Prezcon Fire in the Lake Tournament Report

Monday , 2, March 2015 3 Comments

I believe this was the first tournament ever for this game. There were three full tables running in each of the two heats. The people that showed up were really excited to play this one, but that first round was a little rough. It’s still so new at this point, a lot of us needed a great many rules explanations! But once we got up to speed, it was a lot of fun.

First Heat

I played the NVA in this one. In the first part of the game, I concentrated on building up the trail and getting most of my units on the board. My favorite trick was to bring on loads of guerrillas and then turn then into troops while adding in even more troops. I made one minor mistake in putting a concentration of troops in a location that wouldn’t hurt the US’s situation if they airstriked it, but I got over it. As the round wore on, I started bombarding American troops because it didn’t cost me my own troops to do that. When the first coup card came up, ARVN was threatening to win.

In the second phase, I moved some of my guerrillas out to cause some trouble. They wore down the enemy some more and then (thanks to a tip from the VC player), they did a full fledged attack just before the coup card came out. In the book keeping phase, they went back underground and so did not have to face the usual consequences for poking their heads up like that.

In the final phase, I got hit by two killer cards: “Wild Weasels” and “Aces”. This devastated the trail that I had spent so much time building, wiped out a mess of my resources, and gave a free airstrike on one of my best armies. I really did not see that I had the option to do anything but invade with everything I had left. I simply lacked the resources to do anything else! I took a beating from the US player after that… but then the coup card came out. And I went first on the last event card! I used the last of my resources to pay for five moves which threatened as many places as possible at once, eliminating COIN control in several valuable territories. [Note: if this happened like what I wrote, then this was an error: you can’t move during a monsoon.] The ARVN player was not in position to do anything to improve their score and the US player opted to take back one of my territories. When the dust had settled, I was one point away from my victory condition– an no one else was close!

The cards that would have destroyed me were the goad to get me in position for the final card. Never fight a man who has his back to a river!

An NVA Victory from the first heat!

Second Heat

I almost didn’t play in this because I was late getting out of my previous game. I walked by the proceedings and saw an open seat for an NVA player and jumped in just in the nick of time.

The US player was the same as the one from my previous game and he had clearly learned some new tactics. He did not neglect to keep me down and paid the threat my forces posed a fair amount of respect. After the first coup card came up, I was not in any kind of shape to march in. I explained to the Viet Cong player that was learning the game that I had sort of gotten the short end of the stick in the first round. I’d either been skipped, forced to take events, or else forced to take limited ops so much that I had not had time to get my troops on the board in their usual numbers. I declared that I was going to take a risk– I could throw the game with this one move, but I felt I had to do it: I was going to rally/infiltrate even though the coup card could be coming.

The very next card was the coup. The US player won decisively.

Final

For the final tournament game, the players agreed to do a medium length scenario with 36 total event cards in the deck. (That’s half again as many as the short games we’d played in the heats.) We also agreed to randomly determine our factions. In a stroke of luck, I happened to draw the NVA– the only faction which I was at all familiar with.

The game began with an immediate coup card. Everyone was flush with resources. I built up the trail as usual and rally/infiltrated nearly all of my pieces onto the board. When the second coup was at all threatening to come out, I went ahead and moved into action. The coup card did in fact come out early. With eighteen points, I was only one point shy of a victory. I doubt that was an accident– my opponents and even my “ally” were very good at finding ways to shave off points from my score. While it was frustrating to have VC pieces pop up around the board to spoil my control, I thought it was much better overall for me to have such a strong “ally”. He did more than I ever could to keep the US and the ARVN from ever meeting their victory conditions…! I just didn’t have to worry about the US or ARVN players sneaking a win during the first two coup cards thanks to him.

Final: NVA with 18 points at second coup card. Not enough to end the game!

