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Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975» Forums » Reviews

Subject: So You Want to Fight the Vietnam War...... rss

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Tim Parker
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Hearts and Minds: The Battle for Vietnam

Hearts and Minds (H&M) is a strategic level card driven game (CDG) covering the Vietnam War from 1965-75. The game covers both the political and military struggle between North Vietnam and its communist allies versus South Vietnam and its allies. Each turn players receive reinforcements and then the players play a series of cards that allow them to move units, launch attacks, change the political control of a province or pacify and area (in the case of the ARVN(Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and friends). At the end of each turn, there is a check of the political status upon the political will track. Moving it toward the Hawk status favors the ARVN/USA team and moving it toward the Dove status favors the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). If one side achieves its auto victory level, the that side wins and the game is over. If not, then play continues to the end of the chosen scenario where victory can be determined by an auto victory mechanism or by an end of game victory mechanism, both based upon the political will track.

Playing Time: This will vary depending on the length of scenario involved. One can play a short two turn game or the entire campaign game. The events that occur will also influence game length. For example, playing major campaign cards will slow down a turn more than just playing the regular game cards. Still, for a short game the time is not any great challenge and the low end of one hour noted on the game box for length of play appears to be appropriate for a 2-3 turn game.

Map: The map depicts mainly South Vietnam with parts of North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos are divided into provinces with South Vietnam also divided into the historical I through IV Military Zones denoted by the US Army. The map also notes the location of major cities, US bases, and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The map also contains various functional game items such as the year and political will tracks. The map is fairly simplistic, but highly functional and does its job, although it could have stood to be a bit bigger over all.

Counters: The games counters come in several sizes with large counters used to show NVA political control in South Vietnam and ARVN/US pacification in the same country. The game uses the nice large 5/8 size counters for the military units and assets of both sides. Counters are included for the fighting men of the NVA, ARVN, USA, ROK, and Cambodian and Laotian factions of both sides. Each counters shows the movement and combat ability of each unit as well as its status which can be untried or veteran. Asset counters depict units such as tanks, artillery, bombers, and naval units. Each side has a highly distinctive color so it easy to tell who friends and foes are. Likewise, the color for each side of the counter makes it easy to tell whether you are about the hammer some green troops or about to run smack into veteran forces who might kick you @&%! The assets are also a lighter hue than the soldier units making their identification easy as well. Over all, the counters are very cool and meet what is, IMO, the most important element of counters in a wargame: being able to tell who is who with just a quick perusal of the board thumbsup

Rules: The rules for H&M are very interesting. In some ways, you have your usual standard wargame fare: each piece has its own movement value (except the ARVN they need the help of a die roll) and combat is determined using a table although not the usual ratio type CRT. However, there are a number of rules that are different such as control of provinces and pacification where it matters who is doing the action or how many units you have taking part in the action. For example, ARVN units can recapture a province by using a resource point (RP) and the Viet Cong (VC) can do the same when they wish to capture a province. However, pacification and NVA capturing of a province requires die rolling based on the number of units taking part in the operation. The cool est part of the rules involves the cards and the events on them. Unlike many other CDG, you can use the points on the card to buy events and still use the left over RP for operations! wow thumbsup This adds extra complexity and replay ability IMO. On top of that, the decks the players use are also cool Each player gets their own set of cards and there is a d10-3 rd deck of black cards that are divided up between the players and shuffled into their starting decks. Not only does this help with replay ability, it also makes strategy and guessing that much harder since you never know who got which black cards or when they might appear. This alone increases the tension value and deserves major kudos! thumbsup
As far as the flow of the game goes, the rules are quite good as players struggle to gain political control of South Vietnam. However, to get control you must empty a province of enemy units first which is where the combat element comes in. Along with that, killing ARVN and USA troops have additional political effects on the political will track. Over all, the rules work together nicely to make the players think about both political and military aspects of the war. They are well written and organized with a rule book and play book included in the game. There are a few minor issues, but nothing that a veteran wargamer cannot overcome. Thus far, my only big issue had been with the turn/year terminology but that may be the result of other wargames referring to turns as the complete actions of both players for a distinctive period of time, for example a year, week, or day. Over all, the rules are well written and thought out.

