I recently read a statement, but I don’t remember where I read it. It referenced the often-used statement that “the internet never forgets,” generally used as a warning about posting things on social media. However, as explained, the internet does forget. For example, all that wonderful content archived for posterity on Geocities and Wargamer.com’s forum file storage is being lost to the ages, and more disappears each day.
Such attrition becomes apparent when re-installing old games like the Squad Battles series. As I discussed before, at the time it came out it looked (at least in part) like a contender for the Age of Rifle‘s space, a sandbox for tactical battles in World War II and beyond. HPS was often criticized of hindering modders in the service of not allowing the customers to turn into their competitors, but even still, Squad Battles was designed to be moddable. Particularly at the time of its release, the ability to expand the default scenario range was seen as a key to the success of a new game. A game like Squad Battles: Vietnam, perhaps because it was one of many variants and settings, would never have the range of user-made scenarios that the true sandbox games had. But it did get some.
Pursuing what looks like an approximately ten-years-old “unofficial” Squad Battles site, I found a listing of scenarios for the various versions of that series, including Squad Battles: Vietnam. I can’t speak to whether the listing of user-made scenarios is definitive, but from what I could tell it does cover a lot of the ground. The problem is that the links to where the scenarios were stored all those years ago are no longer functional. In some cases, there does not appear to be any alternate source for them. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, has copies of the files on their own computers, but they do not appear to be internet-accessible. The author of that site seems to have drawn this same conclusion around the time I did (perhaps even my digging through his site made him wonder what I was up to), and he posted, himself, about the problem. One can only hope that as he deletes references to dead links, we don’t lose even the record that such scenarios ever existed at all.
Now, for some of the scenarios referenced on his site he posted the downloadable version himself. I actually have a little bit of trouble accessing his files due to some combination of scripting, account credentials, and/or blocks on .zip files. I had actually started thinking, before I saw his post, that the files may no longer be there or just be inaccessible. In any case, I can’t get them. The plus side of this is when I try to get them and can’t, I realize that sometime (perhaps a year ago, perhaps longer) I made a monster download of a whole stack of scenarios including many of the non-Wargamer hosted files linked on the above pages. It always takes me a while to figure out where I’ve hidden away those downloads, but eventually I do and often find what I’m after. I honestly don’t remember where I got them in the first place, try as I might.
I drag you all through this history because, in between the two Steel Panthers scenarios in the previous gaming post, I played another Australian scenario. There is a user-made scenario called ANZAC, Sweep which takes place the morning of August 16th, two days before the Battle of Long Tan. As near as I can tell, this is entirely hypothetical. The scenario uses a nearly-identical Australian order-of-battle as the real Battle of Long Tan, but on a non-historical map against a different enemy disposition. It is true that there were Australian patrols attempting to locate the VC position on August 16th, but I don’t believe that these two companies would have been working in tandem.
The scenario has the B and D Companies of the 6 RAR, supported by three M-113s and off-board artillery, attempting to locate a VC mortar position. This is essentially the real mission of D Company on the 18th, with B Company and the M-113s being the equivalent of A Company’s historical reinforcement effort. This jiggering of the historical situation has the advantage of being able to be played, despite the lack (at least, in Squad Battles: Vietnam) of a historical map, and without preconceived ideas of the nature of enemy forces.
My initial reaction upon starting the scenario was one of horror. As I said, I had downloaded the scenario from somewhere a year-or-so back and then installed the ANZAC, Sweep before playing. When it started up, I was unable to see any of my units. After some poking and prodding, I realized that the silhouettes my units were still there, but the background (the tan square background of the “counters”) was not. I fiddled with the settings, to no avail, before finally finding a highlighting option that worked. Sort of. The unit counters were highlighted in a kind of pink which made them easy enough to spot on the map but also three-times as ugly. So ugly, in fact, that I began digging through the installation on my own hoping to find some way around this mess. Because, clearly, the person who created this scenario had not intended it to look this way.
Eventually, I found a solution. I’ve said before, but it bears repeating, the program is remarkable modable. It can be extended to include entirely new nationalities, such as these Australians, absent from the original package. It also happens that the Australians are part of the base package for Squad Battles: Tour of Duty. The solution was as simple as copying the support for Australian counters out of Tour of Duty and pasting it into the right place in Vietnam. The result, having nicely colored units advancing against an enemy mortar position, is pictured above.
I assume that when this scenario was first posted, somewhere there was an ANZAC mod, upon which the scenario depends. Whether that came out before or after the Tour of Duty release, I won’t begin to speculate. What I will say is the mod almost certainly had more to it than just the background color of counters. For example, still missing from my game are the nationality-specific sounds that accompany actions such as rallying the troops. Honestly, some of these sounds can get a tediously repetitive, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on much. I felt that way up until I actually played an Australian scenario in Tour of Duty. The Australian voice acting is, shall we say, considerably more colorful than that of the Americans. I quite enjoyed it, although one of the commands sounds a little more like a Schwarzenegger line than an Aussie. Did someone mix up Austrian and Australian*?
As I said above, I question the authenticity of this scenario. It looks to me that it used a hypothetical encounter to approximate the actual Battle of Long Tan, using the “hypothetical” part to free the scenario from trying to simulate that which it couldn’t. Obviously, using the Squad Battle: Vietnam maps, the terrain isn’t going to be right. Likewise, this gets you around the problem we saw in the Steel Panthers version. The Steel Panthers scenario doesn’t last long enough for the M-113s to be a factor at Long Tan but, since this one is hypothetical, we can just assumes that M-113s are already on the battlefield even before contact is made.
Another plus for this scenario, as I happily highlight in the above screenshot, is the availability of artillery support. The scenario starts with the brigade closing in on a, first suspected and then identified, enemy mortar emplacement. Doctrine of the time would likely have given that brigade artillery support which, upon located the enemy position, would have been called in. So often the historical use of artillery is removed from Squad Battles scenarios. Possibly the reason is because it throws off the balance for most any scenario, I don’t know. Including it here makes for a nice change of pace.
There is a twist to the scenario which keeps it all quite interesting. I’ll not dwell on the details except to suggest that this, too, is a proxy for the situation at Long Tan. Let’s just say ANZAC, Sweep makes for a decent Squad Battles scenario by my metrics. Hopefully we haven’t lost too many similarly-decent scenarios into the fading internet of yesteryear.
*That’s a joke. It just sounds a little like Arnold. I don’t really believe that an Arnold voice (or an Austrian voice) was used in this game.