I've played two slightly truncated games of the Korean War recently and it has quickly become my favourite hex and counter game.
This is a mid 1980s design out of Victory Games an off shoot of the dying (or dead I forget which by this date) SPI games but based in New York under the Umbrella of Avalon Hill. It'd designed by Joe Balkoski and covers the first 12 months of the war, which is where all the action was in history, at the divisional and regimental scale. Each turn lasts a month and you have 12 turns taking around an hour each. It has two medium sized paper hex maps that put together will fill a typical dining room table. As it is a divisional scale game (to non war gamers that means most units represent a full division of an army which is a lot of dudes), you don't have that many counters, which means no big counter stats and not too much time sorting them out at the start of play. This scores big points in my book.
Yesterday I played the Communists and my friend, Dave P McArthur played the UN. He decided to leave the strategic opening decisions of the UN entirely up to Washington and so rolled a die to determine each of them.
On turn 2, after the North Koreans have swept over the border and hammered the south, the UN intervenes. At this point the UN player has to make some strategic decisions. He or she has to choose the UN intervention level, mobilization level and rules of engagement. These three decision essentially determine how many troops the UN get, when they arrive, how quickly than can transfer between ports and carry out amphibious assaults, where they can bomb, and whether they can drop atomics.
Dave decided to let the die decide rather than choose, because he wanted to see what might happen if some distant politicians made decisions for him. He ended up with a a very low initial intervention, so few troops early on, but high mobilization and liberal rules of engagement so he could bomb anywhere. The downside is this ramped up the global tension level quite a bit. This tension level, if it reaches 7, the Communists win. Further, and this was Dave's downfall and lead to his resignation on turn 4, the UN subtracts 5 times this tension level from their vps scored each turn.
There was no Pusan perimeter in this game. I got stuck around Seoul. I did take Seoul but crossing the river and securing Inchon before American started landing proved to be harder than I expected. I also got road blocked down the east coast by a US force. IN the end I did manage to encircle Inchon but by now it was turn 3 going on 4. Whilst this was slow, from another perspective I had forced the UN to waste time and play hard slowing their victory gains to the point where they could only realistically win by a military victory conquering the whole of North Korea, something they were unlikely to achieve, hence Daves resignation.
Why do I like it so much?
Theres a number of things this game does very well.
Firstly I like war games that give you different objectives or victory conditions that you can work toward. There was a point in this recent game where I chose to go from an all out assault victory to an attritional strategy. Even in attack, do I strike at my opponents supply sources, the key cities for vps, or the instant win condition of Pusan? Balancing the priorities and working out what is really strategically essential and what is no longer realistic or important is satisfying armchair general material.
Secondly I like manoeuvre. Games with lines pushing each other back and forth can be fun, but can be a bit boring. I like encirclements, break outs etc.
Thirdly both sides get to attack, both sides get dramatic phases in the game. The North Koreans swing first, the UN second, the Chinese third. It gives the game narrative acts and switches the footing of both players.
Fourth, the game has plenty of clever tactical systems. The way depots are deployed and supply calculated is simple and interesting, the UN air chart, deciding how to use action points for each unit. It all adds up to a detailed but still manageable tactical puzzle each turn.
And fifth, the external events. The game has plenty of historical what ifs? chromed into its rules. What if Nationalist China, or the Soviets joined in? What if Atomics were dropped? Whilst I have a read a history of the Korean War, I haven't studied it in detail enough to comment on the accuracy of the game as a simulation, but it does produce a believable account.