Korean War: 8th Army Meat Grinder (Strategy)

8th Army Meat Grinder – Defending against CCF assaults in Victory Games’ Korean War

The Korean War: Board Game Review


The Korean War board game, designed by Joe Balkoski and published by Victory Games in 1986, is a club favorite here on Long Island, NY, so we never pass up an opportunity to give it a “plug”. This article discusses a strategy the UN player can employ to form and hold strong defensive positions in any location, but particularly along the rivers in P’yongan-Pukto province, in the northwestern corner of the country. These rivers are where the UN are most likely to have first encounters with invading CCF divisions, as they are very close to the Chinese/Korean border. P’yongan-Pukto also contains a major CCF reinforcement entry point; the city of Sinuiju.

Whether you, as the US player, intended to make a stand along a particular river line or the CCF came at you so quickly that you must defend the river line for survival, you should know how to do it. Although this article is intended for Korean War novices, all fans of the game may find it of interest.

Combat in Korean War

First a brief introduction to the battle sequence.

Combat in Korean War is a bit different than most other war games. There are still combat odds calculations and terrain modifiers but the way attacker and defender are drawn into the battle is a bit different (well, different than other games I’ve played anyway).

All attacks are initiated by a single “activated” combat unit. The defenders in the combat are any defending units that are adjacent to the activated attacker. Also drawn into the battle are any other attacker units that are adjacent to any of the defending units being attacked. So what starts as a single unit initiating contact with the enemy can become quite a large dust-up.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

For example (see graphic, above) if ROK division “A” is activated, it would be obligated to attack CCF divisions “D”, “E” and “F” because they’re all adjacent to the activating unit. In addition, US division “B” and Canadian regiment “C” would also be drawn into the battle because they are adjacent to defending units. The only unit not drawn into the battle would be CCF division “G”.

Also, any other UN combat units that were not adjacent to either CCF divisions “D”, “E” or “F” would also be excluded from the battle.

If US division “B” is the activating unit, however, only CCF division “F” would be a targeted defender (because it’s the only Chinese division directly adjacent to the activating US unit), but ROK division “A” and Canadian regiment “C” would still be drawn in to the battle.

A unit’s attack strength is the number in the lower left corner and its defense strength is in the lower right corner. The attacker’s combined attack strengths are compared to the defender’s combined defense strengths to arrive at basic combat odds. In the first example, with ROK division “A” activating, the basic combat odds would be 34-18. The second example, with US division “B” activating, would create a 34-6 situation. This demonstrates clearly how the choice of activating unit can make a considerable difference in the basic combat ratio. Other factors, such as air support, armor, terrain, supply, and attack type must also be considered, but I think we’d all agree that a 34-18 (1:1 odds) battle is a different kettle of fish than a 34-6 (5:1 odds) situation.

Another extremely important attacker objective in Korean War combat is to have the defender surrounded by zones of control. In such cases, the defender cannot retreat and must take step losses instead. But this article is going to focus on a defensive line where it is assumed that all the UN units will be on one side of the river and all the CCF units will be on the other. So we’ll leave the topic of envelopment out of the conversation.

8th Army Meat Grinder

Although the CCF have a distinct advantage in numbers, the UN have the advantage of being able to reconstitute their casualties and return them to the battlefield. The Chinese do not have this capability. Every CCF unit destroyed is gone for good. While the UN player may feel that the procession of reinforcing CCF divisions is endless, be assured it is not. Therefore inflicting maximum losses on the enemy should be priority #1 for the UN player.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

Consider the river line defense in the graphic above. Three full US divisions augumented by two full ROK divisions and a few regimental sized units. Having two full ROK divisions intact at this stage of the game may be a bit optimistic, but the UN can usually muster four US divisions plus another division or two of regiments for the invasion of the western side of North Korea, so this layout is conservative. The US 8th Army’s objective is to chew up as many Chinese divisions along that river line as possible before the overwhelming CCF manpower advantage eventually tells.

First of all, consider standard defensive tactics. If at all possible, every UN unit along the river should be entrenched, multiplying their defensive strengths by x1.5 or x2 (depending on the level of entrenchment). But a strong defense alone is not enough. Judicious counter-attacks must be initiated to further degrade the power of the very finite number of CCF divisions.

