Search & Destroy

Search & Destroy was published by Simulations Publications, Inc. in 1974, as a squad-level simulation of combat in the Vietnam War which was in its final phases, with direct American military involvement having concluded after it's predecessor had been released. The game was described in Fire & Movement No. 18 as a simple re-development of that predecessor, entitled Grunt:

The mapsheet was enlarged by 30%, allowing for the doubling of movement allowances. The rules were cleaned up and expanded to include leadership, tanks, and APC's. The graphics were improved with new colors for the unit counters and color on the map itself. With a few minor exceptions the changes were all for the good.

Search & Destroy never did well on the SPI Game Ratings Chart (it reached a high of 5.87 in S&T #50). But in my opinion this is one of the finest games on the subject (Vietnam) still in print.1

Search & Destroy was released in January 1975, available only in the "black box" format (the older style white boxes had by now been dispensed with by SPI).



The Game - Physical Components


The rules were divided into five major sections; an introductory section, Basic Game Rules, Standard Game rules, the Advanced Game (Optional Rules), and a final section with optional scenarios, an alternate simultaneous play system, and designer's notes. The splitting of the rules into three "ascending levels of complexity" was intended to permit quick learning of the game system by players, followed by increased experience with additional rules "until they find a rules mix with which they are most comfortable."2 The rules themselves were reorganized from a fold-out into an actual booklet, and they were written in outline form, a format first used by SPI in the game released with issue 35 of Strategy & Tactics (Year of the Rat). Even without an index, the table of contents and the numbering of individual rules sections made it much easier to look up individual rules than the older-style rules folder found in Grunt.3


The mapsheet was "clearer, typical signs of SPI's steadily increasing graphic quality. Credit is due Redmond Simonsen, the driving force behind SPI's art - he designs almost all the graphics himself."4 In addition to being larger, the S&D map also contained a greater number of Combat Results Tables, charts and records set off to the side (some of these had been lacking in Grunt and had to be recorded on scrap paper).


Undoubtedly, however, it is the counters that have been improved the most. For some reason (probably economic rather than aesthetic) the U.S. units in Grunt are colored gold and are positively ugly. S&D's are green. Again, green suits the mood. In both games, the (National Liberation Front) units are colored black, which is simply a stroke of genius; black suggests slinking through jungles and night raids and, of course, black pajamas. Just about everything is improved. The unit symbols are more accurate (though not always really superior; the medic's simple red cross is replaced with an obscure 'official' marking), the status counters are upgraded (most importantly, there are KIA and WIA counters instead of just 'Casualty'), and, for purists, the U.S. squads are marked as squads - in Grunt they carried the 'section' symbol. [Trivial to you, maybe, not to me!] All in all, Search & Destroy is a perfect example of the improvements in physical systems design over the last four years.5


Nick Stasnopolis gave the following description in the pages of Fire & Movement in 1991:


The map and counters are unspectacular by present standards but are a decided step up from their black and white ancestors. The three color map portrays, at fifty meters per hex, a generic coastal area in central south Vietnam with broken terrain (elephant grass), jungle, villages, and rivers represented. It includes the Terrain Effects Chart, Combat Results Charts (CRTs), the Victory Point Record, and the Turn Record Track, on its top quarter. The counters are also simple but functional...6


Rules and Game Mechanics


The game was won by the accumulation of victory points. Both players did this by the infliction of casualties. The U.S. player could earn victory points by capturing or destroying caches/certain types of units).  Victory points were also deducted if civilians were killed or injured. There were no scenarios as such to the basic game, though there were variable orders of battle for the NLF side to provide uncertainty for the U.S. player as to the nature of the opposition. The optional scenarios provided in the advanced rules provided a variety of organizations including both U.S. and ARVN (South Vietnamese) infantry and Rangers, and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, with specialized scenarios having specific game lengths, victory conditions, and orders of battle for each side.

Some of the other rules changes from Grunt, and their effects, were:

  • Movement allowance of infantry doubled. In Grunt, infantry often was unable to uncover more than two or three caches; in S&D, U.S. infantry could sweep the entire board.

  • Stacking eliminated.

  • Field of fire rule eliminated, doing away with unrealistic lethality of infantry fire in certain situations.

  • Booby traps decreased in lethality.

The leadership rules have been singled out as perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Search & Destroy. According to Kosnett:


Unlike the Command Control rules in other games, Leadership is not based on random die roles, though there is a luck factor.


NLF command control is very simple. All NVA and VC infantry units must be within four hundred meters (eight hexes) of a cadre unit. Cadres are regular combat units, as strong as NVA squads. NVA units more than four hundred meters (maximum range at which bugles and similar devices can be heard during a battle) are halved in movement and can fire only at units which fire at them. Cadre units are rather plentiful, so the NLF Player rarely finds many units out of Leadership Control.


