Vietnam: 1965-1975 – SVN Politics (How-To)


Discussion of South Vietnamese Politics in Victory Games

Vietnam: 1965-1975

Vietnam Board Game Review


Overview

Besides providing a thoroughly engaging operational and grand operational war game experience, Victory Games’ definitive Vietnam War board game, Vietnam: 1965-1975, also exposes a political dimension. In addition to having responsibility for all tactical and operational decisions, the US/ARVN player must make decisions that I believe would be considered above a theater commander’s pay grade.

  • Strategic bombing of North Vietnam? (remember Lyndon Johnson poring over the maps so he could approve or disapprove each and every bombing target?)
  • Commitment of additional US combat divisions? (certainly a top-level decision as worldwide troop deployments may be affected)
  • Creation of the infamous (but never constructed) “McNamara Line”? (that hare-brained scheme had to come from a politician…)
  • Supporting or instigating a Coup? (You’d hope that a civilian leader would make that kind of decision)

These decisions are implemented, by the US player, via the expenditure of US Commitment Points, and he is in complete control of the decision to spend (or not spend) those points. The NLF player also decides how much emphasis to place on guerilla vs conventional operations, how much commitment to spend building air defenses, etc. One thing is common to both players: you can’t blame “the politicians back home” if things start going sour! You are the military commander and you are the politicians. Just a small part of what makes this such a great game. US and NLF politics are abstractly represented by the setting of priorities and the allocation of commitment points to achieve objectives.

South Vietnamese politics, on the other hand, are a bit less abstract but also a bit further beyond the American player’s direct control. I say “less abstract” because there are physical units that represent national leadership as well as Division and Corps Commanders. The loyalty and effectiveness of these leader units has a direct impact on combat operations during the game turn. I say “further beyond the American player’s direct control” because the leaders are chosen at random, and his ability to replace a poor leader can be nullified by an unfortunate roll of the dice. Therefore, it is important to have a good handle on management of the initial ARVN combat unit placement process and initial leader selections, since the consequences are far-reaching, and there is no “do over” allowed. Decisions made in 1965 can and will haunt you all the way to 1975. If you last that long.

This article discusses game mechanics for simulating South Vietnamese (SVN) politics and provides a few strategy tips for managing SVN Leaders and placement of ARVN combat units. It also assumes that you are somewhat familiar with the operational mechanics of the game.


South Vietnamese Politics

Leaders

At the start of either of the Campaign Scenarios, a SVN three-star leader is picked at random. The three-star represents SVN national leadership. The chosen leader may cause Morale adjustments for SVN and (possibly) the United States. Next, seven two-star leaders are chosen at random to fill the billets of Chief of Staff, Air Force, Navy, I Corps, II Corps, III Corps, and IV Corps commanders. The four Corps commanders and Chief of Staff actually “command” troops, while the Air Force and Navy commanders are relevant only for Coup determination purposes.

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The counter mix contains a total of 13 Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) divisions that may be built and deployed on the map during the game. Each division that is deployed must have a one-star leader assigned to command it. The one-star leader is subordinate to the two-star Corps commander that controls the Corps in which the division’s HQ is placed. Therefore two-star leaders indirectly control ARVN divisions through their division commander, and directly control all non-divisional ARVN units (e.g. independent infantry and mech battalions) in their Corps area.

The Chief of Staff is a special two-star leader that functions as Corps commander for the Saigon/Gia Dinh special corps zone, and thus indirectly controls any ARVN division whose HQ is located in that zone. In addition, the Chief of Staff directly controls:

  • All non-divisional ARVN units in Saigon/Gia Dinh special corps zone.
  • All independent ARVN artillery on the map.
  • The Marine Division, regardless of location.
  • The Parachute Division, regardless of location.
These special command capabilities make the Chief of Staff the most important two-star in the game. If you get stuck with an incompetent Chief of Staff, and can’t get rid of him, it’s going to be a long, hard road for you, unlucky ARVN player…

Leader Effectiveness and Faction

Every one-star and two-star leader in the game has two pieces of information on its counter: Effectiveness Rating, which is a positive or negative number (or zero), and a Faction letter (either A, B, or C).

The higher the Effectiveness Rating, the better the leader, and the greater the odds that troops under his command will be effective combat units. Leaders with negative numbers are particularly incompetent and will likely render useless all units under their command.

