Hearts and Minds

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ApocalypseLanceKilgore Hearts and Minds (new from Worthington Games) might just be the holy grail strategic Viet Nam game I've always wanted. Because it's card-based, there's loads of chrome and history throughout... but because it's done on such a large scale, the entirety of the conflict can be played out in one (long) session.

It handles the two levels of the war very well, with the Viet Cong and political control war being waged side by side with the pure military operations. Victory is generally determined through the accumulation of American Hawk or Dove points, which slide a strategic will marker up and down a track (the US/Allied player wants to keep things Hawkish, and the Communists want the Yanks overwhelmed with Doves). US military losses increase Dove points, for example, while ARVN losses do not.

With the exception of a few asset units like armor and artillery, all the military pieces are generic infantry, and all have the same combat value of 1 (or 2 if it's a veteran unit)... so if you're looking for specific named formations you'll be disappointed.

A couple interesting twists on standard CDG mechanics:

1) there are three decks of cards, one for the US, one for the reds, and one generic deck of neutral events. At the start of play, the generic deck is split and shuffled into the other two. This is a nice mix of the WtP/FtP/HRvC style and the PoG/SoR style, and will provide a lot of replayability

2) Players can stockpile Ops points for future use (called SRPs, or Stockpiled Resource Points). Sometimes losses in combat can be averted by burning a SRP, sometimes a player might need one more action than he can afford, and sometimes certain big events (like the Tet Offensive) require the expenditure of several SRPs.

3) Played cards provide Ops as normal, but also list a cost to activate an event. For example, a 4-Ops card might allow a special event for a cost of 2 of its Ops. So unlike a lot of its brethren, H&M lets you have your cake and eat it, too.

4) Both sides have access to a few Campaign Cards, one of which may be selected at the start of the turn in lieu of another card (similar to Guns of August in PoG). These campaigns provide special advantages that must be used in a specific sector of the map, and reward the player with political advantages if the campaign succeeds.

Of course, there are B-52 bombing missions, chopper assets, a little PBR for Operation Sealords, and loads of rich military jargon and cultural references on the cards. H&M also features the war expanding into neighboring Laos and Cambodia, which impressed me, given the small size of the game.

Another great feature is that the game includes scenario set-ups and victory conditions for every year of the war... so you can just play Tet, for example, or play the last few years of "Vietnamization".

Last night we started in '65 and saw the Reds just steamroll their way to a political victory. So we re-started the game with the '66 set-up, and played through to the end of '67. In '66, the Reds heavily infiltrated the Mekong Delta, and scored four sweet Dove points for extensive political control. The following year, US/ARVN forces initiated Operation SEALORDS, and successfully managed to first dig out the local irregulars and then pummel the counter-attacking NVA divisions, and they earned four Hawk points in return. We had to call it, but it was clearly anyone's game at that point.

Needless to say, H&M is my new "gaming obsession du jour", and I can't wait to get that thunder rolling again.

For more information about Hearts and Minds:  http://www.worthingtongames.com/detailHM.html

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