Monday, November 24, 2014

Heroes of the Gap scenario: Sucking in the '70s

I originally submitted this for publication in Line of Fire 16 but stuff kind of happened and here we are.  I tried to make a scenario where the Soviets invade West Germany after the end of the Vietnam War, well before the US starts making those wonderful and deadly M-1 tanks.  I've also tried to think of how chemical weapons would work in the game.  I'm not totally sure it works but I tried my best on it.  I also tried to take into consideration the ability of the M-60 Patton to be used for indirect fire.  Lots of little experiments in this scenario.

“Sucking in the 70s” 

Background:  June 12, 1975 – After the end of the Vietnam War, the USSR takes the opportunity to invade West Germany as it faces down a demoralized and broken US Army.  On the third day of the war, the Soviets attempt to enter the town of Richthausen in an attempt to either pass through to the west or seize a vital local intersection.   With only a handful of men, the Americans waited for the Soviets to arrive.  Soon the sound of tanks in the distance signaled that the wait was over.

This scenario uses maps from Mark H. Walker's Band of Heroes, while the American units are from Forgotten Heroes, and the Soviet units are from Heroes of the Gap.

Turns:  7 turns.  The Soviets have initiative on Turn 1.

Map: (north is top of map)




Setup and Force Composition:

Soviets: 

D Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Guard Motorized Rifle Brigade Soviet 2nd Guards Tank Army
Enter on west side of board, map 13 on turn 1

6 x 2-3-4 5/5                 2 x RPK                 2 x BMP-1

Capt. Sarukin               1 x RPG-7             1 x offboard chemical weapon strike

Maj Petrov                   1 x PKM                1 x T-62


Americans:

1st Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd US Infantry Division,
Set up first anywhere on Board 13 before turn 1

3 x 2-6-4                         1 x M-60               Lt. Anders

Elements 3rd Tank Platoon, 5th Company, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Armored Division
Set up first on Board 15 before turn 1

1 x M60A1 Patton

2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd US Infantry Division,
Arrive on turn 1, entering anywhere on the east side of Board 15

Lt. Walker                     1 x L.A.W             1 x M-60                                3 x 2-6-4               1 x M-113

Victory Conditions:  The Soviets must exit  5 or more units (MMCs, SMCs, and/or vehicles) off the east side of board 15 by the end of turn 7 OR no American units within 3 hexes of hex J4 by the end of the scenario.

Special Scenario Rules:
1. In addition to direct fire, the M-60 tank can provide indirect fire support for American troops.  In the rally phase, the US player chooses whether the M-60 will be in “direct fire” or “indirect fire” mode.  Once this is decided it cannot change for the duration of the turn until the next rally phase.  In indirect fire mode, the tank acts like a 5FP offboard artillery strike that can be called in once per turn by a US leader.

2.  The Soviets have one chemical artillery strike available to them.  This is called in the same as a normal offboard artillery strike.  It hits the impact hex and all surrounding hexes.  Infantry (and only infantry – vehicles in the impact and surrounding hexes are unaffected but they MUST button if in the affected hexes or moving through or into them) in the impact and surrounding hexes make a morale check but defensive terrain modifiers do not apply.  Infantry units that fail the morale roll are instantly shaken.  Treat the affected hexes as per smoke rules.

3.  The chemical strike stays on the board for a total of three turns.  At the start of the operations phase of each subsequent turn after the chemical strike is initially called, roll for chemical drift and implement its effects on infantry and vehicles in the new impact hexes . The chemical artillery strike drifts 1d6/2 number of hexes per turn.  Roll for direction (1 = north, 2 north east, etc.).  The chemical strike dissipates completely during the rally phase of the 4th turn.


4. Use Heroes of the Gap for Hero skill cards if a hero is created.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vietnam: 1965 to 1975: Final Update

Well, I can safely say now that I've finished a tour of duty in Vietnam: 1965 to 1975 from Victory Games.  And what a ride!

Between the extreme of busy-ness of work and home right now, I've shoehorned in the time required to play about as much of it as I can at the moment.  Many games, you can sort of sit with for an hour or two after work and lose yourself in them despite being already tired.  Vietnam is not that kind of game.  It demands a lot from the player, both in terms of time committment and mental energy and if you don't give it the right amount of time and concentration and respect, you'll probably get burned pretty badly.  Rather than watch things degenerate into farce, I've decided to stop the game here and take stock of what happened.