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Once per Season, all SVN combat units are subject to an Effectiveness check, which may leave them “effective” and capable of conducting normal combat operations or “ineffective” and practically useless for anything other than static garrison duty. To check effectiveness, one die is rolled for all units (i.e. not one per division/formation), and the following checks are made:

  • If the die roll is less than or equal to the sum of the Division (one-star) commander’s and superior Corps (two-star) commander’s Effectiveness Ratings, the division is considered “effective” for the upcoming Season. Otherwise, the Division is rendered “ineffective”. For example, assume the 25th ARVN Division’s HQ is located in I Corps, the Division commander’s Effectiveness Rating is -2 and the I Corps commander’s Effectiveness Rating is 4, the die roll would have to be 2 or less for the 25th to be “effective”.
  • If the die roll is less than or equal to a Corps (two-star) commander’s rating plus 3, all units under his direct command (i.e. non-divisional units in his Corps zone) are “effective”. Otherwise they’re “ineffective”.
If there has been a Coup during the current Season, +2 is added to the Effectiveness die roll, thus making it harder for units to be Effective. If there has not been a Coup, but the SVN government is “Unstable”, then +1 is added.

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So, you can see the importance of the Chief of Staff in these calculations. You’re bound to have one or two divisions placed in or near Saigon, which is in the Chief of Staff’s Saigon/Gia Dinh Special Corp Zone. If his Effectiveness Rating is low, those divisions will likely end up “ineffective”, as will the Marine and Parachute divisions… and all the independent artillery. It’s a crippling handicap the US/ARVN player must focus on, should he have the bad fortune to land in this situation.

Ineffective units are ineligible for all operations except Strategic Movement, and even that is restricted. Such units utilizing Strategic Movement may not enter any hex containing a national or Corps boundary, and they must end movement in a town, city, major city, or cultivated hex. They defend normally and retain their zones of control. Essentially they’re reduced to garrison units.

The other data point on the leader unit is the Faction identifier (A, B or C). These letter designations represent the various factions within the SVN government (Army, Air Force, Catholic, Buddhist, Intelligence, Police, etc). The loyalties of leaders in the same faction tend to move in tandem. Once each Season, a roll is made on the SVN Leader Loyalty Table. The loyalty of one or more factions may be shifted up or down, depending on the result of this roll.

Leader Loyalty

The final Leader attribute that needs to be mentioned is Loyalty which, for game purposes, means loyalty to the current three-star Leader. Loyalty is not a value on the leader’s counter but is demonstrated by the leader’s position on the loyalty track. The leader display contains a column for each two-star leader and one-star leader. Each leader may have a loyalty value of 5 to 13, with 5 being the least loyal and 13 being the most loyal. It’s important to note that there is no correlation between a leader’s Effectiveness Rating and his loyalty. Competent leaders may be of doubtful loyalty, or blatantly disloyal, while criminally incompetent leaders may be loyal as hell (or vice-versa).

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The American/ARVN player may attempt to replace any leader (one- or two-star) if the conditions are right. The player must attempt to replace any leader whose loyalty is 5 or 6. He may attempt to replace leaders with loyalty of 7 or 8. However, any leader whose loyalty is 9 or higher is completely untouchable. This simulates the fact that loyalty to the South Vietnamese regime was prized, and rewarded, far more than competence.

The American player’s worst nightmare is an ARVN Chief of Staff with an Effectiveness Rating of -3 and a loyalty of 13…

Leader Replacement, Coups, and Instability

Each Season the political stability of the SVN government is evaluated. The US/ARVN player may attempt to replace SVN two-star and one-star leaders, then a Coup Determination check is made. The end result could be Coup, Instability or (relative) Stability. Obviously, anything other than Stability is bad for US and South Vietnamese Morale

However, certain 3-star leaders are worse for SVN Morale than others (based on the morale modifiers on the three-star unit itself) so it might be beneficial, over the long term, to incur a -8 SVN Morale penalty for a Coup and recoup that loss (and then some) by elevating a different three-star leader to power.

For example, three-star leader “Thieu” causes a -3 SVN Morale modifier each Season. Since there are four Seasons in each game year, that’s a total of -12 SVN Morale per year. A Coup, which results in “Minh” assuming the three-star position will only inflict a -1 SVN Morale penalty each Season for a total of -4 SVN Morale per year. In this example, the -8 SVN Morale penalty for the occurrence of a Coup will be paid back in one year (the SVN Morale penalty savings between “Thieu” and “Minh”). Of course, when there’s a Coup, you can’t guarantee which leader will emerge victorious. In this example, it’s possible that “Thieu” could actually come out on top and remain as the three-star leader, since the deposed leader is placed back into the three-star pool and selection of the new three-star leader is totally random.

