Lock ‘n Load — Undeniable Courage

Although I have never seen the book or read the movie, this engagement apparently is the one featured in We Were Soldiers Once….

The scenario features a small American contingent with some Claymore mines holding a hill. Dave and I actually chose this scenario because we were on a time limit, and with the attacking NVA not exceeding the defending US in size by much, it looked small-ish. But things rapidly escalated, as the secret event paragraphs brought in more troops, and the US had to rapidly shift to parry different thrusts as they eventually become seriously outnumbered. All this added up to the most interesting scenario of Lock ‘n Load that I have yet played, with a fair amount of maneuver and the defenders hard-pressed to hold on. It all came down to a last-turn melee on the top of the hill, with a squad of US troops desperately kicking the NVA off of their hard-won position.

A couple notes on Lock ‘n Load in general after this game:

Firstly, I like it more and more after each play. That’s good. This game was fun, exciting, and fast-paced. The special events were used really well in this scenario, with the US having to move to counter unexpected threats. It probably wouldn’t be as exciting to play the US a second time, but that’s OK I think, there are now plenty of scenarios with the expansion.

Secondly, it bears mentioning that like the original Squad Leader, there is a lot of luck in Lock ‘n Load. Using sound tactics gives you a shot to win, but sometimes despite your brilliantly-executed plan that 105mm high explosive lands on your head, and you’re hosed. I suppose in reflection of the proliferation of firepower since WWII, Lock ‘n Load seems to subject you to the whims of fate a bit more than Squad Leader. For me, that’s part of the appeal of the game, and it is rather short. But for some of you out there, you’ve been warned.

Thirdly, a tactical tip: Most of the games I’ve played give the attacker plenty of time, and you need to use it. Even more than WWII games, Lock ‘n Load is about firepower, avoiding it, concentrating it, and blasting people with it. Back in my ASL-playing days, one of my failures as a player was being aggressive as an attacker even without tanks or artillery or the usual tools that let you strike quickly. If the scenario card says there are 12 turns, and the pace of your attack is going to get you to the building/hill/bridge/whatever in 6, that’s probably not good. When attacking, time is a resource along with troops and firepower, so use it wisely.

Lastly, what was not so good was the increasingly glaring problems with Lock ‘n Load’s rules as the scenarios I’ve been playing have been getting more complex. The rules to this game are poorly-organized, frequently frustratingly-written, vague in spots, and in general a significant disappointment. It’s often difficult to find stuff as it’s not in the right place (it took me ages to figure out where the heck the rules for Claymores were). At the end of the day, we had only one question we couldn’t resolve (do Claymores get the +2 for point-blank fire?), and some questions about opportunity fire and melee, and firing into a melee, that we weren’t quite sure we understood because it didn’t feel right; but we spent too long puzzling through the rules. This really is a great (and really not complex) game that deserves a better rulebook, and it almost convinced me to take a crack at rewriting it myself and sending it in to Shrapnel. Two recent wargames that I’ve actually quite liked (this and Battlelines) have been good games with poor rulebooks. I think Lock ‘n Load’s problems are not as severe as Battleline’s, and in the end I’ve been able to puzzle most everything out. But still, frustrating.

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