Vietnam Wargaming Rules Review of Charlie Company

Infantry Combat in Vietnam 1965-1972
(RAFM Edition, 1997)

ISBN 0-920727-09-3

I have been playing games using the Charlie Company rules for a few years now and until very recently the rules set that I used was a 1986 Edition from Ulster Imports (reviewed below). Despite forays into other rules sets, most notably Free Fire Zone, I had come to regard my 1986 edition of Charlie Company as the best 'fast-play' commercial rules set currently available – that is, until recently, when I was supplied with a more recent edition of the rules (by my friend Michael Sarno in the United States) which are now published by RAFM.

The RAFM Edition represents a quantum leap in both presentation and content over it’s predecessor from Ulster Imports, which comes as no real surprise since they are separated by over 13 years of time. Nonetheless, the quality of the presentation should not be overlooked when one considers ease of use and clarity. This edition, despite a couple of typo errors, is very clearly laid out as well as being illustrated and organised in a logical fashion. It is unfortunate that RAFM do not, to my knowledge, have a UK supplier for this edition since they are, in my opinion, the most versatile and easily adapted rules on the market. Not only are they flexible and consistent but they also manage to retain the flavour and ease of use of the earlier edition.

The rules are presented in numbered sections which guide the novice, as well as the more experienced player, through the steps required to both set up and play a game of Charlie Company.

The first few sections (Sections 1.0 – 5.0) provide an introduction to the background of Charlie Company, detailing the premise of the game (which is to survive your own, personal, tour in-country), as well as how to go about setting up either a US Army or USMC Infantry Company for use in the game. Included in this part of the rules is an excellent summary of the terrain types likely to be encountered as well as a look at the games master’s role in running a Charlie Company game. As in the earlier edition, there is also an excellent random scenario generator. The final section in the early part of the rules covers the critical area of Command, Control and Communications, which, incidentally, when applied fully in the course of a game, really does have a significant impact on the events that take place.

There then follows an overview of the sequence of play (Section 6.0), which is elaborated upon, step-by-step, in the subsequent sections (Sections 7.0 – 10.0).

Each step in the sequence of play is detailed and frequently illustrated by examples so that the reader has a clear and generally unambiguous idea of what is intended. The seven phases of a full turn (Command, Movement, Direct Fire, Supporting Fire, Fire Effects, Close Combat and RTO phase) are each presented to the reader. Of particular interest to myself was the section detailing the use of supporting fire, in particular the use of air and artillery, which in other rules sets I have found to be either very weak or else underemphasized. In Charlie Company, these areas are both well thought through and straightforward in their application – a pleasant change.

Direct fire procedures, including the use of crew-served weapons, are uncomplicated and whilst at first glance they may appear simplistic, hide an effective and well- balanced system of calculating casualties without recourse to detailed tables of modifiers. In fact, in Charlie Company there are, in effect, only three reasonably straightforward modifiers to consider; your own movement orders, the enemy’s movement orders and the cover in which the target is located. As one would expect, units that pay scant regard to the movement they adopt whilst the bullets are flying will suffer, whilst those commanders who are both cautious and bold will see their tactics rewarded. This is one of the great strengths of the Charlie Company rules; there is a direct correlation between the tactical choices made on the tabletop and the consequences of those decisions.

Supporting fire, in the form of air and artillery is covered more comprehensively in the Charlie Company rules than in any other rules set that I have seen. The use of Forward Observers and initial spotting rounds is heavily emphasised in the case of artillery fire whilst Forward Air Controllers are essential for the use of Tac Air. Communications with aerial assets are also covered.

The results of supporting fire (except in the case of helicopter gunship support, which is dealt with in much the same manner as direct fire) are applied on a per figure basis and all artillery and air munitions have a set burst radius with a primary and secondary zone. The number of potential hits that a figure may sustain is dependent on the position of that figure within the burst radius, whether in the primary or secondary kill zones. Since the burst zones of munitions can overlap, it is possible for a single figure to take multiple hits. I personally like this level of detail, which, incidentally, is very quick and easy to calculate.

Figures in Charlie Company can be killed, wounded, pinned and suppressed. As a result of this it is possible to have squads that are suffering any or all of these effects. Whilst it may sound as if it would be troublesome to keep track of, once again the little effort involved is well worth it.

