Recommend
28 
 Thumb up
 Hide
6 Posts

Fire in the Lake» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Quagmire for one - FitL solitaire review rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Jesse Edelstein
United States
Beaverton
OR
flag msg tools
mbmb
Fire in the Lake is the COIN title that covers the Vietnam War. It's got the most moving parts of any game in the series, and it's my favorite COIN for solitaire play.

To give a bit of context, the COunter INsurgency series covers several conflicts with a focus on guerrilla warfare; FitL is the fourth one released. They are card-driven games for 1-4 players featuring abstracted dudes on a map, historical events, and streamlined gameplay compared to other wargames. I'm not going to cover all the details of play -- suffice it to say that this is going to be a challenging game to learn if you don't have experience with other COIN titles or related wargames. While some mechanics are new entirely (i.e., each factions gets a Pivotal Event which can be played for dramatic effects) this is mostly an evolutionary development from the previous COIN games, placed in a dramatic new setting.

The basic assumption is that the Vietnam War was really 4-sided, pitting the US and South Vietnam (ARVN) versus the North (NVA) and their allies the Viet Cong. But as in other COINs, only one player can win, so both pairs of allies are fated to turn on each other if one gets too far ahead, or if the end of the game is in sight. I like this take on Vietnam, because it's unusual and emphasizes that allies did not always share the same objectives. The different factions also play quite differently and interact in varied ways.

There are quite a few ways for one player to enjoy this game. The easiest might be to just play all 4 sides at once, which is not a bad time but you won't find it very surprising. I think it's more fun to play versus the "bot" flowcharts, which make the decisions for virtual opponents. These bots choose Operations, Special Activities, or Events just like players do. For beginners the rules recommend playing both US/ARVN or VC/NVA (vs the other 2 bots), but I wouldn't recommend it because it's way too easy to dominate with human control of both allies. Instead, play one side against 2 enemy bots and one "ally" bot. There are a lot of tweakable options for solo play difficulty, but the big choices are the length of the campaign and what faction you control.
There are 3 historical scenarios: short, medium, or long. The longer ones favor the player more, because there is more room for long-term planning and maneuvering. The factions have quite different goals, abilities, and playstyles so I'll go into those now.

US is an expeditionary counterinsurgent faction, whose score is the sum of popular Support for the South Vietnamese cause and the number of US Troops and Bases available but not deployed. The have 40 Troop cubes, 6 Bases (representing HQs, fire bases, training facilities, etc.), and 6 Irregular cylinders. (Like NVA and ARVN, US can use a mix of conventional and commando forces.) They get free Operations (!) but must use ARVN Resources to build Support, or to Train/Assault with ARVN pieces. US Troops have a ton of firepower and can call in air support to move around or smash enemy positions; on the other hand they are vulnerable to enemy Ambush and Bombard SAs because the US public will not tolerate heavy conscript losses.

I think US is the most dynamic faction for a solitaire game; I have been able to win in the medium-length scenario but not consistently. As US you must balance destroying enemy units, earning "hearts and minds", and keeping a lid on ARVN's Patronage. At the same time you can't really win in the final round unless you take a lot of Troops out of the theater, so you will struggle to hold on to what you have gained with few boots on the ground.

The ARVN wants to control South Vietnamese population (US and ARVN pieces count together for establishing COIN Control) and get their Patronage up, like the Afghan Government in A Distant Plain. They have a total 30 Police and 30 Troop cubes along with 6 Ranger cylinders. Unfortunately a bunch of their Troops are unavailable until their Pivotal Event fires and their units lack the firepower of other sides, which means they are dependent on the US to lead most offensives. Plus there's constant desertion thanks to coups d'état in Saigon.

Others will likely disagree but I feel the ARVN is the least fun solitaire faction. Basically you can get really aggressive about increasing Patronage to sky-high levels and the US bot, though it attempts to reduce Patronage when possible, is not going to keep up with you.

VC are perhaps the most familiar faction in the game, as a straight-up insurgent faction trying to maximize Opposition to the regime and build a lot of Bases. But you are fighting in a very different environment from Colombia, Cuba, or Afghanistan. It's very difficult to attack cities (which are usually supporting the South Vietnamese government) but you have a vast countryside to mobilize and many Lines of Communication to harass. In fact there are 15 provinces in South Vietnam (and 17 LoCs!) so you can disperse throughout the country easily and make life unpleasant for COIN forces. VC also has some upgraded abilities compared to previous insurgents, like the ability to Ambush from LoCs and hit adjacent cubes and their Tunneled Bases (placed by event, and you start with one in the "Iron Triangle") which are really hard to destroy.

