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After the abortive game with Dan, I felt I had been a bit too harsh on Year of the Rat. Especially when several fans pulled out their old copies and gave it a whirl. I decided to try again, this time with my wife, who plays very similarly to Dan (slowly, deliberately, competently). We left the game set up over the course of a week so there would be no time pressure.

As a result, we actually had quite a lot of fun, and I am more enthusiastic. I had thought that the NVA player's strategies ran out after Turn 2, but I found that I had options all the way through to the last game. So here is my Session Report for Game #2 along with my revised thoughts regarding this game.



This is the one time you'll see the NVA units face up--this was so you can see my starting set-up. Decoys are a big part of the game, although a smart Allied player can generally tell what's what. At least with a novice NVA player (raises hand). The dummy supply units are actually more useful in some ways. At least until you use that last (sixth) real supply unit.

As you can see, Janice left Quang Tri thinly defended. My goal throughout the game would be to take that last city on the coast. Doing so would be certain to secure me some kind of victory. I was also trying to take Mekong Delta West, and I had a reasonably good shot at it--at least on Turn 1. After that, being out in the open assured my becoming bomber-bait. The rest of my supply was placed to maximize opportunities later in the game, particularly in Dar Lac and Tay Nanh.



By the end of Turn 2, I had been bounced twice from the gates of Quang Tri, and my attack on Ha Tien in Mekong Delta West had failed.

On the other hand, I had control of the city of Hue (5 points) and Khe Sanh (1 point) in Quang Tri, Vinh Long (2 points) in Mekong Delta West, and three cities in Darlac (6 points). If I could hold all of these and get one more, I was already in Marginal Victory land. On the other hand, if I lost all of them, I still had six VPs and only needed three more to get a draw. I decided to play with the strategy of A. taking Quang Tri and B. raiding the countryside for as many cities as possible. I also blew through all of my supply in the first half of the game, although as you will see, this did not remove the NVA as a fighting force.



By the end of Turn 4, Quang Tri was still resisting my attacks. By now, its resistance was astatistical. My attack in Mekong Delta West impossible, I decided to relocate my forces to Tay Ninh. I also moved my forces out of Darlac and into Tay Ninh figuring it made more sense to take more cities than to try to defend what I had (since bombardment is so deadly and only gets more so over time). I also threatened the Central Highlands, taking Cheo Reo and, by extension, the Central Coast. I'd lost Ban Methuot, though. My VP total was still 14.



Quang Tri still hadn't fallen, and Dar Lac had been liberated. However, An Khe in the Central Coast had fallen. My score was still 14, and my minimum, even if I lost everything, was eight. I only needed to take down one more city, anywhere on the map, and be assured at least a Draw.



Turn 7 was that turning point, with the fall of An Loc in Tay Ninh province. Sure, the Koreans had steamrollered me in the Central Coast, and sure, jets had pummeled my forces in Quang Tri, but westerners would never speak of the Spring 1972 campaign as an Allied victory. Moreover, I even had forces threatening Qui Nhon on the Central Coast. I also had reinforcements coming in the north.



With my supplies exhausted, and Quang Tri still stubbornly resisting all assaults, and with the city of Hue now in Allied hands, the only good news for the NVA was the taking of Phuoc Binh. This marked the last of the easy targets. As a last-ditch hail-mary, I threw my Tay Ninh army at Saigon, itself. It was a bare 1 in 6 chance of success, but it was my only shot at breaking into marginal victory land.

I rolled a "2". Oh well.



By the end of the game, the Allies had recaptured all of the cities I had taken with the exception of Khe Sanh (1 point) and Vinh Long (2 points). However, I had taken Hue (2 points) and seven other 1-point towns. This made the game a solid draw and, as you can see, there had been a chance all the way to near the end where I could have possibly gotten those three points necessary to secure some kind of victory.

So, the nice thing about this game is that there are so many die rolls that things eventually reach a statistical equilibrium. Don't expect a lot of lucky breaks (though Quang Tri really should have fallen--Janice took a risk leaving it with only 5 defensive strength of units). This means the game can be a bit slow, although it also means you can keep doing 1-1 or 2-1 attacks and eventually hope to succeed (or lose your whole army if at 1-1). This means undersupplied and weakening NVA forces are still a threat wherever they are since any captured city nets 1 victory point, minimum. There's never a time when the Allies can just drop their guard.

My apologies for the NVA-slanted viewpoint of the game. I didn't play the Allies. I thus present to you Janice's take on the game:



Janice enjoyed the game, particularly bombardment, and she made sure to make "vroom" noises whenever her jets returned home from a bombardment.

She made note of NVA positions between turns, so she always had a good idea where the decoys were, and the flipped pieces did not affect the game much. She felt like it would have been difficult to get better than a draw (the NVA really has the drop on the Allies that first turn), though further play may revise that assessment. She stresses the importance of bombardment--it's really the soul of the Allied game (and she relied on bombardment to hold Quang Tri since she didn't have enough ground units to hold it definitively).

She agrees that the end-game presents fewer strategic options for the NVA than the beginning (since reinforcements only come from the north) whereas Allied reinforcements can come from a variety of locations, and many are air-mobile. The end-game is thus more tedious, and less interesting, but also much quicker playing.

