Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
In Country: Vietnam 1965-1975 by Joseph Miranda, is found in issue #281 of Strategy & Tactics magazine. It is a special two map edition with twice the number of counters than is usually found in S&T. In the accompanying article provided with the game, Miranda turns conventional wisdom on its head by arguing that the Vietnam War was not so much lost on the battlefield as it was in the corridors of power in Washington. This design seems to be his theoretical approach to selling his case.
As Miranda himself writes on page one of the rules: The game has several scenarios (for which read three plus the campaign game): 1965, 1968, and 1970. Each simulates a period of intense conventional warfare in which a critical decision might have been reached. It was during the periods of major offensives sic operations there was the possibility to have altered the outcome of the Vietnam War. While the main emphasis is on the conventional operations, unconventional war also has its place in the game.
There are two 22x34 inch maps designed by Joe Youst, and I am not sure that I have ever seen so many game charts included onto the game map. If you have seen, or own, a copy of No Retreat! imagine that game on steroids.
The map itself includes: holding boxes for the units, or supporting units, for both sides, unit refit charts, a campaign year table, a weekly/monthly turn table, reorganization charts, a sequence of play, and three different CRT’s, one for positional combat, one for mobile, and one for bombardment, along with other charts and tables. The various CRT’s is Miranda’s effort to reflect the difference in military doctrine and tactics between the two main opponents. Neat-O. The hexes on the main maps are generously large, lavishly illustrated, with key areas identified.
Together, the two maps cover the Republic of Vietnam, Cambodia, along with parts of Laos and North Vietnam, circa 1965-1975. As you can gather from the image, the land areas in question stand out like an island surrounded by a sea of charts, numbers and words. It almost does not work; but this being Joe Youst, it does as he pulls another rabbit out of his topography hat.
There are 560 counters that are among the clearest and best laid out that I have seen from Decision Games in many a moon. The colour types include the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) in yellow—I’ll let this one pass; I took a swipe at Academy Games’ 1812: The Invasion of Canada for having the Canadian Militia in yellow, only to find out that the militia in Upper Canada wore . . . yellow. And I a Canadian at that. Sigh. But I digress. The NVA (Communist based in North Vietnam) are dressed in red, while their VC allies (the Viet Cong) are in a lovely shade of black. Two pinkish, beigeish, yuckish Khmer Rouge units are included. And for those who want to relive the Korean War, possibly with nuclear weapons, some optional Chinese units are included in the darker red.
Next up, we go to the other sheet to find the Allied forces, or, as Miranda sometimes refers to them, the “Free World Allies,” a description that makes me somewhat uncomfortable, though I am at a loss to say just why. Perhaps the jingoism comes through a bit too clearly, game or not. If we are going to follow this particular party line, then the “bad guys” come in shades of red, black, maroon and brown, while the “good guys” can be found wearing green and yellow.
The actual set of counters are a vivid green for the mostly U.S. forces. Be sure not to miss the three H-bomb counters that show a delightful mushroom cloud against a dark background; surely no symbolism there. Many counters are back printed for greater versatility.
The types of counters, beyond the nationalities, are not listed, so far as I can tell, in any one area, and certainly not at the beginning, as one would expect to find; from what I can see, not all types of counters are listed. Digging around reveals what Miranda calls “Mobile units” for both sides of the “heavy” (only Allied forces have these), “light,” “riverine,” and “airmobile.” There are gobs of “static” units for guarding the plethora of bases that belong to both sides.
The rules are rather dense and take some slogging through. At least an effort was made to do some editing before going to print, with errata in red. Though it does inspire irony, it does not build confidence to see that Eric R. Harvey is listed as a developer and final rules editor. Harvey is the co-designer of S&T’s Ticonderoga, one of its most recent botched and broken games. Perhaps he is like most of us: better at finding the mistakes of others than finding his own. I had rather hoped to find more examples than are present.
