Hot off the press is Peter Pig’s new set of Vietnam rules “The Men of Company B.” I thought I’d get a copy to see if they’d work for the Soviet-Afghan war, hence the strange title of this post. More about the rules as we go, but we played a ‘Search and Destroy’ scenario with Soviets instead of Americans, and Mujahideen instead of Viet Cong. So, feel free to mentally substitute ‘American’ for ‘Soviet,’ and ‘VC’ for ‘Muj’ in the following. Essentially, the Soviets have to search Afghan villages for intel, resources, persons of interest etc. and the Muj have to harass them enough to prevent them. The Men of Company B (MOCB) is played on a squared grid. Here the squares are 6″ and the table is 5′ x 3′. The Soviet unit in this game represents a platoon. The first thing to note is that, for a platoon level game, there is a lot of abstraction of the units. There are no separate MG or RPG teams, for example, each section-sized unit has a number of bases and each such unit occupies 1 square. Similarly, there are 3 types of vehicles, tanks, armoured cars and gun trucks. All tanks have the same stats, regardless of their actual type, and the same with the other two classes of vehicle.
The game began with the Soviets deploying on the table edge. This was a bit unfortunate as it was possible for them to have started the game in any semi-random column of squares, but the dice decreed otherwise. Ever the traditionalists, the Soviets obviously wanted to start on the table edge like in any other wargame. The very first action involved the Soviet platoon command group entering a village and commencing a search. Searching uses a mechanic called a ‘cache loop’ where the Muj player sets out the objectives interspersed with ambush markers on a circular track. The Soviet player chooses a target and then a die roll is made for possible deviation. This is a really good and simple ‘mini-game’ to represent the search. The Soviet player can carry out an ‘interrogation’ action before the search to possibly improve their chances. As it turned out, the search triggered an ambush and the platoon command were all killed! A freak incident in probability terms, and the worst possible start for the Soviets.
^ Soviets advance. In the top right, the last known position of the Soviet platoon commander can just be seen.
The Soviets advanced towards the villages in the centre of the board. The Muj start off as 2 base cadres and ‘pick-up’ other bases from villages they pass through. The central game mechanic for activation involves each unit getting a certain number of dice. This is usually 7 but can be modified down for loss of leaders, troop quality etc. The unit takes an action by declaring it and trying to match a target number by rolling all its dice and achieving at least 1 ‘success.’ Then a die is removed from the pool and a second action can be attempted. A failed action results in all other units getting only 1 die for the rest of the turn and a unit is selected to only get one die to act with next turn. For example, moving in the open needs a 3+, firing needs a 4+, searching a village needs a 5+. So, it’s pretty straightforward for a regular unit to get their first 4 actions, but when you’re down to 3 dice or so you have to decide whether to ‘stick or twist.’ Initially, we were a bit cautious with this and were stopping with 3 dice unused. As we got into the game a bit more and did some quick probability calculations we used more actions.
The Muj took advantage of the confusion caused by the loss of the Soviet commander to quickly move into a position to defend the central village. By the time they had reached the village, they had increased their unit size to the maximum 6 bases.
^Muj arrive in the village and open up on the Soviets.
One action that a unit can take is ‘down,’ representing the unit getting into cover. It takes an action to enter a ‘down’ state and an action to leave it. A ‘down’ unit can only fire or call artillery. Now, we were both used to the PBI rules where you moved into cover and stopped and the saving rolls took care of themselves. Not so in MOCB. For the first couple of turns, neither of us bothered with the ‘down’ action. Following the resulting high casualties it quickly dawned on both of us that the ‘down’ action was rather important. For the rest of the game, EVERY unit ended its turn ‘down!’
^Another Soviet section arrives to flank the village.
Initially the Muj were having the best of it. There was the freakish incident in the village to begin with and now Muj cadres were rapidly sweeping up recruits and deploying to villages and inflicting more casualties than they were taking. The Soviets however were reinforced by a mini ‘Bronegruppa’ of BMPs which began to fire on the central village.
^A unit of Muj, with the central village on their left, contemplate an advance against the BMPs
^A Soviet unit advances, relatively unscathed. So far.
^The BMP ‘bronegruppa.’ These would provide excellent fire support for the attack on the central village.
