A master post for the Vietnam War. The U.S. version. The Quagmire.
After seeing a brief mention of Fire In The Lake in the Wall St. Journal, I picked back up reading We Were Soldiers Once… and Young. From there, I got into looking at all the games/scenarios that take place during America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
The big question, when it comes to Vietnam games, is how do you get this right? What scale or scales were capture the era? How to effectively model asymmetric warfare – either in Vietnam or in general? How do you balance the military portions of the game with the political?
Once upon a time, there was very little to chose from when it came to the Vietnam War. It is still not the most popular timeframe to place a game but, at this point, I would say it has solid coverage. There have been a number of treatments of the war as a whole, including of course the newish Fire In The Lake. Operational level scenarios take on different lengths and sizes as do the tactical games. This goes all the way down to the first-person shooter, with Rising Storm 2: Vietnam being (as of this writing and as far as I know) the most recent addition to the computer games with a Vietnam theme.
As I explore these questions, these games, and read up on the period, I expect I will be writing a lot of posts. This master post will serve as a collection point for them.
Vietnam posts (in order of their appearance) are as follows:
- Way back when, I wrote a pair of posts on the French phase of the Vietnam War.
- That Wall St. Journal article.
- Now in the mood, I again watched Full Metal Jacket to appreciate the recently-passed R. Lee Ermey.
- In celebration of Memorial Day, I watched We Were Soldiers.
- Skipping ahead, all the way to the end of the war, I watched a PBS documentary on the United States’ final days in Saigon.
- I played and critiqued an HPS Squad Battles representation of a pre-Tonkin fight between the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese.
- The Gulf of Tonkin incident and a CMANO scenario depicting it.
- I also read the book, We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.
- A Steel Panthers scenario depicting an early South Vietnam defense against a Viet Cong assault led to a discussion of game design.
- I read the book Incident at Muc Wa.
- This post, right here.
- Another discussion of Fire in the Lake and, in particular, its tutorial scenario. The focus is on the connection between card-driven game events and calendar dates.
- The 1984 Victory Games title Vietnam 1965-1975 is, arguably, the grandfather of all current strategic treatments of the Vietnam War in gaming.
- Switching the focus back to computer games, I play one of The Operational Art of War‘s large implementations of the Vietnam War, the scenario Vietnam 1965-1968.
- Some discussion of the development path that may have lead from Vietnam 1965-1975 to Fire in the Lake. Specifically, I talk about the elimination of the tactics of operations at one end of the scale and the grand strategic and political decisions at the other.
- More Operational Art of War, looking at pair of scenarios, one scaling up and one scaling down from my previous go at it.
- Switching gears to look at a First Person Shooter treatment of the War in Vietnam.
- For another first-person treatment of sorts, the flight simulator IL-2 takes on Vietnam as well. Some early-war missions involved close air support using A-1 Skyraiders.
- Continuing with the air war, a CMANO scenario takes on Operation Spring High, a retaliatory strike against a pair of SAM sites that had successfully downed an American F-4.
- Like post #13, this one focuses on Operation Starlite within the bigger picture as we move on Volume 2 of the Vietnam 1965 Combat Operations set of scenarios in The Operational Art of War.
- Digging down to a lower level, we look at Starlite in finer detail (but with less historical precision) through scenarios in Steel Panthers and Men of Valor. So as not to lose touch, I’ve accompanied this all with a read through of a Marine Corps historical pamphlet.
- At last, I come around again to the fighting in the Ia Drang Valley that I was looking at up in post #4. In this case, I’m looking at Operation Silver Bayonet from the operational level in The Operational Art of War and Vietnam ’65.
- While the fighting in Ia Drang Valley would come to dominate Hollywood’s view of November, 1965, there were significant operations ongoing further south. Operation Hump also resulted in heavy fighting with dozens of U.S. casualties.
- Also near Saigon, Operation Road Runner put a U.S. mixed-force battalion in the path of a Viet Cong ambush near the hamlet of Bau Bang.
- While on a roll with Squad Battles: Vietnam, I go back to the Operation Starlite scenario included with that package.
- Once again returning to the We Were Soldiers subject matter, I look at a handful of tactical scenarios taking on the subject.
- The next post gives a brief nod to a pair of booklets published by the U.S. Army summarizing the Vietnam War’s big picture.
- I then double back to Operation Starlite and, much like the commander at the time, make a second attempt at taking Hill 43, this time with a historically-accurate order of battle.
- One more look at the The Operational Art of War and a scenario that attempts to capture the entire conflict at a strategic level.
- Wrapping up my articles which cover the fighting in We Were Soldiers, I look at both Steel Panthers and Squad Battles:Tour of Duty for their scenarios covering LZ Albany.
- The U.S. Army also has published series of full-length books on their experience in Vietnam. I look at the one covering 1965-1966.
- On to Operation Harvest Moon and a pair of tactical scenarios, one from Steel Panthers and one from Squad Battles: Vietnam.
- Operation Masher (renamed White Wing) was another 1st Cavalry Operation modeled in the original Operational Art of War scenario package. I discuss that and two other portrayals of this fight.
- A Wall St. Journal editorial talks about how the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War may have saved Southeast Asia.
- While Operation Masher/White Wing had some attempts to effectively simulate the battle, I had no equivalent scenarios for the fighting in the South. Instead, I look at some purely hypothetical scenarios in two of the games that we know well.
- Immediately following the end of Operation Double Eagle (the Marine Corps operation that accompanied White Wing, Marines launched Operation Utah in an attempt to destroy the 21st PAVN Regiment near the village of Chau Nhai.
