Well color me giddy and surprised, so BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front. This is an exceptional game, a verdict you might not expect from me on a game about subtactical combat in Vietnam. Small unit tactical is not my favorite level to play, and neither is the subject matter. The war in Vietnam was too much like one of my previous careers and it certainly isn’t the most shining line on my country’s military resume. Also as a mini player, the war isn’t particularly colorful which is why I shy away from history after 1914 (when the French lost their “pantaloon rouge,” because if you can’t go to war looking good, why go at all).
Yet at the end of the day I have to say this game – Flying Pigs (no, haven’t a clue why) Games ’65, Squad Level Combat in the Jungles of Vietnam – is not only highly recommended for those interested in the Indochina war, but pretty much a must buy for just about the anybody. The secret is not the subject modeled, but the unique way the rules present it. Let’s move out.
ACAV, Daisy Cutters and other Load Bearing Equipment
’65 is a large boxed game that retails for $ 80 US, but is on sale right now $ 10 cheaper. The game includes two sheets of charts, a 27 page rules and scenario booklet designed to look like an old US Army Field Manual, 175 thick cut 1 inch and 1.4 inch counters and a deck of 54 Action Cards, but no dice (and hold that thought). It also contains three 11 x 17 inch geomorphic maps divided into large two inch hexagons. In a very big and pleasant surprise, the maps are mounted. Seriously, I mean who does that anymore? I just checked my own gaming shelf and it looks like the last game I got with mounted maps was the old Avalon Hill game Guns of August or maybe Frederick the Great. This means no more finding a custom piece of glass to hold the paper map down and I rather like that. The counters are also unique in that the way they are cut means you don’t have to. Instead they just push (not punch, push) right out of the sheet with no effort. There are no Exacto knives necessary to cut out counters (or your fingers) in order keep the playing pieces smooth and attractive.
’65 is designed for two players, age 14+ and takes a mere one to three hours to play, so folks with not a lot of free time take note. And all of this is presented in well designed, glorious, full color glossy goodness.
Call for Fire, On Patrol
This game is one of the simplest to learn and play, yet one that nevertheless induces really tough decision making on the part of the players. As noted above the instruction booklet is only 27 pages long. However of these only 19 are actually rules, the balance being individual scenarios for the player bring forth his inner Westmoreland. At that, the pages boast wide margins, large type and lots of color pictures used as game play examples.
The game scale is 50 meters per hex, several minutes per turn with counters that represent infantry squads (about 10 men), leaders (with names like Dixon or Chu), special teams (M-60 machinegun or RPG anti-tank) or individual vehicles to include helicopters (Huey, PT-76 light tank or M-113 armored personnel carriers – these are the large counters in the game). The counters feature a top down view of the unit or vehicle, or a portrait as regards leaders. Green counters represent the US Army, cream colored the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and blue for the VC (Viet Cong). There are also counters for things like barbed wire, smoke, shaken, fired and so on.
With this in mind the game otherwise looks like it plays pretty normal. There are rules for stacking, movement, line of sight, ranged fire, close assault and all the other procedures you might normally expect. But looks can be deceiving and that is certainly the case here. The reason is that the game is run through a unique sequence of play completely controlled by the 54 piece card deck. The results not only make for a good game, but also insert just the right of chaos into play to be realistic. Yes, loss of control is not for everybody, but as von Moltke said, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” or as I say, “the enemy always gets a vote.” This is reality, folks.
Simplified, here is how it works. The sequence of play has five phases, which are Deal Cards, Determine Initiative, Impulse Actions, Reserve Phase and Clean-up Phase. Each turn the card deck is shuffled and each player is dealt four cards. Players then turn one card of their choosing and compare their armor piercing Targeting Number. The high number wins the Initiative and discards the card, while the loser returns the card to his hand. In the Impulse Actions phase, beginning with the player who won the Initiative, the players alternate implementing combat actions by playing a card from their hand, drawing a new card to fill their hand to four, discard up to two cards or simply pass. One of the cards available for draw is named “End Turn” of which there are several in the deck. When a scenario defined number of this particular card is drawn, all Impulses stop and play moves to the Reserve Phase. Here units not already marked with a Fired, Moved or Ops Complete marker may move their terrain modified full movement allowance, or a single hex if within three hexes of the enemy. In the Clean-up Phase things like Fired and Moved markers are removed, Smoke 2 markers are degraded to Smoke 1 and so on. Then the next turn begins with about six or seven turns per scenario.
The thing to remember is that as described, the number of Impulses per turn will vary and cannot be predicted. It makes for a very tense and exciting game and backs up Napoleon’s comment on who made the best leader when he said, “Give me a general who is lucky.” In other words, one who can successfully react to the unexpected, and this will be your primary task when playing this game.
When looking at Impulse actions, pay close attention to the unit counters and the symbols with numbers around the edges. Some, such as Armor Piercing Factor are found on all counters even if the unit does not have that capacity. The symbols along the left side, however, are usually unique to that unit and may not appear on other counters. These Abilities are things like Sniper or Pathfinder and are always available. In the bottom center of the counter will be symbols for special Powers that may be used only if a card marked “Power” is played, after which the unit is marked with an Ops Complete counter. These are things like Leadership, Smoke, Satchel Charge and the like.
For a player to use these capabilities, during his Impulse he selects a unit or hex of units and plays a card from his hand and discards it. For example, if the card has a Move command, the selected unit may move, if a Fire command, it may fire. These are the most common, but some cards also have unique options such as Reload or Aimed Shot, and an additional few have Bonus Victory Conditions such as “Battalion Wants Prisoners!” requiring you to kill one enemy squad by close assault.
So what happens when you play a card? Assume you play a card to have a unit use its High Explosive (HE) factor against a soft target. Determine range, line of sight, then draw a number of unused cards from the deck equal to the HE factor of the firing unit. If one of them has the word “HIT” in the right color, the target is hit. Hit units are Shaken (not stirred) and Shaken units are destroyed. The single page of charts has all the modifiers needed with combat on one side, movement on the other and no dice required. Super spiffy.
While a bit too extensive for this article, I would be remiss if I failed to mention there are several expansion products for this game. With current sale prices they include rules for the USMC and ANZAC forces (though oddly enough, not ARVN – Army of the Republic of Vietnam) for $ 40, an advanced card deck for $10, a 22 x 34 inch City of Hue mounted map extension with city fight scenarios for $ 20 and an Alone in the Jungle solitaire expansion for $ 30. The latter includes rules, new counters and a special solitaire card deck to control the NVA and VC. I played this thing over the weekend and to be honest, I found it a bit more complex than simply playing against myself, which of course has the added advantage of that you always win. Nevertheless, with most board gamers playing solitaire anyway, it’s quite commendable to find at least one company willing to expend the extra effort to make sure these gamers are officially and properly supported. Kudos.
Dust Off and Debriefing
This game will attract two types of gamers, those who have a deep interest in the Vietnam War, and those who don’t. For everyone, the game plays well, the graphics are top notch and the rules were quite the joy to read given the author’s very military like, snarky and just a tad irreverent writing style. When I read the Rescue Rambo (and his beloved white kitten) scenario, featuring “SSG Rick Rambosetti, the loud mouthed, heavily muscled, gung ho, flag waving, God fearing punk from Brooklyn,” I was hooked.
But regardless, even if you have no interest in that tragic conflict, the unique, card driven system of play is well worth the price of admission. Realistic and challenging to boot, for those reasons alone this game deserves a spot on all gamer’s book shelves.