Mike and I got together over the last two game nights and finished up our first playing of Dien Bien Phu: The Final Gamble by Legion Wargames. We were ready to start the last rain turn, 21-23 April. After this it was monsoon time for the remainder of the game. Then things get difficult for both players, but the French really suffer on the supply chart.
This playing was our introduction to some interesting takes on game mechanics. The morale track for the Vietminh which impacts their ability to defend themselves against French assaults, or if it gets too low, their ability to execute assaults. For the French, every track has a different importance. Ammunition, food and bullets, medicine and fuel and spares. Each track effects the French ability to make war on the Vietminh. Ammunition effects the ability of the French to use artillery. If he runs out of food and bullets and medicine his troops begin to suffer step losses at the beginning of each French turn. Fuel and spares effects how much ammunition his trucks can carry and if it gets too low, the ability of artillery and tanks to move. And the thing that effects the amount of all of those available to the French player is the supply grid.
Earlier in the game, my very first supply roll was a disaster. A roll of 6 on one die and I have to make 9 rolls on the supply chart, potentially removing 9 of 15 items of cargo. Well I rolled a 6 and it was bad. Then my next roll I had to roll 6 times. Those first two cargo rolls really put my Frenchmen in a bind that was going to be difficult to recover from.
The situation at the start of play:
Mike has steadily reduced each of the outer strongholds as he progresses. I am causing his troops casualties which he replenishes with his replacements track and each replacement taken causes that Regiment’s morale to fall. The Vietminh player has to manage his morale track carefully. Each turn, he picks which Regiment will assault and which will rest. Assault lowers the regiment morale, rest replenishes it. The French player can stack units as they are smaller Battalion units, the Vietminh are not allowed to stack. Mike decided to simply push between the Eliane and Dominique strongholds, effectively an attempt to cut off and encircle the units at Eliane. If the French units cannot trace a line of communication back to the supply area, they will simply wither and die.
Playing the French takes a feel and a sense of when things are about to get bad. Evacuate a stronghold too early and you’re just allowing the Vietminh to move his trench line up unhindered. Wait too long and your troops won’t be able to get out. It was a knack I was struggling with in our first playing.
I managed to evacuate the units on the left, and almost waited too long for the troops on the right, but managed to get them back to the supply area. Unfortunately, my guys are really starting to feel the pinch. Artillery ammo is almost out, food and bullets is critical, and fuel and spares are on life support. My medicine is in good shape, but my wounded troops are sucking it down at an alarming rate.
When I lose a unit, I have to roll to see if it is eliminated or wounded. Mike, as the Vietminh player wants to get as many wounded on my side as possible. While the dead pile is important, I have to spend a medicine point for every 5 units rounded up who are in the wounded box
As you can see, my dead pile is starting to mount, and the wounded are costing me a ton of medicine.
I manage to have two straight rolls on the supply track where I got all of my supplies. Definitely helps, but the slots in which I can put supply counters is decreasing. I lost one slot to rain, then as Mike increases his trench zones, I lose more. Once my strongholds are diminished low enough, it releases my Laos rescue force, eliminating more supply slots. Finally the monsoon takes a bunch of slots and things start to get bad.
Mike starts tightening the noose on my French Legionnares. My Laos reinforcements and my Isabelle strongpoint troops can’t break out of the boxes to make their way to the battle zone. We finally figured out how the zone combat works. I wish I had solved that problem earlier. A single word was throwing us for a loop. That word was ‘Wish’ in the box combat rules.
After the third Vietminh monsoon turn, I surrendered the fort. We still had five turns to go and while the designer notes implore you not to give up, the French morale surrender roll was going to cause capitulation soon. The French were completely surrounded, and the dead pile was enormous. I was low or out of everything and medicine was dwindling fast. When that happens, and food and bullets hit 0, the French start losing steps without combat.
We really like this game, every review I have seen on it simply glows over it. The rules could have used an index, but maybe that’s just my Squad Leader showing through. The charts are not intuitive, but once you’ve done them enough it gets easier. The game mechanics are really well done, the supply chart is the heart of the game. Most of my dead pile got there courtesy of Vietminh artillery. It really rules the roost, as it did historically. When you’ve got big guns firing at fish literally in a barrel, it gets ugly.
Mike will be playing the French in our next game. Having learned a few things, I expect him to play the French far better than I did.
Thanks for reading.