U.S. and ARVN units do not have to be within a set distance of their platoon leaders, because their communications system is based on radio. But each time a combat unit takes casualties, there is a 17% chance the radioman will be hit. A unit thus "panicked" is immobilized and loses most fire capabilities. This effect can last up to three Turns, until somebody else picks up the radio. If a platoon leader is hit [unlike NLF Cadres, U.S. platoon leaders are unarmed] a die is rolled for each subordinate squad. There's a 50% chance that the squads will panic. If a company commander is hit, the 50% chance applies to the platoon leaders, with affected leaders rolling for squads. In some scenarios there is a battalion commander. If he's hit, the U.S. Player is in big trouble.


This rule can be a lot of fun, because only your own carelessness can cause a serious loss of Leadership. The NLF player learns not to commit his Cadres without reserve, and the U.S. Player learns to keep his commanders cowering safely behind the combat units. The U.S. will still lose radiomen, but the odds are against it happening much, and there are usually enough Americans to make up for the temporary loss. An interesting point is that Grunt contained the same basic Leadership rule for the NLF, but no rule for the U.S. - an unfair method to say the least.7

Nick Stasnopolis was also impressed with the leadership rules:


Of all the optional rules, those for leadership are the most impressive. Mr. Young adeptly shows how different cultures and a disparity in technology created two very different leadership structures. Instead of flitting from unit to unit enhancing combat rolls, the leaders become conduits for information and control. For instance, to use their full capabilities the NLF units must be within eight hexes of their cadre. This reflects their lack of modern communications equipment, which produced a reliance on written messages and sound signals, thus limiting operational radius. It also resulted in units that tended to be more autonomous and were less severely affected by a loss of leadership. So the hardcore NLF units retain their full combat abilities but halve their movement when outside command radius or when their cadre unit takes casualties. This is in direct contrast to the U.S. forces.


The Army's more bureaucratic command structure lead to a very different set of leadership problems. Units, because of the myriad radios they possessed, could operate as far from their leaders as their radios could transmit and still be able to get specific instructions. Unfortunately, this also produced a dependence on contact with higher headquarters that made units less capable of functioning once the umbilical cord was cut. Thus a disturbance in the flow of information, either through loss of a radio or loss of a leader, was far more devastating to the Americans. In the game U.S. squads can be paralyzed for up to three turns if the squad radioman is hit or their headquarters takes casualties...


Few tactical games during this period are comparable to Squad Leader which is quite popular and is of a similar scale, but has a needlessly complex combat system, leadership rules that would be more appropriate for 18th century combat and ridiculously simplistic casualty rules. It also displays the typical American fascination with gadgets while ignoring war's social, political and logistical aspects. The wargame industry has basically ignored the more accurate portrayal of company level combat in S&D for the more glamorous version portrayed in Squad Leader.8





Nr. 23 Oct-Nov 1975 ►"From Grunt to Search & Destroy" by Phil Kosnett (Review)
Nr. 27 Jun-Jul 1976 ►"Scenarios for Modern Games" by Phil Kosnett (Scenarios)

Strategy & Tactics

No. 26 Mar-Apr 1971 ►"Cohesion and Disintegration: American Forces in Vietnam" by John Kramer (Historical)

Fire & Movement

No. 18 Jul-Aug 1979 ►"Panorama: Sympathy for the Devil, Viet Nam War 1965-1975" by Rodger MacGowan, John Hill and John Prados (Review)
No. 73 May-Jun 1991 ►"Search & Destroy, Winning Hearts and Minds" by Nick Stasnopolis (Review)


No. 14   ►"Search & Destroy: Vietnam Tactical Combat 1965-1966" by John Chanceller (Review)


No. 69   ►"Search & Destroy" by Pat Allen (Review)

Pursue & Destroy

Vol 1, #6   ►"Search & Destroy" by Richard Pavek (Review)


  1. MacGowan, Rodger, John Hill and John Prados. "Panorama: Sympathy for the Devil, Viet Nam War 1965-1975" (Fire & Movement No. 18)

  2. Search & Destroy rules section 1.0

  3. Kosnett, Phil "From Grunt to Search & Destroy" (Moves No. 23)

  4. Ibid

  5. Ibid

  6. Stasnopolis, Nick "Search & Destroy, Winning Hearts and Minds" (Fire & Movement No. 73)

  7. Kosnett, Ibid

  8. Stasnopolis, Ibid



Search & Destroy

Developer: John Michael Young
Publisher: Simulations Publications, Inc.
Date of Release: 1974
Scale: Squad
Players: 2
Campaign Type: None
Components: ► 1 22" x 27" map
► 16 page rules booklet
► 1 die-cut sheet of 400 1/2" counters

The reverse side of the counters was blank.

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