Operation No. 1: Mapping Attleboro – Research, Framing and Analysis

Selecting the Area

Framing the map area and conducting terrain and infrastructure analysis for A Hot Dry Season: Operation Attleboro in War Zone C (AHDS) is a difficult process to isolate.   Really it all began with the research, specifically after an understanding of the permutations of the campaign became solidified in my mind.  There is a lot of “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” involved.  I had done quite a bit of my research at that point and had a draft order of battle created.  I had made certain decisions about scale and time, and had basic concepts worked out regarding what capabilities and combat effects would be reflected and explored in the system.  Many factors underlined my approach to the selection of an operational area before I had even decided on a map area:

  • Player choices and  player uncertainty regarding opponent’s choices
  • Designing for the campaign first and letting the scenarios fall into place later
  • The incredibly varied nature of terrain in Vietnam
  • The ruggedness of the terrain and its impact on military operations
  • The impact of physical, military and human infrastructure on military operations.

I’ll deal with the first concept in some detail and then I’ll walk through my process and decision making regarding selecting the operational area, physically selecting it, analyzing it and depicting it in game terms.

Regarding player choices, I want those maximized, and I want choices to be consequential and impactful.  As the commanders of the opposing forces in the area of operations, the map had to offer an expansive area to the players to allow maximum freedom in how to conduct their operations.  This really accords with principles I have regarding wargames that I enjoy and consequently wargames that I want to design.   I didn’t want the map area itself to lead to a  a sort of “history on rails”.

NLF Map Planning

A large area, perhaps larger than would be essential, would aid in ensuring that players wouldn’t be constricted in their choices by the physical space.  The map had to include all of War Zone C, and offer some extra area around War Zone C.  However, representing say, the Iron Triangle or Cambodian sanctuaries on-map would be immaterial and/or ahistorical.  The Iron Triangle would double the map area and added the potential for the consideration of some forces modeled in the order of battle on both sides that couldn’t have been conceivably added to the Campaign.  Entering Cambodia was not at all within the realm of historical possibility for US/ARVN Forces during Operation Attleboro, so physically adding Cambodian territory to the north and northwest of War Zone C seemed misleading and not essential.  With all this in mind, and with the knowledge that scale and physical map size of 22” x 34” would allow for the area I desired to be represented, this area was selected.  And I made a schematic design for myself outlining what I wanted on the map and what could be modeled in an abstract fashion.

Schematic Map

Terrain and Infrastructure Analysis

Note that all the above didn’t make the final cut either on-map or off-map, and that the locations depicted are woefully inaccurate from a location standpoint.  I was already consulting the US Army 1:50,000 series period Indochina maps available at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas.  But I was narrowing down for myself what I wanted where and how for the title, conceptually.  The area would translate into one physical game map, but in order to use the US Army maps, which are incredibly accurate at a finite scale and were made for the period I am modelling, it of course, sits at the joining of twelve US Army maps.  All of them very large PDF files.  So when I was further along, and had determined how I wanted game systems (Fires, Combat, Aviation, ISR, Non-combat military capabilities) to work in a detailed concept, I then, with the aid of my cartography and cartographic software consigliere Chris French, stitched the US Army maps into one very large Adobe Illustrator file.

Full Attleboro AOI Map

From this, according to the criteria established: one physical 22” x 34” map, maximizing the physical space for the game map, this was sliced into the area the map would cover, at a scale of one mile per hex.

Map Snapshot

I then went through the map and quantified the terrain types.  This was done with an eye to: how different unit types operated in different types of terrain, demonstrated impacts of terrain on ISR capabilities, impacts of terrain on different weapon systems, etc.  Extensive knowledge of the area of operations, the operation itself, the capabilities used, dilemmas and obstacles faced by formations on the ground were really essential before attempting to quantify terrain types.   For example, mechanized companies could, using “jungle busting” techniques, make their way into areas that bordered light and dense jungle, but no more.  These areas either were marked on the US Army maps as “brushwood” or were areas, when examining mile hexes, that may possess some light or dense jungle (or both) but in the main offered sufficient egress of other, passable terrain to mechanized companies.  These hexes became the terrain type “Light Woods” and are passable to mechanized units in the game, though at a higher movement value cost than, say “Clear” as an example.  Terrain and infrastructure analysis would have been woefully inadequate to an-in-depth and accurate treatment of the operation without all the research I had done to that point.   This was nug-work.  Tedious, but essential to getting the details right.  I’d spend many hours peering at various hexes, looking at the Army map keys, making determinations and then marking the hex with a two letter code for its terrain designation, like this:

Terrain Quantification

Then I needed to quantify all the infrastructure.  I built a gazetteer in excel with the pathways of the rivers, road types, facilities, and villages (no need for towns or urban areas, each was a terrain category) and the map then looked like this:

Terrain Quantification Infrastructure

Note the hard to read “SF3” and “V13” in blue.  That means a village and a special forces camp, and those codes, when matched up to the gazetteer would provide the place name.  Then after doing all that I color-coded each terrain type based on the two letter code.  Until the final result was reached for this stage.  I call this the “Sorcerer Map”.

Attleboro Draft Map All Features with Infrastructure 20190420

Don’t look too hard or you’ll go blind.  Essentially, at this point, we end the framing and analysis stage.  How that then got rendered graphically into an elegant, thematic, evocative, functional and aesthetically pleasing final game map by my Artist and Graphic Designer, Ben Sones is another essay unto itself which will be told at a later date.

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