Morale in MOCB is taken whenever you are adjacent to an enemy square. Adverse morale effects will reduce the number of dice you get to act. There is no ‘rout’ as such, units that are particularly battered will just find it hard to do anything in proximity to the enemy. You cannot search a village when enemy are in proximity, so the Soviets in the central village now needed to expel the Muj before time ran out.
Game length is handled similarly to other Peter Pig games, but with a new approach. The countdown starts at 30, but instead of this going down by a d6 every turn, now each player chooses a number between 1 and 3 to reduce the total. When the counter hits 0 the game ends. So a player who thinks they are winning will want to move the counter down faster. There are also reinforcement schedules that trigger when the countdown is at a certain number, so the Soviet player can manage the track to make sure his reinforcements are ready in time for one of his turns. Similarly, if you can reduce the counter to ‘4’ at the end of one of your turns, you know you can get the last turn and end the game. This system can easily be used to replace the countdowns in other Peter Pig games.
^ A severely reduced Soviet squad enters a village after driving out the Muj.
Mujahideen units can use an action to ‘disappear.’ This results in them being taken off the table to reappear in a subsequent turn. So battered Muj units in danger of annihilation can be ‘saved’ at the cost of a few turns delay before they are back in action and back up to strength.
^ Final desperate fighting in the village as a second unit of Muj replaces the previous group who had been wiped out. In the trees at the top another group of Muj will try and fail to take out the BMPs with some RPGs.
The game had started out with the Muj having the better of it, but as the game went on we both felt like the Soviets had taken control and agreed that the Soviets had probably shaded it. So we counted up the victory points and the result was: a clear win for the Mujahideen. Hang on. How did that happen? Well, the Soviets had only succeeded in finding 3 caches and had lost a lot of men doing it. In victory points, every Soviet casualty was worth 3, but every Muj casualty only 1. The main source of Soviet victory points comes from the caches found in village searches. We had a rule of thumb in PBI that if you, as the attacker, didn’t have 2 of the 3 objectives then you’d probably lost. In MOCB, I’d say you’d need to find 4 caches minimum as the ‘Soviet’ player (i.e. the Americans!) to have a chance of winning.
So, some final thoughts on the rules. I’d got them, as I say, with a view to using them for Soviet-Afghan war rather than Vietnam. I expected the set to be a set of core rules, some add-on rules to simulate the environment and irregular fighting styles and then some scenarios. Standard wargames rules stuff. But in this set the scenarios are much more integrated into the rules. This is not so much a set of Vietnam rules as a set of 4 Vietnam scenarios with inclusive rules. There are no points values for example, forces are balanced within the scenarios. The emphasis is on the action as a whole, rather than the management and interactions of fireteams and weapons systems. Civilians play an important role in 3 of the scenarios. They can be questioned by the Americans to provide information on caches, they can be recruited by the Viet Cong to join their units and fight, and they can be accidentally killed in firefights costing the American side victory points. Unscrupulous VC can therefore deploy in villages and use civilians as ‘human shields’ to provide propaganda material.
There are 4 scenarios and each is slightly different depending on whether you use NVA or VC. The scenarios are:
1 Search and Destroy: Americans must find caches in villages in the face of enemy opposition.
2 Find the downed aircrew: Similar to the above, but the search is targeted to find missing aircrew.
3 Mountain tribes: A unit of US special forces leads mountain tribes against VC or NVA who must escape from the ‘sweep’
4 Firebase assault: This scenario uses a different table. The whole table is taken up with a firebase (funnily enough) which is assaulted by NVA. I didn’t read this scenario as the Mujahideen only attacked Afghan Army facilities, and no-one makes decent DRA Afghan Army figures.
What this integration of scenarios means is that it’s harder to take the game out of Vietnam, as it’s difficult to take Vietnam out of the game. Of course, that’s no bad thing for a Vietnam set. The core rules are easy to get the hang of and the game flows very quickly with the activation system and the grid-based movement. This is very much a game about recreating particular situations in the Vietnam war rather than a simulation of small unit tactics. As such, it’s probably a very different experience to most other Vietnam sets. I’m a bit biased as I really like Peter Pig rules sets, and I think the ‘RFCM’ team are really under-rated as game designers, but I’d recommend giving these rules a go if you’re at all into Vietnam as a period.