Operational Art of War IV - Digital Sandbox Warfare

Regular units from the North Vietnamese 3rd division advance on a 1st Cavalry defensive position about 8 kilometers south of the Bong Son SF camp.  In the upper left corner, a 1st Cav rifle company is supporting a battalion of ARVN troops at the entrance to the Kim Son valley.
I wasn't going to buy this game just yet.  I had been eyeing it and eagerly reading the posts about it, but I was going to wait on a sale to actually purchase it until I read this and then the game received the thumbs up from one of the most thoughtful gamers I know, Doug at Cry Havoc, and I was off to the races.

And so now, I am spending my precious few gaming hours learning the ropes of airmobile warfare and the Operational Art of War engine in the jungles and highlands of Vietnam.

Bong Son 1966

I chose this scenario without knowing anything about the battle and little about the Vietnam war.  I know the history roughly and I've watched my fair share of documentaries and movies about it, but I had never thought about it in an operational sense until now.

The Bong Son scenario is 13 turns long and simulates Operation Masher (Jan 24 - March 6 1966).

Wikipedia makes it sound like the operation was a do-over chance for 1st Cavalry following the fighting at Ia Drang, the game scenario is setup as a search and destroy mission of local enemy forces.  I didn't know anything about the operation on the outset and so I approached what I saw on the situation maps differently than 1st Cav commanders (at least at first).

Masher kicks off with a stabilization mission in Bong Son around a Special Forces camp there.  Airmobile elements are then sent northwest to the An Lao river valley, then the Kim Son valley to the southwest and then the Cay Giap mountains along the coast to the east. Airmobile elements closed off the access points to the two valleys and then units were dropped into the center of the valleys. Predictably the Viet Cong elements engaged and then fled for the exits only to be bottled up by the waiting units.

I arrived at a similar strategy on my own after a few turns.  I also tackled the objectives in reverse. That enabled me to score a victory in my first play through of a scenario.
Turn 1: The Bong Son SF camp is north of Bong Son and the Lai Giang river. That yellow and red unit is a NVA regular unit.


Eliminating the NVA in the Cay Gaip mountains was less difficult than the Kim Son.  The American unit with the red square is at very low supply levels (1%!).
A deep dive on NVA losses for this particular battle during turn 7. I love the data chrome.

I am no operational genius.  I outgunned my AI opponent and could bounce from hotspot to hotspot on the map at will thanks to my helicopters.  That said I will take a first victory, thank you very much.

It occurs to me as I type this, that The Operational Art of War might be the ultimate digital sandbox land warfare game.  It covers warfare over a variety of periods/regions, it seems to have a mix of designers, deep editorial functionality (if you are so inclined) and a high degree of fidelity to "what-if  this happened" warfare.  In that respect, it reminds me of Command Modern Air/Naval Operations.  

If you haven't played any of the earlier iterations of this game, I think this version is worth a look.  I hadn't played I, II or III and now I feel as if I have been missing out. 


P.S. Look for a Sharp End Gaming designed scenario soon. I am thinking about WWII battalion level (2.5km per hex) combat somewhere in the Ukraine/southern Russia, circa 1943.


Anonymous said…
I have been following Your blog for quite some time now. Keep up the good work dear Sir.

As to TOAOW4 I must say (having spend houndreds of hours on TOAOW3) that it's a love and hate relationship. The scenario you've picked is a good example of issues. So it is compact (few turns) and managable (not like monster scenarios) but due to limitations of the engine it fails pretty badly at representing the war at basics. If I'm not mistaken the turn on this scenario are weekly. In reality of Vietnam War this was a hell of a lot. I hate this part of the engine because it does not simulate properly the chain of command (unless you put Elmer in charge of all your forces) and what sort of high level command is done on a weekly basis (and pushing the chits)?

It's a great fun game. But it's limitations are too big (engine is from 1990s). Hexes, perfect execution of orders, no chain of command (commanders are non-existing), longer games are exhaustive.

I paid for it and would happy to recommend it but it's 2017. World moved on and this is still a hexgame tabletop with fancy.

Chris Ad