Leader Replacement

As mentioned earlier, the US/ARVN player must attempt to replace leaders with loyalty level 5 or 6, may attempt to replace leaders with loyalty level 7 or 8, and may not attempt to replace leaders with loyalty level 9 or higher.

Two dice are rolled, with the following results:

  • 2 – 6 = Leader is replaced.
  • 7 – 8 = Leader remains but his loyalty level is reduced by 1.
  • 9 – 12 = Leader remains, loyalty level is reduced by 1, and all units under his command are marked as “ineffective” for the Season. Note that in the case of two-star leaders, all Divisions subordinate to the two-star are ineffective as well, and the two-star is automatically marked as Pro-Coup for the ensuing Coup Determination check.

While things can backfire badly when trying to replace leaders (particularly two-star leaders), nothing is worse for the war effort than “ineffective” ARVN divisions, so don’t hesitate to try to replace those leaders that need replacing.

Coup Determination and Instability

The Coup Determination process is simple. Two dice are rolled and compared to the loyalties of each two-star leader. If the roll total is below a leader’s loyalty level, he is considered Loyal. If it is even with his loyalty level, he is considered to be Wavering. If, however, the roll total is greater than his loyalty rating, he identified as Pro-Coup.

  • If the total number of Pro-Coup leaders is greater than the total of Loyal leaders, the Coup succeeds. US Morale is reduced by -3, SVN Morale is reduced by -8, a new three-star leader is chosen, and the loyalty level of all Loyal two-star leaders is reduced by 1 (penalty for being on the losing side).
  • If the number of Pro-Coup and Wavering leaders equals, or exceeds, the number of Loyal leaders, the SVN government is considered Unstable. US Morale is reduced by -1, SVN Morale is reduced by -3, and the loyalty level of ALL two-star and one-star leaders is reduced by 1 (nobody’s happy).
  • If there are more Loyal leaders than Wavering and Pro-Coup leaders the government is Stable. The loyalty level of Pro-Coup leaders is reduced by 1 (more loser punishment).
Author’s Note: The US player has the option of instigating a Coup, and increasing the likelihood of its success. Initially I felt that there was insufficient incentive for the US player to want to induce a Coup but, as I will briefly discuss later, there are circumstances that justify the risk.

Leader Placement

At the start of the Campaign scenarios, the US player randomly draws a three-star leader, 7 two-star leaders, and 1 one-star leader for each ARVN division that was created in the immediately preceding segment. For each leader, he determines the starting loyalty level by rolling two dice and adding +2 to the dice total. For the rest of the game when a new leader is placed, either as a replacement or to command a newly formed ARVN division, the same process if followed except that +3 is added to the dice. (why the +2 in one case and +3 in the other? I haven’t been able to formulate a theory for that one…)


Example of Play

Let’s step through the first part of a Politics Phase (which is part of the Seasonal Interphase that occurs four times a year). We’ll assume that all ARVN divisions are deployed on the map and therefore all have a leader assigned. Note that I actually went through the process of randomly selecting these leaders and placing them on the SVN Leader Display according to die rolls (Loyalty level = sum of two dice + 2). Let’s say it’s the Seasonal Interphase of Summer 1968, which means that we’re just starting the Summer turn.

SVN Officer Replacement Segment

Reviewing the one-star leaders on the SVN Loyalty Display, we see a mix of Factions, Effectiveness Ratings and Loyalty levels. The first thing I notice is that there are three one-stars that I must attempt to replace (the 3rd, 23rd and Marine division leaders). It will break my heart to replace the 3rd Division commander, with his excellent Effectiveness rating of 4, but I must make the attempt. The heartbreak will be offset by the happiness I’ll get if I can replace the Marine commander (-3) with someone better.

