Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Relief of Khe Sanh

It has proven difficult to get a game in, and I had set this one up around Christmas, without getting a chance to play - so with a little time off work, we were able to squeeze this in.

This is a little revolutionary, in that though it uses the Field of Battle WWII rules, it's Vietnam. FoB WWII uses companies as the base element, so it's perfect for quasi operational level battles, without cluttering the battlefield with MGs and mortars (they operate within the base effectiveness).

There are of course doctrinal changes and helicopters, though the beauty of FoB is that it is eminently hackable. Infantry choppers can be released as an asset on a move card, and their roll on the same card permits anything to move to LZ/land/deploy depending on how good the roll is.

There were a lot of subtle changes here for reinforcements and deployment - and the fact that we used hexes to simplify movement and ranges - and to dictate limitations (i.e. almost everywhere is light jungle or ridgeline). Some work still to do but I think we have proven the concept.

Key to this battle is the fact that the NVA expected a ground drive rather than the use of Air-Mobility to support the Marines at Khe Sanh. There are also elements of forcing a low tech or less well supplied enemy into the open such that it can be bombarded with more 'high tech' or well supplied munitions. In effect, a little cold to compare, but we see the same thing from Afghanistan to the Ardennes offensive (depending on which theory you read) where knowledge of an enemy's willingness to expose itself can be exploited through airpower and rapid movement of ground units.

We used the 1980s classic boardgame 'Operation Pegasus' as source material, amongst other more general references. This is a fantastic game in in its own right and the first hex'n'chit game I ever played in the 80s. Box detail gives a good outline of the operation.

A modern reinterpretation of the original boardgame map - showing Khe Sanh, the surrounding high ground. Lang Vei special forces camp is to the left with LZ Stud to the far right.

Specific cards made for the game from double backed linen card stock. I won't hold back; these were a pain in the ass to make!

 Red teams...hunting for targets.

Marine units hemmed into Khe Sanh.

The old French fort to the south east.

NVA units on the high ground surrounding the base. 

Early attacks on the base, made in an attempt to force a way in - though these should have been made with more artillery support.

 Pink team - asset points being used up to open up Highway 9 to the east.

 Firefights erupt at the base over hours of protracted fighting.

US start to place spotting rounds. Art'y on the way.

Early move cards allow deployment of AirCav units from LZ Stud. They deploy at LZ Corbett (we made these LZ names up so don't go looking for them - fans of classic British comedy will recognise however ...ahem).

 White teams from 1/9th spot for NVA ambush sites along the road - the US strategy will aim to bolster the base, whilst drawing potential NVA reinforcements to the wrong place.

US arty hits NVA mortar positions in anticipation of supporting the base.

Some casualties amongst NVA leadership.

 A red team lurks at the eastern approach, ready to open up on spotted enemy elements.

A US counterattack, against the odds, manages to retake hill 905 from demoralised NVA units. These guys will be put under severe pressure for the rest of the game however.

'Dinks in the wire!'

 NVA units gather for subsequent assault; reinforcements have also been spotted to the north.

 AirCav units arriving to the south of the base at LZ Barker. immediately come under fire from snipers.

Good move card draws with a strong initiative roll, allow the US to also drop troops at LZ Morecambe and LZ Wise - to the east of the base on Highway 9

 White Team lurks at the road way - trying to tell friend from doubt remembering that the concept of a frontline is somewhat spurious here.

US artillery and airpower hits the eastern jungle and delays any thought of NVA reinforcements moving toward Khe Sanh from the east.

 NVA units, who can maximise their numbers, move through the jungle to flank the AirCav reinforcements.

Fire mission and air attacks before nightfall.

NVA bombardment goes on heavily through the night turns.

As they also re-deploy from the French Fort position to take on AirCav units in the jungle.

 The final NVA assault goes in - reinforced with fresh units against still recovering Marines in cover.

'Danger Close! I say again Danger Close! This is my call! Over.'

 Confused and deadly firefights on the base perimeter.

 (Great mortar, but I'm never gonna get the shell up there... )

'You'd better get some AirCav units to LZ Barker soon son, or there ain't gonna be a base to save!'

One US battalion has been decimated on the approach to Highway 9, though the NVA have suffered losses they can not hope to replace, as more US units land at LZ Morecambe

 'We need a damned airstrike son! The enemy is in the open.'

Amazing what can happen with card turns...

The threat of losing 1/3 of the base ended with airpower.

As LZs Barker and Corbett are freed up for the last of the AirCav battalions.

The last ditch NVA assault has bled them white and their morale will only last as long as a morale card remains unturned, and they can pass the subsequent roll.

US White Teams are now in their rear areas spotting for targets.

Morale card comes up, and the NVA are found over.

 A great game, though we had to make a few last minute hacks, so in the end there was quite a bit of playtesting, but the game is sound and solid enough to be used for operational modern conflicts.



  1. Epic game, Darren! Looked like a ton of fun. Love the figs, slicks, and cobras. Seems like there were alot of operational decisions to make that made this really seem like a proper battle instead of just a series of tactical engagements. I love it! More please!

    1. Thanks mate. Yes - quite epic, and the rules do lend themselves to it. Although we had a lot of changes to make - there are very definitely decisions based on artillery support, logistics and where/when to use assets in terms of reinforcements and air strikes. Had a real operational flavour. The NVA player had to be very cautious - yet it's very difficult to get things done. The US had a really good run of cards at one stage which sapped a lot of NVA morale.
      Definitely find yourself asking the same operational level questions though.
      I have a few more WWII FoB battles in mind too, though will return to this again.

  2. An excellent looking game. The cards look good, even if they were troublesome to make.

    1. Many thanks Peter. Yes, FoB has some fine mechanisms at heart.
      I also think many of your rules would be perfect for this style of game, which of course reminds me that I need to get to a few games using your rules.

  3. Very interesting and the cards look fab.

    1. Cheers - I'd had it set up for a while, but ended up having to squeeze it in. I'll get you down for the next one - probably Marlburian on a Saturday...or maybe more FoB WWII - as Arnhem has always appealed.

      Cards looked good in the end - but they took months - a little work over various weekends.
      I have a WWII version, but I'll do them without backs, then there's no lining up process.

  4. You game is a fine spectacle of Vietnam action! When I see posts such as yours, it makes me nostalgic for a begone time when I fielded a collection of Vietnam War armies in 20mm.

    1. Thanks Jonathan.
      To be honest I've thought for years about Vietnam games at this level, yet there's never been a set of rules that would reward operational style decision making until FoB seemed to make it obvious.
      I guess Sam Mustapha's Rommel could also be converted - and I think there's more to the particular conflict for wargamers than simple boots on the ground style platoon scenarios - and at the very least, the wider spectacle helps us understand the war a little better.

  5. Its funny, i never think do do anything 'modern' but then i see reports like this and i start feeling the pull!. Great report and a great effort in translating this from the source materials (including the cards!, they look well worth the effort). Its the choppers though, they are such an awesome visual on the table and bring up every image from every great 'nam movie you ever watched!.

    1. Thanks mate. The little Loach Scout was all over the board and looks great in close up with the doors taken off as it was 'in theatre', and inevitably 'chukka chukka' sounds were never far away. The pics with Hueys landed and in the air came out really well...and that Cobra... there were several air to ground rocket impressions in the air, I can tell you.