions (1 placed in Cam Ranh and the other in Qui Nhon).  With six supply points left, I went and decided to purchase 3 regiments from the 25th ARVN division and place them in Saigon. The one star leader proved to be exceptional with a rating of “3” (as opposed to what is shown in the picture above) and a loyalty of 10.

Finally, I decided that without much direct US ground support, the ARVN would need all the help they could get from the air. I bolstered US commitment by another 3 points and gained back 9 air points to use in the field.  I should have probably purchased some airmobile and riverine points too but I decided to keep the US commitment low and just see what the ARVN could do without too much help.  I shudder to think what might happen if ARVN units prove largely ineffective this season.  If so, I’ll have to start pulling in US ground forces to do the job for them.

Here are the numbers so far for the SVN/US side:

1.  US Committment: 37, Morale: 515, Air Support:  22,  Air Mobile Points: 2
2.  SVN Morale: 66, Draft Level 30, Supply: 0, Replacement Points: 8, Population: 216

I think that is correct so far!  I’ve done my best with it.  I’ll update next week on my progress.  So far, it’s been very slow-going.  Lots of rule-checking and leafing through the rulebook for quite some time.

Vietnam: The Campaign Game 1965 to 1975 – SVN/US Setup

Disclaimer:  I have trouble finishing my breakfast so the prospect of finishing a full monster campaign game of Vietnam is pretty dim.  Some of you might ask, “Why even start then?”, which is a valid question but my only answer to that is, “I want to at least catch the flavor of the game and catch a glimpse of why so many people love it so much.”

Disclaimer #2:  I really have no idea what I’m doing here.  Really. I’ve played through one scenario (the first one) and now I’m on the campaign.

Setup:

We start off in the summer of 1965.

Sam & The Pharaohs have released their hit song “Wooly Bully”, which is climbing to the top of the American Hit 100 Chart, where it will sit for a week before being knocked off by “Help Me Rhonda”


NASA is about to launch Gemini 4 and the first space walk by an American is about to take place.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be passed, a landmark piece of legislation during the Civil Rights Movement.

LBJ will announce an increase of 50,000 troops to Vietnam on June 28th.

With the setting established, here we go back in time together…

The 3rd and 4th US Marine Regiments deploy in Da Nang with their HQs.

The SVN draft 7 divisions from the population for a total of 91 supply points, leaving only 9 points left.  No idea if this is a good or bad thing.

Here’s how the placement breaks down from north to south.

I Corps

5th Division and 2nd Division are set up basically as buffers against any NVA incursions.  They’re situated along the major routes going into South Vietnam.  5th Division is up in Quang Tri and Thua Thien with an HQ, arty, and a regiment sitting in Hue City.  2nd Division is further south in Quang Nam playing backup to the USMC 3rd and 4th regiment stationed in Da Nang.  Hopefully, the combination of these three forces working together in concert will be able to achieve something special.

I Corps sets up near the border with North Vietnam

II Corps

This consists of three SVN divisions, the 18th, 7th, and 3rd,  Basically, there is a large chunk of South Vietnam that I’ve left between I and II Corps and this particularly worries me.  However, I wanted to really avoid spreading my ARVN out too thin.  The 18th Division is in charge of Binh Dinh while the 7th has small forces sitting in Phu Bon and Phu Yen province.  This leaves Kontum, Quang Tin, and Quang Ngai provinces without any ARVN troop presence.

 

The 3rd ARVN Division is deployed a bit further south down the coast, mostly in Khan Hoa.  It’s starting to strike me just how much my deployment has avoided the rough terrain inland in favor of setting up near the coastline.  It seems that the inland areas will probably be prime areas for the VC to recruit and operate.

III Corps

This consists entirely of 9th ARVN Division, which is situated in and around Saigon and Bien Hoa.  They’ll mostly be protecting the capital this summer.  I don’t plan on using them for any wild goose chases against the VC.

9th ARVN set up in and around Saigon.

IV Corps

The final ARVN division is the 21st, which is deployed around the Mekong Delta, operating in the flatlands and swamps of three separate provinces, Phong Din, Sa Dec, and An Giang.  These guys are pretty much on their own and won’t be able to expect much help from III Corps.  Out of all the areas I’m worried about, this is the big one.  It seems like a perfect place for the VC to do their thing with relative impunity.

IV Corps (21st ARVN) deployed along Mekong Delta

We draw our leaders for the South Vietnamese ARVN forces and here’s what we get:

1.  We get Bao Dai for our 3-star general.  The ARVN troops don’t like him (-3 morale to SVN) but the Americans do (+1 US morale).

