Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hamburger Hill

Hamburger Hill is a small hex-and-counter wargame depicting the bitter 1969 battle of the same name during the Vietnam War. It was one of two games in the Vietnam-themed issue No. 5 of Command Magazine of 1990 (The other being Operation Solace).

The one scenario covers the 11-day battle. Each turn represents a single day with an indefinite number of player turn couplets during each turn. Each hex is about 240 yards of jungle hillside. The map is rather bland and its various shades of green would serve equally well as Russian steppe because there is no graphic hint of trees.

Units are companies for the United States Army and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and platoons for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The 8-page rulebook describes a game of low complexity by wargame standards. The 85 counters, including information markers, are functional if not especially attractive. Combat units include an silhouette icon of a soldier from the depicted army or a flag, a combat factor and a movement factor. U.S. and ARVN units also include a company letter and parent unit designation. The U.S. Army units are olive green with the icon and factors printed in various colors depending on the parent battalion. The units from the one ARVN battalion are red on yellow. The NVA units are yellow on red. ARVN and NVA units are two step while the U.S. companies have four steps, using a second counter for the reduced company.Player turns are interactive, with a movement phase that can be interupted by defensive fires followed by a combat phase. The US player also has an artillery and air preparatory fire phase at the beginning of his turn.

Couplets continue until the US player decides he has had enough for the day. A special "night turn" follows, with US units either staying in the field overnight or returning to their Landing Zone. The NVA can then launch a night attack combat with his surviving units.

The game revolves accumulating victory points for causing enemy casualties. The US can earn extra points for capturing the two map's hilltops and can accelerate the arrival of reinforcements at a VP cost. The battle ends when the US has wiped out the NVA or the NVA decides to withdraw at the end of a day.The game is a cat-and-mouse affair. The NVA player can substitute dummy units for real platoons for victory points. If played cagily the NVA player can keep the US player in the dark on his real strength.

The US player starts the game with a single battalion, meaning he'll probably be outnumbered. If he's not careful he can have his lunch handed to him by an aggressive Communist player. The arrival of the second battalion gives the US enough strength for serious offensive action. In most cases the third US battalion and the ARVN arrive too late to affect the game's outcome.

The US player has to pick his way through on-map bunkers and among dummies to destroy NVA platoons while taking fire. The NVA has to play an Eastern-art-of-war defense, retreating from strength and attacking weakness. Among the interesting touches, if frustrating for the US, is that the US has no way to permanently destroy bunkers. So the US no sooner clears a line of bunkers than finds it reoccupied behind him.Combat is firepower-based, with the attacking player adding up the firing combat factors, rolling a die and looking up the result on a Combat Result Table. No more than one casualty step can be inflicted in one shot. There are modifiers for elevation advantage, bunkers, morale and being encircled.

The game takes about five minutes to set up and can easily be played twice in one sitting due to the low counter density. For most of the game the US will have just 5 or 10 units in play and the NVA never more than 20.

The game does a nice job of simulating the actual battle. There is no published errata, which is a refreshing thing to be able to say about any wargame.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A unique topic covered in a playable way.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: Although definitely on the simpler end of the scale, it is still a hex-and-counter wargame with intricate and detailed rules compared to most Euro games.

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