Being so far in front invited retaliation, especially from the US. Even s0, when Linebacker II came out, I didn’t sweat it. Every single one of my pieces was on the board and the trail was at four. I could build back– and even better, I could rebuild in areas I wanted to control. It was the USS New Jersey card that concerned me. Not because of its capabilities, but because of the way the US and ARVN player got excited about it. I trumped that card just because I’d never seen anyone in this game look that pleased with a particular event card. It had to go! 

When the final coup card threatened to come out, I was in a strong position that could at least threaten to win. By the time the 33rd card came out, I was up to 22 points. But the coup card simply would not show itself and the other players worked together to put me back down. The game ground on and it was past two o’clock and everyone was nearly out of resources. With the 35th card, I spent all of my remaining cash under the thinking that I might not have the chance to do it again.

Incredibly, the 38th card turned out to be Hamburger Hill and not the coup. This was perfect for me– I could pass on Kent State, take a Limited Op, and then prevent the US from taking the final event. Unfortunately, the US did in fact manage to find a way to just barely knock me outside of my victory conditions. When the final scores were tallied for the coup, the VC player had exactly the amount he needed to win the game right there. Had he had even one less point, I would have won because the NVA wins when the score is tied. So close!

It was 3AM when we finally declared the VC the tournament champion. This was a fantastic and utterly engrossing game session– exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for at a convention like Prezcon.

Final: game over, man!

Here are my thoughts on game strategy.

  1. I was very lucky to draw the NVA for all three games. That particular faction is very well suited to my general style of play: aggressive, combative, focused on a relentless and overpowering buildup. I play chess the exact same way that I ran the NVA: I get all my pieces on the field in the opening then I make one move after another that (a) threatens some kind of check while also (b) developing my overall position. I don’t think a lot of people are used to seeing the game played quite this way, so I maybe had an additional advantage due to my approach being a surprise.
  2. Just based on this tournament, I think a lot of people view the game as being more of a heavy euro than anything else. They see the scores on the track and think in terms of bumping theirs up while keeping everyone else down. Due to my temperament, I have very little interest in playing that sort of game. Still, if I want to improve my chances of actually winning a tournament, I will have to at least understand this side of the game better. I don’t see any way to master that but to play each of the other factions several times each– the game is, in a way, four different games that are stepping on each other. It’s so asymmetrical, each side has its own tactics, abilities, and victory conditions. You can’t accurately read the board until you can view it from all four perspectives.
  3. About 80% of the game comes down to manipulating the sequence of play. Most peoples’ blunders related to this game are going to be due to not knowing when to pass, when to take a limited op, and when to take the event. As the NVA, I really really really want to take “op + special” actions every chance I get. But before I do that, I have to pay very close attention to the cards in order to make sure that I can get away with it.
  4. The other 20% is sort of a musical chairs type thing. You want to be in as strong a position as possible when the coups come out. If you are early, you will be whacked back down. If you are late… you’ll miss your chance to win altogether. You have to take risks, so you have to manage them as best as you can. (I’m going to say that starting around midnight, we got very very concerned about what the next card was going to be. The stakes kept rising with each reveal and it kept us completely immersed in the gameplay until three in the morning.)
  5. That said, the board still matters a lot. I think the ARVN player said that he’d made some mistakes early on in allowing the NVA and the VC into places that they really shouldn’t have gotten a foothold. For my part, I really wanted to take certain actions in places where there was no opposition and it basically meant I had to go do my thing elsewhere a lot of times. I wanted to be able to bombard the Americans, but they refused to show themselves in the sort of concentrations that would have made that possible. And fighting them head to head would generally cost me the blocks I needed to maintain control– especially if my “ally” was around.
  6. If I ever was unsure of what to do– and there are times when you don’t have a lot of options or you have to choose between several medicore ones– I always erred on the side of attacking the US and ARVN’s time. I mentioned this during play and not everybody accepted it. (Maybe I was making a subpar move and no one wanted to tell me?) Anyway, in previous games, it always seemed to me that I could never do everything I wanted to do and the coup cards always seemed to come out before I could be ready for them… so if the other players are at all in the same boat, my thinking was that everything that I could do to slow them down and deny them moves could only help me. I combined that with attacks and pressure in as many places as I possibly dared. Now, the plate spinning didn’t always work out for me, but it took them a lot of time go in and deal with me. Time where a coup card turning up could have resulted in a win for me.