2.  We get a bunch of real winners in our starting leadership pool for the ARVN spheres of command.  Looking at it, we have no less than three leaders whose loyalty is highly questionable and who the US will need to try and replace at the earliest possible moment.  This is alarming as it’s apparently the South Vietnamese Air Force and Navy commanders who are among the least loyal.  It’s a crying shame that the leader of II Corps is unhappy as he is easily one of my best commanders (and also in charge of three ARVN divisions).  The Chief of Staff is a bumbling fool who I can foresee having problems with in the near future unless I do something about it.  Luckily, we have passable leaders for III Corps and IV Corps who seem to be at least somewhat up for the job.  I can see a real mess looming ahead.

Two star commanders – Loyalty & Effectiveness

3.  The 1-star leaders of each division are a damn sight better than their superiors.  Most of the men are loyal (four of them at 10 loyalty and one at 9 loyalty rating) and competent soldiers, especially the leader of 9th Division.  The only real concerns here are 2nd division’s commander, who I’ll be trying to replace very soon.  I can also see a potential issue with the commander of 7th ARVN division, but we’ll let it go for now.

Divisional commanders; Loyalty & Effectiveness chart

US morale is 520 and commitment is 25.  We have 21 air points, 2 airmobile points, 3 replacement points, and one cruiser.

We start off with all of the SVN provinces in the neutral range of population control so neither side has won any hearts and/or minds as of yet.

Well, that’s the SVN/US side set up!  I don’t know if I did well or not (and I’m not sure I care – I’m just really interested to see how it plays out). Next up comes the NLF player’s set up.  I’ll talk about that next time.  If you see any mistakes, please feel free to let me know!

Vietnam: Operation Starlite (Part 2)

In my previous report on the Vietnam scenario, Operation Starlite, the US Marines had just uncovered and eliminated a VC political support section near Chu Lai.  With that out of the way, the Americans now have bigger fish to fry as they attempt to hunt down and destroy an entire VC regiment.  Reports have indicated that the unit has pulled back inland towards the more rugged terrain.  The rest of the Marines in Quang Ngai province are about to come down hard on the enemy.

Casualties are evacuated by helicopter during Operation Starlite.  August 1965.

Search and Destroy #2

The US player declares a Search and Destroy operation in which the rest of the available Marine battalions (2/4 Marines in hex 5118 and 1st Marines in hex 5220) and the HQ will participate.  He then chooses 4921 as the Target Hex.  All available support is on call for this operation  – the 4 air points, the cruiser, and the airmobile point.

Marines target 4921 for Search and Destroy mission.

2/4 Marines move from Chu Lai in towards the west, ending its movement in 4921.  We don’t have enough available air points for an interdiction mission so the plan is to use it for close air support instead.

The Alert

The VC now get an alert roll.  The roll is 2 and the current terrain modifier is 3, which comes to 5.  The scenario’s rules modify the VC movement by minus 2 for a total of 3 MPA.  The VC unit slips into the cultivated hex directly to the north in 4920.  It may be a stupid mistake to have a Marine battalion take on an entire VC regiment but I have faith in air power to help even up the odds a bit here.

The VC regiment is alerted and slips north to hex 4920.

Combat!

The USMC combat strength is 3 while the VC has a strength of 8 (6 inherent +2 for its artillery).  The combat is taking place in cultivated terrain, which offers no real modifiers for either side.  All 4 points of air power are assigned to help the Marines in their attack (this becomes the equivalent of 2 artillery points due to a non-free fire zone), which boosts the total combat strength of the Marines to a total of 5.  The combat ratio is still at a 1:2, which will result in a -2 modifier on the combat roll.

We roll a six-sided die for the combat results and get a 5, which is modified to 3.  It’s time to determine casualties.  We check the combat table and look at the column which corresponds to the combat strength of each side, modified by the enemy’s support.  Checking for the Americans, we look under the 4 to 7.5 column and find a “0” on the left side of the slash for the attacker.  The Americans take no casualties.

The VC have a combat strength of 6 modified by 2 (for the American air support) so we’re looking under the “8 to 13.5” column and on the right side of the slash, we get a 0 for the defender.  This round of combat ends and no one has taken any casualties.  Interestingly, the Americans have lost one air point in the battle.  I guess some Phantoms got shot down on their way back from the target.

