Paul Rohrbaugh is a designer I love to follow. He is always doing games on smaller or lesser known conflicts and I just find his work to be superb and really draws me in. Recently I caught wind that he was releasing a small game on an assault on a remote fire base in Vietnam by the Viet Cong in 1971 as things were winding down for the Americans called Long Cruel Woman: The Attack on Firebase Mary Ann, March 28, 1971. We reached out to Paul and he was more than willing to share.

If you are interested in learning more about the game or ordering a copy you can visit the game page on the High Flying Dice Games website at the following link:

Grant: What historical event does Long Cruel Woman cover and what motivated you to do a design on this late war battle?

Paul: I’ve long been fascinated with the Vietnam War. I grew up during that conflict, and for me is is still “current events” as well as history. All my games have a narrative, as does any historical presentation, and for me that is the futility of this war. The attack on Firebase Mary Ann occurred when Viet Cong (VC) sappers attacked the U.S. firebase located in Quảng Tín Province, South Vietnam early on the morning of 28 March 1971 and was in many ways a tragic, yet fitting, end of the American intervention in South Vietnam.

Grant: What does the name imply about the battle and how does it represent the outcome?

Paul: All of the titles of my games set in Vietnam reference music that would have been playing on Radio Saigon at the time.
The title of the game is a “play on words” of the hit song by the Hollies, Long, Cool Woman. The raid on Firebase Mary Ann did not go well for the US, and revealed critical flaws in its relationship with the ARVN forces there that the VC knew about and exploited. Despite the promises made by the leaders of the Americal Division that there would be “no more screw ups” by that unit, and solemn assurances by the higher ups in the US military and White House that all was going well with “Vietnamization”, the raid here exposed just how flawed and untrue those pledges were. This was a common theme throughout our involvement in the war and this battle is just one more bit of evidence to that effect.

Grant: What was the historical result of the assault?

Paul: The VC raid was a spectacular success. The Sappers were able to get into the Firebase, achieved total surprise, and inflicted a great deal of damage. During the assault, the ARVN force that had moved in did not come out of their shelters and were basically ignored by the VC. The US suffered 33 KIA and 83 wounded, many of them severely with life-long and crippling injuries. The US claimed to have found 15 bodies, but whether all were VC attackers or civilian “helpers” inside the wire at the start or ARVN soldiers in the wrong place at the wrong time, is still disputed. If the VC were sending a message that the war was not over by a long shot, and that they were still a force to be reckoned with, that got through loud and clear. This was not the US military’s finest hour.

“was riddled by drugs and incompetence” and that “[t]he disaster was compounded by a cover-up that extended all the way up to the Division commander.” –Conclusion reached by historian Lewis Sorley about the leadership and conduct of the 46th Regiment, Americal Division, at Fire Base Mary Ann, March 1971.

Grant: What elements from the battle did you feel were important to model? How did you do that in the design?

Paul: Surprise, that chaos of battle, and the effects of night on such a small battle field were two key elements. Given that this is a small battle, I wanted the game to be easy to learn/teach, relatively quick to play, and still convey the historical situation.

Grant: What is the scale of the game?

Paul: Each turn represents a half hour of time, VC Sapper units represent 5 or 6 very well armed and trained men (the 409th was an elite VC unit), US/ARVN units are platoons and an inch on the map is about 100 yards.

Grant: What units comprise each side?

Paul: The US garrison was made up of about three companies of the 46th Regiment of the Americal Division. The ARVN force was basically two companies of their 22nd Field Artillery.

Grant: Where did you find the OOB?

Paul: There are many online sources about the battle, but I primarily relied upon three sources listed in the game’s bibliography.

Grant: What were a few resources you consulted on the design? Which one would you recommend to anyone interested?

Paul: All are listed in the game’s bibliography and include the following:

Bell, Kelly. VC Overrun Fire Support Base Mary Ann [internet publication], December 30, 2013. Retrieved January 2016 from: hps:// 2/30/vc-overrun-fire-support-base-mary-ann/

Fulghum, David. The Vietnam Experience: South Vietnam on Trial (Mid-1970 to 1972). Boston: Time Life Publishing Company, 1984.

