Monday, 27 January 2014

Tropical Forest Experience

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a tropical forest in Latin America as a result of a week-long business trip to Colombia. It was quite an interesting experience in itself  but it also made me more aware of the simplifications and short cuts that we (as wargamers) take when playing games in Vietnam or WW II-era theaters in the Asian jungles.

Although not in Asia, the climatic and vegetation conditions I presume are more or less similar across the tropics. As I was walking along the forest, I discovered myself in deep thinking about some of the games I umpired with Charlie Don't Surf, specially the discussions we had  on LOS, movement rates, ambushes or type of cover when firing.

To illustrate some of these points, here are some photos as an image is worth 1000 words.

1. Line of sight? What line of sight?

My recon team slightly distracted

There's nothing like a straight road path across the forest but a long and winding road as the Beatles sang many years ago. Furthermore, try to see something across the edge of the road and you'll find this...
Nice flower but where's Charlie???
...or at best a nice view... of the mountain tops, but little else nearby

2. Extraction, extraction!
First, find a clear in the forest...
The green canopy
 ...and pray the weather is on your side!
A different type of jungle but try finding the mountains!

3. Machete forward!
And now for those scenes in the films where the intrepid adventurer opens a highway-wide sized path across the bamboo thickets in seconds...

... I could hardly believe the thickness of the bamboos and that's why I put my hand for reference in the photos!

4. Crossing the river
A very peaceful sight but people was there swimming so imagine the depth!

The current was not very strong though. The other aspect that impressed me was that there's a total lack of sight of the other bank, not even a few meters inside the forest. Nice location for an ambush!

5. And the terrible wild animals

Well not so, but I could not resist showing Carlota here; isn't she cute?

In conclusion, when playing Vietnam always think that reality was much worse that you can imagine; and that probably compound with the fear and lack of orientation in the jungle, would always play against the US players.


  1. That is an invaluable exercise! Considering real world experiences when creating the confines of our gaming world and especially the native wild beast should be de rigeur.

  2. Thank you for this very interesting! In my experience, even thin bamboo is a hassle to cut through if it is still at all green, as is elephant grass.

  3. Thank you for this. I also liked the commentary.

  4. Very interesting- based on that it seems that every skirmish game is overly optimistic when it comes to visibility in the jungle. Thanks.



  5. Having been in the jungles in SE Asia I can confirm that you are correct in your assumption - looks very similar to Colombia.

  6. Very interesting piece of information, really useful. We need to think more about the problems of the terrain...

  7. There was a CBS special long ago, The World of Charlie Company, about 1970 Vietnam. The troops simply would not move along the trial (and a mutiny almost broke out when they were ordered to), but I recall that it was painfully slow and difficult to cut a path through the jungle.

  8. These are great pictures. I try to avoide jungle games like Vietnam or Burna for a reason - I respect the men who fought those battles, but after reading a book like Matterhorn or seeing these pictures and reading your commentary, I agree with Petethat our skirmish games tend to be unrealistic in order to be playable. Thanks for this post, And yes, Carlotta is one fierce animal. :)

  9. Great points. When I read your piece, I recalled that in the South Pacific, it would take opposing armies weeks(!) to hack a path through the jungle to get from 1 side of an island to another to attack the other side's fortified base. We lose sight of this when we wargame.

    Add in the fatigue, disorientation and rampant disease. And remember too that the Japanese would often be close to starvation.