Retreat and Pursuit

Now the VC unit gets a chance (entirely up to the VC player’s discretion) to retreat its full Movement Point Allowance (of 4 MP).  It moves into 5020, a cultivated terrain hex.

VC Regiment retreats into 5020 as the Marines pursue.

The 2/4 Marines now get a chance to pursue.  The Movement Point Allowance of the pursuing units is determined by the combat result of the previous battle (which was a zero) and the pursuit allowance modifier for the unit (+3) for a total of 3 Movement Points.  The 2/4 unit moves into hex 5020 along with the VC regiment.  Because this move cost 2 MP of our 3 MPA for Pursuit, the unused 1 movement point can be used to increase the combat die roll for the attacker.  The American player wants a higher combat odds ratio against the VC regiment so we decide to move in the 3/7 Marines from the east.  They move to 5120, adjacent to the VC regiment’s hex so it can participate in the upcoming combat.

2/4 in same hex as VC regiment while 3/7 moves in adjacent to help with pursuit.  Cruiser adds in support.

This time, we can throw in the 6 points from the cruiser as support for the Americans.  This results in a 9:8 or 1:1 combat odds ratio with a +1 pursuit bonus modifier to the roll.

The American player rolls a 5, which is modified to 6.  We check out the casualty result by looking along the 6 line and cross referencing each side’s combat strength plus enemy support.  The VC regiment suffers 2 hits while the Marines take 1.  The VC have 4 replacement points, so they use two of them to keep the regiment intact.  The Americans use up 1 of their replacement points to cover their casualties.

The turn is over and the VC regiment has managed to survive.   This scenario ends up as a win for the VC.

Some Final Thoughts

This was my very first game of Vietnam 1965 – 1975.  Wow!  There is so much going on here in terms of rules and the fluidity of the operational situation but I really enjoyed it.  The VC are incredibly slippery thanks to their alert movement ability.

By sending out lone battalions of Marines to find and attack an entire regiment, the Americans used a really risky approach to the whole operation.  I was definitely relying on support to be able to even the odds a bit (which it did in the end) but I really needed way more support and ground units moving in there and getting dirty in order to really defeat the VC.

I was hoping to get enough of a pursuit modifier in my first battle with the VC regiment so I could airmobilize the HQ and send it into battle with the rest of the Marines.  Unfortunately, things didn’t happen that way and the best I could do was rush the 3/7 Marines in there and call in lots of naval fire support.  Speaking of which, I should have used the naval fire for interdiction in the previous operation and saved the 2/12 artillery for ground support in this one.  That would have brought much more firepower to bear against the VC regiment.

If I had to do this operation over again,  I would have sent in 3/7 with the HQ in the same hex as the VC right away and moved up the 2/4 Marines adjacent in order to help with post-combat pursuit.  With both Marine regiments attacking along with the air support, naval gunfire, and HQ artillery, this may have been enough to defeat the VC regiment.  As it turned out, we had a running gun battle across the province that didn’t do much in the end.  I’ll have to try this scenario again and see how different approaches might work out.

Vietnam: Operation Starlite (Part 1)

“Operation Starlite” is the first scenario for Victory Games’ Vietnam: 1965 – 1975 (1984).  The scenario is based on the historical battle between the Vietcong and the United States Marine Corps in the province of Quang Ngai in August 1965.  It marked a significant point in the beginning of the war as the battle here was the first wholly American effort of this size.  Through some clever planning and careful coordination among air, naval, and ground forces, the Americans held the initiative in the battle and delivered a significant blow to the 1st VC Regiment by the end of the operation.

The Forces

This particular scenario allows the players to examine the “what if” situation where the VC get a little more time to get out of the Americans’ way at the start.  The VC player has two units in this short scenario – a Political Section and a VC regiment.  The American player gets the 7th Marines (Regimental HQ and 3/7) along with the 3rd Marines (both the 3/3 and 2/4) and a battalion from the 2/12 Marine Artillery Regiment.

Opening US setup – Operation Starlite

Setup

The 3rd Marines with the 2/12 artillery start off in the port at 5118 right near the city of Chu Lai (which would later become a major Marine base in the area).  The 1st Marines start off just north of Quang Ngai in 5220.

The VC can deploy in either 5219 or 5320.  I’ve decided to place both units in 5219 to get them a little further from the coast and give them a slightly better chance at escape.

The VC Regiment and Political Section are both deployed in 5219.  

