Yaquinto's The Fall of South Vietnam is, to quote from the rules booklet, "a stylized treatment of the warfare between the North and South Vietnamese from 1973-1975." It is a fast-playing and colorful game; not one to be taken too seriously, but a fun filler game.
Each of the eight turns represents a season, beginning in Summer 1973 and finishing in Spring 1975. The game revolves ultimately around control of Saigon: if the North controls Saigon at the end of a South Vietnamese turn, they win, while the South seeks to avoid this until the end of the Spring 1975 turn in order to win. While this might seem one-dimensional, the game includes a desertion mechanic that gives meaning to the other provinces as more than merely a highway to Saigon.
The Fall of South Vietnam is one of what Yaquinto called their Album Games™, the box is a 12" x 12" square like a double-LP album might have come in, back when LPs roamed the earth. The box unfolds to reveal that the outside of the box consists of completely unneeded LP sleeves and that lining of the outside of the box is the mapboard. The counters and rules are stored in the gap between the two halves of the map when they are folded together.
The map itself his a relic of a bygone era, too. It is obviously a hand-painted and quite attractive rendition of South Vietnam, shading from the red-browns of the Central Highlands to the greens of the Mekong Delta. South Vietnam is divided by red borders into twenty provinces, each of which has a provincial capital depicted as a circle with the name of the province. All tables necessary for play are printed on the map.
The counters are half-inch squares and are very, very thick: you can see two layers of stock if you look at them edge-on. The artwork on them is actually quite good when you realize this is a game from 1981. The South Vietnamese (RVN) divisions have black infantry silhouettes on a white field, while the specialized South Vietnamese regiments are a variety of black silhouettes (tank, M-113 APC, parachutes, etc.) on a green field. The South Vietnamese air units are a more-or-less F-104-looking black silhouette on a blue field. The art is clear and immediately descriptive. The North Vietnamese units are a little less varied in color: the NVA and the National Liberation Front (NLF) are on a red field, while militia units are on a pink field, but all three are easy to understand at a glance.
The sequence of play is IGO-UGO, with the North Vietnamese going first. Both sides' sequence is almost identical:
1. Determine how many units are available for this turn (by rolling on a table)
3. Attack - combat is mandatory when both sides are in the same province
4. Adjustment - this includes movement in and out of cities as well as side-specific actions.
The Adjustment Phase is a little different for the North and the South. For the North, it is necessary to move a unit into the capital of a province in order to control it, and this kind of movement is done at this time. Controlling a province grants some serious benefits, but it requires a pretty serious time investment: since a unit that moves into a city in one turn cannot move back out until the Adjustment Phase of the next turn, the unit is effectively trapped for a while. For a game with only eight turns, this is no small matter. The North can then place a militia unit (up to one) in each controlled province. Militia units are weak and cannot move, but they can hold the province by moving into the capital and are one more unit the South will have to defeat to retake the province.
For the South, the Adjustment Phase has a serious wrinkle in addition to the moving in and out of the provincial capitals. The South Vietnamese player has to total up the number of North Vietnamese-controlled provinces and, if that number is equal to or greater than five, roll on a table for each unit in the South Vietnamese army to see if that unit deserts. There are three columns on this table, but even the lowest column can be devastating to the South, as each unit checked will desert on a roll of six on a d6.
The rules are remarkably clear and brief. I did not bother to read the rules cover-to-cover when playing games for this review and yet had only a few questions during play, almost all of which were quite clearly answered when I looked. Only one question lingers in my mind, and that is whether the Unit Availability roll at the beginning of a turn has anything to do with moving in or out of a provincial capital in the Adjustment Phase or if it only affects how many units can move and attack during the Movement and Attack phases. I have played that any unit can move in or out during the Adjustment Phase, but the rules themselves are not clear. I will emphasize that that one question is really the only one, and in this day and age of novella-length rulebooks, that is a treat.
The distinction between the province itself and the provincial capital offers an interesting choice for both players. As mentioned already, the North needs to occupy the provincial capital in order to control the province and promote desertion in the RVN army, but cities also provide additional stacking, since an additional two units can be stacked in a capital (except for Saigon, which allows an extra four units). Further, units in cities do not have to retreat as a result of combat, and that is critical to fighting the NVA. On the other hand, units in provincial capitals cannot move during ordinary movement, and so the additional stacking and combat toughness also forces a strong reduction in mobility.
