Thierry Michel
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A few qualifiers first: I have never played the original game, I know very little about the period, and I do not usually play tactical games. Why did I get it then? It was an impulse buy to support my local game shop; the best-looking wargame they had in stock.

The components are indeed very nice, with a spectacular map and clear counters, as well as enough markers and player aids to help keep the gameplay fluid. Rules-wise, it is of intermediate complexity, with standard wargaming concepts and a fair bit of specific rules added on top. Rather than repeat the rules (which you can find elsewhere), I will try to describe how the game flows in practice. Disclaimer: I only ever played campaigns, with the full ruleset.

Setup

The setup is actually a very important part of the gameplay. Both players (PAVN and FWA) start by secretly drawing two (or three, depending on the scenario) automatic victory conditions from five possible ones, and then the PAVN player will have to decide the initial allocation of his forces between his hidden movement counters (most of the NVA forces will be hidden off map, and represented on the map by numbered counters). This decision is far from trivial, and will greatly influence the rest of the game.

Will the PAVN tip their hand by concentrating their forces near their objectives, will they try misdirection by putting some near objectives that they don't actually care for, will they aggressively position their troops so as to strike as fast as possible or will they bide their time? Of particular importance at this stage are the positioning of HQs who can coordinate attacks and channel replacements, but who are themselves juicy targets for the FWA player.

Observation and concealment

Hidden forces are at the heart of the game. The PAVN is given each turn two opportunities to conceal his forces, before and after moving - likewise, the FWA player has two opportunities to discover the enemy, before and after their own moves (the game uses the traditional I go-you go sequence). Given the nature of the region depicted on the map, the PAVN player has generally no problem finding jungle or hill hexes to conceal their troops. Hiding them again after they are spotted can be a bit more tricky, thanks to the clever system of patrols. Apart from a few attempts at aerial observation, patrols are the main tool for the FWA to dispel the fog of war. The units that can create patrols are extremely precious, as these patrols can not only spot the enemy with good odds, but also prevent them from hiding again as long as they are in the patrol radius (keeping it simple, the rules are a bit more subtle).

On the FWA side, the observation phases can be an exercise in frustration as bad rolls will keep the enemy hidden, and there are not enough assets to remove more than a few dummies each turn. The local auxiliaries are doubly useful since their presence also inhibits ambushes (triggered by moving next a hidden marker), so despite their weak combat values they are actually key to any offensive action.

Mobility, ground and air


The PAVN player moves relatively fast tactically, but has no real means of strategically redeploying their units on the map after the initial setup. It will take several days (turns) to move them from one objective to the next, and this is further hampered by the need to keep them in protective terrain. The FWA player, on the other hand, can more or less drop their units wherever they want, though they do not have enough airlift capacity to do more than one or two coordinated drop each turn. This gives a very fluid movement phase, where units in danger are retreated to safety off-map and targets of opportunity like NVA HQs and artillery can expect to see US battalions appear right next to them as soon as they are spotted. This part of the game turn can take quite long, as each player does their whole turn in one go, and each player has some optimization to do: shifting units between dummy markers for the PAVN and managing a fleet of helicopters for the FWA. The result is, I think, well worth the pain, as each side plays very differently and the mechanisms deliver lots of chrome, but against a slow player, I might not be so enthusiastic (for reference, with my last opponent we could finish a turn in 45 minutes - there are 40 turns in the grand campaign).

Combat

The combat phase is a little involved, but as there are generally not many combats in one turn, largely manageable. It starts with offensive bombardment, which is where the players can bring their big guns (or small ones for the PAVN) to bear. It is hard to inflict significant losses in most terrains, so any opportunity to catch the enemy in the open is to be seized. This is notably true for the PAVN, who can actually cause costly losses by a concentration of artillery if the US player gets sloppy. Aerial bombardment can be risky when the PAVN has anti-aerial capacity nearby (artillery counters double as AA), so sending gunships on a concentration of hidden markers is not necessarily a good idea. Artillery is the preferred tool for that, but it has to be carefully deployed first.

Ground combat itself is divided in two parts manoeuvre and assault. Manoeuvre works as a force ratio comparison, with air and artillery support modifying the die roll. Assault is a fire table, with the defender firing first, first with support then with the infantry. It can get pretty bloody for both sides and it is the main way to inflict losses. US forces would ideally avoid assaulting enemy positions, but if they only conduct manoeuvre combat the enemy has a very good chance of refusing the fight and retreating instead. Given that, combining US troops and ARVN seems like a good idea to spread the losses, except it requires coordination (coordination is automatic when a single US battalion attacks), and a failure can have catastrophic results. Likewise, the PAVN player will have a hard time mounting a coordinated attack and will likely experience the greatest losses when on the offensive.

Given the sequence of combat, an attack has many opportunities to get derailed, and is never very safe. While I like this aspect of the gameplay, it can get frustrating - so choose your opponent accordingly or prepare to hear a lot of moaning.

Victory

Players reveal their victory conditions as they fulfil them, so it is entirely possible (and recommended) to bluff about what they are, to strike in a lightly defended spot. This forces both players to keep garrisons in potential objectives, and to use their forces in economical manner, as some of the victory conditions are inflicting enough losses. Barring automatic victory, at game end players compare their achievements, with most points awarded for enemy casualties and some for specific objectives. The points and the conditions for automatic victory are closely linked, so pursuing one does not prevent one for doing the other, and it is clear at any moment who has the upper hand.


Yes, yes but will I like it?


Depends on your expectations. If one tries to optimize everything tactically, then each turn will take a long time and every failed attack will be frustrating. It can be done, the tactical puzzles are enjoyable but my preference goes to an operational style of play, managing the reserves and keeping an eye on the objectives, with a tolerance for tactical inaccuracy and the occasional disaster. The game is very immersive, with its asymmetric sides and constrained decisions, so if, like me, uncertainty and fog of war appeal, you will find the tension to your liking.
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Kev.
United States
Austin
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Thierry,
Nice write up.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did not see you playing this on facebook! I hope to crack the shrink on this soon!
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Thierry Michel
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Paris
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hipshot wrote:
Thierry,
Nice write up.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I did not see you playing this on facebook! I hope to crack the shrink on this soon!


Thanks, I only played twice with Thibault but I guess he did not take pictures. He liked it too, so we'll probably play again.

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Tom Nixon
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Great insight here. Which scenarios did you get to the table? Did you have a preference for which side you played?
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Thierry Michel
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I played Silver Bayonet I (scenario 9) about five times, I think, alternating sides and operation Long Reach (scenario 11?) as the US.

I liked both sides, they offer different challenges. If you have the time, I recommend the longest scenario.



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