Counterus Hex

Hex and Counter games reviewed and discussed by an old Grognard.

Khe Sanh ’68 is a very low complexity solitaire game of the Mini Game Series from Decision Games designed by Joseph Miranda in 2015. It utilizes a rather slick system called Cold War Blitz for a basic rule set, that is also used for another title in the series Suez ’56: Anglo-French Intervention in Egypt.

Depicting the siege of the fire base Khe Sanh and its outlaying strong points before and during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, the game puts the player in command of the US and ARVN forces trying to hold off the Communist enemy OPFOR (Opposition Forces).

I picked Khe Sanh up as an impulse buy while ordering a few other things on line.The price was remarkably cheap, $12.00 US and I figured “what the hell, if its terrible I’m not out of pocket for a great deal money. ” Well I’m happy to say, that it was well worth the cost. Khe Sahn is very easy to learn, and set up. Minimal rules, a point to point map, and card driven play all blend together well to make each session not only quick but enjoyable. Low counter density, 40 for the entire game, lets the player reset the board with ease after each session, and trust me, win or lose, you will find yourself doing just that. Thematically, it scratches the itch for a light Vietnam war based game without overwhelming you with too much detail and its small size and footprint allow it to be packed up for travel. Which, is a bonus for me because when on vacation lugging around boxes in the hopes of getting a session in is tedious. It is not a brain burner by any stretch of the imagination, however the cards used to drive play, for both the Communists and US forces, offer some interesting choices. Some of the combinations of these played cards can cause some pretty tense situations.

Allied action cards,small but well done.

Components:
The overall quality of the components is actually pretty good considering the price. I was expecting the 18 campaign cards to be thin paper punch outs like in some magazine games but these are really well done. I like them, which is good I guess, as they drive play. They also help serve the theme in that each card has a different historical photo of the siege printed on them.The counters are small and functional. They are not works of art, to be sure, and standard war game fare at best. NATO symbols to represent types of units and silhouettes for the aircraft pieces. There are two numbers printed on all ground forces which represent strength and movement respectively. Air units only have their strength value as they have unrestricted movement. The counters are very clear though, which is a good thing for these old eyes.

Communist counters used for play. Hidden side in foreground.

As far as the 11″x17″ map goes well… it’s OK. Paths and points are prominent and obvious. You wont be forgetting about an obscure point of interest on this one. It has the turn track, Allied air, reinforcement, OPFOR eliminated, and reinforcement, boxes on the edges for ease of play. As it is printed on heavy paper stock you will need to either flatten it out in some way prior to setting it up or place it under some plastic. The chits, being rather small and light, have a difficult time remaining stacked on folds and creases of the bare paper map. It also comes with a four page rule booklet and a single campaign/scenario sheet.

Rules:
The four page rule booklet for the Cold War Blitz system is so direct and simple that I only had to read it once to start playing, and with it being so short, if the need to reference anything did arise, finding the rule in question was rather quick. There was one rule concerning managing the turn track that made little to no sense, and I had to look it up on BGG for clarification, after that it was pretty much smooth sailing. There are not many ambiguities in the booklet though combat is rather abstracted. So those looking for more in depth fire fights along the lines of ASL or it’s like will be sorely disappointed.

Allied Air units, standard fare but functional.

The scenario rules sheet has the combat results table and terrain effects chart printed on its reverse side, both of which are easily memorized after the first couple of games. It spells out the special rules for the title, which are minimal, and the set up instructions. Terrain really doesn’t affect movement in any way but rather, adjusts combat retreat results. For example; Communist forces defending or attacking in jungle or hilltop boxes ignore retreat and disruption effects and instead “break off” and are removed from the board. They are then placed in the OPFOR Break Off box. These units are not dead and will reappear elsewhere on the map next turn. This I suppose is to simulate the NVA and VC ability to simply melt away during combat.

Khe Sanh is played in a series of phases over the course of nine “turns”. The term “Turns” does not really work here in the traditional sense, it is more like a fluctuating time track that is affected by situations. Essentially, every time a card for either the Allied or OPFOR forces is played the turn track is adjusted by the number in the upper right hand corner of the card. Some cards add, some subtract and others have no effect at all. The rules initially had the turn track being reduced by one after a full cycle of phases by both sides in addition to the cards played during the cycle. However the designer Joseph Miranda made clear on Consim Forums that that was not the case, and that only played card deficits and additions to the turn track are to be applied. Once the turn track reaches zero the game is over and victory points are added up, i.e. enemy units killed, key locations controlled by the player etc., and then cross referenced with the victory point schedule to see how you did. Twenty five or more points is a strategic victory, whereas fourteen or fewer is a tactical defeat. You can also lose immediately if the Communists take the Khe Sanh Fire base.

Start of game set up.

To set up just follow the directions in the scenario rules, all OPFOR forces are placed randomly in their initial starting points face down, i.e. hidden, so the Allied player has no idea what is there. Then begin the game.

1. Friendly Card Phase: this is where a player chooses one of the cards from his hand and puts it into play. Each card has different abilities which can be applied that turn. For example one of the cards is; Operation Niagara! which grants the player a plus one combat factor to all their air strikes the current turn. (pretty good card by the way). The card also says what is to be done with it after being played, reused or removed from play permanently etc.