To wrap things up, early 1966 started off with a failed NVA offensive against Saigon itself as two full divisions were repelled by American and SVN forces defending the capital.  The NVA units retreated north towards the border.  Over in Kontum in the interior, the 1st Cav moved in and started cleaning out the province of VC, although two regiments were known to be operating somewhere and Pleiku was still very much in the hands of numerous VC.  The ARVN were only effective in IV Corps and although they were trying their best, they simply didn't have the manpower to effectively deal with all of the VC incursions coming from Cambodia while new VC units sprang up along the coast.

By the spring, things were looking dire.  South Vietnam suffered yet another coup, driving morale down even further.  The US was forced to throw in huge amounts of economic aid to keep the government and the people happy.  There was a tiny ray of hope after the ARVN Chief of Staff was finally replaced and a much more loyal commander was put in charge.  There were still several bad apples in the ARVN leadership but small victories like this really do tend to matter in the long haul.  I suspect though, that had I kept playing, SVN would have been prone to another two or three coups before slowly becoming politically stable.  I don't think this would have happened in a short enough timeframe to make for a potential US-SVN victory.

American committment crept up past the 150 mark as more air power was thrown in to Vietnam.  With the bad spring weather, air power was hampered and not as effective in other seasons.  The VC were able to build two supply conduits in South Vietnam - one in IV Corps near the border with Cambodia and the other in Pleiku.

Elements of 1st Cav and the ROK forces in Korea worked together very well in the boundaries between III Corps and the area around Saigon, almost entirely clearing the region of VC.  In other good news for the American player, a huge Search and Destroy operation mounted against the VC holding out in Pleiku was incredibly successful.  Three VC battalions were destroyed and a regiment was sent fleeing west towards the border.  Pleiku was retaken and the VC supply conduit was destroyed.

The 1st Division sent a brigade of troops and artillery to start working in IV Corps and although they were able to retake one of the provincial capitals just west of Saigon, they too found the VC problem in the area to be largely insurmountable.  Much of the population in IV Corps was friendly to the VC or at least totally unsympathetic towards the SVN government.  It was starting to look like the area was a write-off, especially with so many VC battalions coming down the Ho Chi Minh trail and pouring into the area each season.  With the ARVN division ineffective this season, there was little to be done about it all.

Up near Da Nang, the 3rd Marines dealt a huge blow to the VC by trapping and destroying an entire regiment in the hills to the west.  By this time, much of the US air power and airmobility was spent and there was little else to do.  The VC licked their wounds and sent many of their forces into the countryside.  Clearly, the Americans were at their best when facing a concentrated force of enemies in a single location and the VC could no longer hope to forge strongholds in provincial capitals without losing them to US attacks.

By the end of the season, I was sure of two things.  The first was that the damage at this point was nearly irreversible in terms of losing popular support in key provinces and keeping SVN morale bouyant enough to turn the ARVN into an effective fighting force that could help assist the Americans.  No, the fighting and dying here was all done by the US and that would remain the same so long as South Vietnam was in the depths of political chaos.  Secondly, the VC had employed a questionable strategy by trying to take and hold provincial capitals by piling units into them and putting them in Hold operations.  The nature of the war would change into small-scale engagements in the countryside as the VC slowly turned the population's loyalty towards North Vietnam instead of directly attempted to face down the Americans and ARVN.  To take care of this problem would require huge American committment and this would only increase morale for North Vietnam.

Here are a bunch of photos to try and explain as best as I can what I've written.  Sorry for the poor quality!









If I had to do things over again, as the US player, I would have given a much bigger commmittment than my initial brigades in the first year.  Although this may lead to a dangerous situation of over-commitment, it seems to make more sense to go big at the start and then slowly scale in troops as needed instead of trying to solve the problems by throwing in a brigade here and there once a season.  By trickling in forces over time, the VC player sees what the US is trying to do and just shifts their energy to another area of the country that's not as well defended.  This creates a "whack-a-mole" approach to Vietnam and needless to say, it doesn't work at all.

