I have images in my head from when I was a kid watching episodes of M*A*S*H* with my parents and seeing them air lifting wounded soldiers back to the hospital camp during the Korean War. That is my first impression of Air Lift! Not really combat Air Lift but Air Lift nonetheless. I also have images of Air Lift from other TV shows such as Tour of Duty and China Beach (oh, the lovely Dana Delaney!), but those Air Lifts were more in the way of combat as I would see these choppers coming into a hot LZ to drop off troops that were immediately under fire. Air Lift was introduced as a combat tactic during the early days of the Vietnam War with the 1st Cavalry Division or Air Cav. The Division used a new concept by which the ground maneuver elements were moved around the battlefield by helicopters. Initially deployed to the II Corps area at Qui Nhon, the division took part in the first major engagement between U.S. and North Vietnamese forces during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley fought in November, 1965.
As I thought about Air Lift as a combat tactic, and how it is used in wargame designs, most of those games where it appears revolve around the Vietnam War or later more modern engagements. I would like to focus on the games that I have played that use this element well, mainly during the Vietnam War era. Here is my list of the Best 3 Games with…Air Lift!
3. No Trumpets No Drums: The Vietnam War, 1965-1975 from One Small Step Games
No Trumpets No Drums from One Small Step Games is a great little game on the Vietnam War and attempts to deal with a lot of the aspects of the war in its rules. There are lots of different types of units available to both sides, including air and naval units, and the game doesn’t just focus on combat or the war to control territory but also attempts to model the war for the hearts and minds of the people.
In No Trumpets No Drums , the Allies have helicopter units they can attach to certain ground units to move them about by air. These Air Lift capable units are referred to as Airmobile units. These Airmobile units have an unlimited movement allowance as long as they stay within the bounds of the corps they are stationed in or into adjacent corps. This movement is only allowed though during clear weather and if a monsoon is in effect they will be limited to only 9 movement.
These Airmobile units also have the very powerful ability to react during the Communist movement phase. They can literally see that Communist units are on the move and saddle up and move by air to where they can engage or harass those units. One other really cool element of the design is that the Communist units can move “flipped” so that the Allied player doesn’t know what unit strengths are included in those forces and there are even dummy counters that are fake units used only to deceive. This Air Lift for the Allies is a really powerful ability and if used properly, can really turn the tide of battle to the Allies favor.
2. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 from GMT Games
Silver Bayonet was one of GMT Games’ first released games and covers the very first actions to take place in the Vietnam War in 1965. There are several scenarios in the game that cover the infamous Ia Drang Valley confrontation between members of the 1st Cavalry Division units and the North Vietnamese Army. The game covers Air Lift (but simply refers to it as Aerial Movement) in an interesting way. The basics of the system in relation to Aerial Movement is that Helicopter units can move any distance on the map. They have no printed movement allowance and their range is unlimited. These Helicopter units can only conduct one action per Phase and they cannot unload their passengers in a hex that contains an enemy unit or Hidden Movement marker. The Helicopters can land in LZs.
In the design, there are two types of LZs, including Field Expedient and Operational LZs. The main difference in the two types is the number of units that Helicopters can pick up and unload. In the Field Expedient LZ, it can be established in any type of terrain, except for Mountain Jungle, and they can only handle a single company. In an Operational LZ, the Helicopter can pick up and transport up to 4 stacking points of infantry companies or artillery batteries. These Operational LZs must also have a unit occupy them at the end of any game turn or they become closed. These Operational LZs also act as a terrain modified with a Defense Value of 3 so they can really be used near the front lines to load and unload troops quickly to get them into the fight. The PAVN player can also have units adjacent to an LZ and cause the landing player difficulty by forcing an efficiency check which if failed, results in those landing units becoming fatigued. I really like the rules that focus on Landing Zones and feel that it really makes this Air Lift function a part of the game.
1. Fire in the Lake: Insurgency in Vietnam from GMT Games
I love Fire in the Lake. In fact, it is number 4 in my Top 10 Games list. This entry in the COIN Series from GMT Games is a fantastic assymetric treatment of the Vietnam War and allows players to take on the role of one of four factions including the guerilla Viet Cong, the NVA, ARVN or the powerful United States. This game is a card assisted game where each player has a choice of various Operations and Special Activities that can be used to perform various movements, such as March, attacks such as Air Strike, Sweep and Assault, as well as various aspects that are intended to affect the battle for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese such as Terror, Tax, Govern and Infiltrate. Among these lists of possible Operations and Special Activities is the Air Lift. Air Lift is very powerful in this game as it can be used to move any number of US Troop cubes as well as Irregular units, Rangers or ARVN Troops among 4 different spaces, only 2 if there is a Monsoon in effect. But any four spaces on the board. That is power and allows for the US player to quickly and decisively react to any movement, or apparent buildup by the VC or NVA, among and between any point on the map. The VC and NVA simply don’t have this option and must slog their way through the jungles to get in position to take their attacks. I have used Air Lift many times to rearrange my troops to support areas that are under attack, or are experiencing a buildup of VC or NVA in nearby provinces. The really great thing about this Special Activity is that you can then couple it with any of your Operations to perform such things as a Sweep, where you will move your just dropped Troops into surrounding areas where you can activate hidden guerilla units, or an Assault where you will kill guerilla units that are in the open before they can secrete themselves back into hiding in the jungles and river deltas of Vietnam.
I love games about the Vietnam War and am always on the look out for good ones. If you know of any other great games, please leave them in the comments so I can add them to my ever-growing list. I hope you enjoyed my list of the Best 3 Games with…Air Lift! It is very hard to pick only three games on any given subject as there are lots of good ones out there. I know that there are many others that you might have chosen but this was my list.