Most units move one province per turn, but the specialist South Vietnamese regiments have differing capabilities. Armored units can move three provinces. Mechanized infantry can move two. More interesting are the airborne units that can move anywhere on the board, but the most interesting of all are the marines, who can not only move from any coastal province to any other, but they can move again during the Adjustment Phase. This makes them ideal for hit-and-run reconquests of the exposed provinces near the DMZ and far from Saigon.
Both the standard RVN divisions and the NVA divisions are represented by two counters, and these counters must always move together. If they are ever separated (by the retreat result in combat), they can only move by having one move to the location of the other until they are reunited at which time they can again move normally. As a result, it is tempting to attack only one unit of each enemy division because retreating it temporarily paralyzes the remainder. Another implication of this is that it is desirable to eliminate one of the two units in a division because the Unit Availability table specifies a number of divisions that can move in a turn. A halved division counts as much for these purposes as a whole division, so careful target choices can seriously impede the enemy's ability to move forces in upcoming turns.
Combat is simultaneous, with each unit firing at one other unit in the same province. The battle in the province itself is resolved first and if necessary the capital is assaulted if attackers remain.
The combat tables are brutal and bloody. Each side has three classes of units from a CRT perspective. From weakest to strongest, the South has riverboats and aircraft; regular RVN divisions; and specialist regiments. For the North, there are Militia, NLF regiments, and NVA divisions. The weakest units don't often do much (they need a 5 on a d6 to force a retreat and a 6 on a d6 to kill an opposing unit), while the NVA divisions are very deadly (force a retreat on a 1-2 and kill on a 3-6). Yes, that's right: NVA divisions always score a hit unless the defender is in a provincial capital and can therefore ignore the retreat result. The South Vietnamese units can really only hope to kill a few NVA units while likely getting killed themselves. I did once win a game as the South when the last two land units in the game killed one another during the battle for Saigon: I warned you that the combat tables were bloody!
The rulebook lays out the basic strategies for each side, so I am not giving away any state secrets here. For the North, the choice is between, on the one hand, sending those frightfully powerful NVA divisions headlong toward Saigon and, on the other hand, attacking wherever the South is weak in order to control provinces and let desertion to the hard work. Of course, even if the North uses the desertion strategy, the North still needs to have troops enough in position to take and hold Saigon by the Spring 1975 turn, and that isn't always easy.
For the South, the strategic decision is where to be weak. The South has to protect Saigon strongly but cannot afford to let too many other provinces fall too soon. The mobility of the specialist regiments is critical to keeping the number of North-controlled provinces down, but the South has to balance casualties versus the likely desertion losses.
The game typically comes down to the wire, with the North taking Saigon on the last or second-to-last turn. The South can win, but improving on the historical result is hard.
This is an example of a failed North Vietnamese attempt to use the direct strategy and emphasize a frontal attack on Saigon: time has just run out. Look at the casualties, lined along the bottom of the map, and the relatively few deserters along the right side of the map.
Is it fun?
I have always enjoyed this game. Perhaps it is because the rules are so easily understood. Perhaps it is because the gameplay is quick, with a game usually taking an hour or less to play. Perhaps it is because the massive casualties give the game a bit of a roller-coaster feeling, as you feel frantic and out of control, hurtling toward the Spring of 1975. No matter the reason, I have kept it through the great (and regretted) purges of my gaming collection, and I am glad to have it still.
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Thanks for sharing your review of this little known game!
Looks like a good simple and effective wargame.
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- ltc jim(jaranyi)United States
- Great review. I played this game solitaire a lot when it came out in the early 80's. This is one of the better beer and pretzel games and can be played in about 30-45 minutes. Even though it is a "simply" game it has some complexities and almost every game comes down to the last turn and dice rolls. If someone is looking for a historically accurate game this is not it, however if someone is looking for a fun, fast, easy to learn but intense game with a little historical flair then this is a good game to try. I just got myself another "old" copy and looking to play this one often. It is a really fun simply and fast game with some strategic planning as the South tries to hang on.
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nice fun and easy game of trying to defend and or attackingcounter attacks, maneuver and bloody.
some SAY it wasn't that bloody, well games are not always simulations, but portray units chewed up for the south never to return...NOT ALL DIED, but they were no longer a effective force and reserve and recruits went into existing units, the North saw heavy losses and new men entering from the NORTH AND CAMBODIA AND LAOS.
PLAY BOTH SIDES AGAINST A OPPONENT, SEE WHO SCORES A WIN QUICKER OR UPSETS WITH THE SOUTH.
Well worth the time.
don't believe the crazy review on webgrognards from old magazine from the looney tunes fellow, OR THE ONE ON ANOTHER PAGE HERE SAYING HE SAW THE SOUTH LOSE IN TEN MINUTES...horse hock.
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