LNLP - Nations at War

GrogHeads Previews Vietnam ‘65

Boggit, 4 March 2015

Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Matrix/Slitherine

 

Vietnam ’65 is a single player, tactical-level game, focused on the American involvement in Vietnam in 1965. You play as the commander of the American forces allocated to a province somewhere on the Cambodian border.  Playing as the Viet Cong (VC)/North Vietnamese Army (NVA) is not presently an option, but may be a possibility for a future expansion.

The title screen captures the image of Air Cavalry in Vietnam. I can also hear the sound of helo’s and radio chatter in the background.

The title screen captures the image of Air Cavalry in Vietnam. I can also hear the sound of helo’s and radio chatter in the background.

Setting up a new game is easy. Click on New Game, and a random map of 10 villages is created. The game then plays out in a ‘Skirmish’ mode, as there are no ‘historical’ maps as such, so there is no replication of specific actions like Operation Silver Bayonet (Battles of LZ-Xray and LZ-Albany), or Operation Long Reach. To be fair, that is not really what the game is about as it provides a more general Vietnam ‘search and destroy’ gaming experience, and the randomly created maps ensure variety in the battlefield. Given the way the game is designed it would probably be difficult to properly replicate the historical actions meaningfully, as the games victory conditions are not focused specifically on winning a battle in conventional wargame terms.

A game gives a player 45 turns to beat the VC/NVA player. Why 45 turns? I have no idea. I have no idea what period of time is represented by a turn either. Victory is achieved by success in winning the ‘Hearts and Minds’ of the villagers, rather than the more conventional wargame approach to giving victory points for killing the enemy/occupying map locations deemed important. Killing the enemy and occupying important places is still a critical part of the game, but it is achieving a Hearts and Minds victory that will win it for a player.

Killing enemy units is recognised by giving the player political points for each unit destroyed. Political points are then used as currency in the game to be spent on buying new units, spending on infrastructure (like bases and roads), and healing units damaged in combat. In that sense success in combat has a distinct purpose, but only indirectly contributes to a player’s victory. It’s a very neat way to square off the contradictory measures of victory in the Vietnam War between achieving a military victory evidenced by a body count, and the political victory gained by winning the battle for Hearts and Minds.

The only good Victor Charlie is a dead Victor Charlie. Keep repeating the mantra in this game, and you’ll do well.

The only good Victor Charlie is a dead Victor Charlie. Keep repeating the mantra in this game, and you’ll do well.

Hearts and Minds represent much more than simple victory points. Each village starts with a value of 50 points, and the average of this affects the provincial Hearts and Minds average. The Hearts and Minds value of individual villages can go up or down depending on the success of combat missions in the proximity of any given village, or due to US units carrying out intel missions, or the Viet Cong carrying out a specific Hearts and Minds mission. The provincial Hearts and Minds value also determines the pace of operations by the VC and NVA, and in extreme cases – the Hearts and Minds score goes negative for three turns – gives rise to an NVA offensive giving them an armoured unit to help them go after US/Army of Vietnam (ARVN) forces.

The NVA armoured unit for their offensive is stated to be PT-76 light tanks, and they have the same combat stats as the American M48, which is a bit odd. My money would be on M48’s any day in a straight fight between the two, but the unit is supposed to represent an NVA offensive, so a bit of imagination will give the PT-76’s all the extra infantry and artillery support you’d expect with an NVA offensive. Perhaps I should be seeing the wider picture? Generally speaking the more the provincial Hearts and Minds drops the greater the pace of VC/NVA ops, which gives a nice dynamic feature to the game.

Part of basic training is learning to read a map. The instructor is pretty clear.

Part of basic training is learning to read a map. The instructor is pretty clear.

In addition to playing a regular game, there is a tutorial named “Training” on the main menu. Pressing its tab opens a new menu offering “Basic Training” and “Advanced Training”. Basic Training covers movement, combat (direct and indirect), helicopters, and infantry, Green Berets, Engineers and Firebases. It also covers supply, which is vitally important. Each turn a unit loses a supply point, and needs to either have a resupply mission by helicopter, or end its turn in an HQ or Firebase. The consequence of being completely out of supply is elimination – so, serious stuff.

This is part of Advanced Training - with only 1 Firebase allowed on the map you need to be pretty focused on placement.

This is part of Advanced Training – with only 1 Firebase allowed on the map you need to be pretty focused on placement.

Advanced Training is presented slightly differently covering specific topics like the interface, enemy ops, the intel map, and most importantly – Victory. Unlike Basic training, Advanced training is not ‘hands on’, but has a number of informational screens dealing with key issues on the specific topic. They’re actually very clear in presentation, making these tutorials quite painless.

In the east is the US HQ with my forces. I think I’ll draft in some Green Berets and build a road to the nearest village to improve communications.

In the east is the US HQ with my forces. I think I’ll draft in some Green Berets and build a road to the nearest village to improve communications.

So on to a sample of the gameplay. On clicking New Game I was presented with the option “Regular”, or “Veteran”, but I have no way of knowing what the substantive difference is, other than I guess that “Veteran” is somehow harder. Going with regular, I was presented with the intel screen for my campaign, and clicking on the intel map brings up a section of the 3-d game map centred on where I clicked on the intel map. On checking my HQ I find I have 3 Huey’s, 3 Infantry, a Green Berets, an M113 Engineer, and a howitzer, and this is the standard set up and units for all new games. I have no idea what real life unit sizes they are whether squads, platoons, or companies, but in a sense it doesn’t matter. If you want more troops to fight your campaign you can buy reinforcements using your political points.

