Last summer, I came across this interesting looking wargame from a new company called They Were Soldiers: Battle of the Ia Drang Valley that was heading to Kickstarter at the time. The game was a 2-player turn-based operational level design based on the battle for LZ X-Ray during the larger Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam, 1965. Since that successful campaign, Cadet has started their next project designed by RJ Mills called Nguyen Hue ’72: The 1972 Easter Offensive in Vietnam. Currently, the game is on Kickstarter and I reached out to my contact there Kevin Talley who acts as one of the Developers on the team for his input into the design to give us a better picture of how this new game plays.

If you are interested in Nguyen Hue ’72: The 1972 Easter Offensive in Vietnam you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link:

Grant: First off Kevin what was your experience with your first successful Kickstarter for They Were Soldiers?

Kevin: Well, that experience validated what we at Cadet Games had thought – that we weren’t the only ones who were into “minis” games like Axis & Allies that also were “real” wargames.  Having historically accurate maps, orders of battle, and rules of some complexity combined with minis instead of just little counters is a genre that has decent representation for Napoleonics and American Civil War battles, but is restricted to purely tactical games for the more modern conflicts. You certainly don’t see anything on Vietnam battles like that. So it was nice to know there were others like us that wanted that kind of game.

Grant: What lessons did you learn that you have brought to bear on your new campaign?

Kevin: We definitely learned that the community for Vietnam games is a much smaller interest group than other wars. Because of this, the effect of “time to hear about it” is important. The longer a campaign runs for this very specialized audience to learn of it, the better. So, rather than having a short campaign that then had to be repeated like last time, we just did 60 days upfront this time around.

Grant: What is the focus of your new upcoming game Nguyen Hue ’72?

Kevin: This is THE big campaign-level game of the largest battle (by casualties) on planet earth since 1949 – the 1972 Easter Offensive in Vietnam.  It is like an Axis & Allies game in that the units represented by the minis are divisions and brigades, the map is all of South Vietnam, and the players are fighting to win the war! This was a truly massive modern battle but, amazingly, most Americans don’t even know that it happened – despite the fact that thousands of Americans fought in it.

Grant: Who is the designer of the game? What was his design inspiration?

Kevin: It’s our designer at Cadet – RJ Mills. He does all the games (with a little help from the crew). The inspiration for the game is the only other dedicated game on the topic that was ever made – Year of the Rat – Vietnam, 1972 from SPI. That game was a very good game and we all liked 3 things about it: 1. unit scale; 2. playing time; 3. complexity level. So, what happened was that RJ made a game that combined the strengths of YOTR with our “Cadet” ideas. We wanted minis, not counters – little armor and arty units for the NVA; APC, tank, arty and helicopter units for the ARVN, little airplanes like B-52s and AC-130s for the allies, and little soldiers for all the infantry types. We also wanted big colorful maps and a table presence like VG’s Vietnam – so we did the two 34″x22″ maps at different orientations like Nick Karp’s game does.  We also knew the game needed cards, not only for historical event realism, but also to model leadership, special units, fog of war and weather effects, among others. I could go on.

Grant: What was important from the history to model in the game? How has this changed from the first game?

Kevin: First, the historical balance of the contest didn’t need to be improved – the real 1972 Easter Offensive simply IS a great topic to model for a wargame in the first place. Either side could have won and it really came down to a handful of mistakes by the NVA command and a handful of US advisors and their ARVN counterparts making a difference at critical points everywhere. Certainly, US airpower was decisive, but there was a lot more to it when one studies the history. The game really showcases how tight the thing was – it is beautifully balanced.

They Were Soldiers is also a very historically accurate simulation. In that respect the games are the same – the real OOB, historical terrain, realistic card events and game dynamics. The big difference is the scale – the entire battle area represented by the whole LZ X-Ray map from They Were Soldiers wouldn’t fill 20% of a single hex on the Nguyen Hue ’72 map.

Grant: How have you modeled the shock and awe of the initial assault for the Easter Offensive?

Kevin: The NVA have two built-in advantages that serve to model their strategic surprise here: 1.) They get to set up their last 14 units (7 NVA divisions and 7 arty or tank asset pieces) AFTER they see the final ARVN dispositions – and this is HUGE; 2.) They go first. The way the turn sequence works in the game, this built-in initiative for the NVA means they move and attack with all their units everywhere before the allies get to react in any way.