Keith William Nolan. Sappers in the Wire: The Life and Death of Firebase Mary Ann. Texas A&M University Press, 1995.The two books should be easy to obtain at any public library.

Grant: How does activation work?

Paul: Players use a standard deck of playing cards to determine who activates (red cards for the VC player, black cards for the US/ARVN). Players each draw a card from their deck and compare them. The player with the higher numbered or face card wins and can activate. In cases of a tie the player that did not win the activation in the last go-round wins. The number on the card, or type of “Face” (Jack, Queen or King) card determines how many units can activate or other types of activations (Rally, Air or Artillery strikes) that can be performed (half of the card number rounded up, or 3 activations with a winning face CD).

The first time a Joker card is turned up players determine if a Random Event occurs. When the second Joker turns up the turn is over.

Grant: Why do you feel the cards are a good tool for this key part of the design?

Paul: This design approach is easy to teach and learn, and captures well the chaos of battle without a lot of scripted rules. One can never know how many activations you’ll get, or when the turn will end. It is very interactive and the card play lends itself well to a high aspect of replayability.

Grant: What challenges can be presented to players if the activation cards are unkind?

Paul: Most of the time this comes as a result of one player getting a “run” of cards for activation. However, that will very likely lead to such a run in the other player’s favor, so it tends to balance out.

Grant: What are Breach Wire markers and when do they come into play?

Paul: Breach Wire markers allow the VC to more easily enter and exit the firebase’s perimeter. The perimeter can provide card draw modifiers for any US/ARVN attacks against VC units; they don’t want to get “hung up”! The VC player not only has to enter the firebase to attack, but also exit to escape. Having those wire breaches, that cost activations to place, are key.

Grant: How does the US player call in air assets like air strikes as well as artillery barrages?

Paul: Those are put into play via activations, but Face cards allow bonus artillery or air strikes to be called in that do not count against the limit established at the start of the turn (die rolls are made at the start of each turn by both players to determine how many they can get during the turn).

Grant: How are the US activations possibly modified?

Paul: Both players can have the number of activations increased with each card draw if their Resistance/Morale level goes up; they go down if the Morale level declines.

Grant: I also noticed you put a bit of chrome in with star shells and opportunity fire on VC in the wire. How do these elements work?

Paul: Star shells provide an enhanced attack card draw modifier if the target occupies an area that is “lit up”. Star shells burn out and are removed at the end of the turn, so the US/ARVN player will likely be making hard decisions as to when/if to use activations and artillery strikes to light up the night with these. Difficult decisions are the privilege of command!

Grant: What triggers a random event and what events are in the design?

Paul: As mentioned earlier, when the first Joker card is drawn the players roll a die (D10) to determine if a Random Event occurs. These range from giving a unit an enhanced attack CD modifier, moving a unit an additional MP, adding or removing a Surprised marker to a US/ARVN unit or some other form of random chaos.

Grant: How do VC Sappers work?

Paul: These are the 12 VC units in the game (the other is an artillery support marker). They are essentially infantry units attacking with their AK-47s, grenades and shaped charges. Instead of attacking, a Sapper unit can move 1 or 2 areas, place perimeter breaches or if reduced, try to rally and is successful return to full/normal strength.

Grant: Why are US units started with a Surprise marker? What is the effect of this?

Paul: The garrison was caught flat-footed by the VC attack, with some of the garrison (including their leaders) stoned on drugs and/or alcohol. While marked as Surprised a unit has an adverse attack CD modifier, the HQ has an adverse CD modifier for artillery airstrikes, and all units have an adverse CD modifier for obtaining star shells. The level of chaos and confusion amidst the garrison were quite high and the Surprise markers portray that to good effect in the game.

Grant: Doesn’t a fire base have a kill zone cleared around the base to minimize surprise? Why is the VC attack a surprise?