The best way to destroy CCF units is to concentrate UN power against individual CCF divisions. Rather than go for 5:1 odds against two CCF divisions, it’s better to achieve 10:1 odds against one division. In our example, the best approach would be to activate US division “A”. This targets only the single adjacent CCF division “X”, yet draws in the two adjacent US divisions. A total of 60 attack strength against 6 defense for a net result of 10:1 odds.

For purposes of this example, other modifying factors are being ignored and we’re just focused on basic odds in “clear” terrain. Suffice it to say that the US could initiate an “Intensive” attack which would nullify the river’s defensive advantage.

Great, so far. But there’s a problem with this approach. Once a unit is activated, two things happen:

  • It is inverted to its “fatigued” side, which has weaker combat factors.
  • It is ineligible for activation for the rest of the Action Phase.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

Let’s assume the CCF unit is totally destroyed by the attack, rather than taking just one or two step losses (division sized units are destroyed upon receiving a third step loss). Considering that the CCF divisions are stacked up all the way back to China, it’s not unreasonable to assume the CCF player will just move another one in to take it’s place (CCF division “Y”). And now the UN player is unable to repeat the attack as US division “A” is ineligible to activate again. He’ll have to activate either US division “B” or “C”, which will draw additional CCF units into the battle, while simultaneously suffering the disadvantage of having US division “A”‘s attack strength cut in half.

Still a very powerful defensive line, but hardly the “meat grinder” the UN player needs.

A more effective alternative would be to Break-down US division “A” into its three component regiments. “Break-down” is a distinct operation that allows a US division sized unit to break down into three regiments of the same type (i.e Army divisions break down into Army regiments and Marine divisions break down into Marine regiments), while still remaining eligible to move/attack. The converse of this is the Build-up operation which combines three regiments back into a division.

(Note: The stacking limit in this game is one division or equivalent, such as 3 regiments)

The Korean War: Board Game Review

At first glance it may not seem like a wise thing to do. After all, the combined attack and combined defense strengths of three Army regiments is less than the attack and defense strengths of a full US Army division. A division has 20 attack and 11 defense strength points. Each regiment has 4 attack and 3 defense, for a total of 12 attack and 9 defense. The advantage lies in the fact that there are now three units which are eligible for activation!

Now the first regiment in stack “A” can be activated, followed by the second regiment, and finally the third regiment. We’ve traded firepower for momentum.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

In our original example, three US divisions, with 20 attack strength each, attacked one CCF division, with 6 defense strength. The combat odds were 60 to 6 or 10:1. We assumed for purposes of the example that the CCF division was entirely destroyed (a 50% chance in a 10:1 battle, excluding any modifiers).

In our new example, the first attack will be 52 to 6 or 8:1, because there are now two 20-strength US divisions and three 4-strength US regiments. The chances of totally destroying the CCF division drop to 40%, but the UN will be able to execute three 8:1 attacks. After the first attack, the activated regiment flips to its “fatigued” side which shows a reduced attack strength of 2.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

When the second regiment activates, the first regiment will still be drawn into the battle, albeit with the reduced attack strength, for a total attack value of 50; still an 8:1. Then the second regiment is fatigued and the third regiment can activate, this time for a total combined attack strength of 48, and therefore another 8:1 attack. That’s 8:1 minimum. If the CCF unit takes step losses, reducing its defense strength, the odds may increase beyond 8:1.

The combat rules allow “fatigued” units to engage in combat initiated by another friendly unit. They’re just ineligible to move or initiate combat themselves.

So if the CCF division is destroyed and another one moves in, it’s likely that it too will be damaged, and possibly destroyed, by the second and third regiments’ activations.

So the US player has increased the killing power of the defensive line.

The Korean War: Board Game Review

Even after all three regiments have activated and initiated attacks, the tactical situation is still sound:

  • The fatigued regiments are located such that they cannot be attacked without drawing in the two adjacent US divisions as well.
  • The two flanking US divisions are still eligible for activation.
  • If any of the US regiments are eliminated due to enemy actions, replacement regiments can be brought into the hex to initiate more attacks.
  • If enemy dispositions change, another US division could break-down into regiments, allowing three more activations/attacks.


This article demonstrates how a numerically inferior UN force can successfully “hold the line” in Korean War. There are other factors in the combat sequence, beyond straight odds calculations, that influence the outcome of battles. So it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the combat rules and take them into consideration before using the techniques described here. I think you’ll find that you can put even more teeth into the “8th Army Meat Grinder”.

If you liked this article and would like to see more strategy articles on Korean War, or any other games, please let us know.