Add these two things together and what you have is an NVA that can keep its first-turn objectives a mystery and can mass for a decisive advantage anywhere along the entire length of South Vietnam’s western frontier with Laos and Cambodia. In this respect the campaign has the feel of the “Battle of the Bulge”, where the Germans have the decided advantage of strategic surprise early and the allies have to buy time while waiting for airpower and reserves to tilt the balance.

Grant: What is the general flow of play and the Sequence of Play?

Kevin: The sequence is simple: NVA card draw & reinforcement / NVA moves / NVA combat / NVA rally – then – Allied CD & reinforce / Allied moves / Allied Air & Naval Attack / Allied combat. 4 phases each – very simple. Then the turn marker moves and you do it again. There are 13 turns in the ’72 game – at the end you have a winner (if the NVA hasn’t managed an auto-win before then).

Grant: What is the scale of the game? Force structure of the units?

Kevin: One hex on the map is 10 miles. Units are Divisions, Brigades or Regiments. The air units are abstracted by using minis that have combat point values – and as the US adds squadrons to the theatre in response to the NVA attack, the number of air units increases with each turn. Turns represent a week of time.

Grant: I see there are plenty of air and naval assets, artillery and supply vehicles. What role do they play for each side?

Kevin: The air and naval pieces represent the abstract effects of allied airpower and naval gunfire more than they represent actual squadrons or ships. A single F-4 Phantom game piece, for example, has the equivalent firepower of an entire ARVN Armored Brigade vs. targets in rough terrain, and the equivalent firepower of an entire NVA Division vs. targets in clear terrain! As for artillery, both sides have these assets, which add to the combat factors of a stacked infantry unit on both attack and defense. The trucks are pieces that represent the “Binh Tram” units of the NVA – those regimental organizations responsible for local security and supply transport for various segments of the communist supply system along the HCM Trail network.

Grant: How is the Ho Chi Minh Trail represented?

Kevin: There are a series of “supply centers” located along the Laotian and Cambodian side of South Vietnam’s western border that loosely represent the various base areas that were historically located along the trail. As for NVA unit movement, the continuous “clear” hex terrain running inside Laos and Cambodia provides an avenue for strategic movement of between 60 and 120 miles in a week, depending on card events. This route is vulnerable to allied air interdiction.

Grant: What different units do players have available?

Kevin: There are infantry units for both sides, Divisions, Battlegroups and NLF Regiments for the NVA, and then ARVN, US and ROK infantry units for the allies. The allied infantry represents anything from divisions to battalions – depending on nationality, and all have simple attack and defense combat factors. The allies have separate ARVN armored units, where the NVA have tank assets (asset units must move and fight with an infantry unit). Both sides have artillery asset units, and the allies have helicopter asset units as well. The helicopters are cool because they add a combat factor to both offense and defense, and also convey air-mobility to the infantry unit they are paired with. Then you have the allied air units – which have varying combat factors (up to 10 with a B-52!) – and the previously mentioned NVA Binh Tram truck pieces. Finally, there is a nifty US Cruiser, representing naval gunfire of the 7th Fleet ships.

Grant: The map is larger scale than They Were Soldiers and is more a strategic focus. How has this changed the design?

Kevin: Well, the two games have almost nothing in common, beyond that they are about Vietnam battles and they use minis. The scale of NH ’72 is truly a grand-campaign scale of combat, where a turn is a week and a unit might represent 10,000 soldiers. TWS is about a single day of battle between dozens of platoon-sized elements where a turn is as little as 2 hours.

Grant: How are cards used in the design? Can you show us a few examples?