Close combat is fought as another round of direct fire but only amongst those figures that are neither killed, wounded, pinned nor suppressed. Also, the combat round is more deadly since the chance of hitting the opponent is considerably enhanced. The decision to close with the enemy and engage him in close combat is one that is not taken lightly in Charlie Company and the result of this is that commanders are forced to rely on the age-old principles of fire and maneuver.

Many other areas are covered in the rules such as night fighting, prisoners, weather, sappers and a host of other details, all of which contribute towards a full and reasonably inclusive set of rules.

Finally, at the end of the main body of the rules, there is a section that includes a complete set of reference tables, games charts and unit information sheets, as well as a well-presented scenario.

I have to say that I am very impressed with this rules set and would recommend it without qualification to both newcomers and seasoned Veterans. For a deceptively simple set of rules, Charlie Company has a complexity and diversity that I have not found elsewhere. Until something better appears on the market, if you want to know where to find me, just ask directions for the Charlie Company CP.  

John Reeves & Greg Novak, Ulster Imports, 1988

Please Note: this review was written prior to my obtaining the new RAFM edition of CCo reviewed above.

Charlie Company RulebookAn excellent set of rules for the newcomer to the period. The introductory section about organising your forces is a great help and was used as a primary source for the US Organisation pages on this site.

Each player is assigned a 'command' position in a US Unit either as an NCO or an Officer and must attempt to survive a Tour of Duty which generally consists of 12 games (each game being the equivalent of one month).

The game itself is controlled by a 'gamesmaster' who sets up the scenarios and controls the VC/NVA. There is a good 'scenario generation' system provided in the rulebook. In effect, the gamesmaster predetermines the VC/NVA strategy and is then honor bound to follow it - irrespective of the changing tactical situation - which reflects the real life tactical approach of those forces.

Another good section is that on terrain which gives a reasonably comprehensive introduction to the types of terrain to be found in the game as well as their effects on play.

Availability of allied support fire (air and artillery) is generated randomly for each scenario. Fire support is always available to the US Commander, although the type and quantity available does vary.

Each turn  follows a set sequence of play consisting of 5 phases : Command, Movement, Direct Fire, Supporting Fire and Close Combat.

Units may adopt one of several types of movement which gives them a movement 'allowance' which is then used to traverse the terrain - each 1" of terrain costs a variable number of movement points to cross. Depending on the type of movement being used, the unit can obtain some tactical benefit whilst also suffering some tactical disadvantages which makes choice of movement type very important.

Each direct firing weapon is worth a number of dice, the total number of dice being modified by factors such as the type of movement the unit is using, the movement type of the target, target cover etc. The resulting number of dice remaining are then rolled with hits occurring on a score of 5+. US Casualties are diced for individually whereas VC/NVA consult a casualty table where results are determined for the entire squad - these range from No Effect, 1 Figure Killed... right through to Entire Squad is Killed!

Close Combat is simply presented as another round of direct fire (counting only soldiers who are not pinned, suppressed or wounded) with hits being gained on a 4+. Only those figures within a set range of an enemy figure may fire.

There are NO rules regarding morale. The designers argument for this is a reasonable one considering the intended period of the war which these rules cover (1965 - 1968).

Charlie Company games are generally fast flowing and full of action. The nature of the rules does not take account of some of the more accurate aspects of other rules such as target acquisition etc. but rather results in a 'slug fest' and high rates of attrition. Handfuls of dice usually result in overly high casualty rates.

Overall though I have enjoyed many games using these relatively unsophisticated rules and recommend them. Anyone surviving a Tour of Duty with Charlie Company deserves mucho respecto!


The Charlie Company List was, until recently, an independently moderated forum for the discussion of all matters pertaining to the Charlie Company rules and encompassed general topics on the Vietnam War as well as the more focused concentration on the game system.

The List is was moderated by Michael Sarno but is now handled by RAFM directly.

If you are new to Charlie Company, or indeed if you are an experienced player of this system, then I recommend that you take a look at the archives in order to obtain an idea of the breadth and depth of past discussion. Membership of the List costs absolutely nothing and you are under no obligation to contribute or even stay subscribed.

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