What Went Wrong: The Battle of Ap Bac – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Exciting game on an often-ignored battle. Great-looking map. Concise but generally clear rules. Great value for the price.
Failed Basic: Unit type is a little difficult to read on the counters. Player must provide deck of cards and a 10-sided die.
High Flying Dice Games (HFD) is well known for designing games on subjects not usually covered by game publishers, and for games that offer high value for the price. What Went Wrong does not in any way betray those expectations.
HFD’s webpage states, “What Went Wrong: The Battle of Ap Bac, a two-player game, simulates the first large-scale fight waged between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the National Liberation Front (NLF).
“On January 2, 1963, the 7th ARVN infantry division dispatched elements of its 11th Regiment to support two Civil Guard battalions to take out a radio transmitter the NLF were operating in the hamlet of Ap Bac. This time, however, the Viet Cong chose to stand and fight. As the day wore on and the fighting escalated the ARVN were compelled to send in armor and airborne forces, as well as committing air support in a fight that decidedly went against them. It was the first stand-up fight for both sides’ forces.”
(Click these links to learn more about the Battle of Ap Bac.—Editor)
As with most other HFD games, What Went Wrong is a desktop-published product that is delivered in a plastic report cover, but don’t let that deter you. The game’s components are in full color and include a rulebook, 11” x 17” map, 64 double-sided counters and a player’s aid sheet. HFD provides two different options for the counters; the lower priced option provides counter sheets that you have to mount and cut. For $5 more, HFD provides mounted counters.
The size each unit represents is not directly stated in the rules, but it appears that each counter is a company of men and artillery or several M113s or one Piasecki H-21B tandem-rotor transport helicopter. Each counter identifies the units by formation, full or reduced strength, unit type, attack value and defense value.
Some units, such as the H-21 B helicopters do not have attack or defense value but serve as transports to bring the ARVN 8th Airborne in as reinforcements. The helicopter counter does not move; When an airborne unit enters play (which can be in any area with a 0 terrain modifier), a helicopter counter is placed on it; the airborne unit can move no farther that turn and attacks against it get a +1 benefit (going into hot LZs is a dangerous occupation). On the next turn, the helicopter marker is removed and the airborne unit moves like any other infantry unit.
My only complaint about the counters is that the unit type can be a little bit difficult to read and my older eyes wish that the text for that part of the counter was in a slightly larger font.
The player’s aid sheet includes a turn record track, list of optional reinforcements, activation track, terrain keys and unit key charts as well as charts for combat results.
The game does not use the traditional turns generally found in other wargames; instead a system of back-and-forth activations is controlled by drawing from a deck of standard playing cards (not included). If a red card is drawn, the NLF player can activate a number of units equal to half the card number. Conversely, if a black card is drawn, the ARVN player can activate his or her forces. A face card gives the appropriate player options: activate two units instead of one, or return a reduced infantry or heavy weapons unit to full strength (requires a die roll of 4 or less on d10), or return an eliminated infantry or heavy weapons unit to play at reduced strength (also requires a die roll of 4 or less).
During the turn, the player can move or attack (not both) and/or call in reinforcements, artillery fire or airstrikes.
When a Joker is drawn from the deck, the turn ends and the turn counter is advanced. Each turn represents two hours, from 7 AM to 9 PM on January 2, 1963. On average, a game takes from 1 to 3 hours to complete.
A unit may attack in the same area that it is in or into an adjacent area. The 10-sided die is not used during combat. Instead, the attacking player draws a card from the deck, and uses that card’s value for the base attack number. (Color of suit doesn’t matter here; if a face card is drawn, ignore it and draw again.) The card’s value is reduced by the target’s defense factor and terrain modifier. Other modifiers can include concealed NLF units, snipers, sappers, etc. The rules state that the attacking unit’s attack factor is used in making attacks, but there is no mention of the AF in the list of modifiers; however, addendum on HFD’s site says, “4.1 Fire Attack (clarification). Also add the attaching unit’s AF to the CD, in addition to other modifiers listed in the rules.”
If the card’s modified value is less than the target’s defense factor, the attack has no effect. If the modified value is greater than the DF, the unit is reduced (flipped to its other side); an already reduced unit is eliminated.
The Joker card isn’t mentioned in the combat section, but the End of Turn section says, “The turn ends immediately when the Joker card is drawn.” HFD confirms that if the Joker is drawn for the attack card, then the attack immediately ends without having any effect.
Morale is a huge factor in What Went Wrong, with casualties causing ARVN and NLF forces to break and flee, which may end the battle early. NLF snipers can modify the die rolls for the NLF side and help them wear the ARVN down. The NLF units begin the game under concealed markers that are removed when the unit moves or attacks; concealed units can be attacked, but with a -1 penalty to the attack factor. The ARVN can call on their 8th Airborne and some M-113 armored personnel carriers, as well as artillery and airstrikes, for extra firepower, but bringing in the M-113s early or bringing in any Airborne units gives the NLF victory points.
The game accurately represents the ebb and flow of this very fluid military action, and is a great game for the price. For gamers interested in the Vietnam War, What Went Wrong is a good choice for tactical wargaming.
Armchair General Rating: 94 %
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 4
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!