The Sequence of Play (taken from the DG’s website of E-Rules, with some reformatting by me):
4.0 SEQUENCE OF PLAY
4.1 Game Turns
The game is played in turns called Game Turns. Each Game Turn is divided into two Player Turns (Communist player turn, and Allied player turn). Each Player Turn is composed of several distinct segments called Phases. All actions take place in a prescribed order of phases, called the Sequence of Play, listed as follows.
4.2 Sequence of Play
I. Communist Player Turn
a) Allied Bombing North Vietnam Phase
The Allied player conducts any bombing of North Vietnam.
b) Communist Reinforcement & Refit Phase
Return all of the utilized Cadre units to the available box.
The Communist player places any allotted reinforcements for the turn.
VC units that have gone underground may now be returned to the map. The Communist player may attempt to restore units in his Refit box to the map. The Communist player also now flips all of his Suppressed units that are not in enemy ZOCs to their combat effective side.
c) Communist Reorganization Phase
The Communist player may Breakdown/Combine units. VC units may go underground. Flip face down all Communist face up mobile units. Return all utilized Communist Cadres to the available box. Flip all face up Communist units to their Fog of War side.
d) Communist Movement Phase
The Communist player moves some, none or all his land units in accordance with the C2 rule (see 5.1).
e) Allied Defensive Air Phase
The Allied player may conduct Air Operations.
f) Communist Combat Phase
The Communist player conducts Land Combat.
g) Communist Suppression Recovery Phase
The Communist player removes Suppression markers from all Communist units.
II. Allied Player Turn
a) Allied Reinforcement and Refit Phase
Return all utilized air and SOG units to the available box. The Allied player places any reinforcements for the turn. The Allied player may attempt to restore units in his Refit box to the map.
b) Allied Reorganization Phase
The Allied player may Breakdown / Combine units. The Allied player may “air mobilize” units.
c) Allied Movement Phase
The Allied player moves some, none or all his land units in accordance with the C2 rule (see 5.1).
d) Allied Offensive Air Phase
The Allied player may conduct Air Ops.
e) Allied Combat Phase
The Allied player conducts Land Combat.
f) Allied Suppression Recovery Phase
The Allied player removes Suppression markers from all Allied units.
III. End of Turn Phase
a) Political/Military Points Phase
Players check for any Political or Military Points that are designated by the Victory Points Chart as being received in the VP Phase.
b) Automatic Victory Check Phase
Check to see if the conditions for an Automatic Victory exist.
c) Air Unit Recovery Phase
Move all Allied Air and Naval bombardment units from the Completed to the Available box.
d) Turn Marker Advance Phase
Move the Game Turn marker ahead one week. If this is the last turn of the game, the game comes to an end, and the players check for victory.
4.3 Ending a Turn
At the end of every game turn, advance the Game Turn marker one box on the Turn Track. To determine how to end a game, see 24.0.
Following the sequence of play provides you with an idea of the depth and complexity of Miranda’s design. The political phase follows at the end of the military actions, and reflects the reality, or perceptions of reality, of which side is winning or losing.
Tids & Bits on the Rules: Comments on some of the rules and ideas in the game.
Units that suffer loses can refit, unless permanently eliminated. The costs to refit are paid in political or military points, which are a precious commodity. Some units can break down into as many as three brigades, and others, like South Vietnamese divisions cannot. Interestingly, the Communist side has dummy units that he can “refit,” is he or she so chooses.
Movement allowances are not printed on the units. Instead MA’s are determined by what Miranda calls the Command Control level. As you can guess, the higher the C2 level, the greater your MA’s for your units. For example, the 1965 “Year of the White Horse” scenario sees U.S. forces with a C2 of 6, but the ARVN units have a C2 of only 4. Communist C2’s are 5 for the NVA and 6 for the VC. What this translates into is that Airmobile units have a range that allows them to move from any city, Allied main base, Special Forces camp, or firebase to any other such base or hex on the map. Impressive. Riverine units can move up to twice the C2 allowance on rivers. All other units may move up to the C2 number, but modified by terrain. There are some rules for U.S. Air Cavalry that begin with the phrase Flight of the Valkyries; shades of Apocalypse Now! The current C2 level also indicates the number of units that may be stacked in one hex.
The units in the game are always in one of two states: Combat Effective or Supressed. The latter sounds Orwellian in tone and is downright creepy, though the rules indicate that Supressed units are not “dead,” just halved in strength and movement. Still, the shadow remains to remind us that war is not pretty, even on a map as nicely done as that of Joe Youst.
The Supply rules note a key difference between the two sides. The logistical behemoth known as the U.S. will always ensure that Allies units are in supply. The Communist forces must either be based or trace a LOS, but a regular line of supply does not ensure that their forces will be in Attack supply. For this a Communist supply unit is needed, which is then “burned off” in the attack. The CRT’s and its modifiers reflect the results of the supply status of Communist units.
Thanks to the New York Times, the Communist player may always know the composition of any Allied stack anywhere on the map. Communist forces are face down on the map, and on the turn record chart, and can only be examined during combat—of course—or by Special Forces or MAC V SOG’s, where are “special operations groups” used for covert missions.
The Zone of Control rules are of a common variety. Mobile units exert them, units that move into a hex that is in a mobile unit’s ZOC must stop, units that begin a turn in an enemy ZOC may move out of it, but not directly from the same unit’s ZOC to another belong to that same unit, and the presence of a friendly unit negates an enemy unit’s ZOC for purposes of supply. There is one aspect to the ZOC rule that seemingly contradicts the Communist “fog of war” rule. The identity of the mobile unit exerting the ZOC must be revealed to the opposing player. There is nothing said about any units with it, but this still seems to contradict the earlier FOW rules. Lastly, units are not obligated to attack upon entering an enemy ZOC.
Political and/or Military victory points are shown on the victory points tables. Cities and bases have a PVP, while the “body count” scores MVP’s. Players can score one or both kinds of victories (political or military).
The rules for Attacking & Defending are perhaps the coolest in the game, and show that typical Miranda gift for historical nuance in a playable package. The combat units in this game include a rating for “Unconventional Warfare.” The significance here is that in combat the unit with the highest UW rating picks which CRT table, Mobile or Positional will be used to determine the combat results. If there is a tie, the defender chooses. This gives the Communist forces a significant edge over much of the Allied forces. To give you just a brief idea of the fundamental differences between the two CRT’s, the Mobile table is the only one that will allow for the possibility to Infiltrate, Breakthrough or Overrun your opponent’s forces. On the other hand, the Positional Table allows for Defender Defeated, Defender Annihilated and Defender Shattered results. As Abed would say in Community, “Cool, cool, cool!”
There is also the Bombardment table, which shows the results of Allied air activity. The results included suppression, attrition, anti-aircraft fire and the ever ubiquitous collateral damage, a phrase the covers a hosts of sins if for no other reason than such a host of sins was committed.
The individual Scenarios are, as one might expect, more accessible than the Campaign game. In the campaign game, the Morale for each side’s forces becomes a factor, with that of the North Vietnamese forces climbing, slowly but steadily, while the U.S. forces may find themselves on the slippery slope downwards. Each side rolls a die at the beginning of each game turn for the number of Operations it is allowed to make by its forces (but is not forced to make) that turn. For example, the Allied portion of the map is divided into Corps, I-IV, and it is within the zone or area of a particular Corps that such an operation may take place. Normally, you are not allowed to move units in two different zones using the same operation, but an operation allows you to move as many units as you wish in that particular zone. The Campaign game comes with several additional rules, such as the Allied Bombing campaign, and an extensive Order of Battle for reinforcements and withdraws. Incursions into neighbouring countries is also covered. The C2 MA’s gradually lead to the NVA having a C2 of 7, while the Americans go down to 4.
The Charts and Tables that list the scenario set-ups and the reinforcement schedule/withdraw are an awkward mess, being both difficult to sort through for the multiple partners, as well as just plain hard to read. Slap and paste are what come to mind.
