Vietnam ’65 – PC Game Review
Vietnam ‘65. PC game review; also available as an iOS game. Publishers: Slitherine, Ltd. and Matrix Games. Available on Steam. Developed by Every Single Soldier. $9.99 (special price at this writing $8.99; $18.99 for PC version boxed and download; iOS price: $9.99.
Passed Inspection: Low price; interesting subject matter; good replay value.
Failed Basic: Sometime clumsy interface; no historical gameplay; undefined unit, time and size scales.
Vietnam ’65 is an interesting and absorbing turn-based tactical- and operational-level game that focuses on America’s counter-insurgency role during the Vietnam War. In the game you take the role of a commander of American forces assigned to a South Vietnamese province. As the commander, you must fight a counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign by gathering intelligence, raising local forces, deploying troops and managing logistics to win the “Hearts and Minds” (H&M) of the indigenous population and prevent the communists in the form of the Viet Cong (VC or Charlie) or the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) from taking control of your Area of Responsibility (AOR).
The Vietnam War is, arguably, the most controversial war in American history. It was part COIN with America and its South Vietnamese allies trying to win the “hearts and minds” of the populace with generous foreign aid, civic construction projects, and special forces designed to fight a guerrilla war against the communist. The war was also part conventional ground war with regular American military and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units fighting conventional battles against Main Force VC and the NVA units.
Vietnam ’65 is not a historical game as such. No attempt has been made to recreate history, or even play the game on historically accurate maps. Rather, the game plays out in a randomized “skirmish mode” and gives you the “taste, look and feel” of conducting a COIN campaign.
Welcome to the Jungle
The game has two well-done tutorials. The “Basic Training” tutorial is a hands-on walk-through of the user interface (UI) and goes over movement and both direct and indirect combat. It also describes the game’s units (infantry, Special Forces, Hueys and so on). The walkthrough also covers the types and numbers of bases available. Basic Training guides you through the vitally important tasks of unit resupply. “Advanced Training” is a set of informational briefings on key issues like victory conditions, enemy and friendly operations, how to read the intelligence (strategic) map and so on. Although the game mechanics are only moderately difficult, going through the tutorials would be wise to gather some the subtler details of gameplay.
The graphics are nice, if basic. There are seven kinds of terrain: open, rough, rice paddy, road, village, river, and of course, jungle, all of which are distinctly different and easily recognized. Terrain affects game play in various ways. For example, infantry cannot air-assault into jungle, village or rice paddy. Mechanized and armored units move quickly in the open and along roads but move much slower in the jungle. Engineer units can clear jungle but cannot build roads through rough areas, and so on.
The sound is well done: the thwack of a chopper’s blades, the rattle of rifle fire and even the tweet of jungle birds is here. But the sound is not just pretty background; it also provides information. The game tells you things like when an ARVN infantry unit is ready or when another unit needs resupply.
At the start of each game a random map is generated with a mix of terrains, ten villages and your Headquarters (HQ) compound; the latter is always at the east edge of the map. In the HQ you have three infantry units, three helicopters units, an engineer unit, an artillery unit, and a Special Forces (SF) detachment. You may purchase more units, including such things as Cobra attack helicopters, mechanized infantry, and tank units. This map randomization and ability to buy a variety of units greatly adds to the game’s re-play value.
The HQ is the only place you can purchase new units, heal damaged ones and resupply artillery. Using engineers, you can build one “Fire Base” which has many of the function of the HQ, like resupply, but cannot heal damaged units or resupply artillery. Engineers can also built any number of “Forward Bases,” which are handy for housing infantry and artillery—plus, the SF can only train two ARVN units per Forward Base. Placement of the Fire Base and the Forward Bases is important to provide maximum fire and logistical support to the AOR. All the bases may be attacked and destroyed by the communists’ forces; losing your only Fire Base or HQ is a fatal blow.
A Different Kind of War(game)
Unlike a conventional war game where victory is directly determined by occupying key location and/or destroying enemy units, in Vietnam ’65 victory is determined by the “Hearts and Minds” score. Killing Charlie and the NVA pushes up the player’s H&M number at both the village and province level, as does conducting an intelligence-gathering mission at a village. A higher H&M score makes enemy actions less likely. Failing to counter communist actions or losing friendly units drives the H&M score down, which makes enemy actions more likely. Lose enough H&M points and the NVA will build firebases and launch an invasion of your area.
Each village starts out with 50 H&M points and is flying a Republic of South Vietnam flag. Anytime a campfire is shown in a village infantry units may gain intelligence about the enemy by entering that village. ARVN units do a better job of getting information than Americans do. Get the village up to 60 points and they start to fly an American flag and are more likely to provide information. If a village’s score drops to 40 points, it shows a communist flag and is much less likely to provide information; also, the NVA is likely to build a base nearby. The village-average H&M score is the province’s H&M score.
The game’s only “currency” is Political Support (PS) points. Buying, healing, and moving units, building bases and roads, and clearing jungle all cost PS. NVA bases in your AOR lower your PS. Political Support is gained by destroying enemy units and is lost by losing friendly units. You may go into negative numbers on points, which means damaged units will not heal and new units cannot be purchased. Smart management of Political Support is important.
One downside of the game is that the unit-action interface is more than a bit clunky. Left clicking on an icon activates a unit, and the possible actions are shown in buttons above and to the right of the unit icon. Action buttons sometimes overlap the map and other permanent actions buttons. Because of this, once when I attempted to launch a resupply mission I managed to bomb my HQ. Also, at least twice a game I inadvertently ordered an infantry unit to mine sweep when I meant for them to move. A pull-down action menu, an “undo,” or a confirm action button would be a nice feature to deal with this issue.
The game lacks scale. A game lasts a completely arbitrary forty-five turns and you have no idea what time scale a turn is. Why not make a game 52 turns and call the time scale a week per turn? Also, you have no idea of the size of any unit. The infantry icon is three American soldiers, the armored icon is an M-48 tank, but you don’t know if these are squads, companies, a single tank or a platoon. Lastly, there is no size scale, so you don’t know what your AOR is covering in terms of square area.
The Bottom Line
Please, don’t let the low cost fool you into thinking the Vietnam ’65 is some kind of casual game. It is not. In any given turn in the game you may be building bases, gathering intelligence on the enemy, launching artillery and air strikes, training ARVN infantry and resupplying units. There is no coasting in this game; each turn and action requires attention and thought.
Ultimately Vietnam ’65 is a fun and engrossing wargame with good re-playability and a high return on investment for your gaming dollar.
Armchair General Rating: 85%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History, European History and Political Science. He cut his wargaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.