Kevin: We love cards! In this game the cards are HUGE. A card the NVA can play (Weather), for example, gives them a temporary reprieve from allied air attack in one sector of South Vietnam for that turn, which could be the single element that makes the game (or not) for the communists. By the same token, there is a card that freezes all NVA armor asset movement and attacks for a turn (POL Convoy hit by allied air), and THAT might be the difference. You never know. But here’s the thing…

The players can’t control which cards they get. There is no hand. You draw one from your shuffled deck each turn and that’s the one you have to play. If you don’t play it, you either have to discard it or (if you are holding onto it for the perfect moment) give up the next card drawn. So you only have one. To make things even more interesting, you may NEVER get the card you are waiting to draw – because there are more cards than turns (so it could just end up buried in the draw deck and never come up – gasp!). In addition, there is a mystery card for both sides which, if drawn and played, requires a die roll against a random events table. Variables, anyone?

The whole idea is “re-playability” here. And, frankly, this is a mechanic of wargaming that truly presents reality. Friction. Von Clausewitz described this aspect of war perfectly. War isn’t chess.

Grant: How are the deployment and reinforcement cards used?

Kevin: These are easy-to-read “set up cards” that indicate with easy graphics exactly where units can be initially placed for either side. That side’s reinforcement schedule is also on the card – and both player’s cards have the Terrain Effects Chart on the back, saving space on the map and in the rulebook.

Grant: How much research went into the location of troops and units for the setup? Do you feel you learned anything new about this?

Kevin: Goodness, yes. We learned all about the entire OOB for the campaign – which was no small exercise. At some point, I recall having Turley’s, Andrade’s, Davidson’s, Wilbanks’, McKenna’s and Stanton’s books all open at the same time. Just for fun, try and find out exactly which ARVN unit of the 23rd Division was occupying Ban Me Thuot in early April. Good luck!

Grant: How are hidden units for the NLF and NVA denoted on the board? How important is this element?

Kevin: All of the little NVA/VC infantry soldiers look the same (there are actually two different minis, but they are interchangeable for game purposes, so nobody knows exactly what they are). Under the soldiers is a small 15mm roundel. The top of all the roundels is the same color, but the bottom is not. If soldiers need to stack to save space the roundels just stack (hidden side down). Once revealed, the color determines what strength the unit is.

Of course, this is huge because an ARVN unit attacking must wait to see what he has bitten off before he can chew it. And in some terrain the communist units are doubled – so a division might defend at 8 where an NLF regiment might defend at 2. This has a significant impact on the odds/CRT. The wrong guess/intel can produce a surprise indeed!

This is also important for allied air attacks. The NVA/VC units are always face down unless attacking, so one has to have a sharp memory or keep a record of what they have seen where – lest they spend their precious air points attacking targets of less significance. Even once the air has been committed, short of destroying a unit, the NVA/VC units remain hidden (but marked in either an interdicted or disrupted state).

Grant: How does combat work?

Kevin: Super simple. There is a combat sequence, but it really boils down to combat factors vs. defending factors, modified by terrain and supply effects, expressed as a ratio for the CRT. You roll the die and get the result. Wargames 101. But there are those pesky cards…

Grant: What role do Towns and militia play?

Kevin: Like a lot of designs (Tet ’68 comes to mind), town hexes have intrinsic defense strengths which represent the regional force militia defending them. Some cities and bases have stronger militia strengths. These get added to the defending strength of the hex if attacked by the NVA. Also, once a town or base has been captured by the NVA/VC, the town instead gets a communist militia value (think local VC) which adds to the defense strength in the event the allies try to recapture the place!

Grant: What are NVA mystery units and how are they determined?

Kevin: This is an aspect of the design that is just plain cool. Instead of dummy units (ala Year of the Rat) we decided we wanted “mystery units.” It may not seem like a big deal but it is – it really, really is. The issue with dummies is that, once a player had played both sides of YOTR and knew the OOB, the dummies stood out like they were face up. The mechanic only worked for a new player or someone on very heavy medication. Nevermind the problems with solo play (you can’t do it). But we liked how they influenced the allied intelligence mystery as the offensive opens. Where is the main effort? How many NVA are there? So, we figured out a solution.

Mystery units are the answer – nobody knows what they are until they are forced into combat and THEN you roll a die. And you consult a table. And only then do both players find out what the combat value (or not) of that unit is. Talk about great for solo play! And that re-playability thing I mentioned with the cards – this is another aspect of the design that quite purposefully makes each game different.

Grant: What was the thinking behind the table?

