Friday, February 14, 2020


I thought I'd post about something completely different today.  While I was looking for my copy of Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' Immoral Tales (an essential guide to Europen sex and horror films), I came across the above: an old solitaire wargame called Ambush!.  I'd pretty much forgotten that I had this and I certainly haven't played it in more than a quarter of a century.  It was originally published by Victory Games (a subsidiary of Avalon Hill) back in 1983.  Unlike most board wargames of the era, Ambush! didn't attempt to simulate a whole battle or an entire campaign, instead taking a smaller scale approach of simulating squad-level combat in France in 1944.  The player controlled a squad of American GIs and had to negotiate various scenarions, trying to avoid losing men to enemy action while achieving their mission objectives.  While there had been solo wargames produced before, Ambush! had a pretty innovative system for simulating enemy activity, using a combination of sort of cardboard computer and cards.

As you can see, this 'computer' consisted of a card sleeve with slots in it and a card which was moved through it turn-by-turn, with 'events' for each co-ordinate on the game map being shown in the various slots.  There were a large number of cards for the different game scenarios.  The 'events' were further defined by a number of cards giving the characteristics for the various enemy forces encountered.  In common with the rest of the Victory Games range, the game featured an unmounted game board, (the more expensive Avalon branded games had mounted boards), in the form of a map overlaid with hexes:

The game actually had two maps to accommodate the various scenarios.  Each is about half the size of the boards you'd expect in regular wargames of the period.  Some of the counters from the last time I played Ambush! are still attached with Blu Tack, (I had it pinned up on the wall - one advantage of the unmounted map board).  As with all board wargames, it had a lot of counters, some of which can be seen below, along with some of the cards with enemy characteristics on them:

Of course, the outcomes of encounters with the enemy and other events are resolved via a series of tables (and ten sided dice):

Which is the thing about these types of games -they involve lots of admin.  Ambush!, for instance, requires the player to fill in a sheet with the characteristics of each member of his squad and keep it updated to reflect injuries, morale and equipment loss as the game progresses.  Not surprisingly, the game has a pretty thick rule book.

But the question, of course, is was the game any good to play?  From what I recall, it was actually a pretty enjoyable game to play, once you had got to grips with the rules.  Once contact is made with the enemy, the action comes thick and fast.  Best of all, the game mechanics ensure an element of surprise is retained - you never quite know what you are going to run into next: anything from snipers to a tank.  It certainly must have been popular back in the day, as several expansion modules with new scenarios, counters, maps and cards were issued, along with with Pacific theatre version (Battle Hymn) and an armoured combat equivalent (Open Fire!).  I've played a few solitaire wargames - although there were never that many released - (I even have one, Carrier, where I have never yet had the patience to finish reading the rule book), but Ambush! was the only one I ever felt was actually playable, in that it delivered a satisfying experience.  I really should re-read that rule book and get playing again...

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