I am playing COIN (COunter INsurgency) games pretty regularly, with main focus on the ones depicting Ancient History (why there is so few of them ? 🙂 ) They are perfect both for live sessions as well as Play-by-Email and always provide a lot of fun! Thus it is with a great pleasure each time when I can bring some of my colleagues to the table and present them new title in the series, which they did not play yet. This time the plan was to introduce Mark Herman & Volko Ruhnke masterpiece – Fire in the Lake!

The Game

Let me first tell you a little about the game.

Fire in the Lake is Volume IV in the COIN Series of games that use similar rules to cover (usually) modern Insurgencies and other inter-factional conflicts. This is a 1- to 4-player board game depicting insurgent and counter-insurgent (COIN) conflict during the main US period in Vietnam, 1964-1972, up to the “Paris Peace” – actually, expansions allow to follow the events after that period (Fall of Saigon) or prior to it (Sovereign of Discord).

Each player takes the role of a Faction seeking to set the fate of South Vietnam:

  • the United States (US),
  • North Vietnamese forces (NVA),
  • the Republic of Vietnam forces (ARVN),
  • the southern communist Viet Cong (VC).

Using military, political, and economic actions and exploiting various events, players build and maneuver forces to influence or control the population, extract resources, or otherwise achieve their Faction’s aims. As always in COINs, a deck of cards regulates turn order, events, victory checks, and other processes. The rules can run non-player Factions, enabling solitaire, 2-player, or multi-player games.

Ps. Here you can find great storage solution:

Sessions Report

So I had three new players to Fire In The Lake, with only one of them having previous COIN experience. After some consultancy with experienced COIN players, I decided to use the Full (1964-1972) scenario as introductory ground. Why not Short or Medium? Mainly due to situation on map which in Large, Campaign scenario is not so confrontational (and unforgiving if you do not know what to do) as with the shorter ones.

Of course, there was not chance we can go through 6 Coups in that session (we managed two) but that was of course not the goal. The main intent was to introduce the game, get the guys hooked and play more in the future. I will probably not do a large spoiler by saying it worked perfectly 🙂

As always, picture being worth 1000 words, please accompany me to the picture-rich session report. PS. You can click every image and enlarge it to see the details.

Initial set-up of the Full Scenario. We rolled for sides and the result was as depicted above.
Let the game begin… with a blast! Yup, our opponents got two very juicy events at the beginning!
Situation just before first Coup; this was turn of development for most of us – NVA built a huge army, almost all ARVN troops / police were on map, US positioned itself well and only VC got hit in couple of provinces.
The new South Vietnam leader will increase cost for Pacification; I like how the Coup mechanics changes some game conditions during the play.
Second turn seems like a very strong start for the anti-insurgent factions – Event and Operation+Special! We take it gladly!
But insurgents built up in the meantime great capabilities! In the long game, that would definitely have an enormous impact on the score.
Situation in the mid of second Turn; many more US troops in Vietnam, some NVA forces already destroyed, VC under constant pressure and ARVN amassing large amounts of resources.
NVA finally decides to strike in the North – and strike they hard, taking over Binh Dinh; on the other hand, they are completely obliterated in the South by US forces incursion into Cambodia.
Situation at the end of second Turn (after second coup) when we called it off.


That was a true blast. I admit, Fire in the Lake is definitely one of the more complex COIN games; still, that not prevented guys from quickly grasping the game mechanics and having a lot of fun from it; we managed to surprise each other with some clever moves, we learned strengths – as well weaknesses – of our forces, and we truly immersed into the Vietnam War theme.

And you know what was the best outcome? They asked for more! But this is story for another article…