Thursday, 27 September 2012

South of the DMZ - Vietnam Megagame Lost Youth

Last Saturday I took part in Lost Youth, the megagame on the Vietnam War designed by Jim Wallman. It was a small episode set during the early deployment of US troops, somewhere close to the DMZ, and as such it challenged many of the perceptions about this war. Our ideas of the drug ridden, gung ho US army are mostly based upon the later war and this turned out different.

The ground: open close to the DMZ, jungle to the south
The opposing forces

On the US-allied side there were four teams, an American and an Vietnamese army batallion, an American regimental command team and a press team. Their challenge was to coordinate their action while showing success towards the press and hiding the nastier side of war. They succeeded almost up to the end of the game.

The National Liberation Front consisted of three batallion teams led by a brigade HQ and a number of local cadres. These had their own, slightly lonely game in setting up booby traps and ammunition depots and maintaining local morale in the face of US activity.

The VC self criticism session. Note the red stars on the chest for ideological rigour!

Much fun was had on the NLF side during the two self criticism sessions, which didn't turn into with hunts but actually improved the planning and created a sense of united purpose. Umpires rewarded proper ideological composure and terminology.

As it happened

The scenario was a US batallion sized sweep through a a number of hamlets, which attracted a response by a Viet Cong regiment to hurt the Americans or at least take the heat of their local cadres. The US-allied forces used the main highway at the eastern edge of the map and of course helicopters to enter the map. The NLF entered from the southwest.

The US commander took a methodical approach, sweeping through open country near the DMZ while the VC decided on an attempt to draw them into an ambush in the wooded area. However, this was based on the false assumption that the US troops would drop all else to go on some kind of search and destroy mission. That didn't happen.

There's the batallion drawn up to attack the village

One of the Viet Cong batallions threatened the ARVN batalion in the southeastern corner of the map, guarding the highway, but drew no response. In a desperate attempt to force a reaction, the VC unit attacked, but by then the ARVN was well prepared and the attacked floundered unceremoniously.

By then the US troops had 'cleared' most of the open country (devastating one village under bombardment). As they prepared to move into the jungle, the VC hastily retreated.

The experience on the ground

As an operational staff officer in the VC batallion that got into the thick of it, I had an active, but straightforward day. We were first on the map and last to be off. If I say so myself I managed the approach march to the eastern edge of the map and the defensive deployment well. However, we had no orders to attack and we lost an oppportunity to attack on the first night as the ARVN were not yet dug in but this was also because of lack of preparation. Hasty attacks were not the NLF preferred option.

And that us after hurrying back to safety

By the end of the game we were set for a sharp rearguard action, covering the retreat of the other batallions, but given the presence of the ARVN batallion, this might not have ended at happily as we'd wish. The interesting picture is of course from the umpire map, showing the location of both sides and our supply status (yellow and white discs).

The umpire map shows the ARVN batallion following up... oops!

So how did it feel?

Feedback to the game was generally positive. Most players enjoyed the operational challenge and the ideological side of the game, even if for two VC batallions the day was a bit uneventfull. The local NLF cadres had difficulty in imposing themselves on the game and there was a tendency for the batallion players to focus on the military side at the expense of the local cadres.

Jim's idea is to do a number of follow up games set later in the war so players can develop some experience with asyymmetrical warfare, which is different from the set piece operational games we do more regularly.

There's a wealth of possibilities for scenarios, but maybe these are not all in the same time and ground scale. We now played on a very small battlefield (7x7 km) for three days of game time.

The umpire map: not many VC left on the map at the end

ps You might have missed the discussion the development of artillery around WWI at the Maximum Effort blog.

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