Having just written about print-and-play games, I thought that I’d use the opportunity offered by a relatively late night watching cricket (Australians versusEngland – yay!!) to try a solitaire game. I decided upon Solitaire Caesar. Having seen that I had neglected to print the counters for it, the Emperor Iohannus I decided to abandon the Pax Romanum to the barbarians, with the court relocating to mid-ninteen sixties Vietnam (and not much pax here either).
This was Vietnam Solitaire, designed by David Kershaw. At $4 U.S, it seemed a good bet, with little lost should the game disappoint. The components themselves amounted to a 7-page rulebook (including a page of optional rules and some designer notes), an A4 map and some tiny counters with barely visible illustrations (but are perfectly serviceable).
South Vietnam is divided into 5 regions (Hue, Central Highlands, Cu Chi, Saigon and the Mekong). Each of these regions is sub-divided into 4 areas, each of a particular terrain type. For example, the Central Highlands have 3 jungle areas and 1 of rice paddies, Saigon one of rice paddies and 3 urban (this being a complete list of the terrain types).
The designer argues in his notes that the U.S/ARVN will lose eventually. The player therefore has the task of holding on for longer than was done historically. There’s no unit scale for the units, and each turn is a year.
The engine is the Political Point (PP) track. The track starts at 1, and things during the turn such as U.S/ARVN recruits (and losses), attacking the Ho Chi Minh trail and napalm use drive the PP track up. At the end of the turn, any region with NVA/VC units that doesn’t contain U.S/ARVN units adds to to the track, an area without NVA?VC units subtracts one from the track. If the PP track is 14+, the game ends with the collapse of South Vietnam.
Each turn begins to see how far the Ho Chi Minh trail expands. There are 6 regions adjacent to South Vietnam: Haiphong, Hanoi, north Laos, south Laos, north Cambodia, south Cambodia (each numbered 1-6. Each of these can contain a trail marker, and each such region with a trail will produce an NVA unit. The trail starts in Hanoi and Haiphong, and 2D6 are rolled to see which regions gain a marker (no marker is laid in an area already containing a marker). Some years therefore will see the trail leap ahead, and others where it remains somnolent. Each trail area points to a corresponding South Vietnam region, to which NVA recruits are directed.
The U.S player can then attack these with B52s or Green Berets. The Green Berets are more discreet (costing but a single PP each, and there are 2 of these available), but less effective, with the trail removed on a 1-2. The B52 is noisy and costs 2 PP, but removes the trail on a 1-4. Hanoi and Haiphong can only be attacked by B52s, but as both areas point at poor little Hue, it’s worth considering attacking these early to relieve pressure in the north.
The U.S. player then takes units and places them on the map. Again, the only limit is how much the player wants to ramp up the PP track. ARVN units cost a single PP, US infantry/marines cost 2, the U.S air cavalry cost 3. Naturally the higher cost units perform better on the battlefield.
The U.S player may then launch napalm attacks against NVA/VC units (which are eliminated on 1-4, regardless of terrain, but at a cost of 1 PP per use). The U.S. player then launches attacks with any units that occupy the same areas as NVA/VC units. Each unit rolls a D6 and if it rolls the indicated number for the terrain type it causes a hit. The ARVN for example cause a hit 1-2 in urban or rice paddy terrain, but a 1 in jungle. VC units are the reverse of this, and NVA units hit on a 1-2 regardless of terrain. U.S. ground troops hit on a 1-3 and the mighty air cav hit on a 1-4.
Combat continues until either only 1 side remains in an area, or until one sides retreats to another area within the same region. NVA and VC reinforcements may then arrive (randomly determined, and more combat may take place if they arrive in an area with U.S/ARVN units). Finallythe player rolls a D6 on the PP table, which may mean that the next turn is played as normal, or the U.S may lost the ability to lose/recruit certain units. The higher the PP level, the more likely is the latter.
There is a surprising amount inside this package. The U.S player has to decide whether to escalate the conflict quickly and clear the insurgents from the map. This they can certainly do, though there will be a PP cost, partly offset if they can clear the NVA/VC from areas and thus cause the PP track to decrease. On the other hand one can try a “softly, softly” approach which will keep the PP track relatively low, but allow the NVA/VC to quickly multiply. The player is thus cast on the horns of an interesting choice.
In my first game I tried the latter approach. In 1963, the Ho Chi Minh trail extended into northern Laos. The U.S authorised the use of Green Beret units to interdict the supply of men and materiel south, but to no effect (2 GB units rolled 2 sixes – curses!). The Saigon government 3 ARVN units. One was sent to the Central Hghlandsa to contest the VC presence there, and one to reinforce the Hue and Cu Chi regions. In addition, the U.S sent an air cav team to reinforce the ARVN drive in the Central highlands (this took the PP track to 9).
The decision was made to not employ napalm. The US/ARVN drove out the VC with no loss. Perhaps due to the success of this drive, no VC cadre were recruited. However, a nerve was touched in Hanoi, and 2 NVA units crossed the into the Hue region. These quickly invested a lightly-garrisoned Hue and took it without loss (the eliminated ARVN unit took the PP track to 10). The air cav redeployed to Hue in order to ensure that it was re-taken from the North Vietnamese sometime in 1964.
The PP track fell to 9 due to the pacificatiobb of the central highlands. Rolling on the PP table, a ‘5’ meant that in 1964 no U.S units could be recruited.
It was decided that 1964 should see an escalation in the war as far as practicable. Obviously the North Vietnamese felt the same way, as the Ho chi Minh trail made its way into southern Laos and southern Cambodia. Green Berets were sent into Cambodia, again without effect. B52s in southern Laos were successful in interdicting the trail, but those in the north of the country were not (this poor result saw the PP track move to 15!).
ARVN ground troops attacked VC cadre in all regions exept the Central Highlands, with the hope that they could pacify most areas and drive the PP index down. The air cav aided the assault on Hue, which succeeded without loss. Hoever, the ARVN drives in the Saigon and Mekong regions were driven back (both units in these regions were eliminated, with the PP index to 17). The writing was on the wall. NVA reinforcements appeared in the Mekong and Hue. Though the Central Highlands remained pacified, the Mekong and Saigon were in the hands of the enemy. The government of South Vietnam dissolved, and Ho Chi Minh lived to see Vietnam re-unified.
The game played quite well (and quickly – it was over in about 1/2 an hour). A full game shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. One thing is that the US player has to use napalm. It has a high chance of killing enemy units at a relatively low cost. I suspect that escalation from the word go will be necessary. If done well, with a little luck there may be a couple of years of relative quiet that will drive the PP index down. This is not a game to play if you want to have absolute control over things. There will be games where the dice will beat you, and no amount of good play will help. If you can stand that, then this should be worth the effort to assemble. You may get a half-dozen games or so out of it, but at about $0.75 U.S per game this would seem to be excellent value indeed.