The Flare Path: On The Ho Chi Minh Trail

By Tim Stone on February 28th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

While, clinically speaking, everyone has at least one wargame in them, not everyone has the patience, skill and obstetrical forceps (don’t Google) necessary to extract that wargame. My Monmouth Rebellion TBS? It breaks my heart to admit it, but I suspect it will never see the light of day. Then again, South African strategy-smith Johan Nagel has been gestating Vietnam ’65 for nigh-on 30 years, so perhaps it’s a bit early for defeatism.

The screenshots dotting today’s word-paddy show the Vietnam ’65 playable prototype in action. If you peer very hard at them you may be able to discern Yours Truly…

  • Struggling slightly with the tiny icons and keyboard-reliant interface (prototype inconveniences).
  • Groaning as yet another village falls under the thrall of the VC.
  • Wincing when an unexpected RPG connects with an infantry-crammed Chinook.
  • Pondering Forward Base placement.
  • Combining supply drops with medevac pick-ups.
  • Wondering when I’ll have enough cash to purchase a gunship.
  • Blundering into minefields.
  • Pining for an undo key.
  • Enjoying a game that captures the challenges of counter-insurgency operations and the strategic character of the Vietnam War better than any other PC title I can think of.

Hearts and mines minds are at the heart of Johan’s splendidly singular turn-based creation. Dab ‘start game’ and a village-studded map appears. Winding between the villages like a prowling Pit Viper is a randomly-generated and totally invisible Ho Chi Minh Trail that periodically spawns Viet Cong units. These hard-to-detect foes (the player always controls US/ARVN forces) make for nearby villages and, if they reach them, erode the local Hearts and Minds score. The lower a village’s H&M the less likely it is to furnish useful intel when you pay it a visit with one of your patrols, and the more likely it is to become a focal point for enemy activity like ambushes and minelaying.

Let things slide too far and the North Vietnamese Army will start infiltrating from the Western edge of the map (Cambodia). Asymmetric warfare becomes increasingly symmetrical. Unlike their VC comrades who, once detected, are usually fairly easily eliminated (combat is very simple in V65 – just move your unit onto an enemy and await the pop-up result message) NVA grunts and tanks are seriously tough customers.

Whoever the foe, fleece-thick Fog of War ensures combat always has an element of cat-and-mouse to it. The player hunts for needles (mobile, poison-tipped needles) in a big haystack using a combination of patrols and village visits, then attempts to blunt those needles with infantry, arty, gunships, and armour). Every VC or NVA scalp collected nudges the local H&M score back into the black, and generates cash for the purchase of replacements and new units. It’s the sort of simple yet mesmerising vicious circle more often found in good board games than historically-sensitive PC fare. Johan’s 30 years of counter contemplation may partially explain the pleasing cardboard feel. Like many grogs his love affair with wargaming began with Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader.

Vietnam ’65 itself began life as a Commodore 64 game – “I coded the initial version back in 1985 for the historical society at university. It was very basic but the concept of the Hearts & Minds score worked well.” Later, Operation Flashpoint was pressed into service as a testbed before being abandoned when engine limitations became apparent. Encouraged to return to the project by new distribution options – “Now with the iStore I can distribute electronically which is a game changer” – Johan spent nine months scrubbing the rust off his coding skills and implementing improvements like the hidden Ho Chi Minh Trail (a “big breakthrough in playability”). A $2.99 Unity-engined iOS release is now little more than a month away with a PC version scheduled for June.

I’m rather hoping the PC incarnation, when it comes, offers cartography and counters as an alternative to the 3D visuals illustrated above. I’ve grown rather attached to the creased period map used in the prototype and, after spending a good portion of this week in the agreeable company of Lock ‘n’ Load: Heroes of Stalingrad, am acutely aware of the power of comely counter art.

With so much enemy activity obscured by imaginary palm fronds and elephant grass, it’s hard to assess V65′s AI at present. It certainly seems smart enough. Even with Johan’s words of advice ringing in my ears (“It’s all about combinations. Artillery and Fire Bases are very important for area domination, especially in respect of the NVA incursions. Look after your experienced infantry and especially your Rangers, whilst understanding the power of the ARVN in intel gathering…”) all of my play sessions have, thus far, ended ingloriously. What keeps me COINing is the wonderful Vietnam War feel, and the fact that every setback feels plausible. I’m enjoying failure and, going by past experience, that’s a sure sign I’m in the presence of a strong design.

