Ambush Valley AAR – The Battle of the Five-hole in the Long Huang Valley (20mm)

I have said before that every gaming session tells a story.  Sometimes the story goes off in a way different direction than you might expect.  Nonetheless camaraderie and companionship around the gaming table creates the environment where everyone can take part in the story being created and thus have stories to tell.  This past Sunday’s gaming session of “Ambush Valley”, the ruleset of Ambush Alley Games covering the Vietnam War, made for some memorable moments.

The “Ambush Valley” ruleset was one I had not had a chance to try out before.  Jim Roots and his son Will had set up an excellent gaming area, this time representing an area of Vietnam we fondly named “the Long Huang Valley”.  It was a largely jungle area (1D of cover) with many more dense areas (2D of “hard cover”), some rocky outcroppings and some scattered rice paddies.  Oh, and an extensive Viet Cong tunnel network loaded with local force Viet Cong soldiers.  Plus a LOT of booby traps!

The Long Huang Valley viewed from the north

The rules for the game had the Viet Cong acting as insurgents, able to emerge in random groups from any of 5 different hotspots on the map (represented by the blue dice).  The VC were local forces and were poorly armed at this stage of the war.  Thus they had a troop quality die of D6, with a morale of D8.

The US Marines who were staging out of the village of Long Doang in the south end of the Long Huang valley were standard forces, troop quality D8 with morale D8.  They had two 2-man teams of M60 gunners, several 5-man fireteams and a small HQ detachment with a medic and a radioman.  No air cover or arty was available.

The miniatures were provided by Skip Petersen of “Legends in Time” ( and are amazingly well painted.  I mean it just puts my personal stuff to shame…

Some of Skip's VC forces

Some of Skip's US Marine forces - Vietnam era

The Marines were spread out in a broad sweep line, set to move north up the length of the Long Huang valley with the mission of closing up tunnel entrances that were spotted by aerial photographs.  In “Ambush Valley” rules this meant they had to keep a group of Marines by a “hot spot” for a turn and then pass a troop quality test to neutralize it.

The starting positions of the US Marines as layed out by Will

The “open” area actually represented more open jungle, providing 1D cover to anyone in it.  The stands of trees and bushes represented heavy cover, giving a 2D cover bonus BUT allowing the VC to pull a “booby trap” card on any US forces moving through the heavy cover.  Also, if the US forces moved at a faster speed than “cautious”, i.e. more than 6 inches they also could have a “booby trap” card pulled on them. The rice paddys were completely open areas with no cover (just like the real things).

The Marines look for a safe path to their goal

VC units on the board started off hidden in heavy cover spots

The Viet Cong units that started on the board were all considered “hidden” and were located in heavy cover areas.  They were waiting to use “Ambush” tactics to spring attacks when US troops came within 12 inches.  The US troops had a chance to spot hidden units, but only within 8 inches range and only after a successful Troop Quality (TQ) check.  Otherwise the VC forces remained hidden until they revealed themselves by movement in line-of-sight or by shooting.

The VC forces could also move rapidly around the map in two other ways.  They could use the tunnel network, entering one entrance and reappearing at any other entrance the next turn, no matter what the distance.  They could also move an unlimited distance on the map provided they remained out of line-of-sight of enemy troops.

Thomas observes the Marine advance, preparing to unleash an ambush with his VC force

The Marines advance in staggered formation

The Marines advanced carefully, using cautious movement (6 inches max) to avoid booby traps.  Some teams advanced while others stayed on Overwatch to cover them.  This tactic always left troops ready to react and defend the advancing units.  It also takes some time and is a little boring for the opponents, who admittedly are simply waiting for use to get close enough to be ambushed…

A Marine team enters heavy cover not knowing they are being watched

The first Marine team entered some “heavy cover” terrain.  The VC side pulled a booby trap card on the team and, presto: everyone’s favorite – feces-covered pungie sticks!  This proved to be the first of many times that the VC folks rolled poor dice and the Marines got lucky.  The Marine defensive roll blocked the VC attack roll.  No casualty!

However, Charlie (the VC) decided that this was a good time to ambush the Marine advance team.  This didn’t go really well for the VC unit…

The Marines spot the ambush first and pin the VC unit

The VC unit did not get their ambush off correctly, were seen and taken under fire by the Marine team.  They received casualties, failed their morale check and were pinned by the fire, unable to return fire.

The first catch-phrase of the day is inspired...

The VC unit had bad enough luck with the dice to inspire the first of several phrases that day: “Charley don’t roll, Sir!”

One unit down, a theoretically infinite amount to go...

The VC patrol is eliminated by fire.  The rest of the Marine sweep continued.

Marine sweep continues

The closest tunnel entrance to close up was code-named “Five Hole”.  The right flank of the sweep moved towards it in order to close it up.

The right flank troops head towards the Five Hole

The point team of the sweep enters heavy a cost

The point team of the Marines on the right flank chose to enter the heavy cover as they approached the Five Hole.  This allowed the VC side to draw another booby trap card.  What a booby trap!  They were spotted by a hidden machine gun nest!  Lots of BLAM came their way and, yet again, the VC dice blew goats.  This spawned the second catch phrase of the day.  As the Marines took advantage of the hard cover they were in their motto was: “We Hide with Pride!”