I'm going to put Vietnam away for now and I'll come back to play it again some day.  I really enjoyed it for the time I had with it.  A lot of monster games can be dry academic exercises but I never felt that with Vietnam.  It is a proper wargame that tries well to reflect the realities of what politicians and military leaders were dealing with and although it's not a really complex game, there are a lot of moving parts that make the game shine when you put it all together and see the result.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Vietnam 1965 - 1975 Campaign Update #4

Fall & Winter 1965




South Vietnam is in political chaos as two successive coups have happened in the fall and winter season.  The generals in charge of the ARVN Corps are demoralized and disloyal, preferring to focus on bitter in-fighting rather than getting the job done of securing the countryside from an increasingly bold VC presence.

Fall 1965 starts off with the US choosing to save its air power for operations in the field.  No bombing of the Ho Chi Minh trail or the North happens at the start of this season.  Big mistake.  The VC use the trail to good effect, throwing in men and supplies everywhere, especially in the interior near Kontum.  The Viet Cong take control of several provincial capitals in this area and they now have a stronghold from which to launch attacks on the US and ARVN forces further to the east.

The SVN capital finds itself under siege as rumors of NVA regiments moving down the trail are preparing for an offensive against Saigon itself.

With the ARVN in disarray and completely ineffective in the field, the Americans find themselves with little choice but to commit more men and troops to help prop up the flailing South Vietnamese government.  The 1st Cav and the 1st US Army Division are sent to help out the Marines with their efforts to fend off VC incursions in I and II Corps.  Meanwhile, the South Koreans decide to get involved and send off a regiment to Saigon.

The VC spend most of the season consolidating their gains in the interior of the country.  Capital cities in Kontum and the surrounding regions are filling up with VC.  Population support for the South Vietnamese government drops precipitously in these areas while the limited US and Korean forces go on offensives to clear out vital areas.  The Koreans help secure some roads east outside of the capital and then use the rest of their forces to try and dislodge the VC forces holding up in the the port city of Vung Tao.  The capture of a South Vietnamese city so close to the national capital is a political and military embarassment for the ARVN, who are unable to clean their own house.

S. Koreans prepare to lay a beating on the VC operating southeast of Saigon.


The Koreans attack the city and deal out severe punishment to the VC but they are unable to take it successfully.  American air and naval power is being used up at precipitous rates further to the east,while the 1st Division hammers away at VC attempting to hold in Phan Tiet and along the roads through the Binh Thuan region. The Americans do an excellent job against the VC regiments causing the VC replacement rate to fall rapidly.


1st Division works its way down the coast through Binh Thuan, clearing out VC-held cities.



Meanwhile, the 1st Cav recaptures a port near Chu Lai as the VC are forced to withdraw after facing a battle they cannot win. The Marines up near Da Nang are also operating nicely, conducting several search and destroy and security operations to push the VC out of the Quang Tri and Thua Thien area.

Interseason Fall/Winter 1965

Although the American and Korean performance is admirable, it is still not enough to keep the VC at bay.  Their numbers in the countryside are increasing and the supplies seem to keep coming down the trail.

As fall turns to winter, the US decides it has had enough and commits an impressive amount of air power to bomb North Vietnam (30 points of air allocated for unrestrained bombing), scoring several hits against it.  The Ho Chi Minh trail is also bombed, which helps to slow the flow of supplies.  The North Vietnamese player has no choice but to spend his commitment points on air defense and repairing the trail.  The Americans also have 3 naval points committed to the blockade of North Vietnam.  Supplies for the VC start to dry up this turn but the US committment required for this means that the North Vietnamese morale increases while American morale starts to drop.  Photos of North Vietnamese villages bombed by American planes have a dramatic impact on the American public.  Citing the political instability in South Vietnam, many people back home start to wonder if the war is worth it.

With the bulk of the ARVN likely ending up as ineffective again this season, the US player decides to increase committment again.  More air is committed to the campaign and elements of the 199th as well as another brigade from 1st Cav are deployed in-country.  The 199th is sent to Saigon to help with defending the capital from NVA attacks while the 1st Cav is sent to supplement efforts in II Corps, deploying in Qui Nonh.  Without a doubt, they will be committed against the VC strongholds in Kontum to the west.

