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An illustrated "Search & Destroy" mission featuring subtle elements of the design



Tet Offensive was published in the early 1990s by GDW and created by conflict simulation hobby pioneer Frank Chadwick. While preparing a comprehensive review with historical analysis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the campaign in January quite a number of subtle wargame design techniques have been brought into sharp focus. Perhaps this illustrated example of a "Search & Destroy" mission will be interesting to students of the Vietnam War and conflict simulation players in general.

PLEASE NOTE: The map is extremely crowded during a typical session. For clarity, all of the playing pieces in nearby sectors have been removed.






After moving by road from An Khe the 41st Regiment of the ARVN 22nd Division is defending the city of Cheo Reo in the Central Highlands of the II Corps zone. In 1968 this division was only rated "Adequate, Improving" and the regiment has a combat value of two with a search ability of zero; the order of battle for the US, ROK, ANZAC, and ARVN formations in this game is reasonably accurate. Three enemy units with hidden strengths are maneuvering in the adjacent provincial area like a trio of hungry sharks circling a tilapia.






Each turn for the Allied player begins with a special movement phase for mechanized, naval, helicopter, and aircraft units. It is referred to by the awkward term "Aero-Mech Movement Phase" but these rules provide the Allied commander with a great deal of flexibility.

In this example the 2nd Mechanized Brigade from the US 4th Infantry Division has moved north into the province. This action would be part of the "mech" portion of this phase. Helicopters from the 17th Aviation Group have left Nha Trang, picked up the 3rd MIKE Force Brigade at Pleiku, and deployed this reconnaissance formation into an ideal search position. This action would be part of the "aero" portion of this phase; an infantry unit like the 3rd Brigade would not be allowed to use ordinary ground movement at this time. The brigade's high search rating of four is a reflection of the patrol efficiency of these Mobile Strike Force Command units.






The next portion of the turn is the "Allied Search Phase" with reconnaissance operations being conducted all over the map. In this example the Allied player has rolled a 3; since this is less than or equal to the 3rd Brigade's search rating of 4 the search is considered to be successful. There are two Allied units in the provincial area (the ARVN 41st Regiment is tied down defending the city) so the NVA/VC player is required to reveal two of his three hidden formations.

This is a crucial decision. NVA divisions are powerful fighting formations that must be preserved but VC units have the ability to put a captured city into a state of insurrection. This can generate a huge pile of very unpleasant demoralization points for the Allies. The sneaky NVA/VC commander decides to reveal the 1st NVA Division and the 33rd NVA Regiment while keeping the 165A VC Regiment concealed from enemy observation. A wise NVA/VC player safeguards a few VC formations until late in the game so he can threaten any South Vietnamese cities with depleted garrisons.






During the subsequent "Allied Combat Phase" the players exchange fire in the provincial area. ANZAC, ARVN, ROK, and US formations have a tactical advantage when defending a city but a battle in the countryside is a wild shootout with both sides executing "simultaneous" attacks. Both NVA units concentrate on the 3rd Brigade and an "Overrun" result eliminates the ARVN formation. The response by the Allies is not exactly outstanding; the NVA 33rd Regiment is merely forced to withdraw into the Ia Drang Valley sanctuary.

In the "Allied Movement Phase" the US brigade can move again. Anticipating a Communist attack on the city with the strong 1st NVA Division supported by a still unidentified enemy unit, the Allied commander decides to move the 2nd Brigade into defensive positions at Cheo Reo. Since that hidden VC formation could be a weak battalion with a strength of just two or a specialized Sapper assault unit or even another NVA division a skillful Allied player will consider each move with a great deal of tactical judgment.

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This game is frequently "misunderestimated" (always liked that fractured phrase) but has surprising depth for a design with this level of complexity. Once a cardboard commando becomes familiar with the unorthodox combat system all of the moving parts seem to fit together. The unusual sequence of play (beautifully structured, in my opinion) intertwines many elements of the historical narrative with minimum rules clutter. If anything, the rules needed to be a little more specific... and much clearer because these instructions can be as murky as the Mekong River.

My review and historical analysis will be posted on BGG in a couple of weeks.
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Bill Eldard
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Great illustration of not only how the Search mechanic works, but why it is essential to capturing the dilemma facing the Allies during the offensive.

For those unfamiliar with this great game, Search is also critical to air strikes. In order to conduct air strikes, Communist units must be identified (face-up). They are automatically identified when they enter cities and towns, but there is a Demoralization price to pay for conducting air strikes on cities and towns to hit them.

In Pete's illustration, had the Allies player moved a Tac Air counter to that region during the Aero-Mech Phase, and then rolled that "3," the Tac Air could attack one of the revealed units. However, had the roll been a "5," the allocated Tac Air could not strike because the Communist units hadn't been found.

On a number of occasions as the Allied player, I've been frustrated by Searches that failed to locate the Communist units for air strikes, and then watched as an entire NVA division pops into a city/town the next turn.

This game has great tension.
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Midnight Reaper
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The chits you showed for this game bother me on a deep level. I know it's not your fault, but they are marked in a manner that is different from the standard symbology I learned in the US Army.

Namely, the name of the unit goes on the left, and the name of the parent unit goes on the right. This game has it reversed: name of the unit on the right, name of the parent unit on the left. I can't play this game - I would never be able to keep the units straight. To me, those units read as the ARVN 22nd Regiment of the 41st Division, an unidentified Brigade of the 3rd MF, and the US Army's 4th Brigade, 2nd Division. The 17th Avn Grp doesn't use proper symbology at all, but as the title is on top at least I can keep that one straight.

Just a rant at the darkness, I suppose.

-M_R
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Bill Eldard
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midnight_reaper wrote:
The chits you showed for this game bother me on a deep level. I know it's not your fault, but they are marked in a manner that is different from the standard symbology I learned in the US Army. . .
Just a rant at the darkness, I suppose.

-M_R

The US Army didn't publish the game; GDW did.

But to your point, I've seen publishers use whatever method they prefer ever since I started collecting wargames in the '60s. I've even seen the unit size (III, XX, etc.) on the side and number on the top, etc., and silhouettes have been routinely used since at least the publication of PanzerBlitz in 1970. And publishers often make up new unit symbols themselves.

Ex. From Panzerkrieg (1978)
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