- I make particular note of the crossing from one timeline to another. This leads into Operation Jay and the attempt to locate insurgent units near the DMZ between North and South Vietnam.
- We also cross from one scenario into another, in the Vietnam Combat Operations series. Volume 4 picks up where Operation Jay left off with Operation Hastings, which is also depicted in Squad Battles: Vietnam.
- At this point, I depart a bit from the chronological organization of my post to read Phantom Warriors: Book I: LRRPs, LRPs, and Rangers in Vietnam. The book covers stories of individual missions by Army special-forces units scattered through the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- Chronologically between articles number 36 and 37, Operation Davy Crockett took place in the same region as Operation White Wing. The 1st Cavalry returned to the Bong Son Valley after operating further west to again chase down enemies in the area.
- In June, the 1st Cavalry was back near the coast to support a rapidly-expanding operation called Nathan Hale. I discuss a scenario format where a battle is broken up into six separate scenarios over nearly as many days.
- In August, the Australian base at Nui Dat came under artillery attack and resulted in a major engagement between forces of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) and the Viet Cong’s 5th Division. The Australian contribution to the War in Vietnam is often overlooked in favor of the American experience.
- With another book that departs from the chronological narrative, I read an explanation of the how and why the Vietnam War escalated despite the desire of those responsible to avoid just that.
- Another Squad Battles scenario is set in August of 1966. This one is a user-made scenario which seems to propose a hypothetical fight between similar forces to those engaged at the Battle of Long Tan (see 42).
- Fire in the Lake, once again, provides for a discussion of the simplification of the Vietnam War into a game of blocks and cards.
- I finally watched Good Morning, Vietnam, decades after it came out. This followed upon consuming some other Vietnam-related entertainment.
- Moving forward into another booklet in the Campaigns of the Vietnam War series, the combination of the reading, the Vietnam Combat Operations scenarios, and Squad Battles: Vietnam is used to look at the larger issue of victory versus defeat for America in Vietnam.
- The book The Boys of ’67: Charlie Company’s War in Vietnam begins with the drafting of a new unit in Spring of 1966, follows their tour of duty through 1967, and discusses what has become of the survivors after their war ended.
- Squad Battles: Tour of Duty introduced a new Campaign mode, which I didn’t like at the time. I still don’t care for it.
- The documentary film The Fog of War covers ground I’ve trodden before. Namely the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam escalation and what went right and wrong with the two. This time, we hear it first hand from Robert McNamara.
- The second chapter in Seven Firefights in Vietnam details the U.S. reaction to a November, 1966 ambush on Highway 1, just east of Saigon. Scenarios in Squad Battles and Steel Panthers reproduce the fight.
- Two significant battles occurred during Operation Atlanta. After the previous ambush, a second convoy ambush and U.S. response occurred in December, 1966. This is detailed in the book Mounted Combat in Vietnam: Vietnam Studies and has a Squad Battles: Tour of Duty scenario. I read and I play.
- Netflix’s streaming shuffle occasioned a re-watch of the film Platoon, which I had seen in a long, long time. My feelings on it have changed a bit.
- A Squad Battles: Vietnam scenario supposes a hypothetical encounter that didn’t take place during Operation Cedar Falls in January, 1967.
- Rescue Dawn is a dramatization of the real life escape of a pilot from a prisoner-of-war camp in Laos.
- Thinking its time we look at a different game, I picked up Radio Commander and give the first few scenarios a try.
- The transition from 1966 to 1967 takes place as I transition from 2019 to 2020. The combination of TOAW and Squad Battles: Vietnam is used to explore a Marine fight which took place in January.
- I played another Radio Commander scenario from the campaign game, this time taking place in the fall of 1966. In it, I discuss the different lethality of support fire in the various games and where it feels most correct. This also catches Radio Commander up with 1967 and my other scenarios.
- Yet another comparative play with four different scenarios covering one battle. Today, Operation Junction City.
- A user-made scenario creates some extra content for the Marines near the Laos and North Vietnam borders. It also scales down unit side so that counters represent fire teams rather than squads.
- In contrast to that one, Squad Battles: Vietnam presents a historically-based series of scenarios taking place in the hills overlooking Khe Sahn.
- A user-made scenario presents an opportunity to use a variation of support to defend against an hypothetical NVA attack.
- Among several items that I finished in mid-March was Volume 5 of the Vietnam Combat Operations scenarios. I use the occasion to think about the modeling of asymmetric warfare.
- In an accidental tribute to the anniversary of the battle, I watched Hamburger Hill.
- I tried to watch Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War. I made it part of the way through.
- I did watch Danger Close and fully enjoyed doing so.
In addition to the post, I also created a new timeline. My goal with this was two-fold. First, the way I’ve organized my two Cold War timelines, I’ve split the war into two parts. That split doesn’t divide the war evenly or even logically*. A single timeline helps one to see the continuity of the 10+ year period from 1963 or so through 1975.
Second, I needed help organizing all of the scenarios. More than any era that I’ve looked at so far, the Vietnam War has dozens of scenarios from a whole bunch of different games, all scattered across the war’s timeline. It became impossible for me to remember what game to look at to find the next applicable scenario in chronological order. Sorting them all out on the timeline means I can discover various games haphazardly, stick them in their place, and then come back later and see them in the bigger picture.
*As I’ve explained elsewhere, the break in the Cold War timeline was done where it is for two reasons. First, there is a shift in weapons systems between the the more experimental pre-1966 and the structured post-1966 when it comes to American designs. Secondly, at the time I conceived of creating a second timeline, I decided start anew 50 years from the date that I did it.