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

Subject: The Initial Thoughts of a Non-Wargamer rss

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James Webb
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We're Airborne. We don't start reviews, we *finish* them.

I'm not a wargamer. I lack the patience, dedication and poor personal hygiene required to become one of gaming's elite. However, when I became aware of this title it instantly went onto my wishlist. Why is this? Two reasons...

i) Twilight Struggle. It's the greatest game ever, and as such I'm crazy for the CDGs.

ii) The Vietnam War. I don't know why, but I've long been interested in this conflict. Maybe it's because Platoon is my favourite film of all time.

All I know, is that when I saw a the Vietnam/CDG combination I got excited and decided that I wanted this game. So, after a few solo runs and an initial loss to a foe so sneaky that he stole my underpants mid-game, what are my impressions?

Card-Driven Wargaming. An eight-week college for the phoney tough and the crazy brave.

I like games where theme and mechanic work in harmony; where neither feels like it's been shoe-horned in at the expense of the other. Sometimes, a review will wait until the end to tell you how a game feels. For me, how a game like this feels is not a postscript but its raison d'etre. For a wargame to get my attention it has to grab me. I'm pleased to say that Hearts and Minds gets it right.

It's a wargame, but it's not about conflict. At least, not really. It's about politics. It's about public opinion. As the Allied player you curse the loss of every unit, not because you care about the young men who just died, but because every loss brings the South closer to a coup and public opinion to rock bottom. As the Red player you are happy to throw everything at the Allies. Your guys are expendable, because you know that whatever happens you will stay in the fight. You don't need to win battles, you just need to kill enough Grunts to make the US public think twice about sending their boys In Country to die. The Arsenal of Democracy is useless here, as modern media made Vietnam a war that a Democracy couldn't win.

The game employs a rolling score chart, much like Twlight Struggle. If the score is in the negative, it's on the Hawk side. This is good for the Allied player. If it is on the positive side, it's on the Dove side. This is good for the Red player. But there's no 'first to twenty wins' here. The Allied player will be haemorrhaging points from turn one, and they'll keep pouring out all the way to 100 if necessary. He doesn't win the game by winning the war. He wins the game by stemming the bleeding enough to save face. Reinforcements come too slowly, and turn up untried and vulnerable, and those blue tokens representing US and International troops might as well have 'Free Doves!' written on them. The North player picks up points without even trying. The South player has to claw together Hawks where he can. The VC will turn entire provinces against you, ambush and kill your troops, and then vanish like the mist. You'll plug one hole, and NVA will pour in through another thanks to the almost total freedom of movement that the Ho Chi Minh trail gives them. Naval and air supremacy is useful, but it won't save you. The Red player will enjoy having the time and resources to probe, mislead and devastate the South. The Blue player will feel the despair of a futile war, but also bleed every inch of joy from even the smallest victory.

In other words, Hearts and Minds gets my attention. But how does it work?

I love this game at night. The dice...there's no right or wrong in them. They're just there.

As previously explained, this is a game where you are trying to get as many points as possible. The Red player gets points for controlling provinces, killing non-Vietnamese units, causing a coup in the South (mainly by killing Vietnamese units) and a few other places. The Blue player only gets points in a few specific situations, such as card events. Both players can benefit from making sure that their faction comes out on top in the civil wars in Laos and Cambodia, but those conflicts are sideshow - at least initially - to the main event in South Vietnam.

Each year you get to play four cards. A card will give you Resource Points to spend. If you don't spend them all, you can save them for future turns - Stored Resource Points. You'll need those SRPs. You can use one each turn to supplement your card points, but you'll probably try and avoid this if you can. You'll really need those SRPs. You'll need to spend them to stop units dying, factions collapsing and various other ugly things happening to your side as you fight for the soul of South Vietnam. You'll really need those SRPs.

Cards come in values of between two and five RPs, and will also feature an event. Unlike other CDGs, it's possible to have your cake and eat it too - events are triggered by spending RPs on them, meaning you can activate an event and still have something left over to surprise Charlie. Furthermore, all the cards in your deck will be either your events or neutral events that benefit you.

You can spend your points on moving stacks, fighting or exercising political control on provinces. It's the last action that is actually where most of your points will probably go, because - as I've already said, and as the game's name itself admits - the firefights are a distraction from the real goal of winning hearts and minds. Because of this, the Red player's greatest asset is probably the understrength VC units. The NVA blocks can be handy for distracting and decimating Uncle Sam's finest, but it's your guerilla units that will win you the game.

The way that the VC are handled in this game is really neat. They come in three flavours - veteran, regular and Bad Intel. All three types can exercise control over provinces, but only vets and regulars can actually hurt the Blues. However, the Blue player won't know which is which until he actually engages them - or he can try to engage them, because they are very hard to pin down. The fact that they can ambush Allied units is just a bonus, and a thematic one at that.

The dead only know one thing: It is better to be gaming.

This is a wargame. If the lower quality components don't convince you then there is plenty of die rolling and plenty of CRTs and plenty of CRT modifiers. It also follows the usual wargame convention of "Here are the movement rules, and here are the five thematic exceptions", though I would say that this game is definitely on the low end of the complexity scale. I never felt overwhelmed by minutiae. You just need to be aware that this is no hybrid, and is - compared to Twilight Struggle - definitely a step towards Grognardism. If significant levels of uncontrollable events and dice bother you, then this game will bother you. If, however, you feel like moving in that direction, then this game is an ideal step up.