The NVA can move into places the Allied player can't, but the Allies can generally teleport anywhere they need to go. Janice found this asymmetry of movement interesting and elegant.

She is quite interested in playing the NVA side since it would feel like a new game, and she notes that any game that offers such disparate experiences for two players is not only twice the fun, but an achievement in game design. She also liked the play balance (two reasonably matched players got a draw--that felt right to her).

Bottom line: I feel like I understand the game a lot better now, and seeing how it really continues until the end of the game rather than just the first few turns, and also having not yet tried the Allies or any of the optional scenarios, this game has gone much higher in my estimation. My apologies for my harsh 1st look, and I hope this session report makes up for it.

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Kim Meints
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Gideon

Nice 2nd try(and great Session reort again) at the game. It does take a few to know all the in's & outs of play and you had a good opponent

YotR still a favorite of mine after all these decades.
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Bruce Jurin
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Wow this report brought back memories! Many of these games really do take a few tries. I suspect that like many games, players who play often and think about it will have an advantage - they are well designed to reward strong play. I do remember YoTR as being subtly difficult.
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Lance McMillan
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Neopeius wrote:
I feel like I understand the game a lot better now, and seeing how it really continues until the end of the game rather than just the first few turns, and also having not yet tried the Allies or any of the optional scenarios, this game has gone much higher in my estimation.


To paraphrase John Lennon, "All we were saying is give war a chance!"
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Ian Raine
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Honi soit qui mal y pense, motto of Sydney Uni Rugby Club, est. 1863
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Lancer4321 wrote:
Neopeius wrote:
I feel like I understand the game a lot better now, and seeing how it really continues until the end of the game rather than just the first few turns, and also having not yet tried the Allies or any of the optional scenarios, this game has gone much higher in my estimation.


To paraphrase John Lennon, "All we were saying is give war a chance!"


I have P.J. O'Rourke's fine book around here somewhere. Must re-read it.

Did anyone every come up with a 1967/68 variant of this game?
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Kim Meints
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Ian

Yes. In the "Strategist: #372.1967/68 variant

I have that issue but sadly I never got it photocopied to put in with my game and those issues have been spread all over the place for years and the one wargaming mag/newsletter I never got all into one place.

If someone does have it handy I'd take a copy since I have no idea how long it would be to hunt for it
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Your review prompted me to get my copy out. I will be trying the game again for the first time in years. I have been playing SPI games since 1970, and throughout the years I watched players play a game once and develop a snap judgment about it. I am glad to see that you tried a second time and that you began to glimpse the intricacies of this finely balanced game.

Take a look at the review on "Maps and Counters" at:

http://mapandcounters.blogspot.com/2010/01/spi-year-of-rat-1...

His conclusions is: "One final thought: THE YEAR OF THE RAT, in contrast to most of Prados’ other designs, does not have his usual ‘unfinished’ feel about it. Unlike THIRD REICH, CASSINO, or PANZERKREIG, for instance, this title actually looks and plays like a ‘finished’ game, and not like a ‘work in progress’. Thus, despite my several criticisms, I still recommend this game highly. It may not be perfect, but it does cover a complex topic reasonably well, and, at the same time, it provides an exciting and very challenging gaming experience."
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Bookwizard wrote:
Your review prompted me to get my copy out. I will be trying the game again for the first time in years. I have been playing SPI games since 1970, and throughout the years I watched players play a game once and develop a snap judgment about it. I am glad to see that you tried a second time and that you began to glimpse the intricacies of this finely balanced game.

Take a look at the review on "Maps and Counters" at:

http://mapandcounters.blogspot.com/2010/01/spi-year-of-rat-1...

His conclusions is: "One final thought: THE YEAR OF THE RAT, in contrast to most of Prados’ other designs, does not have his usual ‘unfinished’ feel about it. Unlike THIRD REICH, CASSINO, or PANZERKREIG, for instance, this title actually looks and plays like a ‘finished’ game, and not like a ‘work in progress’. Thus, despite my several criticisms, I still recommend this game highly. It may not be perfect, but it does cover a complex topic reasonably well, and, at the same time, it provides an exciting and very challenging gaming experience."


M&C is a very good site. If I didn't have BGG, I'd probably have a blog like his.
 
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Jacob Ossar
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Great session report. But having the map upside-down in all of the photos makes my head hurt.
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Russell King
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I played Year of the Rat last year (or was it the year before....???) and it was simply stunning. The hidden units, and the desperation which can kick in in the last few turns takes it way beyond the normal gaming experience: the seemingly neutral CRT takes on a different character as players are increasingly forced into low-odds attacks. The attacks on US bases which develop at the end, I thought, were great moments in wargaming for me. Like the real thing it has lulls, but also moments of supreme drama which come in waves. The strategic sweep of the game is wonderful: the upside down maps in the review above make complete sense! As ever, the RAS graphics are wonderful but are particularly of the moment here.

If you have this in your collection and haven't yet played it, or felt so-so about it a long time ago, get it out now. If you're a Vietnam nut or want to understand modern warfare, get a copy. But stick with it until the end, that's where the real reward comes.
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You are right, Russell. At first, I dismissed the game as trivial, but it's really just desperate.
 
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