The machine gun nest

The Marines returned fire to the Machine Gun nest.  This proved “golden BB” effective!  The dice rolls brought out a Fog-of-War card for the machine gun nest, and a sucky one at that.  The Marines also dealt with the VC unit in the heavy cover next to the machine gun nest.  The VC unit fired on the lead Marine unit, took some casualties in return fire and took complete casualties from the 2 M60 machine gun teams.  The M60s really rocked in this game.

The dreaded "Jammed" card!

The FoW card was the “Jammed” card.  This meant that the machine gun nest was reduced to 1/2 of its fire power for the rest of the game.  A 4D6 attack became a 2D6 attack. This made it much less effective.

The left-side advance hits a booby trap

The Marine units that were advancing northwards on the west side of the rocky ridge ran afoul of a VC booby trap.  This was a bad one, explosive frag.  One casualty.  The HQ unit with the Corpsman then made a rapid move to get to the wounded man. This, of course, left them vulnerable to another booby trap.  This caused a casualty in the HQ team.  The casualty assessments at the beginning of the next turn showed that the lead unit casualty was KIA and the HQ unit casualty ended up being okay.

VC troops start coming out of the Five Hole

Meanwhile , the lead unit on the right flank was ambushed as they approached the Five Hole.  This time the Marines rolled some bad troop quality dice in response to the ambush.  Hello, Fog of War card…

"I just wanted to be back at my hooch!"

The FoW card made this team into “Short Timers”.  Their morale plummeted and they would not advance without a TQ check.  Then the incoming fire gave them some casualties and they, of course, failed their morale roll and were pinned.  Hmmm, this is looking more and more like a Vietnam war movie…

Other Marine units come up to help and the Battle for the Five Hole gets under way

Other Marine units moved forward to help the beleaguered unit extract itself.  This kicked off what became known as “The Battle of the Five Hole”. The advancing units took fire from the machine gun nest but were not hindered by it.

The defining moment of the game...

Suddenly a large unit of VC popped out of the Five Hole.  This occurence (actually from the standard “roll for insurgents” at the start of a turn) inspired a comment that will not only live in infamy but also stopped gameplay for several minutes while some of the players (myself included) had to compose themselves and learn how to breathe again.  The comment made by one of the players and attributed to the pinned Marine team was: “Pull out!  Wrong hole!”  Yeah, ow…

With one KIA and two WIA the team falls back

Casualty assessment for the pinned Marine team was one KIA and two severely wounded WIA.  The team prepared to perform a limping version of “The Bugout Boogy”.

After some amazing dice luck the wounded reach cover

The Marine fireteam brought its wounded through three different interrupts that failed to cause any more casualties.  “Charlie don’t roll, Sir!”

Another Marine team swung in from the west an eliminated the machine gun nest.

More forces concentrate around the Five Hole

With the wounded unit in cover the rest of the Marines on the right flank started closing in on the Five Hole.  the VC also started moving forces in that direction as well.  The game mechanic of the VC forces being able to use the tunnels for free movement is a good one.  It serves the purpose of keeping the action going while at the same time providing a “cinematic” element to the game, with hordes of enemy forces pouring out against the outnumbered but not outgunned “good guys”.

More VC units arrive at the Five Hole

The VC units kept popping up out of the Five Hole, making it an area of great interest to the Marines.  When they got interested in something they kept shooting it until it was no longer interesting.  Lots of casualties among the VC, with really sucky dice rolling on the VC side.

Definitely the wrong hole for the VC today...

The VC players threw a lot of forces and reinforcements at the Five Hole, but it was not the only place where combat was happening.

A Marine patrol was heading to close up another hole and got ambushed

A Marine team on the left side of the map saw an opportunity to go after another tunnel entrance.  As they moved towards it they were ambushed by a unit of VC that just popped out of it.  This ambush was a charge to close combat.

Close combat in Ambush Valley (and the other Ambush Alley games) goes until one side is defeated.  Casualties are immediately assessed.  In this case, the VC team was not only taken out by the Marines but the Marines took two VC prisoners, i.e. there were 2 unassessed VC casualties at the end of the close combat.

An0ther VC team observed this and failed their TQ roll to assault, thus staying lurking in the bushes.

The Five Hole at game end...

The VC forces at the Five Hole were taken in the flank by another Marine fire team.  This caused sufficient casualties that, given the state of the game, we decided to end things and call the game.  The results were determined to be a massive US Marines victory.  There were over one hundred Viet Cong casualties to 2 Marine KIA and 2 Marine WIA.

Honestly though, the Marines did not do a great job completing their primary goal, which was to neutralize the hot spots, i.e. close up the tunnel entrances.  That was a difficult proposition.  The booby trapped laden jungle didn’t make things any easier.  The Marines succeeded more due to bad dice luck on the VC side than anything else.

I want to thank Skip Petersen for lending Jim Roots his minis.  They really made the game look and feel better.  Jim’s son Will was the game master and ran it very well, even as he played some of the VC forces.  Will had some of the most horribly bad dice rolls I have seen in a long time.

The game was a lot of fun and “Ambush Valley” creates very interesting stories.


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