An NLF Commander Reports
NLF Point of View
I was the NLF commander in a recently completed Vietnam: 1965-1975 campaign game, as Mark D’s opponent. Fortunately, my troops came crashing into Ho Chi Minh city to end this war in the Spring of 1972…
Developing a strategy for playing this game as the NLF can be difficult. Since they won historically, there is a tendency to do what they did but that’s not necessarily a good idea since the Allies will most likely be expecting that & will have their own strategy primed to defeat it. But going with something different risks ignominious defeat as there is likely some reason your “good” ideas weren’t followed by the real NLF!
What I eventually decided to do was to follow a much more passive path than the NLF had historically. I would try to maintain & build up my armies & replacement points, using them to get population shifts, while forcing the Allies to come after me. Historically, the NLF launched repeated offensives which were devastating to Allied morale but also led to massive NLF losses & gave the Allies breathing space to recover their population levels. I wanted to maintain an army for the entire game, keeping a constant downward pressure on the population, while forcing the Allies to come after me. And I wanted to be able to keep units in heavy terrain, in Hold status if I could, to force maximum losses when they did. As his population slipped away he would be forced to attack me & the extra units he’d have to buy & the replacement points he would lose would somewhat offset the morale points he wouldn’t lose to offensives. The I-go, You-go, I-go sequence of the game was a big help here since it would allow me to run units out of the mountains down into the rice paddies at the end of a season where possible & then run them right back out again at the start of the next season. I also wanted to concentrate my “population offensive” on individual provinces, rather than spread out & diffuse the effect. It’s much better to run a few provinces down to 0- than it is to try to get a lot of them down to the mid-range. Once they’re at 0-, they tend to stay there & then the units can be moved to another province to start degrading the population there. So eventually, the map will be checkerboarded with provinces at 0- & others at the maximum with a few “battleground” provinces which are flooded with NLF units & which are headed for 0-. Lastly, I positioned as many VC battalions adjacent to roads as I could, putting them into “Patrol” where possible to keep the Allies from being able fully to use their advantage of mobility.
Mark made a couple of mistakes that tended to play into my strategy but they are both mistakes I had made myself in my previous attempts to play this game. As he noted in his review, he overlooked the importance of sending economic aid to SVN in the early going to drive their morale up. This would have put him on a better column of the population chart & greatly slowed the shifts of population, although at a cost in commitment. He also degraded the effectiveness of the ARVN, using them as cannon fodder for American attacks, something else I’ve tended to do myself in my attempts at playing this game. I think there’s a tendency to disbelieve that you’ll ever get to the point of American withdrawal, since the game is so long, & so you tend to ignore what the ARVN will be like in 1970 because who expects to still be playing then? On the other hand, I have to give him a lot of credit for hanging on so long. The game looked to be over in 1970 with the Americans leaving & the ARVN down to a handful of replacements while several divisions worth of NVA & a big stack of artillery moved inexorably down the coast. But he found a way to slow us down & made it to 1972 & was even picking up population at the end! He ran his search & destroy operations very effectively & was usually able to kill what he went after, or at least make us pay in replacement points. I think the only really important error he made was the one he mentioned about leaving IV Corps after having pacified it. At the end of that turn, with the Corps area flooded with Allied units & with only a scant few VC hiding in the weeds, I was pretty depressed since I foresaw a war that could last till 1975. It would be hard to put any NLF units into IV Corps with all that Allied strength there & the population would gradually shift back to him over time. Had he stayed there, even for a year or so, things could have turned out differently since the NLF would have been almost forced to come out of the hills & start confronting him for territory & I might have had to start the big offensives I was trying to avoid. But instead Mark transferred most of the units out of IV Corps to battlefields in the north & the VC came back right away. Of course, this is what the Americans did historically, at least early in this war–not to mention early in the Iraq War(!), so he had some good company in doing it!
The political rules didn’t play much of a role in our game. SVN was lucky to have few coups & mostly decent leaders. They had the “?” guy for a long time & followed him with Big Minh & Bao Dai. His commanders were very loyal &, in fact, at the end of the game, it would have required a roll of box cars to have a coup. But he was greatly hampered by the utter incompetence of his Chief of Staff. I think Mark did a very good job of moving his divisions around to keep the incompetent commanders in military backwaters or in areas where they could defend in place while the good commanders could attack the bad guys. He always seemed to have lots of ARVN units to throw at us no matter where we were. But his Chief of Staff was a millstone that helped to thwart all of the best efforts of the ARVN.
One thing I disagree with in Mark’s after-action report is about the ARVN Rangers. Even though they’re expensive, I think they’re worthwhile. The +2 movement across the border was a big annoyance throughout the game & definitely had an effect on NLF strategy. Without it, there would have likely been more units in IV Corps & more battles there as well.
I think we all had a good time & I’m already missing playing the game (Vietnam withdrawal!). Victory Games was one of the best game companies ever & this was one of their best games & it was a pleasure to have had the experience to have played it all the way through at least once. Thank you to Mark for suggesting it & to Ron, my co-general, for helping to lead our side to victory. Mark, count me in the next time you want to play it.