There’s a few finer points that I’m not getting into, but that’s the gist of it. Someone asked Volko at the end if he had a hard time keeping quiet when we were making blunders. He was perhaps too diplomatic to say too much on that, but he did mention that the NVA didn’t seem to grasp the implications of the terror op and when it was appropriate to use it. And that was true! In any case, I was loath to look into anything that didn’t have to do with getting US and ARVN blocks out of my way. But if you want to win… you have to be willing to do what it takes to keep your ally in check as well.

I could not make extensive notes during play without slowing down the game, but I did keep track of what cards came up and the basic action type that each player used. Combined with the above pictures and the session comments, it should allow you to get a clear sense of about how everything played out.

Coup
Lam Son 719 [ARVN event, NVA Op/Spec] (Rally/Infiltrate)
Armored Cavalry [US Op/Spec, VC Pass]
Khe Sanh [NVA Op/Spec, VC Event] (Rally/Infiltrate)
Abrams [ARVN Op/Spec, SKIP]
PoWs [NVA Op Only, US Pass, VC LimOp] (Rally in the South)
Peace Talks [US Op/Spec, ARVN LimOp]
Corps Commanders [VC Op/Spec, NVA Event] (-1d6 ARVN)
Bob Hope [US Pass]
CORDS [US Op Only, VC LimOp]
Capt Buck Adams [ARVN Op/Spec, NVA Event
Cobras [US Op/Spec, VC Event]
Pathet Lao [NVA Op Only, ARVN ??] (Move!)

International Unrest [VC Op/Spec, US Pass]
Tunnel Rats [US Op/Spec, NVA Pass, ARVN Event]
Kissinger [NVA Op/Spec, VC LimOp] (Rally/Bombard)
Coup (NVA at 18 points)
US Press Corps — Trumped by Vietnamization [ARVN Event, US Op/Spec]
Blowtorch Komer [VA Op/Spec, NVA Pass]
Chou En Lai — Trumped by Linebacker II [US Event, ARVN LimOp]
RAND [VC Op/Spec]
USS New Jersey — Trumped by NVA’s Easter Offensive [NVA Event, ARVN Op/Spec]
To Quoc [VC Op/Spec, US LimOp]
Laser Guided Bombs [ARVN Op/Spec, NVA Pass]
My Lai [VC Event]
War Photographer [ARVN Op/Spec, US Event]

Top Gun [NVA Op/Spec, US Event]
Detente [ARVN Op/Spec, US LimOp]
MiGs [NVA Op/Spec, VC Pass] (NVA at 20 points)
Typhoon Kate [VC Op/Spec, ARVN LimOp]
APC [US Event, NVA Op/Spec] (NVA at 20 points)
Ruff Puff [VC Op Only, ARVN Pass]
Light at the End of the Tunnel [ARVN Event, NVA Op/Spec] (NVA at 22 points)
International Forces [US Op/Spec, VC LimOp]
Russian Arms [ARVN Op/Spec, NVA LimOp] (NVA down to zero money)
Phan Quang Dan [VC Event, US Op/Spec]
Kent State [NVA Pass]
Hamburger Hill [NVA LimOp, US ATTACK] (NVA up to 20 and then down to 18)
Coup

3 Comments
  • Amadan says:

    I have been looking at those COIN series games lately, but haven’t played any. Have you played any of the others? Would love to see a review of those.

    • Jeffro says:

      I playtested the upcoming Pendragon last week. I haven’t tried the earlier releases, but each one seems to have its proponents. If I was shopping around for one, I’d just go with the theme that grabbed me the most. The other factor would be complexity. Fire in the Lake is more on the monster end of the spectrum, while Andean Abyss and Cuba Libre are going to be much easier to pick up and teach.

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