Johan’s commitment to and interest in the Vietnam War is profound and long-standing – “I’ve been a student of the conflict for as long as I can remember, and have personally visited all the major battle sites” – but happily for those of us that love to see wargame devs tramping unfamiliar battlefields he also has a taste for local history. Just in case a game emphasising the importance of civilian sympathies in the 20th Century’s most famous proxy conflict wasn’t refreshing enough, Mr Nagel is currently adapting the Vietnam ’65 model to simulate the Anglo-Boer War.

Blimey. Can’t wait.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Here’s something you don’t see every day…

…a week-old unsolved foxer. Last Friday, after a promising start, FurryLippedSquid, phlebas, All is Well, Mr-Link, Stugle, Zephro and carnivrspigsbat mistakenly marched into a royal cul-de-sac. Which means this week you’ve got a choice. You can either elevate your opti-orbs and stare at that superannuated steam loco and beastly biplane for another hour or two, or depress them and peruse a totally fresh cryptic composite. The images below fell from the wheel wells of a passing de Havilland Sea Vixen. Put your nose close to the screen and you may be able to detect the faint odour of wet fox.

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49 Comments »

  1. guygodbois00 says:

    “…everyone has at least one wargame in them”. Yes, and in my case it is Job: The Wargame.

  2. Shiloh says:

    Anglo-Boer War, you say? I’m really looking forward to that one. I’m actually interested in this Viet Nam one as well – John Tiller’s tour of Duty is a bit of a fave.

    • Philopoemen says:

      I worked on Tour of Duty (and most of the Squad Battles series) whilst at university, and working with Mr Tiller and the rest of the gentlemen involved in the HPS games of that era was a privilege. But SB:Vietnam will always have pride of place in my collection. Looking forward to seeing Vietnam 65′s final product, especially the asymmetric side of things.

  3. Matchstick says:

    Plane middle right looks like the Convair F-106 Delta Dart

  4. Shiloh says:

    Talking of Tiller’s Tour of Duty – those little counters look mighty familiar… did Johan design alternative counter art for the game? I’m pretty sure I recognise those counters in a couple of the images above, I may well be using his (or whoever’s it is) counter art in the game.

  5. Matchstick says:

    Helicopter in the middle is the Mil Mi-6 Hook

    • Matchstick says:

      Hook and Dart are both terms used in sewing…. but thats not the sort of connection Flare Path would normally come up with :)

      • Shiloh says:

        “Tulip” is apparently a make of crochet hook, oddly.

      • All is Well says:

        I think I have it – Ajax is a Dutch football club, tulips are obviously connected to the Netherlands, the Fokker Eindecker was designed by dutchman, there’s apparently something called a Dutch Hook… Don’t know about the Delta Dart connection though.

        EDIT: Seems Palindrome got it before me!

        • phlebas says:

          Dunno about Dutch Hook, but the Hook of Holland is famous.

        • Palindrome says:

          My post predates yours by 2 minutes, ideas thief!

          I have no idea what connection that the Dart may have to Holland, although darts is apparently quite a popular sport there. The current Darts world champion is Dutch.

          Any ideas for the passenger plane?

          • All is Well says:

            Yeah, I think I found it – Koolhoven F.K.50, designed by a Dutchman.

        • quietone says:

          You should focus on the “Delta” part of the “Delta Dart”, methinks.

          After all, one of the most prominent features in the Netherlands’ landscape is the Rhine-Meuse Delta, where Amsterdam, Rotterdam (and Antwerp, on the Belgium side) are located, not to mention the “Delta Works” that protect them from flooding.

        • Palindrome says:

          So we have:

          HMS Ajax – AFC Ajax
          DAF YA 054 – DAF is a Dutch company
          2S4 Tulip – The Dutch famously had a tulip obession
          MI-6 Hook – The Hook of Holland
          Delta Dart – Dart champion/ river delta
          Koolhoven F.K.50 – Dutch designed and built
          Fokker E – Built by a sort of Dutch company
          Secret weapons of the Luftwaffe- Designed by lawrence Holland

  6. skink74 says:

    OK kicking off the deFoxering with a Convair Delta Dart.
    EDIT – gah beaten to the punch by Matchstick

  7. Stugle says:

    I believe that’s the tail of a Fokker Eindecker plunging out of the bottom of the lower picture. And the line drawing appears to be the underside of a Convair F-102 Delta Dagger. Although those funky sidewards protrusions leave me befuddled.