(See the “Leader Replacement” section, above, for the replacement results associated with the roll of two dice)

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  • 3rd Division – Die rolls = 7; therefore he stays, but his loyalty is reduced by 1. I caught a break there…
  • 23rd Division – Die rolls = 5; the replacement attempt is successful, and I randomly pick an A(6) leader to replace him! The sum of two dice + 2 = 11, so that’s his initial starting position. I really lucked out on this one. Going from a B(0) leader to an A(6) leader should really light a fire under the 23rd ARVN.
  • Marine Division – Die rolls = 9; he stays, his loyalty is reduced by 1, and units under his command are automatically “ineffective” for the season. Well, his loyalty is already at rock bottom, so he can’t be reduced any further, but having the Marines automatically ineffective is a bummer, although having a leader with a -3 Effectiveness Rating almost guarantees that they’ll be ineffective every season until he is replaced.

Next, I have to decide if I want to try to replace the 7 and 8 loyalty leaders, i.e. the 18th, 21st and Paratrooper divisions. I decide to leave the 18th alone, since a 1 Effectiveness Rating is not the worst thing in the world. And I will keep the marginally loyal Paratrooper commander due to his outstanding 3 Effectiveness Rating. The 21st Division leader’s -1 Rating makes him a prime target for replacement and so I make the attempt. I roll a total of 5 on two dice, which means that the replacement attempt succeeds. Continuing on with my lucky streak, I draw an A(4) leader to replace him and roll up a starting loyalty level of 9. So far, so good.

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Moving along to the current crop of two-star leaders. With the exception of the I Corps leader and the Chief of Staff, things don’t look too bad. Keep in mind that if you attempt to replace a two-star leader and fail, you could end up with a “triple-whammy”:

  • 1 – All ARVN units under the direct command of the two-star are automatically “ineffective”.
  • 2 – All ARVN Divisions subordinate to the two-star are automatically “ineffective”.
  • 3 – The two-star leader’s loyalty is reduced by 1 and he becomes automatically Pro-Coup for the coming Coup Determination.

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First we handle what we must: the Chief of Staff must undergo a replacement attempt due to his loyalty rating (or lack thereof). Two dice are rolled and the total is 6, which indicates a successful replacement attempt. The two-star being replaced is added back into the mix of available two-stars and a new Chief of Staff is randomly picked. My lucky streak must be waning, because I pull the exact same A(-1) leader! I roll two dice and add +2 to land him in his new Loyalty slot of 7. Fortunately, he’s still in the Loyalty range where I can attempt to replace him again next season.

I’d love to be able to replace the I Corps commander, but he’s so loyal he’s untouchable. I’ll just have to work around him as best I can.

The II Corps and Navy leaders are in the 7-8 loyalty range which means that I may attempt to replace them if I choose. I decide not to try to replace the II Corps commander for several reasons:

  • Some of my best Division commanders, the 23rd and 25th, are subordinate to the II Corps commander. Their Effectiveness Ratings are high enough that they may offset the lousy rating of their Corps commander. At least there’s a chance, so I’ll not risk rocking the boat.
  • If I try to replace him and fail, he may become Pro-Coup automatically, all subordinate units become ineffective, etc., etc. I’ll take my chances that his subordinate ARVN Division commanders will prove effective enough.

The Navy leader is a different story. He does not command any troops, and any attempt to replace him may end up making him Pro-Coup. So, there’s normally very little upside in attempting a replacement. However, in this case, the +3 Effectiveness Rating makes this B Faction leader one of the best two-stars in the counter-mix (you’ve got to know your counter-mix!). It would be awesome to free him up to command troops and let some turkey command the Navy. So, I go for it.

It’s official now: my mojo is totally gone. I rolled a 12, which means the replacement attempt fails, the Navy leader’s loyalty is reduced by 1, and he is automatically Pro-Coup for the upcoming Coup Determination. The unit is rotated so that the “top” of the counter is pointing towards “PRO-COUP”. Now completely ineffective (me, I mean), I wrap up the Leader Replacement segment.

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Coup Determination Segment

Only the two-star leaders are considered during this segment. Two dice are rolled and the total is compared with the loyalty level of each two-star leader. If the total is greater than his loyalty, the leader is designated Pro-Coup (rotate the counter toward PRO-COUP). If the total is equal to his loyalty, he is Wavering (rotate the counter towards WAVERING). If the roll is less than his loyalty, he is Loyal to the current regime.

The only wild-card in this otherwise simple process is that the US player is allowed to attempt to induce a Coup, by declaring so, and then adding +2 to the Coup Determination dice roll, above. A failed attempt to induce a Coup inflicts a Morale penalty on the South Vietnamese. If the Coup succeeds, or the SVN government becomes Unstable, there is a Morale penalty for both the US and SVN. So why on earth, you may ask, would the US player ever attempt to induce a Coup? At first glance, it seems to have no up-side for the US/ARVN player. Let’s take a brief detour to examine this option.