Things I like about the game:

1 The multiple scenarios. The play book has set up instructions and auto and end game victory conditions for each year. So you don’t want to play the whole campaign? No problem, just pick a year (say 1967) and decide when to end (say 1969) and game on! thumbsup This flexibility (and the effort put into it) deserves
2 The card decks. As I mentioned in the rules section, how the decks are set up is very cool Plus, the game includes some campaign cards which also adds variety and replay ability.
3 Being able to pay for events and use the remaining RP for operations. I can’t stress enough how cool this is! So you can unleash an event and then follow it up with some ops to really hammer the enemy! Awesome! devil
4 The tension. This game keeps you on your toes and makes the interactions between players tense. You cannot afford to ignore you opponents ops and you better be ready for some surprises!
5 Love those 5/8 counters
6 The dedication page. This was both moving and humbling. It is an excellent reminder that an important goal of wargames is to learn history as well as have fun. Also, it is a good reminder that the reason such wargaming goes on at a more professional level, is to study war to win and do so while suffering the lightest amount of loss for your side. Period.
6 1 I love the events on the cards. Lots of historical and cultural references (and I personally love the Cronkite and Fonda cards being red devil )

Things that can be annoying angry

1 The map is a bit too small. Since area movement and 5/8 size counters are being used, why did the map have to be so small? When I opened the box and looked over the components, two thoughts exploded across my mind. First, cool counters and second, why is the map so small????? shake
2 The earning of doves and hawks seems a little unbalanced. Yes, I know the historical reality and yes I can see that this is taken into account with the victory levels on each scenario. Still, the rule of increasing the doves by one for Each US unit killed seems a bit steep, especially since there seems to be no corresponding hawk response. The strength of this was illustrated to me nicely on my third play of the game. For the first two plays, Thad and I played a 1967-69 and 1965-69 scenario and the effect of US killed was devastating. However, our last play of 1970-72 was, IMO, more balanced and tense and I think it was due to the removal of US units via Vietnamization. Perhaps some adjustment could be made where it would be a dove for every 2 or 3 US units eliminated?
3 The pacification rules and their affect on the ARVN government. Why is pacification more important than control? My understanding from my reading on the war is that pacification was necessary for areas with heavy VC concentrations, but to do pacification in the game there can be no VC present? So who is the pacification aimed at and how is it related to ARVN government stability? Granted, one of the key elements of sovereignty is the governments ability to have a monopoly on the use of force, but wouldn’t that be established with the ejection of the NVA and VC? The bottom line is it makes keeping the ARVN government stable very tricky and, IIRC, I can think of only 2(?) Major coups that went down in South Vietnam from 1965-73 and they seem to occur frequently in the game.
4 Not all options are on the table. For example, in Victory in Vietnam II you can invade Laos, Cambodia and even North Vietnam! wow It will cost you (sometimes heavily) but you can do it. I just would’ve liked to have those options open with more flexibility in this game. I like to experiment with all kinds of “what if” ideas. I’m just that type of guy

Over all Evaluation: d10-1 = I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk d10-9 = Wargamer heaven!

Map= d10-4 I really think the map could’ve (should’ve) been bigger. When you get to placing a control marker and the units/assets of both sides in a hotly contested province, you’ll see what I mean. The map is functional, but it could’ve been more. shake

Counters= d10-9 The counters are simply awesome! Easy to ID each side and their status, easy to find the assets and control markers and I love the 5/8 size kiss This is how counters should be made all the time! thumbsup

Rules= d10-7 Despite some gripes I have, the rules over all are quite good. Again, I do have some concerns about some rules and their impact on the political will, but these are things that I think can be adjusted. The rules concerning the play of cards with both events and ops is simply elegant. The rules are clear and well organized and I cannot say enough about the scenario set ups and victory conditions for each year. I just have to give that effort another and thumbsup Personally, I cannot think of another wargame that gives you that much flexibility in scenarios.

Deployment of Forces= d10-7 I am giving this a d10-7 because this will take some time. In the four games I have set up (I am getting ready to unleash another one tomorrow even as I type this ) I have noticed it takes a good 20 minutes to do so. Part of this is due to the nature of the decks and combining the black deck. For some, this might seem tedious, but to me the effort is worth the reward so I am only slightly lowering the rating for this part of the game.