2. Friendly Reinforcement Phase: if the card the player chose called for Allied reinforcements then they would come in at this point.

3. Friendly Ground Movement Phase: Move any, all, or none of your ground units. During movement, if your units come into contact with enemy forces then the enemy is revealed i.e. flipped over to show its strength side.

4. Friendly Air Movement Phase: Put any available air units on the map to either attack enemy forces or airlift infantry. Same as for ground movement once an air unit enters a box with enemy forces those forces are flipped over to their revealed side.

5. OPFOR Anti Aircraft Phase: If any of the Communist forces are AAA units when an Allied air unit enters the box they occupy, they get to fire at the aircraft by rolling a number of D/6 equal to the AAA unit’s strength factor and applying any hits (fives or sixes). note; the B-52 bomber is immune to AAA attacks.

6. Friendly Air Combat Phase: All Allied air units in the same location with OPFOR units must now attack the enemy units from weakest to strongest. Each aircraft in the engagement rolls a number of D/6 equal to the Aircraft’s strength factor and applies hits as per the CRT (fives and sixes). Example: two US air strike units with a strength factor of 3 each attack a 2-2 NVA infantry unit and a 1-2 Guerrilla unit in the French Fort box. The Aircraft would roll six dice and apply the first hit to the Guerrillas and any subsequent ones to the NVA.

After all attacks have been completed return all available air units to the “Allied Air used” box.

7. Friendly Ground Combat Phase: All Allied units in the same box with enemy OPFOR units must attack, Combat resolution is the same as in the Air phase only now hits are applied from strongest to weakest. To perform ground combat you line up all OPFOR units from left to right in order of highest strength factor to lowest and then line up Allied units in any order desired. Now roll for “Tactical Superiority” or as it is commonly called Initiative. Then, rolling dice equal to strength factors of the first unit in line, with the initiative side rolling first, apply hits and retreats to the first unit in the line being attacked. If the side without initiative has forces remaining then they fire back using the same procedure. This goes back and forth until one side has been completely eliminated or has retreated from the box.

8. OPFOR Card Phase: Draw a single card from the OPFOR deck and apply its effects. Cards are self explanatory and quite clear. They will offer reinforcements, movement of enemy forces, and other nasty surprises for the Allied player to deal with.

9. OPFOR Reinforcement Phase:if the card the player drew called for OPFOR reinforcements then they would come in at this point. OPFOR reinforcements are randomly allocated to different locations on the map. Example; the card says “Replace three eliminated Communist units” you take three face down units from the dead Commie box, then roll a D/6 for each and place them on the map according to the Random Location Placement table on the scenario sheet.

10. OPFOR Movement Phase: If the card called for OPFOR units to move, well then, move them.

11. OPFOR Combat Phase: Any OPFOR units in a box with Allied units must attack.

12. Admin Phase: All revealed OPFOR forces are flipped over to their hidden side. Roll to see if the Air units in the Allied Air used box are available next round. (Roll for each unit individually and compare it to the die range for that type of aircraft printed in the box. If the roll falls within that range then the aircraft is available for the next round, move it to the available box.)

Dead Commies.

Game play:
Despite the seemingly long list of phases Khe Sanh ’68 sets up and plays out rather quickly. Having only 9 “turns” to obtain enough VPs to achieve victory you find yourself rushing to take as many of the victory point boxes as possible right at the start and, instinctively a player will move his/her ground forces to the boxes adjacent to the fire base right out of the gate. But, with each card played the timer is ticking so the key is to maximize each and every move. Combat losses count against victory conditions, thus attacking in unfavorable situations is foolish and as the enemy units are hidden until you actually engage this can be hard to accomplish. Fortunately, Allied air support helps a lot in softening up, exposing, and eliminating threats. As a matter of fact Air power, if it can remain available, is the most powerful asset the US player possesses, so try and avoid enemy AAA units and protect those aircraft at all cost. Those times when you can’t get the Aircraft turned around due to bad rolls during the Admin phase can be pretty tough.

The Communists have their own little bag of tricks and it is a rare thing indeed when they play a card and you don’t suffer for it. Out of the nine OPFOR cards, five call for replacement units to be brought into play. This, along with the ability to break off combat in certain terrain, pretty much guarantees an endless supply of Reds moving around the board. They are generally easy to kill being only one step units but at times it seems like there is no end to their numbers. And, as time is of the essence, just holding the base and killing waves of screaming Communist infantry wont cut it. Also, if any Communist replacements or units that “broke off” in earlier turns, land in a box containing US units, combat is initiated, which can go badly if they outnumber you. I had one game when three units of 3-2 NVA infantry and, a single 3-2 AAA unit got placed right on top one of my units in Box 471 a communist entrenchment located right next to the Khe Sanh fire base. Needless to say my poor Marines were wiped out. On the next turn, last of the game, these same forces held off every effort to dislodge them from the position, after which they advanced into the fire base itself, overwhelming it’s defenders and defeating me in a most shameful manner.

Overall, this low complexity little offering is rather fun to play and I enjoy it quite a bit. It’s not as pretty as some other games on the market these days, but for the price I daresay they couldn’t have really done much better, and as replay ability is high due to the random nature of the cards I can almost guarantee that this one will be in my travel bag the next time I head out on a trip.

Cheers
AL

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