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One of the most difficult tasks for the US player is keeping South Vietnamese Morale from sagging. High SVN Morale makes Pacification easier, which in turn provides more recruits for the ARVN. And a strong ARVN is the key to survival and victory after US troops withdraw. Keeping this in mind, note that every three-star leader displays two numbers. The number to the left of the slash is the seasonal modifier to SVN Morale. The number to the right of the slash is the seasonal modifier to US Morale. So, a seasonal modifier of -3 adds up to a total of -12 per year. As you can see by looking at all five of the potential three-star leaders, four of them inflict a negative modifier on the South Vietnamese, as much as -12 per year. It would cost the US 12 Commitment points, in the form of Economic Aid, to lift SVN Morale 12 points. For 12 US Commitment, the US player can buy an entire US Army or Marine Division, with a bit of supporting artillery to boot. I’m just trying to give you some perspective on the actual cost of having a three-star leader that hurts SVN Morale.

So, the ascension to power of the ? three-star leader would provide a +1 each season to SVN Morale and would have no effect (0) on US Morale. If you’re currently saddled with a three-star that sports a -3 SVN Morale modifier, it might be worth supporting the Coup.

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Back to the Coup Determination segment, two dice are rolled and the result is 7. That converts the II Corps commander and the Chief of Staff to “Wavering”. The Navy commander is already Pro-Coup (from the Leader Replacement Segment). The total of Loyal leaders is greater than the total of Pro-Coup and Wavering leaders so the South Vietnamese government is “Stable”. Coups and Instability wreak havoc on the effectiveness of ARVN combat units, so be grateful for the Stability… but don’t get used to it.

SVN Morale Adjustment Segment (abbreviated)

There are many factors that affect SVN Morale (see the Morale Charts on the back of the rule book). But, for purposes of this article, we’re only concerned with the influence SVN Morale has on Leader Loyalty. At this point, the current three-star leaders SVN Morale adjustment number (on the left side of the slash) is applied to SVN Morale along with all other modifications. Some stiff penalties are applied for Coups (-8), Instability (-3) and US unsuccessfully attempting to induce a Coup (-3).

After adjusting as required, check the current SVN Morale to determine which column of the Leader Loyalty Table will be used (see the graphic of the Leader Loyalty Table, earlier in the article). Let’s say that our SVN Morale is currently 115. We’ll therefore be using the middle column (70 to 119). A roll of 6 dictates that all leaders of the “A” Faction have their loyalty reduced by 1. This applies to all one-star and two-star leaders.

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The Chief of Staff is the sole two-star leader affected by the loyalty shift. Since we’re anxious to replace him anyway, it’s not a bad thing that his Loyalty level drops below 6. Now we have to try and get rid of him!

The one-star leaders, however, are broadly affected as five of them have their loyalty reduced. The only one to fret about is the Paratroop commander who has now dropped below 7 loyalty. Next season we must try to replace him. Aside from the normal disruption that replacement attempts may cause, the Paratroop leader has an excellent Effectiveness Rating and his loss (if he is successfully replaced) will be felt on the battlefield.

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US Morale Adjustment Segment (abbreviated)

The only US Morale-adjusting items relevant to our discussion here are: Coup (-3), SVN Government Unstable (-1), and three-star leader (right side of slash). Granted, these are small adjustments, but they’re another tick in the “countdown to withdrawal” clock, and they add up quickly.

ARVN Effectiveness Determination Segment

With the exception of the Pacification Phase, this segment is the probably the most important. If Pacification is the culmination of all the military efforts of the preceding season, then ARVN Effectiveness is the consequence of all the political efforts of the prior season and the season just starting. Everything is riding on the roll of a single die (not one per formation). For two-star leaders, if the die roll is less than or equal to his Effectiveness Rating plus 3, then all units under his direct command are “effective”, otherwise they’re “ineffective”. For one-star leaders, if the roll is less than or equal to the total of his Effectiveness Rating plus the Rating of his superior two-star, then all units in the Division are “effective”. So you want a low roll…

If there had been a Coup or Instability in the SVN government during the preceding phases, there would be penalities to this die roll (+2 for Coup, +1 for Instability). But fortunately we don’t have any of that this Season, so we may proceed with an unmodified roll.


