Surf’s Up – We dip our toes in
With Charlie Don’t Surf and Surf’s Up due for publication in just a few days time, we thought we’d take a look at Surf’s Up and see just what goodies were in there for the gamer thinking about getting ready for the rules. We asked Richard to talk us through what is in there.
Well, my prime objective with Surf’s Up was to obviously provide some scenarios for gamers to crack on with, but I have been quite careful in selecting what is in there. I was tempted to follow one particular unit through their experiences in Vietnam, but I came to the conclusion that this was potentially too limiting, and that I wouldn’t get the variety that I wanted. The other option I considered was to go with a particular phase of the war, maybe a major operation like Attleboro or Junction City, or maybe even the Tet offensive, but I discounted this for pretty much the same reasons as mentioned. The war in Vietnam was really multi-faceted, and to just concentrate on one campaign or one period of the war was to lose out on the colour and feel for other areas that weren’t included.
In the end I went for what could reasonably be called a smorgasbord of scenarios that will hopefully provide something for everyone. What I have tried to do is show the changing nature of the war and the participants, when I showed the supplement to Robert Avery – who let’s face it is the King and Queen and Jack of scenario writing rolled into one – he said that the timeline of the scenarios actually told the story of Vietnam. Actually, it’s probably a good idea to briefly mention each one to give people a feel for what they’ll be getting. I will, of course, keep some secrets hidden so as not to give the game away.
The first few scenarios are set in the very early days of the main Free World forces arriving. In the first game, set during Operation Attleboro we see US forces moving into a VC held area intent on seizing rice caches; they know that the VC can’t maintain troops in the field without food. The next scenarios see them attempting to clear the area around their new operational base, surveying the land to set up a Firebase for support, Engineers clearing the roads in order to get South Vietnam functioning. I wanted to show the realities of war were not about John Wayne kicking the door in and zapping the bad guys, but about achieving a sensible military build up that occurs a step at a time. Of course, you do get the zap the bad guys while you’re doing that, but it gives a better feel for how real military operations work.
After that we move on to Search and Destroy missions, Operation Junction City in 1967 is the setting for scenario five with a similar emphasis on scenario six as well, as Free World forces are now established in country and are pushing out aggressively, taking on the VC forces in the south, regaining control of the countryside. Indeed in scenario seven we have a classic Hearts & Minds operation, with a US and ARVN force clearing an area prior to a South Vietnamese Civic Action team moving in with medical assistance and propaganda teams to spread the word that the government of the RVN is back in charge. The next couple of scenarios have a similar, but more aggressive theme, as first a Mechanised Infantry and motorised force attempt to clear an area, then an Aircav assault on a village. I really like this scenario as the air mobile force has to evacuate the civilian population of the village by helicopter before they get the Free Fire Zone authorisation and can then really go in with all guns blazing against the VC – or maybe NVA, who knows.
The next bunch of scenarios look at the Tet offensive. The tenth scenario is an NVA night assault on a CIDG outpost, this was great fun to play, the game was a nail biter with the outcome hanging in the air for most of the game. I wanted to show the Communist forces attacking in the countryside at the start of Tet in an attempt to draw the Free World forces out of the cities before their main attacks went in. Scenario eleven is one of those city fights, with ARVN forces facing NVA in Ban Me Thuot, and Scenario thirteen is US Marines in Hue fighting their way up a street. That one is a small game in terms of table size, but it’s one Hell of a fight, troops really get swallowed up in urban area. In between those two we have a CIDG Mike Force unit led by an A Team attempting to ambush NVA forces coming across the border from Cambodia to reinforce the Tet offensive.
From there on in we are into Vietnamisation and some conventional warfare stuff from the later part of the conflict when Free World forces have pulled out. We have a CIDG and ARVN Ranger force being lured into an ambush, we have the 18th ARVN Division fighting at Xuan Loc in 1975, and finally one of my real favourites, The Convoy of Tears. Set in 1975 with the NVA advancing on Saigon this is a real cracker, with a mixed force of ARVN attempting to keep a bridge open for a convoy of wounded military personnel and civilians to escape. Desperate, heroic stuff, but with a real twist in the tail.
So, that’s sixteen scenarios in all, and I like to think it’s a well thought out collage that really gives a picture of the conflict as a whole. Really importantly the scenarios will provide the gamer with a bench mark for the type of actions that the rules are designed for. I know from my own experiences of gaming Vietnam that it seems the majority of rule sets that have covered the period have tended to focus on platoon sized actions. I wanted to really make the move from patrol actions to real battles. I suppose what I am saying is that when reading the wealth of personal accounts written by the grunt on the ground you get the feeling that it’s all happening at platoon level. However if you then read US military reports of actions, and in particular some of their very detailed assessment and analysis projects immediately after the event these show that battles in Vietnam were normally controlled at the company level. It’s the old wood and trees thing. The platoon actions are great for looking at the individual trees, but if you want to see the whole wood then its company level that you need to go for. At least that’s where I wanted to be.
Of course the beauty of what I vaguely call “a company sized force” is that this is the size unit that would realistically be deployed for independent action, and also able to call upon a wide variety of support from its parent unit or even units from different arms of service that have been designated to work together in an all arms force. That said, the detail at company level is granular enough so that the men, and in particular those large than life “Big Men” who naturally come to the fore in warfare, are still very visible and individual leadership can still be the main focus of the game system.
Pretty much all of the scenarios use US forces as the main Free World force (until the late war anyway), but I know that people will be keen to use other forces, such as ANZAC troops. What I have done here is to provide a whole section where I provide ANZAC forces for nine of the scenarios that are suitable for their involvement that will show people who want to use other troops, maybe ROK or Thai units instead, how I convert the scenarios. It’s very simple, but the illustration I think helps.
Finally we have the Tour of Duty campaign system. I am really pleased with this, it focuses the players on the long term rather than just the immediate game, but also provides for some real command decisions from the players. The system focuses on a fresh company commander arriving in Nam. He has a twelve month tour ahead of him, but the chances are that after six months he will be likely to be transferred into a Staff role. So the campaign will run for six, seven, eight months (the company commander can try to extend his time in the field if he wants to, but he can only delay the inevitable for so long) during which time he’ll be using the scenario generator in the main rules to put games on the table. We can then track his, and his company’s progress over that period. It’s a real challenge, but equally importantly it is really a fun way to link your games up. Actually that will be made even more fun by an idea I have for the Summer Special, but more on that another time.
Hopefully that has given an insight into what Surf’s Up is all about. If anyone wants to join in the chat about Charlie Don’t Surf then the TooFatLardies Yahoo group is positively buzzing with the Nam at present, so come on in. The water’s lovely!