An introduction to Desperate Land, a set of Vietnam-era skirmish wargaming rules.

Submitted by Michael Sarno

Desperate Land is the set of rules on which I've been working steadily for a little over a year. The ideas for Desperate Land have been bouncing around in my head for considerably longer than that. Desperate Land is a squad-level skirmish game designed to have the players think like small unit leaders in Vietnam. Desperate Land is a war college style game, that is, typically, the players all play on the same side with a controller or team of controllers handling the events that are outside of the direct control of the players themselves. I've found this style to be extremely helpful in this period, where battlefield intelligence is so limited. This allows hidden movement and recon by fire with extreme ease and simplicity. The only disadvantage is that you're not actually competing against another player or team of players. However, in all the games that I've run in this style, I have yet to hear a player remark after a game that they thought this was a drawback.

The key to Desperate Land is the use of Command Points (CPs). The entire system is based around the effective use of CPs which allow you to move, fire more effectively, and take advantage of natural cover. A unit can almost always do one of these extremely well. Sometimes, they can even do two of these extremely well. However, they can never do all three well. This is where the use and knowledge of tactics is extremely important. A player must know when to shift from offense to defense, and vice versa.

Another key feature in Desperate Land is the initiative system. A side can continue to act until it loses or passes the initiative. You can lose the initiative by failing at some action, either moving or firing, or something else. You can pass the initiative whenever you decide. This allows the other side to act. If your team does nothing when it receives the initiative, it may choose to retire for the turn. This passes the initiative to the other side, but it also guarantees your side the initiative for the next turn.

Desperate Land uses a very simply system to resolve direct fire. The normal assault rifle gets to roll 1d6 when it fires, other weapons are rated with different numbers of dice. You start with a to hit number of 1. To that you add modifiers for range, cover, and defensive posture. You can spend CPs to lower that to hit number. Then, you simply roll the number of dice and all dice that are equal to or greater than the to hit number are considered hits. Reroll those dice to calculate the effects of the hits and you're done. It's fast and it's simple, but it is also very realistic.

Desperate Land is designed to play a platoon-sized engagement in about 3 hours. This includes final movement to contact and consolidation of objective. Simplicity and speed of play are valued highly, but the goal of a realistic simulation of the tactics and choices involved is not sacrificed to achieve playability. Obviously, this is not an objective opinion, but it is my honest assessment of the system.

Desperate Land will be published in time for Historicon 2001.

See Diary of Events for details regarding upcoming opportunities to take part in playing Desperate Land at Conventions

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