My roll is a 2, which is pretty darn good. Let’s quickly review the status of the two-star leaders:

  • I Corps Leader – INEFFECTIVE (-2 + 3 = -1, which is less than 2)
  • II Corps Leader – Effective (-1 + 3 = 2)
  • II Corps Leader – Effective (1 + 3 = 4)
  • IV Corps Leader – Effective (4 + 3 = 7)
  • Chief of Staff – Effective (-1 + 3 = 2; amazingly, he passes the check)
  • Navy and Air Force Leaders – (Don’t even check because they don’t command troops)

Next, let’s check the one-star leaders (I’m assigning them to Corps commanders for purposes of this example):

  • 1st Division Leader – I Corps – INEFFECTIVE (3 + -2 = 1, which is less than 2)
  • 2nd Division Leader – I Corps – INEFFECTIVE (3 + -2 = 1)
  • 3rd Division Leader – I Corps – Effective (4 + -2 = 2)
  • 5th Division Leader – I Corps – INEFFECTIVE (2 + -2 = 0)
  • 7th Division Leader – II Corps – INEFFECTIVE (2 + -1 = 1)
  • 9th Division Leader – II Corps – INEFFECTIVE (1 + -1 = 0)
  • 18th Division Leader – III Corps – Effective (1 + 1 = 2)
  • 21st Division Leader – III Corps – Effective (4 + 1 = 5)
  • 22nd Division Leader – IV Corps – Effective (0 + 4 = 4)
  • 23rd Division Leader – II Corps – Effective (6 + -1 = 5)
  • 25rd Division Leader – II Corps – Effective (4 + -1 = 3)
  • Marine Division Leader – Chief of Staff – INEFFECTIVE (automatic due to failed replacement attempt)
  • Parachute Division – Chief of Staff – Effective (3 + -1 = 2)

As you can tell, it’s difficult to field a fully effective ARVN. This season (which really was better than average), we have only one Corps commander ineffective, but nearly 50% of the Divisions are ineffective. The big bonus in all this is the fact that the Chief of Staff miraculously retained his effectiveness. All the independent artillery, representing a significant portion of total ARVN firepower, will be effective and available for offensive use.


Strategy Tips

Although it’s my firm belief that there are no hard and fast strategy rules in Vietnam: 1965-1975, due to the prodigious number of options available to the players, but there certainly are some “rules of thumb” that I’ve discovered over the years. I’ll also include some statistics that I have found useful and some that I haven’t yet found any practical application for (but maybe you will).

Initial ARVN Placement

At the start of the Campaign Game, after placing the 3rd and 4th US Marine regiments in Danang, the US/ARVN player is given 100 SVN Supply points with which to buy ARVN units. Two-star and one-star leaders are not selected until after ARVN unit placement. At this stage, you have no idea what the 7 two-star leaders will look like, so it’s best to purchase only independent ARVN battalions and place them on cities and provincial capitals, to prevent the VC from occupying these during their initial placement. Hold off on purchase/placement of any ARVN divisions until the two-star Corps commanders are selected.

Don’t worry about not having these units placed immediately. The game actually begins with the Seasonal Interphase of Summer 1965, so you’ll have the opportunity to replenish SVN Supplies and purchase units again before the first game turn, and actual combat, begins.

After purchase and placement of the ARVN battalions, the SVN leaders are all randomly drawn. A three-star leader and seven two-star leaders are selected and placed on the loyalty track. Since you did not buy any ARVN divisions, no one-star leaders are placed yet.

The advantage of this approach is that you get to see the Effectiveness Rating of the Chief of Staff and all Corps commanders before placing any ARVN divisions (during the upcoming initial Seasonal Interphase). This will allow you to place the divisions in the Corps zones that have the strongest two-star leaders, thus providing the best chance of having effective ARVN divisions.

Chief of Staff Problems

If you end up with a lousy Chief of Staff (Effectiveness rating of zero or less), place your ARVN Marine and Parachute divisions within the Saigon/Gia Dinh Special Corps Zone, because:

  • The Chief of Staff is the assigned two-star leader for the special corps zone.
  • No matter where they’re located, the Marines and Paratroopers are always subordinate to the Chief of Staff.
  • You need to place some divisions in and near Saigon for defensive purposes anyway (the NLF wins if they ever capture Saigon, so you can’t leave it totally undefended).
  • Why place any other division in/near Saigon where it will fall under the negative influence of the lousy Chief of Staff? Use the divisions that are already negatively affected by him. It’s a classic case of killing two birds with one stone.

