Vietnam ‘65 vs Afghanistan ‘11 – Two sides of the same COIN?

How do the two counterinsurgency games stack up? ~

Boggit, 10 June 2017

Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Matrix/Slitherine

The opening screen summarising the game parameters. A player can tweak these in the options screen.

A couple of years ago I did an article on Every Single Soldier’s debut release – Vietnam ‘65. At the time I thought with a bit of tweaking and updating of the game engine they could make a decent Afghanistan game, which is exactly what they have done. So what is different and how does it play out?

 

Afghanistan ’11, like Vietnam ‘65 allows a player to customise a game as well as playing varying pre-set difficulty levels.

 

Like Vietnam ‘65, Afghanistan ‘11 is a single player, tactical level game, this time focused on the American involvement in Afghanistan in 2011. As with Vietnam ‘65 in Afghanistan ‘11 you play as the commander of American forces allocated to a randomly generated province somewhere in Afghanistan. Multiplayer as with Vietnam ‘65 is not supported. As with Vietnam ‘65 where playing as the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army was not an option, you cannot play as the Taliban opposing force in Afghanistan ‘11 either.

 

A mission briefing from one of the historical scenarios in the “Campaign”. It does help the game feel less generic than the skirmishes.

 

Looking at Vietnam ‘65, the only way to play it is as a skirmish game with a randomised generic province of 10 villages being fought over. In Afghanistan ‘11 the same holds true for skirmish mode, but Every Single Soldier has now addressed the lack of actual historical scenarios with a campaign mode. What this provides is a series of standalone scenario specific maps and victory conditions relating to actual historic operations. While I talk of a campaign mode, there is no continuity between the scenarios other than unlocking the next scenario and victory in one has no effect on the next one played. All the same, it is nice to have some historical scenarios, which is something Vietnam ‘65 sadly lacked.

 

All in all there are 18 scenarios in the Afghanistan ‘11 campaign including 4 tutorial scenarios. Vietnam ‘65 only offers a skirmish play mode, which gives a randomly generated map, which feels quite generic in comparison.

 

The core gameplay of Afghanistan ‘11 is essentially much the same as Vietnam ‘65, although developed with more depth. It is still a battle of “Hearts and Minds”, with a player using political points as the currency to perform a range of actions. Political points are the “sinews of war” in both games and have a very limited availability meaning that with almost every decision there is a trade-off in terms of costs and benefits. A player simply cannot do everything they might like to due to the political constraints. It really reflects the reality of limited budgets and political will.

 

You pay your political points, and choose your units. Unfortunately, political points are soon in short supply and are expended for everything it seems, even movement. While you can go negative on points, with some actions like movement it is not recommended as it gives the Taliban a big boost, making your task even harder.

 

As with Vietnam ‘65 in Afghanistan ‘11 political points are still gained through destroying enemy units, but a player is also now rewarded with political points for building infrastructure (having an operational waterworks at a village [which can mean repairing it when it gets damaged]), repatriating units back to the USA, and staying ahead of targets for handover to the Afghan National Army.

 

Here I developed a nice reinforced battalion battlegroup leaving too few political points to stay out of trouble when I got involved in building infrastructure projects. It pays to start fairly small and build up gradually, as infrastructure can yield a regular supply of political points.

 

Afghanistan ‘11 features some really nice hi-res graphics that compare favourably to Vietnam ‘65…

 

… although not as flashy as the Afghanistan map screens, the Vietnam ‘65 map and combat elements are still well drawn and nicely presented, if not so hi-res.

 

A nice touch is the political side of the Afghanistan conflict, which is only superficially dealt with in Vietnam ‘65. This includes periodic elections with a variety of electoral candidates each with their own agenda set relating to four different issues. A player can nominate and back a preferred candidate (by spending political points). Elections are only part of the political process, as training the Afghan army to take over the fight when you repatriate to the United States is another important criteria. This will occur on turn 50, with the remaining Afghan forces fighting another 10 turns on their own before the game is decided. It’s a really nice feature that reflects the real world concerns of the Coalition forces that the Afghan National Army stands on its own two feet. Up to turn 50, a player will be raising and training a variety of Afghan forces, and exposing them in combat to gain experience for when the crunch comes and they’re on their own.

 

Politics has a direct effect on Afghanistan ‘11 gameplay, and each political candidate affects four different and variable aspects of the game. Here the current President is more of a hindrance to the cause, and I would seek to influence a change at the top at the next elections for someone more on message with the Coalition goals.

 

A neat feature new to Afghanistan ‘11 is the ability to customise forward bases with gun pits, vehicle repair yards, and hospital facilities – but at a heavy cost in political points. In fact many of the rules for the forward base in Vietnam ‘65 has been improved and updated. You even now get an intrinsic 82mm mortar with the base that can be augmented with a gun pit and a field gun. This really does change the feel of the game for the better.

 

And here is a zoomed out part pf the Afghanistan ‘11 game map. Nice graphics, but I found it offset by a rather clunky mouse response in zooming in and panning around the map compared to the fluid motion in Vietnam ‘65.Note the rather cool modular options for the Forward Operations Base.

 

Other new features in Afghanistan ‘11 include revisiting of the “Hearts and Minds” rules to integrate the effects of nation building projects, which include positive aspects of linking villages to the road system, building and repairing waterworks, and organising supplies of UN aid. One new and very useful unit is the versatile supply truck, which can carry a variety of cargoes, but is very vulnerable to attack. A convoy feature has been promised by the developer from release, but at the time of writing this it has not yet been implemented. There is also a variety of chrome such as external news items affecting the game, and Taliban offensives aimed at causing mayhem in the run up to elections.

All in all, Afghanistan ‘11 updates and improves the core system pioneered in Vietnam ‘65. It is a much more nuanced – and frustrating – game than Vietnam ‘65, which remains by comparison a lighter offering by Slitherine. Being a lighter offering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Afghanistan ‘11 is in my opinion intellectually more demanding, and sometimes it’s nice to play something lighter. I recommend both as two sides of the same COIN depending on whether you want a lighter or more involved game.

 


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