Paul: Again, the US and ARVN were not expecting an attack, their commanders had let discipline fall to horribly lax levels, and the result was disaster. It matters little how much weaponry and tactics one has if there is little to no willingness to prepare and use them. That was and is a lesson learned from what happened at Firebase Mary Ann.

Grant: How does Combat work?

Paul: The attacking player designates the activated attacking unit and its target unit. The attacking player then draws a card. If it is a face card (Jack, Queen, King) the attack automatically failed. If the card is a numbered card (Ace through 10) the card number is added to the attacking unit’s attack factor, modified by terrain and statuses of the attacking and defending units, random event (if applicable), presence of other friendly units (that can be providing supporting fire). If the attacker’s total is greater than the defending units defense factor the target unit is reduced; if already reduced it is eliminated. If the modified CD result is less than or equal to the defender’s defense factor the attack had no effect and the target was unaffected.

Grant: How are Artillery Support Strikes used to modify combat?

Paul: These are attacks that can be “called in” by a friendly unit against an enemy unit that is within two areas of the friendly unit. You can get up to two artillery strikes with an activation, so they can be a powerful “one-two” punch if effective. Of course, surprised units aren’t especially good at getting these called in effectively, and that is even worse for the US/ARVN player if the area is not lit up by star shells. The VC player has adverse DR modifiers for determining the number of artillery support strikes, and these get worse as the game goes on. The VC artillery was not very plentiful, and they were not able to stick around long as they knew the US air and artillery would soon be targeting them.

Grant: How are Huey Gun Ship Air Strikes different?

Paul: They are resolved much like artillery, but the number of air strikes is determined separately from artillery. Also, these don’t show up until turn 3 (it took sometime for these to scramble and fly to the firebase). An airstrike can target any VC unit, not just those in close proximity to a US unit. Like artillery, up to two air strikes can be called in with each activation, so they can pack a punch.

Grant: How does Morale work in the design? Why did you feel this was an important addition?

Paul: Morale/Resistance is key. Morale is affected by the loss of friendly units, the elimination of enemy units, and if any of the US Headquarter units are eliminated. At some point in most battles one side realizes things are going to plan and that they are winning, or that things have gone “pear shaped” and that personal survival and getting “back to the world” is more important than following orders. If one side’s morale goes up then there is an increase in the number of activations with each card draw. The reverse is also true, and with an Ace or two cards that can mean that even if you win you won’t have any activations (your troops are hunkering down and not doing what is expected of them).

Grant: What are the victory conditions?

Paul: Players can win an automatic victory by reducing their opponent’s Morale/Resistance Level to zero. Otherwise a player wins by earning more victory points (VP) than their opponent. VP are awarded for eliminated enemy units, attacking an area of the firebase and exiting the map (latter two by the VC player only).

Grant: How long does the game play?

Paul: Most games take about an hour and a half to play.

Grant: Who did the art, maps and counters? What do you think they add to the game play experience?

Paul: Bruce Yearian did the art and map. They are very well done and present the situation clearly. The game play is very interactive, and often generates a lot of discussion about the war (of course such discussion is encouraged, but can slow game play!).

Grant: What special rules are included?

Paul: There are special rules to determine when/if the ARVN units will activate (historically they were not attacked and did not participate/help the US forces there), friendly fire from US air strikes, Fortunes of War, Wire Breaches, Star Shells, and when/how the VC units can exit the map.

Grant: What other Vietnam War era designs are you looking into?

Paul: I have games in the works on Operation Hump, the Battle of An Bao, and a possible re-issue of my games on Na San and Dien Bien Phu. I’m also researching a few more new games set in Vietnam, including another set during the French War against the Vietminh, and another during Tet.

As always thanks for your time in answering our questions Paul and also for your focus on the small scale, lesser known and almost never gamed subjects. Your games are great teachers of history and I appreciate that.

If you are interested in learning more about the game or ordering a copy you can visit the game page on the High Flying Dice Games website at the following link: