If you have not yet played Fire in the Lake, check out my review of this immense war game. If you have, and like me after a couple of games find yourself seeking out a few tactics on this game – you can find below my thoughts so far:
During the Game:
Focus on your objective; There is a lot going on in this game, and there is plenty of map positioning that can always be done. You will need to focus on your win conditions and the win conditions of your opponents. Long term positioning can be the enemy of the mid-game win. Keep your focus on each turn on advancing your agenda through one of the two routes available. Early game it will be the bases or patronage that gets focus, while late game the NVA will be focusing on conquest as the US focuses on retreating.
Stop the win; It’s obvious when a player moves into a win condition, but it’s important to move immediately on this. Giving that player another turn to move two steps clear risks making it impossible to move them back if the scoring card then comes up. Always be ready that the next card is a scoring card and pull the player back in – even if they are your ally.
You do my work; This is a core part of the tactics of this game – convince your ally or indeed your enemy to do your work for you. Show them options to benefit them that pull them out of your way or even directly help you. Opening up paths for your opponents can give you a chance to manipulate them into a better position for you. Just as an example, pulling the NVA along the coast looks negative but if it brings the US back to the region it will prevent them winning and they have a significant military advantage to push back the NVA.
Squeeze out; Squeezing out another player is the situation that arises when passing on this card will allow you and your ally to go before your opponent on the next. They were counting on that turn, but you will be able to force them out and offer a maximum impact turn for you and your opponent.
Monsoon victories; When the victory card arises and a monsoon occurs it is difficult for other players to take military actions in certain areas. This may leave a player in a position of victory that cannot be surpassed. It will take time to recognize the victory positions that are protected by monsoons and either stop them early or get yourself into one! In particular watch out for a reliance on the ARVN to sweep next turn to pull back a victory score – if the monsoon comes they will be unable to act.
VC South; The stronghold for the VC player – amass forces and push for Hanoi. A VC player will need to create bases, and tunnels and then try to get Hanoi or shift the political influence over a far larger region. Hanoi is a strong offensive play but won’t work in most games. In any case the south is the building block for mid and late game victories for the VC.
NVA Jungle; The NVA will use the jungles outside of Vietnam for mobility. These areas have no value to them in the victory but they allow the NVA to have a more mobile strike force. Without this, access to the South would be through the plains where the NVA are vulnerable to the US. The jungle is the route to the south and to picking up the pieces of control when the VC advance.
NVA North; The jungle isn’t the only NVA asset though; the north coast is vulnerable to early game NVA assault and will need to be secured early in the game. This is the territory which can be bombarded and give you access to significant population.
US vs NVA; The NVA should be wary of going further south because it exposes them to military combat with the US on terms that the US will win. The US should be wary of going further North as it will draw troops and risk casualties. This stand off will be a material part of the game and both sides will get tempted to test it at various points. In my experience its best to leave this standoff in place.
VC Bases in the South; Building up bases is a part of the VC strategy – the VC should try to build these up early game but don’t spread to thin and let the ARVN or US break these down before tunnels can be made. The US and ARVN should focus on this – stamp out the risk before there is a fight for Hanoi which will prevent the US retreat or engulf the ARVN forces.
ARVN keep moving; The ARVN need to keep mobile and switch between fighting the VC and NVA. Neither can be allowed to grow too strong. ARVN forces need to strike at gaps of the US and ensure COIN control. COIN control is instrumental for the victory and the US cannot be relied to deliver it.
ARVN Police; ARVN police are an important resource for the control of regions, but be careful to use them in capturing a region or placing them alongside US forces. Simple placement rules, but they leave the US with the chance to shift allegiance and even utilize ARVN resources to do it!
NVA Fronts / VC Disrupt; The VC and NVA forces work together but they do not use the same military operations. Indeed the NVA form a front in the North, and if they move for the south they will need a front as well. The VC though infiltrate and attack behind the enemy lines. When playing with these factions, they must work in harmony but when playing against them you will need to disrupt these advantages and force incorrect military operations.
Limit opponents, maximize ally; Above are lots of thoughts on how to weaken opponents or play to the strength of an ally. Above all this though there is a key strategy that when the first player choses his action it limits or permits certain choices by the other player. In particular, if your opponent goes after you you should ensure that they are only allowed a limited operation and not a full turn. Tricky to set up but important to achieve, and the reverse of offering your ally maximum choice can be just as important.