The Plan

The plan here is for the US player to conduct a Search and Destroy operation against the VC. The terrain around here consists of roads and cultivated hexes, which is easy enough to move through (cost of 1 MP for foot).  Over to the west, it starts getting mountainous with some forested hills and a bit of jungle.  If the VC can be prevented from getting into this tougher terrain, the US will probably do just fine here.  The US player has some air (4 points) and naval gunfire (6 points from a cruiser), which will probably be used for interdiction to help keep the VC from getting too far away.

The NLF player simply wants his VC regiment to survive.  The scenario only lasts one turn so this is really a situation where the VC will just be evading the US efforts for as long as humanly possible.  The Political Section may need to be sacrificed to keep the regiment from being targeted.  In this game, the VC playing pieces are kept face down so the US player never quite knows what he’s going to find until he hunts down a VC unit and the fight begins in earnest.

I’m going to walk through the opening moves of the scenario slowly because I’m rather new to the game and this will help me to learn it.  It might also help to give you an idea of how the game works if you’ve never played it.

Initial Phases:  Turn 1

We start off with the support phase and note the levels of support available for the US player.  As stated before, we’ve got the cruiser, 4 air points, and 1 airmobile point.  We also have 4 replacement points in case we take any losses with our Marine ground units.

Next is the Special Operations Designation Phase where either side can opt to put their units on hold or patrol operations.  Neither player chooses to do so.

After that is the Strategic Movement Phase.  Both sides can choose to move their units very long distances in this phase but since we’re focused on one province here, there are no other units to pull in from other areas of the country.

The next step is the Operations Phase.  This is really the heart of the game.  Both players get a chance to assign their units to an operation such as Search and Destroy, Clear and Secure, Bombardment, etc.  The NLF (National Liberation Front) player gets to choose whether he or the US player will go first here.  Since the VC are trying to get away from an overwhelmingly large US force, it would be a good idea for the NLF to go first and try to escape.

The NLF decides to assign the VC to a Search and Destroy operation (assigned to a notional target – this really just gets them moving away from the Americans within the parameters of the game and scenario).  The VC units have only 4 movement points (down from their usual 6 MPs) due to the fact that they are not used to the fast reaction time of the Americans.  One of the units moves to 5019 while the other goes to 5020.  The NLF gives the operations over to the American player.

Unidentified VC units run west from hex 5219.  End of NLF operations.

US Search and Destroy

Now the American player declares a Search and Destroy operation and attempts to find and eliminate the  VC regiment operating in the area. The 3/3 Marines and the 2/12 arty are assigned to the operation.  The target hex will be 5019, since it’s closest to our operating American units.  So whatever is sitting in 5019, be it a tiny helpless political support unit or an entire regiment is going to be our target unit.

The first thing the American player needs to do is declare any support that he will use in the operation.  Since we don’t know yet what we’re really dealing with in terms of enemy unit strength, we’ll wait until next round to use the support.

The 3/3 Marines move southwest of their current position and end up in the same hex as the mystery VC unit.  A couple of things now happen and this illustrates the reactive and fluid nature of the game’s mechanics.

First of all, the VC in the non-target hex gets a reaction move at its full MP allowance since an enemy unit ended its movement adjacent to it.

VC unit moves from 5020 to forested hills in 4921 as reaction move.

Now the Americans get to add in some offensive interdiction.  The 2/12 artillery fires on the 5019 hex.  The arty has a firepower of 7, but this is reduced to 3.5 because this province is not a free-fire zone.  The result is that an interdiction marker of “1” is placed on 5019.  As a result, leaving the hex will require +1 MP for all units (even friendly ones).

The VC and Alert Movement

The VC in 5019 now get an alert roll, which may allow them to move out of the hex and escape from the 3/3 Marines.  The Movement Points available to an alert unit are determined by a straight d6 roll added to the Movement Point requirement for the terrain in which the unit is currently sitting.  If there were ARVN units involved in the attack, the VC would get a +1 bonus, which is how the game reflects how the VC had thoroughly infiltrated the ARVN units during the war.  We roll a “2” and add it to the “1” for cultivated hex and the final Alert MP is a 3.

Normally, the VC could move out of the enemy occupied hex by paying 2 MPs in 5019 and entering the cultivated hex in 5120 for 1 MP (a total of 3 MP).  However, the interdiction artillery mission tacks on an extra 1 MP to leave 5019, which makes moving away from the American unit impossible.  The VC could disperse at this point, simply evaporating into the surrounding countryside and avoiding a fight altogether but in this scenario, that would mean a US win.  So the VC unit is pinned down and must fight the Americans.