There is none of the either/or hand-management tension that makes Twilight Struggle such an experience. Tension has to come from elsewhere. My initial thoughts are that it comes from the Campaign cards.

Both players have access to a deck of Campaign cards (4 for the Allied player, and 6 for the Red). Each turn you are given the option of taking a Campaign card into your hand in place of regular card. Campaign cards focus on one of the four zones. Playing a Campaign card will give you Hawks/Doves at the end of each of your turns provided you control the required number of provinces in the required zone. Red also has two Grand Campaign cards to represent the Tet and Easter offensives, which work differently and can totally change the face of the game.

The tension of Campaign cards is found thus. It's better to play a Campaign card early in your turn, so you can maximise the benefit. But you better choose wisely, because if you play it at the wrong time and your opponent can neutralise it then you just threw away one of your best chances to score points. And the card itself only gives you 3 RPs, which is pitiful. Thankfully, it allows you to also add 3 SRPs to the card, but this is a double-edged sword because firstly, you need to have stored those RPs earlier, and secondly, you really really need those SRPs. So that's 6 RPs (oh, and that's only provided that you spend them in the relevant zone). With those points you usually have to make significant gains in an area, and stop your opponent from undoing those gains in his turn. And he's going to keep coming back turn after turn, so you'd better hope that you can afford to spend your turns bolstering your position in the Campaign zone. But if you can manage this, you can score game-winning points. So I hope you planned ahead and prepared for the Campaign in the year before.

So the genius of the Campaign cards is in the high risk/high reward nature of them. You need to plan for them, and you need to make them count. And you also need to be prepared for the fact that your opponent has a fistful of Campaign cards too, and I'm betting that he isn't afraid to use them.

You talking about wargaming? Hmmmm? Y'all experts? Y'all know about wargaming?

I can't honestly say that Hearts and Minds is going to keep me passionate for as long as Twilight Struggle. I'm fairly sure it's not going to provide quite so many tense and ecstatic moments as Twilight Struggle. But it's not Twilight Struggle, and the only reason I keep comparing it to that game is because I don't have any other frame of reference (until I learn Age of Napoleon and Paths of Glory).

What I can say is that this non-wargamer is plenty pleased to have picked up this game. My initial impressions are that it hits a sweet spot in complexity and mechanics. Furthermore, it really captures something of the Vietnam conflict, and that's no mean feat. It feels good. I hope I'll get the chance to play this one out a lot.

A day without games is like a day without sunshine.

EDIT: One important thing that I forgot to mention is that the game provides all the information you need to start and finish at any point between 1965-1975, meaning that you can play one turn or ten turns. This is an excellent concession to us time-starved gamers, and will ensure that Hearts and Minds can get to the table regardless of the time frame, although shorter games will not do the game system justice, as they are less likely to utilise Campaign cards and will be more dependent on the card draws.
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Scott Henshaw
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Great review! I shall refer others in my war game group to it as an inspiration to get this on the table at our June meeting.
 
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Jason Matthew
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Nice review James. I was impressed after our first play and look forward to playing out a full game sometime.
 
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The Galaxy is Just Packed!
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revgiblet wrote:
I'm not a wargamer. I lack the patience, dedication and poor personal hygiene required to become one of gaming's elite.


You should sell a t-shirt with that on it.
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castiglione
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bryanwinter wrote:
revgiblet wrote:
I'm not a wargamer. I lack the patience, dedication and poor personal hygiene required to become one of gaming's elite.


You should sell a t-shirt with that on it.


It's a bit too long to fit on a t-shirt.

It needs some editing to tighten up the plot.
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Jon
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Very nicely done. A pleasure to read. Thanks for doing it.
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Steve Herron
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Quote:
If the lower quality components don't convince you


I thought the components were fine. The counters are thicker than normal counters. If one could pick a bad component it would be the map is a bit small and not mounted but that did not bother me. You did write good job on the review. It is a great game. If you like it I think you would like A House Divided.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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castiglione wrote:
It's a bit too long to fit on a t-shirt.

Most of us wargamers wear really big shirts.
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James Webb
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sherron wrote:
Quote:
If the lower quality components don't convince you


I thought the components were fine.


This is true - I deliberately wrote 'lower quality' rather than 'low quality' because although they are fine they are of a lower quality than those which this non-wargamer is used to.

Actually, because the map isn't mounted I didn't mind it being a bit smaller. I found it easier to get flat than, say, the Command and Colors map that I have also wrestled with.
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Jharrod Meade-Frazier

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I'm now more excited to play my copy of this! Too bad I won't get a chance to play it until next year as I am in the middle of training for another deployment, gaaaah!!!
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John Poniske
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God keep you you, soldier!
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Doug Epperson
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jrodimus wrote:
I'm now more excited to play my copy of this! Too bad I won't get a chance to play it until next year as I am in the middle of training for another deployment, gaaaah!!!


SALUTE!
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Rex Brynen
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(Belated) thanks for the review, James. I sometimes use games like this in the classroom, and its always useful to know how non-hardcore wargamers views game design.

My own review can be found at http://paxsims.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/review-hearts-and-mi...
 
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