Some Aussies riding into a VC-controlled village in style on a couple of Centurion tanks
The solitaire mode is both creative and a challenge. The cards drive the action and determine what the enemy does during its impulse.
The City map – chock full of tactical opportunities across rice-paddies, cemeteries, large and small buildings, and of course – plain ol’ jungle.
“I really wanted to do my best Arnold impersonation and bellow ‘Get to the choppahs!’
– but I restrained myself.”
TIME TO ROCK IT FROM THE DELTA TO THE DMZ…
If you don’t recognize the little snippet above, it’s from the 1988 Robin Williams film “Good Morning Vietnam” – and I reference it because just as the words uttered by Williams’ character Adrian Cronauer (a real guy by the way) cover the length of the country of South Vietnam, so does Flying Pig Games’ “’65: Squad-Level Combat in the Jungles of Vietnam” offer a wide-ranging plethora of tactical scenarios during the Vietnam War.
Designer Mark H. Walker, the man behind Flying Pig Games needs no introduction to grognards. His creds vis-a-vis tactical wargame systems is about as legit as they come. After all, he is the guy behind Lock ‘n Load Tactical, World at War ’85 and Nations at War. He’s also written a bunch of books and now runs two game companies: the aforementioned Flying Pig Games and also Tiny Battle Publishing.
The card-driven system Walker employs in ’65 owes its lineage to a game called “Night of Man” which Flying Pig Games released in 2015. That one covered an alien invasion and though I’ve never played it, after playing ’65, it would be safe to say that I am more than a little intrigued about its predecessor.
The system that drives Night of Man – and ’65 – is as mentioned earlier, card-driven. This strips down the gameplay and makes the game both fast-moving and easily accessible. There aren’t a lot of rules to memorize, and the rulebook itself is short, to-the-point and full of examples that help newbies (or FNGs in Vietnam parlance) get started without too much heartache.
Generally speaking each side gets a hand of four cards. There are some situations where you might have fewer (or more on at least one occasion). These cards allow actions to be performed. The basics being move and fire, though there are various “types” of actions that cover those two categories (things like Flanking Fire and Fast Move are two of the many examples).
There are also cards that you can play to support your own action, or if the opponent is playing a card, can allow a reaction to occur. And there are card actions that allow you to rally or reconstitute units that have taken hits in combat. And yes, there is Op fire when a unit passes within the line of sight of a non-phasing unit – as long as you have a fire card.
The card design is clever and utilitarian, as they typically contain not only two of the action/reaction/support triggers, but also two boxes that will determine the result of combat. Everything from ranged combat, to close assault, to armor and artillery is covered within these two boxes. The cards even determine when a turn ends, as there are four “End of Turn” cards and each scenario will include the number of these cards that will need to be drawn to end each turn.
Speaking of turns, the game turns feature impulses in which the players will alternate actions with the opponent naturally being able to do things like opportunity fire or play reaction cards. Units will be marked with “Moved” or “Fired” markers after performing one of those actions, or “Ops Complete” if they have done both, or have used a “Power” – another trigger on certain cards.
Powers – and abilities – are icons on the unit counters. These give variety to the units beyond the typical attack, movement and defense values that most games feature. The powers need to be triggered by the word “Power” on a card, while abilities (in general) are always on. Powers include things like adding firepower to an attack or making an assault more powerful. Abilities will allow units – and heroes – do things like hit multiple targets within a hex, or redraw a card to avoid a bad result, and much more. The variety of abilities and powers really highlights the differences between the units. An NVA rifle squad is not the same as a US Army squad which itself is not the same as a USMC squad, and that goes beyond just the “attack & movement” numbers thanks to abilities & powers.
The unit mix is very nice too – you get the rifle squads, the machine-guns (M-60s and RPDs), the RPGs, the Sappers, etc. But you also get the heroes mentioned earlier, each possessing a specialized ability (or three) that makes them very valuable. And, it being Vietnam, you also get helicopters. I really wanted to do my best Arnold impersonation and bellow “Get to the choppahs!” – but I restrained myself. There are two flavors of Hueys – the transport & gunship varieties and the USMC add-on brings some Cobra gunships with a pretty fearsome firepower.
There are also vehicles – from the tanks (PT-76s for the NVA, M-48s for the US forces and Centurions for the ANZACs), to trucks (some toting guns) to Ontos and M-113 APCs.
The base game is very good in its own right but when you add the expansions to the mix, the game moves to the level of great. I’m lucky enough to have all the add-ons for this game: Alone in the Jungle (the solo module), the USMC/ANZAC forces and the City map as well as the additional action cards (which add things like ‘Sudden Downpours’ with potentially turn-wrecking consequences).
The solitaire module is brilliant. It too is card-driven (with its own deck) and the cards, coupled with scenario specific “stances” for the NVA/VC forces, provides a competent opponent. The solo add-on also brings some random events and extra terrain tiles to the mix, as well as six scenarios designed for the solo mode. My opinion, which – full disclosure, I have yet to test – is that the base scenarios could, with a little work, be adapted to work with the solo rules.
The USMC/ANZAC expansion brings not only the forces of the title organizations, but also new abilities – flamethrowers, anyone? – and powers that really help differentiate the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Corps.
Then there’s the City map – big, dark and chock full of tactical opportunities thanks to many buildings, rice paddies, cemetery hexes, bridges spanning a river that rolls across the map and even the ubiquitous jungle. I played the city scenario and it was a blast.
About the only thing missing in this game is air power. Sorry guys, no “Puff the Magic Dragon” or Phantoms laying down some snake n’ nape in this one. But trust me, you won’t even miss ’em.
To sum up, this is an excellent game. Yes, it’s not new (it was released right around the end of 2016/start of ’17) and to me that makes it feel like a bit of an under-appreciated gem. The card-driven impulse-based system just works. The powers & abilities make the different units feel distinct and the scenarios (especially the solitaire ones) are both fun and filled with little touches that really make the game immersive.
Technically out-of-print, I couldn’t recommend this more highly. If you like tactical games and can find a copy – get it.
’65: Squad-Level Combat in the Jungles of Vietnam
The series covers the components, a playthrough of one of the base game scenarios, a demonstration of the solitaire expansion, partial playthrough of the USMC/ANZAC expansion (including armor) and an AAR-type playthrough (with one full turn) of the City scenario, which includes helicopters.
For full playlist, visit the Hexed & Countered YouTube channel here