And behind door number 3…

Now we reveal the VC unit in the hex.  I’m playing this solitaire so I’m going to randomly determine which unit it is by just rolling a die.  1-3 is the regiment, 4-6 is the political section.  We get a 6 so the 3/3 Marines eliminate the VC political section.  The operation ends.  The interdiction marker in 5019 is removed.  The 3/3 and the artillery is declared ops complete.

The first Search and Destroy operation is successful and the units involved are declared ops complete.

Now it’s time to get that lone VC regiment operating to the west!  I’ll be updating shortly with the results.  If any of you veteran Vietnam players see any mistakes, please let me know in the comments!  Thanks for reading.

Incoming!

“Goooooooood morning Vietnam! It’s 0600 hours. What does the “O” stand for? O my God, it’s early!” 
-Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning Vietnam



Well, this thing just arrived the other day.

Nick Karp’s Vietnam: 1965 – 1975 was published by Victory Games and released in 1984.  Although I’ve never played it and I haven’t really even done more than scan the rulebook, I’ve read lots about it.  The game is a faithful attempt to model the political and military involvement of the United States during the entirety of the American major involvement in the Vietnam conflict and it features a huge monster of a campaign game (although there are smaller scenarios in there too).

Mr. Karp started out as a playtester for SPI in his youth and went on to design this game during his university studies (Holy crap, now I realize that I have done NOTHING with my life).   If that doesn’t impress you enough, the game won the 1984 Charles S. Roberts Best Twentieth Century Game award.  The artists, Ted Koller and James Talbot, did a wonderful job with the game’s presentation and helped the game to garner another Charles S. Roberts award for Best Graphical Presentation.

What I find even more amazing about this game is that it was one of the first of its kind to try and deal with the overarching military and political complexities of the Vietnam War – a complex and controversial topic, to say the least.

“You know if we’d lost here in Vietnam, I think it might’ve driven us crazy. Y’know, as a country.” – Eddie Blake, Watchmen 

This game came out right at the same time as the Vietnam War was being reappraised in American media, politics, and popular culture.   Despite the release of a few games about Vietnam prior to this one (Grunt and Year of the Rat, for example), I don’t think Nick Karp’s Vietnam 1965 – 1975 would have seen the light of day – never mind win two major awards – if it had been designed in the late 1970s.  This was a much more extensive and sobering look at the grim complexities of fighting a ten year long war in Vietnam so the game and its cultural context are inseparable.

The game’s release was just one of many signifiers that enough time and emotional distance from the war had made it possible for a study of the topic matter through games, movies (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket), television (Tour of Duty, China Beach), comics (Marvel’s “The ‘Nam”), books (Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam:  A History), and novels (Leonard Scott’s Charlie Mike).  Sure, some of these attempts to deal with the war were clumsy but it was a start.  Karp’s game, however, was anything but ham-fisted in its examination of the war.

“I don’t know why. You don’t know why.  Most likely god don’t know why either. It’s just government business, that’s all.”  -man-in-the-street interview concerning Vietnam, circa 1967

Vietnam 1965 – 1975 was a very unique wargame at the time of its release.  A large part of the game deals with not only fighting your enemies but also winning and retaining the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.  With this in mind, the player’s attempts to resolve political and military dilemmas are a huge part of the game.  For example, you can declare an area as a “Free Fire” zone for your artillery and air missions and it will help immensely in combat situations but with the drawback that you will likely lose the support of the hapless civilians who get caught in the midst of all that massive firepower. Games like Fire in the Lake and Hearts and Minds are more recent examples of this kind of approach although I haven’t played them before so I have no idea as to whether or not these attempts were successful.

The campaign game features things like coups and attempts to loosely model ARVN leadership through individual ratings for each South Vietnamese general.  You may get a general who is extremely loyal to the American cause but totally ineffective at leading troops or you may have the opposite.  Which kind of leader do you hang on to?  This will have huge effects on your operations.  Do you authorize the bombing of North Vietnam in an unrestricted manner and take a morale hit across the board?  Do you throw in massive amounts of supplies to build a series of walls and listening posts as part of the McNamara Line?  It could be a complete waste or it might actually help turn the tide in your favor.

I’m looking forward to eventually getting this thing out and playing it in the near future.  I played through a couple of examples tonight but to be honest, my brain feels a bit overwhelmed at the moment after having just learned the very basics of Gulf Strike.  However, I hope to have something about Vietnam to you in a short time so please stay tuned.

For an excellent interview with Mr. Karp about Vietnam 1965 – 1975, please check out this episode of Guns, Dice, Butter.