The Communists have launched a two-pronged assault on South Vietnam: using North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerillas to infiltrate enemy territory, while their agents plant the seeds of popular rebellion in the minds of the South Vietnamese.
That, in a nutshell, is the problem facing you at the beginning of this simulation of military and political strategy in South East Asia in the decade beginning 1965.
The program incorporates two distinct styles of play, allowing the player to either step straight into the shoes of Presidents Johnson or Nixon, or to jump head-first into the tick of three battle scenarios. Use your imagination to rustle up a little 'reds under the bed' paranoia and you could almost be there.
The game's also split into two other categories: long and shot. Choose a long game and you find yourself in the Oval Office in either 1964 (Johnson) or 1968 (Nixon). As guardian of the free world, it is your burden to plan a successful military campaign and quash the communist millions infiltrating South Vietnam (and by extension the world). Not only this, you also have to conduct the war in a way that keeps the decent folks of America content: this basically means that you have to carefully control the level of commitment to South Vietnam, both military and economic.
The shorter version of the game allows you to relive (via icons and a map display) the three major campaigns of the war: the Tet Offensive, the defence of the Khe Sanh plateau and the 1975 Offensive. You can, of course, interfere and perform 'what if' operations if you want to.
This performs a dual function, allowing you to get used to the tactical military aspects of the action before tackling the long version, or working as a game in its own right for those who can't take either the politics or the extended game duration.
The strategy fan who craves a smattering of arcade sequences to balance their tactical manoeuvres is going to be disappointed here. This is a shame, as once you're accustomed to the erudite style of the action, it's a lot of fun just messing about with the history.
This is the major appeal: because it's been such a well-publicised war, you can't resist the temptation to shape its events in your own way, often at odds with what actually happened. This sense of remaking history could have been enhanced, had the presentation been better: there are too few still graphics screens and not enough variety in the battle animations to evoke the atmosphere of the period successfully.
Nor is this helped by the disk handling: every command you execute results in disk accessing and occasional disk swapping, and the buffer on commands is long enough to prove irksome. Apart from these minor drawbacks, 'Nam is beautifully executed: what there is of the presentation graphics is excellent, and the (sparse) sound effects are good enough to enhance your enjoyment without detracting from the action.
A nice touch is the appearance of variety cleverly worked into the newspaper reports: the stories are written in a similar way, but the political platitudes and trite phrases are slightly changed. This is true of the game as a whole: it looks quite simple, but there are subtleties which don't become apparent until you're well into a campaign - your ability to balance fickle public opinion with commitment to the war is sorely tried.
It's a challenge that anyone with an interest in strategy or the manipulation of history should take up.
The Seeds Of Battle
When the first American troops set foot in Vietnam, it was the country's third occupation in 100 years.
Vietnam had first been conquered by the French in 1858 and then occupied by Japan during the Second World War.
The bitter fighting which subsequently broke out in late 1945 between the Japanese and French-supported regime of Bo Dai and the communist Vietminh (Independence) League led by Ho Chi Minh culminated in the 1954 Geneva Conference. A compromise solution was found to the country's difficulties.
A line was drawn along the 17th parallel latitude line and the nation divided in two: communist North Vietnam with its capital at Hanoi and pro-western South Vietnam with its capital at Saigon. This compromise gave birth to 20 years of conflict.
In the south, the communist Viet Cong, supported by China and North Vietnam, attempted to seize power. In line with America's strong anti-communist views, the early '60s saw President Kennedy beginning to send advisors and special forces to support the South Vietnamese.
Then in 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly attacked two American destroyers. Congress granted President Johnson emergency war powers, and he sent in the first regular troops.
The rest, as they say, is history.