Meanwhile the US has provided cruiser support down near Vung Tao and the South Koreans look to be spoiling for a fight over the city again this season.

Although there are plenty of ARVN and a US brigade now sitting in Saigon, the defense is brittle.  The ARVN Chief of Staff is disloyal and unhappy about his position so the defending ARVN are ineffective.  To the west, there are over a dozen VC units operating in IV Corps sector.  Although the 21st ARVN division looks strong and effective on paper, it is surrounded by VC and clearing the sector of VC will be a Herculean task.  It looks like the Americans will have to help out here again or this part of the country will go to the VC.

Winter 1965

The 1st Cav conducted a massive search and destroy operation around Kontum.  The Americans blasted the city from the air (declaring the whole province a free-fire zone) and then the surrounded it with three battalions.  The attack on the city eliminated a political section and sent a VC battalion scrambling into the jungle.  The ROK troops near Vung Tao finally managed to dislodge an entire regiment from the city on a security operation and the 1st Division followed up the retreating units and eliminated a battalion, sending the VC in a retreat near the marshes southeast of Saigon.  The road between II and III Corps was finally...finally clear after six months.  Again, lots and lots of air spent here to get these results.  I found out what a wonderful thing airmobility is here ("Surprise, assholes! We're here!").

1st Cav conducts a very successful Search & Destroy operation around Kontum and starts to reclaim the area.


Another search and destroy operation in Quan Ngai found an entire regiment of VC operating in the area and used cruiser and air support in an attempt to destroy it.  The VC were able to move away after taking 3 replacement point losses and the pursuit ended there.  The regiment was in now in the mountains further west, giving the coastal cities a chance to breathe but it was evident that the S&D operation was pretty much a failure.  Several VC units moved from Kontum east towards Binh Dinh, a real danger since this province has a large SVN population that's half-and-half on its support.

The year ended with two NVA regiments on the road directly north of Saigon and VC in the area poised for an assault on the capital.  Despite some limited successes in breaking two key VC strongholds, the SVN grip was indeed tenuous, especially considering the political instability in the country.

As an aside, I am learning a whole bunch about this game.  I can see the mistakes I made in the first few turns in terms of rules and also a bit in terms of strategy.  The rulebook is actually quite short but it's really concise so it's quite easy to miss vital information if you don't read really closely.  I made errors in terms of air power numbers for the US (you recover them after each turn unless they're lost or temporarily unavailable due to using them for strategic bombing - didn't know that).  Economic aid programs boost morale in the season after the US donates them to SVN.  Also, morale losses for captured capitals accrue over time.  I also see more clearly how support works in an operation in terms of rounds.  I've fudged a bit here and there to make up for the mistakes but overall just kept going regardless.

Strategically, I made a blunder early in the game by not purchasing SVN regiments to protect capitals so the VC basically walked right into them without a fight.  This has led to the mess that we're now in.  As for the repeated coups (3 in one year!!), I don't know if that's because of my bad judgement or if it's just a function of the hand I got dealt at the beginning of the game and the unusually high rolls I've been making on leader replacement attempts.

In any case, wow.  Vietnam is really quite an experience to play.  You start to feel like this thing is less a game than a real journey.  I've learned a heck of a lot about the big picture of the Vietnam conflict from this game.  It certainly teaches more than any book or documentary on the subject that I've read or seen.  I admit that I was put off by the length and complexity of it at first but I find that every time I sit down with it, I end up engrossed with the sheer number of decisions to be made, both on the map and on paper.

The real frustration on the part of the US player is evident here.  South Vietnam is like a patient that's bleeding from all sorts of wounds and the US is just frantically trying to plug the holes and hoping to stop the bleeding somehow.  The VC are elusive and slippery.  You hit them in one place and they pop up in another.  You start securing the interior of the country and they start showing up along the coast.  You make progress in one Corps area only to see all of it lost in another.  Despite all the men and all the support, you simply can't cover all of the country. You train and supply the ARVN only to see their leaders fumble along so badly that the units under their command are ineffective.  To that extent, the game seems realistic enough.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vietnam 1965 - 1975: Weekly Campaign Update #3

Summer of 1965 has just ended and gives way to fall colors, Hogan's Heroes, Sandy Kofax, The Hollies, and a deepening conflict in Vietnam.  The first hints of change in American culture begin with the protests of thousands of people across America on October 16th.





