4Box system: series video review

On Youtube, Randy Strader has posted a 22-minute video on the games of mine he owns that use the 4Box system, beginning with Andartes.

This is a good explanation of the system and variations thereof: he runs through all six or so games that use the 4 box system (Tupamaro (as prototype), Shining Path, Algeria, Andartes, Kandahar, EOKA) and other area-control games of mine he also owns (Green Beret, Binh Dinh 69 and Operation Whirlwind).

Seven of these nine have been published in folio format by One Small Step, and their production gets a good look-in. He’s also kind to the much more modest graphic and production standards of my own BTR Games products.

He also acknowledges the influence of the 4Box system on the development of Volko Ruhnke’s COIN system, and my two games using that exact system (A Distant Plain and Colonial Twilight)

Thanks Randy! I appreciate your work.

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Binh Dinh: unbagging video by Players Aid

Over at the Players Aid blog, the indefatigable Grant Kleinheinz unbags and explores the contents of Binh Dinh ’69 from OSS Games.

Thanks Grant!

Tactical Practical plays Colonial Twilight

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Over at his Tactical Practical blog, Chris Davis starts in on a play of Colonial Twilight where he consciously applies the principle of “clear, hold and build” which was introduced in French counterinsurgency doctrine at the time of the Algerian War and found further expression in American doctrine for Iraq and Afghanistan, as in Field Manual 3-24.

https://americanprideweb.wordpress.com/2018/03/26/revolt-of-the-wretched-reflections-of-colonial-twilight-part-1/

I did write on this a bit in the Designer’s Notes to the game. We’ll see how he does, and I will post links to his further posts here.

https://americanprideweb.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/revolt-of-the-wretched-propaganda-round-1/

First Propaganda Round, of the full scenario. Early play of the Casbah card let the FLN seize Algiers for a moment, but he got some traction in the countryside by building up Support and will soon move on the FLN stronghold in Tizi Ouzu.

https://americanprideweb.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/revolt-of-the-wretched-propaganda-round-2/

Second Propaganda Round. The FLN fights for the cities and builds up strength quickly, but a timely play of Mobilization allows the Government to engage the guerrillas and knock them back down. They’re on the offensive now, but how long can they keep it up?

https://americanprideweb.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/revolt-of-the-wretched-propaganda-round-3

Third Propaganda Round: Government Victory declared, so game over, man. The French Army pursues the remnants of the FLN while securing its rear area with police and auxiliary forces. Have a look at the map at the link: he has used the Government Bases to full effect, providing more Resources to the military; kept the France Track down to a dull roar; and grouped his Troops effectively. He also eliminated enough Guerrillas in Rounds 2 and 3 to attrit the FLN significantly.

Well done!

Binh Dinh ’69: review of related book, Losing Binh Dinh

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Kevin Boylan has written several books and articles on the general topic of the Central Highlands throughout the Vietnam War. I wish that I had had his work available to me when I was designing Green Beret and Binh Dinh ’69. Here is a review of a recent book by Boylan on the situation in Binh Dinh. (review originally appeared on the site H-War)

Kevin M. Boylan. Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016. 365 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-2352-5.

Reviewed by Heather P. Venable (Air Command and Staff College)
Published on H-War (March, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=50993

Kevin M. Boylan’s Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971 seeks to test the revisionist claim that the United States was winning the Vietnam War through its pacification efforts after the Tet Offensive but lost anyway because policymakers did not stay the course. Boylan does this by focusing on a particular province to explore the interrelationships between pacification and Vietnamization, arguing that they worked at cross purposes, ultimately failing both to prepare South Vietnamese troops to fight independently and to eliminate the VietCong insurgency. Vietnamization, in particular, could not succeed because of poor South Vietnamese leadership, which also challenges the revisionist claim that indigenous leadership improved significantly after Tet.

Kevin Boylan draws on his dual background as a defense analyst concerned with Iraq, among other issues, and as a graduate with a PhD in military history from Temple University, where he studied under Russell Weigley. The author recently left his position as a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to support his wife’s academic career.[1]Overall, Boylan challenges revisionist approaches, claiming they rely excessively on top-down assessments made by high-ranking policymakers and overly sweeping views of South Vietnam. By contrast, Boylan takes a bottom-up view focused on the specific province of Binh Dinh in order to better understand the localized and multifaceted nature of insurgencies. While certainly not the first to take this approach, he has chosen a province that represents a geographical aberration in South Vietnam, which made it especially challenging to pacify. In particular, it had poor soil that made it difficult to sustain its overpopulated numbers. Communist ideology thus found a receptive population, becoming entrenched as early as World War II, when the Viet Minh filled a power vacuum enabled by French defeat and gained a reputation as nationalists for battling the Japanese. In short, the province could be considered the Appalachia of South Vietnam.

Ironically, early pacification efforts made significant headway, offering hope that they might be successful. From April 1969 to December 1970, the 173rd Airborne worked in Binh Dinh to “secure individual hamlets” while providing training to the Territorial Forces that ultimately would replace it (p. 8). In this way, the approach certainly represented a more population-centric method of counterinsurgency than the United States previously had attempted in Vietnam, although it would be dangerous to draw many comparisons to recent US COIN efforts in Iraq and elsewhere because this program did not attempt to win “hearts and minds”. Rather, it represented a “quick fix” designed to regain “military control of enemy-dominated communities” (p. 48). This approach rested on policymakers’ assumptions that villagers were “apolitical” (p. 287). By contrast, the VietCong had a more targeted policy of maintaining their “psychological grip” on those villagers most likely to be active in leading their communities (p. 289), which provided them with an important advantage.