Kevin: Well, the allied player wasn’t going to poke the bear unless there was a “plus side” to the equation. That was where the table came in. For every good NVA outcome there needed to be something in it for the allied player besides a sigh of relief (lest they simply always avoid provoking any NVA hidden-unit combat at all). The allied-favoring outcomes on the table can make it worthwhile to take the chance – and that means the NVA player has one more thing he just can’t count on either.

Grant: What role does Body Count play?

Kevin: This was added after it was discovered in play-testing that there needed to be someplace to keep track of the “forced attrition” NVA units. The game has a mechanism where NVA units and assets must be removed from the game starting on Turn 3. The idea here was that the NVA only had the logistical capacity to support so many arty/armor units moving and attacking for a limited time frame and that ammo and maintenance issues would sideline some of their combat formations after a few weeks, and then progressively. With the body count, not only can both players see all of the destroyed units for both sides, but it also serves as a visual parking lot for those NVA units that needed to be removed by rule (so both players can keep track and not overlook it).

Grant: What scenarios are included?

Kevin: There is another scenario that we developed and play-tested that is every bit as interesting as the ’72 scenario (IMHO) – and that is the ’75 Great Spring Offensive that permanently erased South Vietnam in just 55 days. The ’72 game has all of the pieces one needs to play the “other” spring offensive of 1975 – so we have that scenario included as a stretch goal for the campaign. That game is actually a bit shorter than the 1972 game, but it is a real nail-biter because, even though the NVA has the combat power advantage, they are up against both the clock and a very tough victory condition. It’s another very balanced game with super re-playability and very interesting for either player any number of times.

Grant: How is the game won?

Kevin: Each town or base has a victory point value for the NVA. They have the burden of conquest and the clock is ticking. It’s like a Bulge game. If they get enough points – they win. If the allies hold them off and prevent them from scoring – or they manage to re-capture towns (and thus take points back), then the allied victory level goes up. Simply put, the game starts out as an allied Decisive Victory and the allied player fights to keep it that way.

Grant: What do you believe the game does really well in modeling the Easter Offensive?

Kevin: I really like how the NVA has limited supply and limited strategic mobility. This is extremely realistic when considering the communist logistic system ala 1972. He has to commit to a plan at the outset and then execute it – there is little room for changing one’s mind or axis of advance based on developments.  If the NVA player is going to change history, they have to plan it out in advance. There are multiple ways to win (it doesn’t have to be the same plan Giap used), but there absolutely has to be a plan.

As for the allies, the game very realistically models the advantage they had in strategic mobility – being able to use their interior lines, airmobility and infrastructure to mass against different NVA advances at different times with the same soldiers of their strategic reserve (marines, airborne, ranger units). Also, the way the combat system works helps to accurately model the strengths and weaknesses of the ARVN. With a little help from the airpower, cards and dice, they can hold out against almost any NVA attacking force. But if they have to attack…well, that’s something else altogether.

The allied airpower advantage is also very nicely modeled in a simple but realistic way. Overall, it’s a really good sim – especially at this scale.

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

Kevin: Everyone loves it and wants to play it all the time (this has been going on for a year now). I have had some trouble getting the crew back to other designs that need some more attention.

Grant: What stretch goals are available? 

Kevin: The stretch goal is the 1975 campaign rules and cards. I feel very confident the pledge crowd will make sure that happens. I mean, there are zero games on that campaign. Really? (Unless you count the recent remake of the old Yacinto album game from ’81 – which isn’t even about the final campaign as much as it is an abstraction of the entire period from ’73 to ’75). Not one actual sim of that campaign.  Four NVA Army Corps against a million-man ARVN force (trained and equipped by Uncle Sam) and the battle happened over an 8-week period resulting in decisive victory? We gotta do this.

Grant: When can we expect it to be fulfilled?

Kevin: The KS ends at the end of January. Our production partner is ready to go and they did a great job last time. We have no doubt we will deliver in the same time frame as with They Were Soldiers/Hill 875.  So that means October of ’22. We want these things to move along. The faster we fulfill, the faster we can get to the next KS and bring another game to life (we have 4 more games ready to produce right now, but we can only do 1 KS at a time!).

If you are interested in Nguyen Hue ’72: The 1972 Easter Offensive in Vietnam you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link: