Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble. Pt 1

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With Victory Game’s Vietnam: 1965-75 put on the back burner for a bit, Mike and I have turned our attention to a different earlier conflict in Vietnam:  Dien Bien Phu.  Any of us who like history know the story of General Giap’s Vietminh manhandling artillery into the mountains surrounding the valley in which the French had created a stronghold at Dien Bien Phu, eventually defeating them in a savage battle and sounding the death knell of French colonialism In Vietnam, ultimately leading to American involvement and war.

I had actually stumbled upon this game while looking at some game company’s websites.  I found an excellent review on this game by Bruce Geryk.  At the time I was only going to watch a few minutes of the review as it is almost an hour long, but got wrapped up in it and watched the whole thing.  It can be found here:  Bruce Geryk review

The game was created by Kim Kanger and sold through Legion Wargames.  It is currently out of print, but after telling Mike about the review, the next time he and I got together to game, he had a copy sitting on his desk.  I certainly didn’t expect him to buy a copy, but he said he is always looking for a good game and this one looked interesting.  To be honest, I have looked for other reviews of this game and have found only very positive opinions.  It has a reprint number at their website and I have added my name to it.

This game is a bit different.  Kim Kanger was looking for ways to model the uniqueness of this battle.  With the French in built up strongpoints, and the Vietminh basically trenching their way forward to defeat each strongpoint one by one.  The players of both sides of the game each have unique problems to deal with which only get more problematic as the game progresses.

The Vietminh player has 4 divisions located at different assault areas around the French fortifications.  They have an ammo track to keep count of their artillery capabilities and a morale track that fluctuates every time they have to spend replacement points to bring their units back up to snuff, and when they rest.  There are trench lines that the Vietminh player moves forward with his troops to simulate the constant digging that was employed to bring the French to grips

The French player has a number of tracks to keep his eye on, as each of them have an effect on how the French troops can wage war.  These include an ammo track for artillery, a food and bullets track for general welfare and the ability to fight, the fuel and spares track for the French trucks and tanks and the Medicine track to bring back wounded units.

But by far, the most important grid for the French is the supply grid. Each French turn, that player loads up chits to re-supply the various tracks.  There are 15 slots for these chits and they get reduced by a single weather roll from 0 to 9 slots lost the by the re-supply planes.  As the game progresses, the weather gets worse going from clear, to rain, to monsoon.  You will see in our game so far that a couple of bad weather rolls can really bring the pain for the French troops.

Here are my French troops in their initial positions.  As you can see, some of the strong points are out on their own and don’t stand much of a chance against the Vietminh divisions.

DBP French initial

Other than the supply issue, the crux of the game for the French seems to come down to a decision of when to stop and defend a strongpoint and when to abandon them.  As we’ve found out so far, the isolated positions will get overrun, and if they get cut off and can no longer trace a line of communication to the main French camp, they simply die.  If, however, he decides to abandon a strongpoint without a fight, it brings the Vietminh trenches ever closer, eventually reducing the amount of supply from the airdrops.

These are the starting positions of the Vietminh divisions.

 

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The Vietminh 312 and 316 divisions
308 initial
And the 308 division

Here is the all important French supply grid.  As the game progresses, the number of squares in which to put chits declines.  Then the rain season removes more and later the monsoon season removes even more.  Then a roll is made to see how many chits don’t make the air drop.

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You can also see a grid with the words ‘Hanoi’s Answer’.  Every time the French player loses a unit, the French commander moves up the scale.  When he reaches the top, a die is rolled for reinforcements.  1-2 is “Yes we will send some” 3-4 is “Perhaps, we will look into it” 5-6 reads “Not now, we can’t spare one”.  After the roll, the commander goes back down to the bottom of the track.  With a yes answer, one box of reinforcements goes into the Hanoi box, and from there into the supply grid where they actually may or may not make it into the battle. It’s an ingenious system and really increases the fun factor and the “oh crap” factor.

 

Mike’s Vietminh have started to assault my strongpoints.  This is our first playing of this game, and I learn the hard way what happens to the French when they stubbornly defend one of the outer strongpoints.

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Mike finishes off these strongpoints and is preparing to begin assaulting the main French camp.  I’m learning, however slowly that I need to get counters from the same unit number together, not as easy as it sounds.  They provide support for French assaults in my turn.  Also, my artillery is more effective as a assault support tool.  Mike has made good progress, we’ve only played 5 turns and his trench line is approaching my main force.  I was unfortunate in my very first roll on the support table, rolling 9 times for chits to fail to arrive.  If I roll one that has already been eliminated, it is my good fortune.  But that first roll really hurt, my fuel and spares are approaching 0, and when that happens, my trucks and tanks can’t move.  Food and bullets are somewhat critical already, but ammo and medicine are in good shape.  The next time I rolled, I got all of my supply, but the third time, I lost 6 chits. we are into the rain season and it hurts.  A few more turns and we’ll be in the monsoon, then it gets really ugly.

Mike is readying up to start the assault on the main French camp.  His artillery has been incredibly effective, as it should be, but I would really like to get a couple of turns where it doesn’t work so well.

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I should explain the stars.  There are counters for units that are shaken but Mike likes to see what they’re on top of, so he uses little plastic stars to mark shaken units and squares on the supply table that are no longer available.  One thing I should also show is the Isabelle strongpoint.  It was actually situated about 6 kilometers from the main camp. On this map, it is simply given it’s own spot and boxes show the way in or out and the Vietminh who are assaulting it.

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We are trying to work out how to incorporate this strongpoint and the Laos box, we haven’t really put that together yet, so I plan to do some research and ask some questions of other players before we get together again.

Next time, Mike will begin to push up into the main French force, my supply will continue to deteriorate and the Vietminh morale will continue to drop.  Victory for the Vietminh comes when my strongpoints held falls below his strongpoints taken, then we begin rolling for French surrender.  My job is to avoid that.

Thanks for reading

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