An example of play taken from the 1965 scenario: Year of the White Horse
The scenario that I played has, naturally, a lower number of units for the respective sides, particularly the U.S. In this solitaire play, I followed the rules by making random draws for the VC units, and I flipped them so that their combat strengths would remain unknown unless combat occurs, or they run into a Special Forces unit. This meant that I could not play to the strengths of the VC, but neither could the U.S. side know the weak spots short of SOG recon or combat. I decided to take an aggressive stance for both sides in how I placed units, but the game takes many replayings to get a sense of the best set-up ideas for both sides.
The map is divided into zones which restrict VC and regular ARVN units (along with some restrictions for some of the minor players). NVA units can move anywhere on the map, and US units can move anywhere in South Vietnam. The action opens with the Communist forces having five political and five military victory points, and the Free World side having none. In the longer scenarios, accumulating points obviously matters for victory, but also matters for refitting units and accomplishing other tasks. In the short game, I am just playing for who scores the most points in each category. While playing the game, I kept a printed copy of the Victory Conditions at the side for easy reference. This is your guide as to what to do, if not necessarily how to do it. I am not going to worry about any reinforcements that might arrive for either side since this is a solo example, rather than a face-to-face game.
Turn 1: October IV. The Communist side always moves first. VC units were positioned, along with valuable cadres (their presence increases the UC—unconventional warfare—rating by one for each attack, ensuring, at this early part of the war, that the VC and NVA will be able to select the most favourable CRT for each combat. Because the VC units were drawn randomly, revealing them in ARVN zones of control show several units with only 1 SP; therefore, not as many attacks will occur was might have, had the VC units being stronger. One NVA division joins a VC cadre unit next to Saigon. Given the number of ARVN units, in and around the city, this is taking a risk when the Allied turn comes. But if Saigon is not “besieged” (a bit of a misnomer, as it means simply moving combat units next to the city or base in question), the Allied side gains two victory points. Thus, the NVA unit will risk destruction in order to not give the Allied side these points.
Elsewhere, a half a dozen attacks may occur, spread from the southern Delta almost to the North Vietnam border. The NVA and VC targets are all ARVN 1 SP security units. The targets, from north to south are: Khe Sanh, Chu Lai, Kontun, Va Lat, Tay Ninh, and Long Xuyen, the last being in the Delta. If you go to BGG, you can find all of these places on the images posted there. In this scenario, the Communist side begins with five precious Attack Supply units. The use of these allows the combat strength of units within range to be doubled, but they only enter the game as reinforcements; they are not automatically replaced. In any case, regular supply will have to be traced to use combat strengths at face value.
However, between the Communist movement phase and his declaration of attacks, there is an Allied defensive air phase. Technically, the Allied side would not know which Communist units are attackers until such units are declared, but the large stacks next to single ARVN targets are too dangerous to ignore. The Allies evenly divided twelve air units into three bombardment attacks against the Communist stacks at Chu Lai (worth two VP’s), Va Lat (worth three) and Tay Ninh (worth two) and roll a six sider for each attack, with a 3, 3, 5 rolled. The terrain may modify the results, and rolling the same result—the 3—twice in a row allows the Communist player to apply a “friendly fire” result to the ARVN unit at Va Lat, the only way a Free World unit can be “suppressed” in the game, which cuts movement and combat factors in half until such units chose to recover. The ARVN unit is a 1 SP, so it does not matter much other than to ensure that no Communist unit by Va Lat is suppressed.
One VC unit next to Chu Lai is suppressed, which means placing a skull & crossbones counter on top of it. Two things should be addressed here: first, there are not nearly enough suppression counters included in the game—I count five; second, the use of skull & crossbones’ image seems, “cough,” like a bit of visual overkill. The bombardment result of 5 next to Tay Ninh costs the Allied side one helicopter unit—ironic, since this was the only stack that included helicopter units (all TAC units for the others), but suppresses the powerful NVA unit, which has a SP factor of six, now cut in half.
