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Fire in the Lake» Forums » Variants

Subject: The homefront rss

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Jason Sherlock
United States
Anaheim Hills
California
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Let me start out by saying that I love FitL, and think that it may be the best operational level game covering that era of the Vietnam conflict. In fact, the game has inspired me to read various books concerning this part of history.

The more that I read on the subject, the more that I find that 3 of the factions are very well represented. However, I do think that the US is given way too much latitude in how it carries out its prosecution of this conflict.

It is arguable that the greatest challenge the US faced wasn't the NVA or VC, but the will of the nation to see the conflict to a favorable resolution. This was seen both in protests and in congress defunding the war over time. These factors are beyond the control of the theatre commander.

Here are the two areas that seem like the US player has too much control.

1) The freedom to deploy as many troops as needed to the theatre (up to 10 per commitment pahase) and the ability to keep them in the field indefinitely if desired.

2) The ability to operate in Laos and Cambodia at will, even though there were serious political ramifications of doing so, especially on the homefront (protests after limited operations in Cambodia were made public). There was even the need to keep bombings in Cambodia a closely guarded secret to the point of having double sets of mission orders.

Both of these abilities have consequences, low victory points or removal of Troops during coup rounds. However, I feel that the US still has way too much leeway to send troops as he likes into Vietnam, and to undertake major operations in neutral countries.

I would be interested to hear what Mark, Volko and players think of the following variants.

1) Once Tet offensive has been put into play, the US uses the same rules in the commitment phase as if he was a non-player faction. He would roll for policy and add or remove troops accordingly. This would represent the loss of popular support at home, and operations being limited by Congressional funding.

2) Unless "Nixon" policy is in play, the US cannot send Troops into Cambodia unless an event, such as Sihanouk, instructs them to do so.

3) Without the use of an event effect allowing so, the US may never send Troops into Laos. Even during Lam Son 719, US troops were explicitly restricted from entering Laotian territory.

Thoughts?
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Jesse Edelstein
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Merced
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Well, here are my thoughts. Keep in mind that I have only played 12-15 FitL games, and solitaire games at that.

One reason the COIN games are so good is that they force a player to face some of the same dilemmas that field commanders faced historically, demanding difficult tradeoffs and gambles. Moreover they do so in a pretty abstract way, avoiding lots of simulationist detail in favor of an area control system reminiscent of Eurogames. This is very cool, in my opinion!

So the player in these games is a sort of ultimate éminence grise, doing things that no one person or agency could actually do. In FitL the US player gets to make decisions for all sorts of military operations but also for civilian programs, and even for event cards that represent developments in other countries. But I think you are right that the US player can be alienated from his or her actual performance in terms of getting the troops home.

In a solitaire game my Support+Available score does not really matter at all until the final Coup is drawn. In a multiplayer game there is a little more danger in hanging out at low US score because it could land you in last place if someone wins, and your opponents' behavior is rather less predictable. But even so – where's the pressure from having so many troops committed? If the US player goes all-in with Troops and Bases, he or she will have a hard time winning but can make it hard for others to win too. So I agree this is something that should cause more pressure on the US decision-making process.

I am concerned however that solution (1) is less than satisfactory as a COINish mechanic. Generally these games let the field commander do what he or she pleases with regard to overall strategy. A strict mandate to pull out troops up to 25 available, which the VC player can call down after the 2nd Coup card, would seem to be moving away from that design principle. Again, I'd like to see more urgency for the US player to remove their troops, but this way of implementing it would be frustrating for the US player by no fault of their own, especially in the case of a bad roll for US Policy. Maybe if the US Policy were done in a way that the US player had more chance of impacting?

I don't mind the Laos and Cambodia restrictions as much from a gameplay perspective; can't really comment on if they're historically accurate. It would be nice to see Laos treated a little differently than Cambodia since US policy was presumably not identical toward both countries. I thought the mechanic that forces the USA to risk their Troops (if a Coup card comes up) was fun, but with this change I suppose Special Forces and ARVN Troops can get the job done if NVA decides to leave their bases without adequate defenders.

My alternative proposition would be some extra event cards -- there could be events in the 1965 and 1968 decks to put some pain on the US player if the number of Available Troops is too low. The Laos and Cambodia rules wouldn't be addressed by this, but maybe as an alternative to restricting US stacking in those countries, you could make Ops there more expensive or restrict Special Activities in Laos/Cambodia? Obviously there a lot of interesting directions you could take this, and I'd like to hear what others think.
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Fred Jordan
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I believe many FiTL fans feel like the US commitment rule are a bit too flexible and fail to reflect some essential elements of US politics in the 60s and 70s. I quite like the idea of a national will indicator which could limit the actions of the US player should losses become too high. The point about Laos and Cambodia is also a good one and I would also appreciate some differences in how these two countries are managed.

More generally, it is interresting to note that many variants have been suggested over the years and it looks like each gaming group has its own set!
 
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