Here is the US recruitment screen. It shows the available units, their political point cost, and information about them. In this case the M48 Patton information is shown.

Here is the US recruitment screen. It shows the available units, their political point cost, and information about them. In this case the M48 Patton information is shown.

 

Search and destroy is paying off with improved experience for this unit. Despite victory at 2 VC contacts and Hearts and Mind advantage has been offset by a successful VC mission at a remote location.

Search and destroy is paying off with improved experience for this unit. Despite victory at 2 VC contacts and Hearts and Mind advantage has been offset by a successful VC mission at a remote location.

Meanwhile back at the front I buy an engineer at my HQ to build a road to the nearest village, and decide to send a US infantry unit to this village. The village is displayed with a campfire. A campfire indicator means that if my infantry enter it they will slightly increase the village’s Hearts and Minds value, as well as possibly gain intel on nearby VC operations. I move my unit in error – I really wanted to load it into the helicopter, forgetting that I need to click on the Huey first, but there is no ‘undo’ button. This sometimes can be a royal pain, especially if you left-click rather than right-click to end a unit selection, and hopefully this is something that will be urgently addressed by the developer before release, or in an early update. So, at the end of turn 1, I have built two hexes of road from my HQ and delivered an infantry and Green Beret unit close to the nearest village. I also buy an AH-1 Cobra as a fast response attack unit.

Green Berets get their ‘C’ rations from a Huey.

Green Berets get their ‘C’ rations from a Huey.

The following turn I helicopter more infantry to villages. One unit enters a village and intel received shows a VC unit nearby, which then gets zapped by my AH-1 using indirect fire. With indirect fire there is no possibility of damage to my unit and a kill is made. Combat is very simple, and a player is shown a percentage chance of success. If you win the enemy is destroyed and you gain an increase in the Hearts and Minds at the nearest village, plus you earn 1000 political points, which represents a new infantry unit in game terms.

Combat success also results in a unit experience promotion, which improves combat power, and is a nice touch. Losing results in a reduction in local Hearts and Mind points. Unlike the VC/NVA US units will not always be destroyed as they need 2 hits before they die. Political points are unaffected (although there is a cost in political points to heal a unit and to reinforce to replace killed units).

After several turns on ops, my troops were running out of supply – each unit loses 1 supply point per turn when outside of a base – and running out completely means elimination. There is a real pressure to put the Hueys on hauling supplies rather than give transport to the troops to search out the enemy. With limited assets you really need to think through what you are doing, and concentrate on what is within your current capability, rather than try to achieve too much at once – which is what led to my downfall.

Green Berets spot VC on an RPG Mission, which will target vehicles, or helos within 3 hexes. I need infantry to take them out.

Green Berets spot VC on an RPG Mission, which will target vehicles, or helos within 3 hexes. I need infantry to take them out.

As I continued to play the game I came to realise that there is quite a lot more to the strategy than initially meets the eye. The game  mechanics are really simple, but it is very easy to overstretch yourself. The developers have given some intelligent thought to the game, especially with the unforgiving supply rules, and I found it quite challenging to start with. Despite map variations some players may find that Vietnam ’65 lacks long term appeal, as they begin to work out how best to take on the AI. It is a good game – for what it is – but it does have a generic feel rather than one of being very historically focused, and it is quite light in detail as a wargame.  An ‘undo’ button would also be useful.

Fix with infantry, pound with artillery. A VC cadre is about to die.

Fix with infantry, pound with artillery. A VC cadre is about to die.

On the plus side, it plays fast, and it captures the sense of frustation in carrying out ‘Search and Destroy’ operations. It’s also very nicely presented, and the mechanics of the game are easy to learn.  I think a good alternative design decision would be to have extended the game design to permit a player to play either side, and offer multiplayer as well. In my opinion that would have added much more to its longer term appeal for many players. Although this close to release, it may yet be the case that the developer does this as an expansion.

Less than half way through the campaign, and General Boggit is expecting to have to explain some unpleasant truths to President Lyndon Johnson about his conduct of the battle.

Less than half way through the campaign, and General Boggit is expecting to have to explain some unpleasant truths to President Lyndon Johnson about his conduct of the battle.

The way the developer has designed the game in terms of victory through Hearts and Minds, and using political points is good, and reflects the measures of success argued by the military in the Vietnam War. This is a generic principle with counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, and the designers could quite easily port this game to an Afghanistan ’07 game simply by tweaking some of the parameters and terrain types. Nonetheless, as a game of Search and Destroy operations in the Vietnam war I thought it captured the broad idea reasonably well.

Historically, Vietnam was in many respects a war of contradiction. Victory was measured both by the enemy body count, and in hearts and minds, and One Single Soldier has picked up on that really well. Ironically, contradiction between body count and Hearts and Minds didn’t stop there – as US President Lyndon B. Johnson said,

“Just like the Alamo, somebody damn well needed to go to their aid. Well, by God, I’m going to Vietnam’s aid!”

but also

“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

With the above in mind, I’d say Vietnam ’65 captures the spirit of that contradictory war. I enjoyed my tour of duty with Vietnam ’65 even if I did lose my first game.

The Grumpy Grog says Vietnam ’65 aims at the heart, and focuses the mind better than a pungi stake trap on a jungle trail!


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