My wargaming tastes have always tended towards the esoteric and the obscure. The world doesn’t need another game on D-Day or Waterloo. I’m far more interested in conflicts that have seldom been simulated via wargames, to enable me to learn something new and because such games tend to introduce fresh and intriguing approaches to conflict simulation itself, in order to more accurately model the novel situation at hand.
So I was quite pleased when I learned of not one but two recent games on a decidedly overlooked conflict (in the West, at least): the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War, also called the Third Indochina War and, by the Chinese, the Self-Defense Counterattack. These two games, The Battle of South Caobang and Red Dragon Storm, both come from Shanghai-based publisher Kuro Neko Design Workshop (Chinese online forum here; no English website).
After some e-mail back-and-forth with the publisher, I received both games about ten days later, from Shanghai to Washington, DC, with a stop at a transhipper near New York City. They both come with die cut mounted counters, glossy thick stock paper maps, and (perhaps most importantly for me) English rulebooks and charts, produced to the same quality as the Chinese rulebooks. The translations are perhaps a bit rough in places, but wargaming tends towards a universal language, so the intent is almost always clear—and I certainly appreciate the effort, for my Shanghainese is, shall we say, rusty.
The presentation for both games sits on par with that of contemporary American conflict simulation publishers. I would prefer slightly thicker counter stock, but it’s better than that found in most magazine games, and the die cutting itself is razor accurate, which I can’t always say about the major domestic publishers here.
Red Dragon Storm comes in a ziplock bag and seems a fairly straightforward, two countersheet, area movement game covering the entire war for either two or three players, divided between the defending Vietnamese player and two Chinese Military Regions. If playing with two, both players control one of the Chinese forces and half the Vietnamese forces, which feels like a rather elegant system. Thick stock cards (with provided English translations) help drive some of the play, and it seems designed to be completed in one sitting.
The real prize is The Battle of South Caobang, the first of five planned grand tactical/operational games on the war, with two glossy hex maps, five countersheets, player aids, a book of pictures from the conflict, English and Chinese rules, and even a rubber-banded pack of ziplock baggies for the counters and two different colored d10s, à la GMT Games.
It’s a handsome boxed package, and the game system itself looks intriguing, taking into account the almost asymmetrical nature of the conflict, with detailed supply rules for the Chinese (who were logistically stretched to the limit from the start of the war) and the Vietnamese ability to create militia units anywhere on the map to block supply lines, representing the difficulty the Chinese had in pinning down Vietnamese units. Ten scenarios are included, one of which supports solitaire play. The English rules have been posted on Boardgamegeek for those interested in taking a look.
Though I haven’t had a chance to get either on the table yet, I’m more than pleased with these two games on a fascinating subject, and they’re staking a claim to the top of the “to play” pile. Red Dragon Storm and The Battle of South Caobang make a welcome addition to my library and serve as a stunning debut from Kuro Neko Design Workshop.