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AT GOTY? Storm Over Dien Bien Phu Review
November 21, 2014
In many respects the Storm Over System feels like an Ameritrash invention to me. When I compare it to other light war games it generates more fist in the air moments after a dice roll, and more slams of cards on the deck per hour than any of the competition. Whether you should get a Storm over game I guess really depends on whether that's the kind of experience you want from a light wargame.
Storm Over Dien Bien Phu is the latest in a line of games using a variation of the Storm Over Arnhem game rules dating back to 1981. There are at least a dozen games (a lot of them are low print run magazine games) that use the same basic system of moving groups of counters representing your troops across an area map. Each unit can do one thing in a turn and then it is exhausted. Creating this great tactical dilemma of what one thing out of four or five do I do with this group of units and do I do it now or risk doing it later? This entry, like the other mmp ones, adds cards to the mix. On your move, play an event card or move or attack with some units. Once both players pass the turn is over.
image credit; Cauvin @ BGG
Dien Bien Phu is a rather niche wargaming subject about a pre-vietnam war between the French colonial forces and the Viet Minh (read North Vietnamese). In 1954 the French tried (and succeeded) to force a grand showdown with their elusive enemy by dropping a load of paratroopers on to a critical hill in the jungle near the Viet Minh supply lines. The Viet responded with a 17th century style siege. The game, in broad strokes depicts this story of embattled French fending off the superior numbers of Viet that come swarming out the jungle.
Whilst the game does depict history historical interest is not really necessary to enjoyment. I’d go as far to say that If you are really interested in the historical battle go for Legion Games attempt instead. Storm over DBP has enough historical flavour to bring its setting to life but not enough for a grognard study. Artillery, which was a key factor in the battle is abstracted to cards, and French supply drops are handled with some control of critical areas, card supply and reinforcement schedules. More than this though is the tone of the game. I referred to the Storm Over system as Ameritrash because to me it feels very AT. If this game had plastic space men in it and a glitzy board people would be lauding it as AT game of the year. Timing the use of your units, the deadly but simple single die roll combat mechanics and the play of event cards all give the game a good mix of calculation, surprise, and screw you moments. It does feel like a siege but I don’t really identify with Vo Nguyen Giap whilst playing it, I feel like a dude with a beer in his hand chucking dice. Its great, but it’s a light hearted experience.
Should you get this game?
It is a bit of an odd turkey for a light wargame. It doesn’t really shoot for the heavy history market and it is a bit niche for the wider consumer ( mmp only seems to be dimly aware this wider market exists). I also wonder, that like the simpler columbia block games, it might all start to blur into one if I played many games in the series. I don’t personally think there is much merit in owning both Hammer of the Scots and Julius Caesar. Both great games but things can feel a bit vanila after a while with the rules being so similar. Storm Over as a series has the potential to be the same. You'll get a different map, and different event cards and some extra chrome. In DBP control of some areas matters for French card draws, and the Viet Minh can, and must, dig trenches before attacking. The combat system, add up your attack strength, roll 2d6, subtract their defence deal damage, will be the same in each game and might wear thin after a while. I have not played any others from the series but one of my opponents felt this game was better than the recent Storm Over Stalingrad. DBP might be shorter too, it clocks in around the 2 hour mark.
In summary, I’d recommend getting one of the Storm Over series if you are into light war games. This one is a solid entry but the subject matter might not appeal to all. If you already own one, I guess its up to you as to how much you need another. Also its an mmp game so it has a paper map. The counters are the bigger size and the cards are really top quality. Rule book is about 12 pages but lots of diagrams.