Vietnam War gaming

By Jim Rohrer

Wargames Soldiers and Strategy Magazine No. 111 (Dec/Jan 2021) contains a few articles about the Vietnam War.  The editor expressed some reservations about this theme, since some readers may feel it is too soon to game a conflict when so many survivors are still living.  Still, 45 years have passed since the end of the war, so it is (perhaps) less sensitive than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The articles contain some useful perspective and background information.  One obvious point is that while US forces were technologically superior, they may not have been as motivated as the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong.  Napoleon used conscripts with great success but draftees cannot be expected to be as enthusiastic and committed as local combatants.  Lessons can be learned by governments; rumor has it that private armies of professional soldiers are widely used today, just as they were before conscription came along.  Using citizen armies for defense and mercenaries for offense has a certain pragmatic logic to it.

The article about the Battle of Long Tan. 18 August 1966, “The Kangaroo Shoot” begins on page 46.  Paul Eaglestone has written a nice essay about the ANZAC units involved.  He strikes a nice balance between necessary detail and sparse writing to produce a fast-moving and enjoyable story.  The game was designed for solo play but the rules also work for multiple players, if each takes control of one or two Aussie platoons.

Eaglestone says many Vietnam war games work well for solo play because one side can be automatically controlled. Both sides are hidden in jungle terrain.  Cards can be used to allow sudden action on any part of the board.  Eaglestone observes that Vietnam is similar to colonial games because often a small beleaguered force faces long odds of survival.

Rules were  based on Danger Close with some modifications. Eaglestone played it as a large skirmish game with 28mm figures. The Australian army was ‘D’ company with HQ and three platoons.  Reinforcements could arrive (if the card is turned) in the form of a squadron of M113 APCs.  This was composed of four vehicles, each armed with a 50-cal and able to carry one platoon. Artillery was off-table.  Requests were sent by radio via a forward observer.   They also had fixed-wing air support called in the same way.  A Huey brings ammo resupply.

The other side had a North Vietnamese  regiment and a VC battalion.  In total they may have had seven battalions, an overwhelming force of well-trained, well-equipped veterans who knew the terrain well.  The NVA units arrive in random groups.

The game was played in 20 turns on a 8′ x 6′ table covered with rugged terrain.  Much of the action takes place on a rubber plantation.  Only one building was present.  The terrain was flat.

Chance cards were used.  He applied labels to standard playing cards, which is a nice idea.  Nine cards were labeled as No Effect. Other cards were Rain Starts, Rain Stops, NVA Sniper, Ammunition Running Low, Ammo Huey Arrives. ANZAC Radio Knocked out, Fixed Wing Card, and M113s Arrive. Other cards can be included, such as delays in APC arrival and NVA mortar rounds.

I enjoyed the article and recommend it to others.  The magazine was priced at $10 US.

About jimr

As a semi-retired professor, I have time to indulge myself with hobbies. Solo wargaming with 54mm figures using One Hour Wargame (OHW) rules and an expanded card deck is my style of play.
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4 Responses to Vietnam War gaming

  1. Paul Le Long says:

    I agree, Kangeroo Shoot is a great article and a good basis for a solo game. I think using Australians brings a different and interesting angle to Vietnam games. There’s an article in this issue about the French Indochina War as well – another under-represented aspect of the various Vietnamese conflicts.

    I also agree that Vietnam makes for good solo gaming with plenty of hidden movement and uncertainty about the location and make-up of forces. I recently played a Vietnam game using the Mr Babbage solo rules from The Men Who Would Be Kings, a set of colonial rules by Dan Mersey and published by Osprey. This had an American patrol simply marching across the table, beset by randomly generated communist forces. It worked very well.

    If I recall correctly Kevin White (apologies if it was someone else!) published a game called Patrol in LW quite a few years ago now (that’s an article that could stand a reprint here on the blog). Set, I think in WWII it used chance cards – it’s a while since I read it but I think every time you moved you drew a card which could be ‘Relax, there’s nothing there’ or else could be an enemy unit of varying size/composition. It was an excellent idea which I’ve harvested liberally & shamelessly in my own games.

  2. jimr says:


    In your Vietnam game against Mr Babbage, what did you do about terrain? The Kangeroo Shoot showed a lot of effort was put into rubber trees and foliage. Charles Grant, in contrast, used a lot less but still managed to create a sense of realism.
    His hills were slabs of insulation board, his hedges were lichen, and so on, possibly all laid out on a bare table. His assumption was that gamers do not build permanent layouts because they will change scenarios frequently. I like Grant’s approach to terrain but am not sure how to achieve the same overall effect.

    How did you set up your terrain for the Vietnam game?


  3. Paul Le Long says:

    Hi Jim,

    I have an idiosyncratic approach to terrain. I was always put off rather than inspired by great terrain lay-outs that you see at shows (in the UK at least) because I’m rubbish at modelling. I always use a green cloth hex mat – it makes the games faster because there’s no measuring.

    For terrain itself sometimes I use 2D terrain markers from Memoir ’44 for my games – I find one gets used to the 2D look very quickly & it just looks normal. At other times I just plonk some basic 3D terrain down. For Vietnam with lots of jungle I liberally spread trees all over, often on to pieces of green felt to show the areas of forest plus some lichen-type scatter. Elephant grass is an astro-turf door mat cut up.

    As basic as it comes.

    I also use some terrain placement rules from an old game by Peter Pig called Patrols in the Sudan. The guerrilla player has the ability to place terrain items and for his units to appear from them or disappear into them – they’re spawn points basically which gives the Vietnamese in this case great tactical flexibility whereas the conventional force is much more limited (but usually has much greater firepower).

    So yeah, it’s a green cloth with modular terrain placed on top. Very basic and a million miles from model railway modelling but it works!

  4. jimr says:

    I am with you and your approach. My problem is that sometimes (often) the result does not give me the overall impression I am looking for. Next I will try the contours that Grant used.
    My green table cloth has temporarily been removed because i was tired of it and now my terrain goes on the bare table. A hex grid would make movement and shooting easier. Usually instead of measuring I just estimate. This no doubt introduces a large margin of error.
    Grant had his 1/72 infantry moving 3″ so a three3″ grid would be about right. Previously, I took my lead from OHW on this used 6″. Those mouse-pad toppers with grids are pricey but maybe I will spring for one anyway.

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