After these results, the Communist side now decides which units will attack, which involves revealing the type and strength of all units (technically, the NVA units would also be flipped down to hide their values, but because specific NVA units must be placed in certain zones, I just left them right side up; in face-to-face play, the Communist side has a huge intelligence advantage, and the Allied side needs to do recon and use the Special Forces’ units to the max).
When it comes to having to use any of the game charts, say about every single turn, the limitations of the magazine published game shine in sharp relief. You have to get up and move in order to find the necessary chart or box or track or whatever. All these things are neatly done on the map, and Joe Youst really does a commendable effort of combining the playing surface with the necessary information to play the game. But it would have been more than helpful to have these charts separate in the magazine as well. And those charts that are included are done poorly (I speak of the scenario and reinforcement charts). It is a no-win situation; we will either gripe because we pay too much, or we will gripe because the game is done on the cheap. And though In Country looks anything but cheap, but having to get off one’s behind every turn, even several times a turn, might be worthy exercise, but interrupts from the ease and flow of actually playing the game. Therefore, looks are deceiving.
Returning to the turn itself and the potential attacks, the Communist side decides to forego the attack on Khe Sanh and Tay Ninh; the forces there are too weak; everything else is still a go. The basic supply works out, and no attack supply units will be used this time. The attacking against the Chu Lai base overwhelms the defending ARVN unit, eliminating it, and allowing the Communist side to occupy it and score two VP’s. The defending ARVN force at Kontum is defeated, which means up to three units would be eliminated; there is only one here, so it goes, and the Communist side scores another two VP’s. The same result occurs at Da Lat, and chalk up another three VP’s. The last attack at Long Xuyen shatters the ARVN security division and gives the Communist side one more VP for his part of the turn, for a total of eight. In all of these cases, the ARVN unit is flipped to its Communist side, providing an instant, if weak, garrison for the captured hexes. By the way, there are no VP’s scored for eliminating ARVN security units; it seems that only some of the dead count for something in this game.
Clearly, experience is needed to decide how to defend, and where to place units for offensive actions. But South Viet Nam is far too large to see every target of opportunity have a reasonable defense. We now move to the Allied portion of the turn in order to see if he can recover at least a part of what was lost by way of victory points. Given that there are only a few powerful U.S. units, the ARVN mobile forces will need to carry their fair share of the counterattacking load.
First, ARVN mobile forces located in Pleiku move north to counterattack at Kontum, assisted by the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry division. This unit could have assisted the defenders at Kontum by flying within its range, but if this unit is used on defense (or a part of it, if you break it down), it cannot be used on offense in the same turn. Second, in the north, the 1st Marine division, and some ARVN units, will attack the Communist base at A Shau. Third, the 1st Army division, the “Big Red One,” will attack the Communist base at Iron Triangle, again with supporting ARVN units. Last, units in other areas will be moved to meet impending threats, but Allied forces are thin and no other offenses will occur this turn.
The air bombardment is divided between the three attacks. I did not use the one SAC unit in the first bombardment phase, and I am not sure if I should use it now. Its use shifts the bombardment column two to the right, but if collateral damage occurs, the Communist side scores two political VP’s. I chose to use it for the attack at Kontum. All three bombardments result in the suppression of a Communist unit with no ill effects for the Allied side, thus assisting the three attacks. The Allies overwhelm the NVA mobile division and security garrison at A Shau, scoring two VP’s for the base, three for the mobile division’s destruction, and two for the garrison unit. In the second attack, the Iron Triangle gains three VP’s, and its garrison adds two more. In the last attack, despite the four to one odds at Kontum, the result is a stalemate.
Victory Point Summary at the end of October IV: The Communist side began the turn with five VP’s each for the political and military tables. During his turn, he gained eight more political VP’s for a total of thirteen. The Allied player scored five political VP’s and seven military VP’s. The balance is in favour of the Communist player whose eight political VP’s are higher than the Allied side’s two military VP’s. But the game is young indeed.