Over all= d10-9 Even with the concerns I have about the dove impact rules, this game still is a winner and keeper for the following reasons. First, the card play element is terrific. The combining of decks and paying for events keeps the tension very high and the hallmark of an excellent wargame is, IMO, how much it can literally make you sweat. H&M does that for me and the cards are a huge part of this. Second, the political/military aspects are well represented in the game. You need control to win and control comes from driving the other side out and to drive them out you have to apply military force. This is precisely what Clausewitz had in mind when he made the “war is politics by other means” comment. Third, the flexibility with the scenarios is just fantastic. I know, I’ve raved about this quite a bit, but it really is a cool appeal of the game for me. And finally, this is one the best games I have seen on Vietnam that gives you not only the reality of the situation, but presents it in a highly playable manner. Bottom line: if you want to wage asymmetric warfare and address the political/military conundrum, this is the game to have! The tension is high, the choices varied, the interaction excellent, and the game play superb. The rules are easy to grasp without being simplistic and the presentation (save the map) is great. This is a game that will get a lot of attention from me and will be a frequent visitor to my wargame table in 2010 and beyond. It is addictive and fun and that combination makes for a winning game every time! thumbsup
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Mark Buetow
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Great review, Tim. What I really like about H&M is how there are so many different things to do.

The map is pretty long, given the geography but it's true that some of the provinces are a bit small. It's certainly no deal breaker for me; we usually stack the units on top of the flags if there are any.

As for the 1 Dove/U.S. unit eliminated: I'm not sure it's too harsh at all. It seems that such a harsh penalty captures the nature of those foreign conflicts in which the American people are easily frustrated and turn hostile to a conflict when our own kids are dying. As it was, I suppose (though I was only born at the tail end of the war). In a sense, this makes it a tough choice between letting US units die (giving away Doves) and taking ARVN casualties (pushing SVN toward a coup). I think in an overall way it seems to simulate that American ability for sparing no expense to prop up a government and let their guys do the grunt work if it means preserving the lives of our own guys. At least in theory!

I found it highly frustrating not to be able to send Allied troops straight into Cambodia and Laos and it would be nice to be able to send bombers to cut off troops along the Trail. But I suppose that's how the generals felt too, given the political situation. The game seems to capture that "hands tied" feeling forcing a frustrating competition between military and political considerations.

This is a great game and at a great price too. Worthington has been really putting out some good stuff!
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gregorio avelino morin blanco
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Very good review, A game very interesting.
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Ted Kim
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You mentioned VIV2 in passing. How do they compare?
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Marco Herreras
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Great review! Thanks!
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Michael
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Nice review. The only gripe I would add is that there are some sections of the scenario book that really should have been in the main rules booklet. I'm particularly thinking of the reinforcement rules.
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Jack
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Thanks for the review Tim. I'm guess I will have to add this game to my ever growing wishlist.

In regards to you question about pacification versus control- I am not familiar with the game effects, but from my reading on the war I see pacification as the people's voluntary support of the government in resisting the communists, as opposed to the government asserting its control over the populace as in the Strategic Hamlet program.

I think it's the difference between a happy farmer pointing out Viet Cong cadres in the village, and being forced off your ancestral land into a relocation camp to separate you from the cadres.
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John Poniske
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Tim, I appreciate your balanced review of HAM. I agree the map board is smaller than what I would have liked but it in no way detracts for the tension and fun of the game. Perhaps Worthington will consider creating a larger version in the future.

I noticed in your user profile that you are a social studies teacher as am I. I too utilize historic gaming to illustrate key points in American history, even if it is nothing more than offering a more colorful map of the area in question and tangible components to explain strategy and confrontations. I find that lesson planning often provides me with some of my best design ideas. Good luck on your thesis!
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Tim Parker
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John Poniske wrote:
Tim, I appreciate your balanced review of HAM. I agree the map board is smaller than what I would have liked but it in no way detracts for the tension and fun of the game. Perhaps Worthington will consider creating a larger version in the future.