Well, I never thought I'd get through a single turn of Vietnam 1965 to 1975 but here we are in Fall 1965.  Over the summer months, the Viet Cong have been steadily gnawing away at South Vietnam's population support.  Starting the summer turn, most of my ARVN divisions ended up being effective, except for the 2nd division up in Quang Nam near Da Nang.  I didn't worry about it too much because I had the 2nd and 3rd Marine regiments sitting up there ready to pick up the slack for them.


This is my life now...


What did concern me were the two full NVA divisions sitting just across the border to the north.  I also had a ton of VC sitting on the roads along the coast, cutting off the ARVN divisions from each other and limiting their ability to cooperate in any meaningful fashion.  I decided that needed to end quickly and so spent the first part of the summer 1965 turn ordering the ARVN in Khanh Hoa and Binh Din to conduct security operations.  They actually did manage a nice job of eliminating VC resistance all the way through to Quang Ngai in the north and Bin Thuan in the south, giving the SVN some breathing space.

Makin' room:  The 7th and 18th ARVN push the VC out of coastal areas.


The problems happened mainly in the interior.  By the time I had finished conducting the security operations along the roads and absorbing losses through the use of replacements, I had no real means of pursuing the VC sitting in the interior regions of the country.  By the end of the turn, the VC basically ruled Kontum and its surrounding provinces while they were able to hold on to the regions in the southwest of the country near Saigon.  A slew of provincial capitals were inhabited by VC and there was really nothing the US could do to help them.

Ownage:  The VC basically own the interior right now.


This is because the Americans got caught up in a huge scrape with an NVA division near Dong Ha.  An ARVN regiment from the 5th Division was in a holding operation along Route 1 just south of the border and the North Vietnamese threw their regular army at it.  The US sunk in defensive reserves after the first round of the fight and managed to fend them off but the replacement cost for ARVN and the US combined was staggering.  By the end of it all, there was just no gas left in the tank to go chasing the VC around the interior.

NVA units retreat back across the border after a fight near Dong Ha.  VC units pushed back into Laos.


In the second half of summer 1965, very little actually happened.  The US and ARVN basically licked their wounds while the VC were content to sit out in the countryside and gain more and more popular support.  The NVA was a non-factor here as well, having had its replacements depleted by the huge battle near Dong Ha earlier in the summer. Summer passed into fall and the pacification phase began.  I cringed and made my rolls, ready for the worst.  Fortunately, for the SVN, I rolled quite high for some reason and managed to hang on to popular support in the usual strongholds (Thua Thien actually went up while the presence of VC all around IV corps' stomping ground didn't seem to make a big splash with the locals there).

Slowly losing SVN hearts & minds in summer '65.


I learned a few very important lessons in this season.  The first one is not to overlook the amount of replacements each side needs.  With less than 10 RPs for the US, ARVN, and NVA, they really were not very effective at all.  Probably the smartest thing the NLF player could have done was launch its offensive at Dong Ha, which drew the US Marines in and kept them too busy and too short of replacements to fight the VC.  Clearly, both sides are going to need to commit more to RPs in the coming season.  Secondly, the VC should try to pile units into a regional/provincial capital if possible in order to quickly swing the population towards it.  Finally, the VC are probably better to put just off the roads instead of directly on them so they aren't vulnerable to Security operations. The most important lesson here is that even with lots of support like air and naval points, it is not nearly as useful without troops on the ground to work with.

As for the game itself, I'm starting to slowly see how it all goes together.  One thing I've noticed is that everyone seems to have a slightly different way of playing it with some rules being a bit more ambiguous than others (do the VC get an alert roll during bombardment - the debate over this seemed to rage on and on in the forums).  It is not really a difficult game but it does take time to sit down and play through.  I really recommend using the worksheets at grognard.com and also the online resources available at BGG.  Also, I found a great iPad app (Vietnam 1965 to 1975) for figuring out combat.  All of that has helped considerably to cut down on the time spent slowly calculating combat odds and modifiers.