Given the rather repetitive nature of operations from turn to turn—attack this base here, fight this incursion there, suppress this threat over there, one “search and destroy” after another—one must be deeply interested in the subject matter of the Vietnam War to play through the entire campaign game. I only played the shorter scenario mentioned earlier to get a handle on the basic core of the game, and I found it enjoyable, in spite of the rules, not because of them. That there are not enough scenarios is a well-known gripe by now, but Miranda has since posted more scenarios to cover other key periods. The rules are clunky and stilted in places, and, as noted earlier, can be contradictory. However, unlike the abysmal mess that is Ticonderoga, there is a game here and it can be played. It sometimes seems as if no one at S&T has ever read anything other than a rulebook in their entire lives. Of course, this is not true. But the prose gets so wooden and stilted on occasion that you feel like you could build a Tall Ship from it.
This is my first Vietnam game, and I have no particular interest in the period, but anything that combines those two “Joe’s,” Miranda and Youst, normally leads to a game worth playing. Such is the case here. Beyond those aspects most unique to the historical theater and period, what stands out most and best are the two land combat CRT’s which reflect Miranda’s effort to demonstrate the asymmetrical nature of this sad and sordid struggle. Get any errata you can lay your hands on and enjoy the game, either for its history, or Miranda’s asymmetrical approach.
The short scenarios, like the one I played, cannot begin to do justice to the rich operational and strategic possibilities contained within the game. You need a long game, with a strengthened American build-up and Communist response, to get a better idea of how to campaign beyond simply taking and retaking cities and bases. But it will take some special stamina to play the entire game in full with its weekly turns. I know a game lasting ten years with weekly turns will feel like ten years, if played to completion.
On a more personal note:
My parents divorced when I was an infant. I never knew my father, and all I have of his memory are two black and white photographs, one with him in his U.S. Army uniform. While an undergrad, I tried to track him down because I wanted to see if he would help pay for my university education. We knew that he had moved to Florida and that was about it. A kind and understanding woman who worked for the V.A. told me over the phone, with all the compassion she could muster, than my father, Joseph Warren Godbout I, had died in Florida about six months prior to this phone call. I remember being stunned, though the irony of it all was only understood much later.
From time to time I do Google searches of my name, out of boredom or vanity, I suppose. And a couple of years ago a search brought me this:
That I never knew him is about all that I know about him. That and the fact that he served in Vietnam at one point in his life.
New England Patriots!
Thanks for the review. I concur with your conclusions for the most part. I've played the '65 and Tet scenarios and enjoyed it. I also like the map and counters. In Victory Games Vietnam 1965-75 the U.S. and Arvn forces are also called The Free World Allies.
- Last edited Tue Jul 29, 2014 2:44 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Jul 29, 2014 2:44 am
Thorough review. True, the campaign game is a long slog, but manageable for those interested. The scenarios are well-developed.
As a supplemental bit, DG has made available an additional scenario for 1972, which I consider one of the most interesting parts of the entire war. I was disappointed that such a scenario, once billed as included in the published game, did not make the final version, and am happy to report that this scenario is equally complete and well-presented. Highly recommended to those interested in ARVN's development and that hard-fought campaign.
Jeffrey D Myers
"Always rely upon a happy mind alone." Geshe Chekhawa.
As next of kin, you might want to follow this procedure and see what records you can discover:
Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
Thank you for this link; I have saved it.
My father did remarry and I have a half-brother (I have other siblings, all half this and half that, not that any of us every think in those terms) from that marriage.
From what I understand, some 75% of the personal involved in Vietnam were in a non-fighting capacity. I must admit that I am curious as to whether my father served in a fighting unit, or if he was one of the many behind the lines.
Not that there were any lines in that war in country. The lines were all in the USA, pro or opposed.
As mentioned above the term "Free World Allies" was used in VG's game which as far as I know is the only other campaign game treatment done. And the ARVN being yellow came from the SVN flag I think.
Great review. Thanks for a great read.
Excellent review. Thoughtful, intelligent and informative. I must search for your other reviews.