If Communist morale and activity did suffer greatly in 1969, however, those gains resulted from the efforts of US rather than South Vietnamese troops. Moreover, all of the US military effectiveness in the world could not counterbalance the local government’s political shortcomings. Simultaneously, the Phoenix program failed to destroy the Vietcong infrastructure even as the Communists increasingly responded to pacification’s successes by engaging in acts of terrorism against local government officials. By 1970, policymakers problematically sought to both enlarge and consolidate pacification, effectively working at cross purposes. The exodus of US troops from the country only made this even more unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the United States hoped optimistically that more training of the Territorial Forces might turn the tide. But Boylan compellingly argues that all of the training in the world could not solve the real reason Vietnamization failed—an almost unsolvable problem with South Vietnamese leadership. He depicts Vietnamese officers who eschewed the support of their advisers, just seeking access to “stuff”—particularly the logistical and firepower support the US provided. Most of their “casualties” resulted from desertions rather than battle. Advisers bemoaned that belaboring Vietnamization just made these patterns worse, because the South Vietnamese only became more dependent on the United States. In short, the South Vietnamese simply had not “commit[ed]” themselves to winning (p. 83). In large part, though, Boylan concludes that this can be explained by the fact that the “South Vietnamese themselves were never fooled” about the depth of US commitment (p. 295). This conclusion, however, rests on the kind of sweeping generalization about South Vietnamese morale that he critiques the revisionists for making, which ultimately challenges his provincial focus. A clearer overarching roadmap to guide the reader either in the introduction or within the individual chapters themselves also might have helped to alleviate some of these problems, as one frequently arrives at the end of a chapter with only the unfolding of the narrative to guide the reader as to the author’s overarching purpose.

It is almost impossible for the reader to avoid drawing tragic comparisons between today’s current conflicts and debates about how and if victory is even possible. Ironically, the United States did make substantial short-term progress in pacifying Binh Dinh, but it failed utterly at Vietnamizing the war, which made victory unattainable. Pursuing both at the same time was impossible. As a high-ranking US official wrote in 1970, “We have gone about as far as we can go in turning this country into an armed camp” (p. 289). This work could have done more to shed light on perspectives from the Vietnamese “camp,” but it does provide an excellent exploration of how Vietnamization and pacification coexisted uneasily in a challenging province in South Vietnam.

Note

[1]. LinkedIn profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-boylan-538835128, accessed January 22, 2018.

Citation: Heather P. Venable. Review of Boylan, Kevin M., Losing Binh Dinh: The Failure of Pacification and Vietnamization, 1969-1971. H-War, H-Net Reviews. March, 2018.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50993

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Newest COIN system P500: People Power

Just announced for P500, is a new COIN system game from GMT: People Power: Insurgency in the Philippines, 1983-86. Designed by Ken Tee, a gamer I know from CSW  – this appears to be his first design.

I’ve just had a glance over the description but here are some of the interesting points I noticed:

  • 3 factions:
    • Government, symbolized by the personal rule of Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda, and his political cronies and military forces. Seeks Support and Patronage.
    • Insurgents, split into two blocs – the communist New People’s Army (or NPA) and the Moro National Liberation Front (or MNLF but more commonly referred to as Moros). The NPA sought a national uprising from both the urban and rural populace, while the Moros wanted a separate nation founded on Islamic autonomy. Seeks Control of spaces and some form of “Resistance” index.
    • Reformers, think Corazon Aquino. A non-violent faction that was historically the winner of the conflict as the Philippine political landscape changed. Seeks to build Bases and Opposition.
  • Seems to be an effort to create a high-speed, low-drag entry into the COIN system: small map (17 x 22″) with only two terrain types (city and country) and likely a small number of spaces; low number of pieces (79 wooden bits), and a small deck of event cards (likely around 40 or 50).
  • Some new features:
    • A hand of Key Personality cards kept by each player, that represents the effectiveness of various generals and power brokers.
    • Propaganda Rounds replaced by a two-turn Election Cycle procedure (each Election Cycle is made up of 10 cards and represents 6 to 9 months of activity).
    • A faction can combine any Operation with any Special Activity.
    • card-driven solitaire play system; no more flowcharts.

Here’s the link to the description page and pre-order link:

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-689-people-power-insurgency-in-the-philippines-1983-1986.aspx

220 orders already – I’m jumping on this one too!

WargameHQ: Why Model Insurgencies?

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C3i banner by Rodger MacGowan

Over at the WargameHQ blog, the editor (I cannot find his name, there or on Boardgamegeek) posts a short piece about modern insurgencies, counterinsurgency theory (namely Trinquier, and a good reading of Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla) and the COIN system games that model them.

https://wargamehq.com/why-model-insurgencies/

Walking the Distant Plain: InsideGMT blog

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Over at the InsideGMT blog, Chris Davis gives his impressions of A Distant Plain and how it captures the atmosphere of what he actually experienced during his service in Afghanistan:

http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=18097