I noticed in your user profile that you are a social studies teacher as am I. I too utilize historic gaming to illustrate key points in American history, even if it is nothing more than offering a more colorful map of the area in question and tangible components to explain strategy and confrontations. I find that lesson planning often provides me with some of my best design ideas. Good luck on your thesis!


John,
Thanks for your comments It is always good to hear from the designer as well as a fellow social studies teacher.
I have actually finished my degree (just waiting for my diploma at this point shake ) I love running simulations in my class (they are the heart of my teaching style) and part of the reason I have always done so is to try to convey to the kids the energy and excitement I get from both reading about history and playing these wargames. If I can convey to them the richness and fascinating possiblities contained within social studies, I truly believe they will both understand and appreciate it more. The old method of teaching social studies by textbook and worksheets needs to have a stake driven through it! Mind you, I still use lecture because, let's face it, we all love to hear a good story told to us
And I agree that the small map doesn't detract from the tension of H&M. It just makes for crowded provinces
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Tim Parker
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tedhkim wrote:
You mentioned VIV2 in passing. How do they compare?


Ted,
Each game has its merits and both are worth getting, IMO, if you are really into the Vietnam War.

Victory in Vietnam II is more of the traditonal hex and counter game with victory points being scored for things like control (reflected in the number of enemy units in RVN, IIRC it's been about 2 1/2 yrs since I last played VIV2). The big thing in VIV2 is the number of options open to you at a moments notice. IN VIV2, both players have cards, but it is not a CDG; rather, the cards are used to trigger events that have victory point costs to them or force you to run risks via a die roll. So you can attempt to do things like get congress to declare war (a huge plus I found in the game I won) or you can establish blockade line across Laos or enter Cambodia and chase those commies! VIV2 is certainly the longer of the two in terms of playing time. I would say the biggest advantage that VIV2 has over H&M is that all options are on the table (there is even a card to invade North Vietam! wow ) But again, both have their merits and, if you look at my ratings, I give both games a 9.5.

With these two games in my posession, I cannot imagine needing another strategic game on Vietnam.

If you want more information, I did a review of VIV2 and also a session report on my successful Laos blockade strategy (which worked, but it still took until 1972 to win the war!)
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Jake Baker
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The "pay RP for events" mechanic in Hearts and Minds seems very amenable to the creation of new homebrew cards. For example, you could pull a 4 Blue card and stick in a homebrew card, let's say "Congress Declares War": Cost 4 RPs, Doves generated by war fatigue [by which I mean the 1 Dove generated at the end of 1969+] are halted until after 1972. (effectively 3 Hawks, but not all at once.)

Maybe Worthington will think of doing a Player's Guide for Hearts and Minds. If so, I'd love to see some cards for alternate history gambits therein.
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John Poniske
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Jake, I commend you on your inventiveness and encourage you to come up with alternate cards. As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed creating houserules for games, it's what led me to be a designer. Remember those little lakes on the Stratego board? I had to create Marines so they wouldn't be a waste of space. Let's face it, once a game is in your hands, its evolution is based on your creativity ... and of course, the acquiescence of your opponent.
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Bob Long
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Great review! Just purchased the game 10 minutes ago off of the Worthington Games website. Being a newbie to the gaming world...or should I say a a revitalized gamer from the past, I am discovering that there are games that offer complex strategy with easy to learn rules. Really have enjoyed card driven games. Twilight Struggle being my favorite. And like a few other of you guys, I am an endorsed social studies teacher too. Can't wait to play the game!!!!!!! Again, Great review. Any of you guys thought about developing a card driven game leading up to the Civil War, something along the lines of north/south political strategy from 1820-1860?
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Lawrence Hung
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You can try that in Price of Freedom: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/14701/price-of-freedo...
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Martin Kulp
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And let me throw in a vote for For the People. A little more complex than Twilight Struggle, but a quite excellent card-driven treatment of the American Civil War.
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Jason Martin
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Exactly. In my experience, I almost always find a few blemishs in an otherwise fantastic game, and fix them via playtests of new rule additions.

If I can increase a game's elegance of play, I will, every time.
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John Poniske
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Bob you should look into my LINCOLN'S WAR title, currently on prepub with MMP. Exactly what you are asking for. I did an interview on the game last year, but happy to answer any questions on it.
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