    EDIT: Yeah, Delta Dart, not Dagger.

  8. Matchstick says:

    German WW1 plane bottom centre a Fokker E.III (or maybe E.IV) ?

  9. Stugle says:

    The ship, I think, is HMS Renown.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    I too am looking forward to visiting exotic locations like Bridgewater, Keynsham, Shepton Mallet and the West Indies.

  11. Medicine says:

    OH MY GOD I KNOW SOMETHING!

    That game is “Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe”!

  12. Matchstick says:

    The picture middle left reminds me of the sort of spade used to brace mobile artillery pieces or bridge layers

  13. Palindrome says:

    The tank is a 2S4 Tyulpan (tulip) self propelled mortar.

    • Palindrome says:

      After far (far) too long seraching I have finally identifed that jeep type thing. Its a DAF YA 054. Perhaps the answer is something to do with Holland given that DAF and Fokker are Dutch companies?

  14. presence says:

    You should take a look at the boardgame conversion to Computer TBS “Conflict of Heroes” series from Academy Games own Uwe Eckert. You will be pleased.

  15. LordBilisknir says:

    So from last week we have.
    Bristol Buckinham
    Black Cat
    Short Solent
    Reliant Regal
    Solomon Islands Embassy
    As-15 Kent
    Black Prince
    Avro Bison 1 (The missing plane)
    See http://static.rcgroups.net/forums/attachments/3/8/8/0/a1418154-139-Avro%20Bison.jpg
    The Tug is (i think) The Maj Wilbur F. Browder, a.k.a. Ludington, a.k.a. Tud Ludington

    No idea on the link but there are the two missing answers!

    • All is Well says:

      Well some of the “initials” match ship designations: BB- Battleship, BC – Battlecruiser, AK – Cargo vessel, SS – Submarine or Steamship, AB – Crane ship… could that be anything?

      • robinsparks says:

        The Maj Wilbur F. Browder and HMS Black Prince were part of the Normandy Invasion/Operation Neptune and some of them sailed from the solent area….and then my connections run out for now …

        • AbyssUK says:

          Avro planes were used in the landings, sargent sydney solomon aka that bloke tom hanks played in saving private ryan

          • robinsparks says:

            Yes and William F *Buckingham* has written ‘The First 72 hours’ a story about D-Day, Kent was probably a county staging post for the landings (along with numerous others) or a ship, a black cat probably crossed someone’s path (churchill’s) and no doubt the ‘Reliant’ was also some sort of ship involved too if not it was a regal old time when we won ;0

          • LordBilisknir says:

            I did think something to do with either Casinos or Cigarette brands. But never got further than that.

          • foop says:

            LordBilisknir is right, surely? Cigarette brands. Off the top of my head, the following definitely are:

            Buckingham
            Regal
            Embassy
            Black Cat

            Some googling suggests that these are too:

            Solent
            Kent
            Prince
            Bison (!)

            Not sure about the tug or any other missing bits.

          • LordBilisknir says:

            Could the the Tug be the process of smoking a cigarette?

          • robinsparks says:

            It’s Bilson cigarettes not Bison, the only cigs listed that I know of (and i was a heavy smoker for 25 years) are Regal , Embassy, Prince and Kent. If this is the link i’d be very surprised.
            But yes this is quite a Foxer lots of links for a variety of subjects…we will find out tomorrow … or will we ?

  16. Appendix says:

    Vitenam war sims brings back found memories of “Conflict Vietnam” for the C64. Actually one of Sid Meiers forgotten gems.

    I was totally engrossed in that game at a young age of 12… My first real taste of strategic gaming.

  17. cptgone says:

    i skipped the part on the 2nd game, as it’s starved for profit in the Matrix ghetto, painfully out of reach.
    But Vietnam ’65 will be mine soon. Where’s my Agent Orange costume? *Wagner*

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