In January 1961, South Vietnam found itself at a pivotal moment in history. Just a month prior in Tay Ninh Province, a coalition of communist cadres, insurrectionist peasants, and various armed groups had come together to form the "National Liberation Front," which later became known as the Viet Cong insurgency. Following the passage of Resolution 15 in North Vietnam, debates raged within the Politburo in Hanoi, as Moderates and Militants clashed over the extent of support that should flow southward.
Their adversary, the South Vietnamese government led by President Ngo Dinh Diem, was aggressively pursuing both communist cadres and those who opposed the regime. In the previous November, President Diem narrowly survived an attempted coup by his own Airborne units and now faced a surge in violence in the rural areas. Meanwhile, the newly inaugurated US President, John F. Kennedy, grappled with a series of Cold War challenges. At the time, there were already 600 American personnel stationed in South Vietnam, and the stage was set for a showdown.
The battle of Ap Bac in January 1963 marked one of the initial major confrontations of the Vietnam War.
Expanding upon the renowned game "Fire in the Lake" by Mark Herman and Volko Runke, the "Sovereign of Discord Expansion" serves as a prequel to the events depicted in the base game. It covers the period from 1961 to 1963, illustrating how the war evolved from an insurgency involving ARVN and Viet Cong, with support from the US and North Vietnam, to the eventual full-scale interventions by North Vietnam and the United States at the outset of the base game. This expansion introduces new scenarios that enable players to extend the game back to 1961, just after the formation of the Viet Cong, or to 1963 during the tumultuous final year of the Diem regime. Players who own both the "Sovereign of Discord" and "Fall of Saigon" expansions can experience the entire Indochina War from 1961 to 1975, observing the transformation of the war from a lower-intensity insurgency during the Diem era to the massive conventional offensives in the war's closing years. A copy of "Fire in the Lake" is required to play the "Sovereign of Discord" expansion.
This expansion introduces new mechanics to reflect the early stages of the war before the involvement of the US and North Vietnam and the distinctive characteristics of the Diem Regime:
- 1961 and 1963 Scenarios with a Fall of Diem Sequence, allowing players to continue into the "Fire in the Lake" Campaign Scenario (1964-1972) or even to "Fall of Saigon" (1973-1975) for those with both expansion packs.
- New ARVN Strategic Hamlet pieces and mechanics that mirror the Diem regime's strategy of relocating the population into fortified villages.
- Hanoi and Washington Tracks that control the number of available pieces and certain abilities of the Viet Cong and ARVN factions. Additionally, the US and NVA employ Advisor pieces instead of Troops to enhance and control their South Vietnamese allies.
- A Regime Stability Track influences the cost of ARVN Operations to represent the increasing urban instability and coup attempts against the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.
- A head-to-head 2 player scenario using the Initiative system from Brian Train's "Colonial Twilight" for those interested in the internal conflict between the Viet Cong and ARVN. This scenario may also serve as an introduction for players new to "Fire in the Lake."
- The expansion includes 72 new Events spanning the period from 1961 to 1963, along with four new Pivotal Events that capture debates in Washington and Hanoi regarding the level of aid, the Diem regime's Strategic Hamlet Program, and the significant summer offensive by the Viet Cong. An ARVN leader Card, Ngo Dinh Diem, is in play throughout the early 1960s scenarios, and new Coup! Events depict threats to Diem's hold on power.
Additionally, a solitaire system using the card-based Non-player system, similar to those provided with the Tr'ung Bot Update Pack and Fall of Saigon, is incorporated in the expansion.
As a bonus, "Sovereign of Discord" enriches the base game "Fire in the Lake" with additional content, which includes:
- 40 new Events (8 new 1964 Events, 16 new 1965 Events, 16 new 1968 Events) that delve into themes such as the role of women in the war, civilian suffering, the impact of the war on South Vietnamese society, North Vietnamese strategies, and the 1964 escalation debate. Among these Events are also Capability Events for each faction.
- Two new short scenarios:
- "Turning Point" (1967 to 1969) covering the period of intense offensives by both communist and allied forces vying for control of the countryside.
- "Long 1964" (Mid-1963 to Early 1965), a period referred to as the "long 1964" by historian Frederick Logevall, which represents the critical escalation debates in North Vietnam and the United States.
The title "Sovereign of Discord" draws inspiration from the chapter on Diem in Francis Fitzgerald's "Fire in the Lake." While a classic work on the Vietnam War, the last two decades have seen a wave of new scholarship, enriched by Vietnamese sources, offering a more nuanced perspective on the era covered by the expansion. The goal of this expansion is to synthesize this recent scholarship for players, addressing the limited focus on this early period of the war in wargaming and older historical accounts. For those seeking a brief introduction to the era covered by the expansion, episode two of Ken Burns' documentary "The Vietnam War," titled "Riding the Tiger," spans the years 1961 to 1963.
Components included in the expansion:
- A deck of 80 playing cards (Sovereign of Discord Events, Coups, Pivotals, and Diem)
- A deck of 40 playing cards (new Fire in the Lake base game Events)
- A deck of 14 playing cards (Sovereign of Discord solitaire system)
- 6 wooden pieces (ARVN Strategic Hamlets)
- 4 double-sided color 11x17” foldout player aids (Sovereign of Discord Faction sheets)
- 2 double-sided color 8½x11” player aids (Sovereign of Discord Coup Round and Fall of Diem sheets)
- 2 double-sided color 11x17” foldout player aids (Sovereign of Discord solitaire system)
- 3 double-sided color 8½x11” player aids (Sovereign of Discord solitaire system)
- 2 countersheets (Washington, Hanoi, Regime Stability, and 2-player Initiative track tiles, Sovereign of Discord counters)
- Expansion Rulebook
- Expansion Playbook
- Non-player Rulebook
- 2" Game Box