Placing New ARVN Divisions

There are always two considerations when pondering placement of new ARVN units: (1) Where are they needed most? (2) Where will they have the best chance of being effective? The best solution to one question often conflicts with the optimal choice for the other. In general, you will want to place your new ARVN divisions in the Corps zone that has the most effective two-star leader.

Keep in mind that it’s the placement of the HQ unit that matters. If the HQ is in II Corps, then the division will be subordinate to the II Corps leader even if all the combat units of the division are located in other Corps zones. It’s definitely outside the “spirit of the rules”, but you could actually place all your HQs in the zone with the most effective two-star, then just scatter the combat units all across the map. There’s no rule to prevent you from doing this, although I believe a house rule should be established to prevent such nonsense.

Leader Statistics

Some SVN Leader statistics that I’ve compiled. Some useful, some not so much.

LEADER FACTION BREAKDOWN
Faction A B C
  # of Leaders Effectiveness (Net Total) # of Leaders Effectiveness (Net Total) # of Leaders Effectiveness (Net Total)
One-Star Leaders 7 +13 7 +19 6 +14
Two-Star Leaders 5 -1 5 +4 5 +6
* “Effectiveness (Net Total) simply sums up the Effectiveness Rating of each leader in the category.

What these stats tell me is that, overall, the “B” Faction is the most effective of the three factions represented in the game, and the “A” Faction is the worst. If you’re agonizing over a decision of whether or not to attempt to replace a leader (assuming it’s optional), if it’s an “A” Faction leader and his Effectiveness Rating is less than 2, then make the replacement attempt. If it’s a “B” Faction leader, and his Effectiveness Rating is positive, then don’t make the replacement attempt. If it’s a “C” Faction leader, then toss a coin… As I said, these are just rules of thumb.


LEADER EFFECTIVENESS RATINGS
RATING 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3
1-Star 1 2 1 3 3 3 2 2 1 1 1
2-Star 1 1 3 3 3 2 1 1
# of Leaders for each Effectiveness Rating, for 1-Star and 2-Star leaders

The leader breakdown by Effectiveness Rating is mostly useful for the wargaming version of “card-counting”. Knowing how many of each Effectiveness Category are available provides most of the info you need to make smart leader replacement decisions. It will at least allow you to draw some obvious conclusions. For example, if all the 5, 6 and 7 Effectiveness leaders are already deployed, then maybe it’s kind of pointless to try and replace a 4 Effectiveness leader (if you don’t have to) because you can’t possibly do any better.

Leader Loyalty Volatility

Vietnam Board Game Review

As mentioned earlier in the article, the SVN Leader Loyalty table is used to randomly adjust the loyalty of one or more Factions each season. While it’s random in the sense that it’s governed by a die roll, there are some constants that may be useful.

  • The “A” Faction is the least volatile. That is to say that the “A’s” have the fewest chances of incurring a shift, regardless of current SVN Morale Level and, when they do incur a shift it is a much smaller change than the other Factions. The largest shift for the “A” Faction is +1 or -1.
  • The “C” Faction is the most volatile.
  • The “B” Faction is the only faction that could possibly incur a +3/-3 shift on a single roll.

When you’re in the “120 or More” SVN Morale column, each Faction has a mirror set of positive and negative shifts. But in the other two SVN Morale columns (“69 or less” and “70 to 119”), the bias shifts heavily toward the likelihood of a negative shift. Which proves, I suppose, that low morale fosters decreases in leader loyalty, while high morale balances things out.

Use these statistics in your decision making, and be sure to let me know if you discover any hidden gems in the numbers.


Summary

This article has shown how the Politics Phase, and leader management in particular, is an important component of a successful US/ARVN strategy. I think designer Nick Karp did an awesome job of trimming down a very complex system into a manageable set of game rules. Leader management, which often means simply managing random outcomes to best advantage, is an aspect of this complex game that can make or break the US/ARVN effort.

The time spent building and maintaining a loyal, and competent ARVN officer corps will pay dividends in the late stages of the game. But opportunities for “un-screwing” mistakes in the early game are few and far between. You have to get it right the first time, so take the extra few minutes to think carefully before making decisions during the Politics Segment of the Seasonal Interphase (and the ARVN Recruitment Phase). The campaign game takes 100+ hours to play to completion, so what’s a few extra minutes here and there?