After having played the Playbook Scenario as well as the Short scenario in order to become familiar with the setup, rules and game play of each faction, we settled in for the long haul and started the Full scenario of Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam. I was playing as the US & ARVN while Alexander played the VC & NVA factions. Come to think of it, I most always play as the “good guys” and Alexander always plays the “bad guys”. You know what they say, villains are always played by British actors (Alexander is from Southampton)!
Just by way of explanation if you haven’t played, the Full scenario contains 6 stacks of 12 event cards for a total of 72 cards with an added total of 6 Coup! cards with 1 mixed in each stack of 12 that act as timers and cause a victory check. The victory conditions are set for each faction and they are asymmetric, meaning that each faction has its own goal to win.
One other thing before I get into the details of the After Action Report, I put together a playlist of great Vietnam War era music that I remember from my childhood. This playlist consists of 37 songs and 3 hours of theme music that we played along with our sessions. The songs included classics such as “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen, “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, “Universal Soldier” by Donovan, “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones and “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield just to name a few. This heightened the play experience and immersed us in the theme and mood of the time. I highly recommend you try this!
If you are not aware, I love to Tweet out pictures of the events and key points of each game as we play. It is always interesting to see the feedback and responses that we get. So as you may have noticed, I used one such comment from around the time of the 4th Coup! card that said “”There’s hardly any VC or NVA on the board…!” When I read this, I just giggled as they were judging based on the picture at that time but had no idea what had transpired to that point. So I will try to paint the picture so you can see why there were few VC or NVA on the board at the end! (If the US or ARVN are victorious it will most likely include control of many areas and a lack of a VC or NVA presence, won’t it?!?)
Early on in the conflict, I got a serious taste for what type of struggle this game was going to be as the VC began to proliferate throughout much of South Vietnam, controlling and sabotaging Lines of Communication and subverting many of my ARVN troops to their side. At first I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the VC as they didn’t appear to be much of a threat. I was more focused on the NVA and their buildup in Laos and Cambodia. This was a huge mistake as by the 1st Coup! card, they had a score of 26 and were only 10 points away from securing victory.
I then was able to get the “M-48” event capability which allowed my US Troops to remove 2 additional units in two spaces where I was taking the Assault command for the rest of the game. I soon followed this action up with a fortuitous draw of the “Tribesmen” event, that allowed me to remove any 4 Insurgent pieces total from spaces with Irregulars.
This event allowed me to remove 2 underground VC guerilla units in the highland province of Binh Dinh and the lowland province of Quang Tin. Usually, this action would have taken me several turns, one turn to Sweep into the area uncovering the guerilla units making them vulnerable to Assault and the next turn to carry out the Assault operation to remove the pieces. So this event was very powerful and allowed me to get done in 1 turn what would have taken me several rounds to accomplish. But to my great surprise and frustration (the frustration with this game is glorious!) the VC shrugged these losses off and kept coming back like fruitful cockroaches! They simply took their Rally operation and regained their dominance in that area.
As I continued to struggle with the VC, I was also told on Twitter by someone to not give up but to keep battling and I would begin to wear them down. So I continued and to my surprise several things started to happen.
1. The VC became so concerned with not allowing me to take events that they chose the limited op space a lot which severely hampered them making it so they couldn’t continue the momentum they gained and were only deploying 2-3 units per turn as opposed to 6-7 in previous rounds.
2. The VC began to run low on resources which are needed each time they choose a spot to Rally in. I also was able to play several more events that removed their units and reduced their funds including “Long Tan” which allows the removal of all guerilla units from all Jungle with US Troops.
With this, I was able to suppress the VC threat and shift my focus to the NVA in the north. My campaign against the NVA also got a kick start with a well timed event “Wild Weasles”!
The NVA were also hampered by the Trail being degraded and were unable to mount a serious threat in the north. I regularly used the Air Strike special activity and would remove up to 6 units. This made it impossible for him to get any buildup going. I also focused on making sure I had control in the provinces and especially all of the city spaces. This took planning as I had to recruit ARVN Troops and Police and strategically deploy them across the board to outnumber the Insurgents. Nearing the 3rd Coup! card, victory for both ARVN & US was so close I could almost taste it!
Shortly after the 3rd Coup! play resumed and I was finally eligible to use my “Vietnamization” Pivotal Event which gave me a lot of new Aid and Resources plus allowed me to make available all of the ARVN units that were out of play. While I enjoyed the benefits of the card, I really played it to take away the NVA from being able to take the “AAA” event which would have severely hampered my Air Strikes and made them less effective.
My key action was followed by the VC playing the Tet Offensive which temporarily set me back a little by allowing him to hamper my pacification efforts with terror markers and allowing the VC to build forces in the south and to take over control of Cam Rahn City. This pic is the board following the Tet Offensive:
We then spent the next 6-8 turns focusing on the struggle for control of Tay Ninh and Phuoc Long province. In fact I wrote this on my Twitter feed at the time:
Serious battle over Tay Ninh & Phuoc Long! @gmtgames #FireintheLake VC tunneled base is dug in like an Alabama tick!
The importance of the tunneled base should not be overlooked by the VC player. As we battled, I could not get him out of the province because the base refused to die allowing him to add guerilla units each and every round. In fact, on 2 occasions I had all units destroyed and was ready to take the base but my rolls were bad (a 1 and a 2 when I needed a 4-6!) and it lived on only to spawn more VC the next round.
As this struggle continued going no where, I noticed I was at 50 with the US. I scanned the board and saw a few provinces where if I could pacify 1 or 2 levels I could win. But as I was looking for victory in this manner, the opportunity to win came in the form of another fortuitous event called “Americal”!
The event really isn’t too overpowered as it simply allows me to get 4 units from the map or out of play and move them to available. But it was very well timed! I saw that I could grab 2 Troops from out of play and place them in AVailable to give me an additional 2 points as victory is obtained by the addition of the US Support+Available. This brought the US score to 52 which was one more than was needed to win. Now all I had to do was hold out! Luckily for me, the next turned card was a Coup! card which caused a victory check at which time I was able to claim US victory.
With this conclusion we debriefed and decided that the US won for the following reasons:
1. The US had obtained the M-48 capability early which assisted in the removal of insurgents using Assault operations.
2. The US removed most of the VC bases (except for the tunneled base in Tay Ninh) early giving +6 Aid for each which was a boost in the middle game. The resources track was as high as 75 and Aid was over 55 for most of the game.
3. The US was consistent in performing Sweeps and Assault operations and didn’t relent or give the VC or NVA breathing room.
4. The events seemed to go the way of the US and ARVN forces.
5. The US controlled the number of VC and NVA forces (not for lack of effort on the part of Alexander) which is a key to victory.
In summary, our first game was a fantastic struggle of the minds and test of our resolve. We learned a lot, had lots of fun and our love of the COIN games grew by leaps and bounds! I cannot wait to play again. *EDIT – we found out I shouldn’t have won at that point of the game as when playing 2 factions you only win with the lowest score of the 2. Oops!