Welcome to the Hanoi Hilton - Vietnam '65 Review

By Richard Talbot 19 Mar 2015 0

As a wise man once said, “And now for something completely different!”. Well perhaps not completely different, but Vietnam ’65 is not just another wargame, this is an attempt to create a game about counter-insurgency warfare (COIN) rather than conventional warfare so it isn’t about lining up your troops to face off against the enemy, it’s more difficult than that – you have to find the buggers first, and then they run away to hit you from a different direction. You’ll find yourself shouting “will you just stand still and die” at the computer on more than one occasion when playing Vietnam ’65 if my experience is anything to go on. 

I must confess that the Vietnam War is not one of my favourite periods of history, but the different take on the game attracted me to this one so in the spirit of adventure I jumped in and gave it a go – the low price (for a Slitherine game) may have been a factor as well, I’m a cheapskate J The game is available for PC and iPad, but as I don’t have an iPad this review was done on the PC version. However, as it is plainly obvious that the game was developed for the iPad I doubt there is anything materially different from the PC version other than the size of the screen and lack of a mouse. 

Starting Off

Vietnam ‘65 has two tutorials which are well worth working through – this doesn’t take too long and as they say time spend on recon is rarely wasted. The first tutorial - “Basic Training” - is a walk-through of the user interface and covers the usual basics such as movement and combat. It also gives you a rundown of the units that appear in the game which is never a bad thing, especially if like me you aren’t totally up to speed on the conflict in question. The Basic Training tutorial also takes you through unit resupply which you will find out is rather important in this game – put it this way, you’ll never win a game unless you get your head around this ... The second part of the tutorial is “Advanced Training”. Rather than playing through the mechanisms this is a set of “briefings” on important parts of the game such as the victory conditions, intelligence maps and the like. When you’ve done the tutorials it’s time to fire up a game. 

When you start a new game you just have one choice to make, the difficulty level. There are 2, Regular and Veteran. Also there are no set scenarios. All games you play in Vietnam ’65 are random “skirmish mode” type games. In a way I guess this makes sense, can you really set up a scenario for COIN warfare? Perhaps you can but I don’t have the knowledge of the Vietnam War to say whether this would be feasible. Could be worth looking into by those who do know though.

When you create a new game a random map which always includes 10 villages is generated. A US base is positioned on the eastern (right hand) side of the map and that is where you start. You have 45 turns to beat the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese – again this is set in the game and you don’t have any option to vary this which is a shame as it rather limits the variety of the game but not fatally.

At this point you will probably have noted that I haven’t said you can play the VC/NVA, and you can’t. In the game you take the role of a commander of US/South Vietnamese forces somewhere in South Vietnam fighting against the incursions of the commies from the North. 

Playing the Game

The UI is easy enough to understand and, as mentioned previously, has obviously been designed for the iPad and so you only need to use the left mouse button on the PC. It is easy to use and, I’m guessing, shouldn’t cause problems for those with “fat fingers” playing on iPad.

Graphics are OK, functional may be the best description; however, that is a feature of most Slitherine games and those of us who buy them are usually more interested in the game play than the eye candy. What is important is that the different types of terrain are clearly obvious as this affects what the different units in the game can do, and how well they do it. I’m certainly not complaining.  

The sound is nicely atmospheric and appropriate to the Vietnam setting. Chopper blades effects (a must have really) are pretty good and there is an ongoing ambient “jungle” soundtrack that is broken up by the rattle of small arms, etc. whenever there is combat. The sound effects also convey information such as when a unit needs resupply, so it pays to keep your ears as well as your eyes open.

Talking of supply, this is important – I mean really important. A unit loses 1 supply point per turn when outside of a base, and running out completely means the unit is eliminated. Your Huey’s are the key to keeping units supplied, and thus your operations moving. As your resources are limited you really need to think about what your aims and objectives are and concentrate on what is within your current capability to achieve, rather than try to do everything once. I learnt this the hard way of course …

The upshot of this is that there is quite a lot more to the game than initially meets the eye. The game mechanics are fairly straight forward simple, but it is very easy to overstretch yourself and get into deep deep trouble. The designers have clearly given a lot of thought into this aspect of the game, and I find it suitably challenging.

Winning the game is all about gaining the “Hearts and Minds” of the local population as opposed to the more usual wargame approach of getting victory points for killing the enemy/occupying map locations deemed important. Killing the enemy and occupying places is still important, but you can only get a victory by winning the “Hearts and Minds” battle. Each of the 10 villages on the map starts with a value of 50 “Hearts and Minds” (H&M from now on) points, and the average of all these gives you the provincial level H&M score. The H&M value of villages can go up or down depending on how successful your operations in the area are or by Viet Cong actions. Your H&M can deteriorate with alarming rapidity if you are not careful. Those silent commies on their jungle trails can get to places where your ‘copters find it hard to get to and win the H&M of the locals.

Additionally the higher your H&M score the less likely enemy action is. Failing to counter communist actions or losing friendly units drives the H&M score down, which makes enemy actions more likely. Lose enough H&M points and the North Vietnamese will build firebases and actually invade your province. 

Conclusion

Although the basic premise of the game seems quite simple Vietnam ‘65 actually has a whole lot of depth and subtlety. The fact that it isn’t “just another wargame” does mean that you need to adopt a different mindset when playing, but I’d say that was a real plus point for the game. The COIN nature is really brought out nicely by the use of “Hearts and Minds” as the victory conditions.

Overall I’d say that whilst it can take a bit of effort to get into the game it is definitely worthwhile making that effort. The game is quite challenging (and I’ve only played on Regular) so be ready to lose a few before you get the hang of it. Despite each game being the same format there is a great deal of replayability to Vietnam ’65.

Recommended. Give it a go. 

Last Thoughts

There are a couple of things I’d like to see the developer implement in an update that would, IMO, make the game even better.

  1. If possible actual historical scenarios. I’m sure the real fans of the period would welcome this.
  2. Ability to play the VC/NVA – everyone wants to play the bad guys now and then.
  3. Ability to set different parameters for the random games as can be done, for example, in Slitherine’s Battle Academy games in skirmish mode.

Lastly I’d say that I really hope that the developers and Slitherine will work towards a series of COIN games. I think there are some very obvious conflicts that could be very good (and popular) for this sort of game – Afghanistan anyone? 

Vietnam ’65 is available from the Slitherine website here for the PC version or on App Store here for the iPad version.

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