VC ultimately isn't the hardest faction to play solo (I suggest the short scenario for this one) but it's a good time. You get the feeling of gradual momentum building behind you as you turn the countryside to Opposition. Their pivotal event is the Tet Offensive, manifesting as a massive attack on cities with guerrilla cylinders. This isn't really the same balancing act that the US needs to do because the COIN bots aren't super effective at destroying your forces and turning the tide, but still a lot of potential for an interesting game.

And then we have the enigma, NVA. The North Vietnamese are concerned with defending the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia and maintaining Bases in those countries to increase funding, but their victory condition comes from getting NVA Bases plus NVA Control over 18 -- and the VC are not particularly interested in helping you do this. NVA potentially can field 20 cylinders, 40 conventional units, and 9 bases, but it's a challenge to build up this force, as the US is likely to heavily bomb the Trail and your guys on it. NVA cubes fight better than the ARVN's, but will get badly chewed up if they attack prepared US positions.

So it's a real puzzle how to succeed as solitaire NVA, one that I find very entertaining but difficult to crack. Even in the long scenario I have yet to actually win in final scoring, which requires that you at control at least 10 population if you have all your bases out. You can chip away at US manpower with long-distance Bombardment, and you'll definitely want to support your ally the VC, though not too much so they don't end up taking over the South and winning themselves. Therefore NVA is the most challenging of the factions for a solitaire game. Your Pivotal Event is very powerful, giving a free March + Attack to your units, but the US Pivotal bombing campaign is nasty for you. I think it should be winnable if you build up forces effectively, aggressively harass the enemy, and time that late offensive very well, but I sure can't prove it!

That's the faction roundup, but I should make another note about the bot flowcharts: compared with previous COINs they can sometimes be confusing to implement. This is especially the case for US Air Lift and NVA March. Careful reading and implementation of the rules generally gets rid of any real ambiguity, but you'll want to see the examples in the included Playbook as well. Again, someone entirely new to COIN might be able to ease in better with a less complex title like Cuba Libre or A Distant Plain.

The war went on for 20 years, while Fire in the Lake covers only the 8 years of direct American participation. It affected the world profoundly, while FitL mainly takes a military perspective -- albeit with more political intrigue and events than many Vietnam wargames. The 4-faction setup makes for great rivalries in game terms, but many people don't see the war that way. I'm not going to claim that FitL is the last Vietnam game that should be made, or that it accurately recreates the war (it's hardly a sim), or even that a game is the most fruitful way to engage with the bitter realities of recent history. I will just say that this is a very good design and I greatly appreciate the attention to historical detail; not incidentally, it makes an excellent solitaire game too. If all the bits and pieces don't scare you off, playing FitL can be a very rewarding experience.
47 
 Thumb up
1.30
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cosmo Kramer
United States
Michigan
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Very timely review considering I am now completely engrossed in the new Ken Burn Vietnam documentary on PBS. FitL wasn't really a game I was much interested in, but thanks to your review it's moved up considerably. Thanks for taking the time to do a write up!
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jesse Edelstein
United States
Beaverton
OR
flag msg tools
mbmb
Herr Oberst wrote:
Very timely review considering I am now completely engrossed in the new Ken Burn Vietnam documentary on PBS. FitL wasn't really a game I was much interested in, but thanks to your review it's moved up considerably. Thanks for taking the time to do a write up!


I appreciate that! Yes, I've been watching the Ken Burns program as well, and it had me in a FitL mindset.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave Kohr
United States
San Jose
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice writeup, thanks for doing this.

One small correction about history: "the war went on for 20 years". Actually it was 30 years, including the Viet Minh insurgency against the French that started in 1945-6.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jon Snow
United States
New York City
New York
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I'm just getting into COIN, and will probably get FITL when it comes out next summer. So thanks for a more contemporary review!

You give the force count for most factions, but not for the ARVN bases or any of the VC. What are they?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jesse Edelstein
United States
Beaverton
OR
flag msg tools
mbmb
davekohr wrote:
Nice writeup, thanks for doing this.

One small correction about history: "the war went on for 20 years". Actually it was 30 years, including the Viet Minh insurgency against the French that started in 1945-6.


That's a good point. I was just thinking of the North vs South phase, which tied into the longer war.

chas59 wrote:
I'm just getting into COIN, and will probably get FITL when it comes out next summer. So thanks for a more contemporary review!

You give the force count for most factions, but not for the ARVN bases or any of the VC. What are they?


ARVN has only 3 bases. VC gets a total of 30 guerrillas and 9 bases. They can't field a giant army like NVA but that's enough to make a lot of trouble!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.