My First Wargame: Ambush!

As a history major, I love learning about different events and time periods. My favorite, though, was World War II. I’m not sure why I was drawn towards it, but I loved learning about why it happened, how the war unfolded and the stories of various soldiers and their feats of heroism.

I think this is why I was drawn to wargames. Unfortunately, in the circle of friends I had when I started gaming, no one was really into wargames. I did find a class of games that focused on war, but could be played solo. You played against the game itself instead of an opponent. The first one that was recommended to me was Ambush!, which is an older game (It was printed in 1983 by Victory Games).

The box cover of Ambush!
The box cover of Ambush! (Photo taken from user FrUnit7 on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/964790/ambush )

In Ambush!, you take control of an American Squad in World War II, taking them on a variety of predefined missions in Europe. The beauty in Ambush! is that the mission unfolds by making a series of checks when you enter a new hex. You do this by putting a card that contains a series of numbers into a “Viewing sleeve” and then looking up the number it gives you in a paragraph book. That paragraph book contains a variety of things, from German soldiers firing at you to “You notice a British plane flying overhead, spewing flames from the tail”. You may then encounter the plane later in the scenario, if you come across it.

The Mission Cartridge sleeve with a Mission Card enclosed. (Photo taken from user Jeff on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/93878/ambush )

Ambush! also has an RPG feel to it. There are tables so you can roll and generate your own squad, and of course you have to name them, outfit them with gear, etc. You can play a campaign game where your soldiers gain experience and can gain better skills. But that means there are also rules for replacing your soldiers when they are incapacitated or killed. I love this aspect of the game. I really get tied to characters and that causes me to play the game differently depending on the situation I’m in.

As a wargame, the rules can be a little dense, but once you read through them and play a mission or two, things get pretty straightforward. The great thing about the rules is that it will introduce the first sections you need to play the first mission, and then add the extra rules you need to play the following missions. If you are familiar with wargame concepts, then you’ll feel right at home with Ambush! but as a new wargamer it could be a little intimidating.

A mission in progress. (Photo taken from user Blastpop on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2461950/ambush)

Ambush! has 3 expansions (that are pretty hard to find at an affordable price) as well as a Pacific base game and expansion (Called Battle Hymn and Leatherneck, respectively). These add more missions and different enemies, vehicles and weapons. These can definitely add the the replayability factor, because most of the missions are one use only: that is, once you’ve played it, since they are pre-programmed through the scenario cards, it’s easy for you to remember where certain events or soldiers are.

The Ambush! base game, 3 expansions, and the standalone Pacific version “Battle Hymn”. (Photo taken from user bdegroot on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/720726/ambush)

Ambush is probably my favorite solitaire wargame of all time…and if it isn’t first, it’s definitely top 3. If you can find a copy (they appear on eBay and the BGG Marketplace from time to time at a decent price), I highly recommend it. It’s worth the learning curve, especially if you are looking for an immersive, individual soldier wargame.

Top 5 Wargames I’m Itching to Play

Hey all!

I’m here with a short post…I’ve been dealing with Vertigo for the past few days so I haven’t really been doing much of anything in my free time. No gaming, no video games, no nothing.

So, with it being a Wargame Wednesday, I figured I would post my top 5 Wargames in my collection I’m itching to play.

  1.  Up Front: I was part of the whole Kickstarter debacle, but luckily I was able to get a copy printed at WargameVault.  I have heard so many great things about this one that it’s jumped to the top of my must play pile.
  2. Combat Commander: Europe:  I just got back into this about 6 months ago, so I’m always dying to get it to the table.
  3. Unconditional Surrender: I have everything ready to go for the Case Blue “scenario” so now it’s just time to find to play this as an intro into the whole game.
  4. Breakout Normandy: A buddy and I try to get together once every (other) month or so to play a wargame.  This was going to be last month’s choice but due to real life, neither of us got to read the rules, so it’s still on my list for us to play at our next wargame day.
  5. Iwo: Bloodbath in the Bonins: This is a solo folio game from Decision Games.  It’s something different that I could play over my lunch hour(s) at work, so I’m reading through the rules now to figure out the best way to get it to the table.

There you have it. Short, sweet, and to the point.  I think the next Wargame Wednesday we have will be how I read and parse rulebooks, which, while not the most exciting of topics, may prove beneficial to some of you out there.

Wargame Wednesday: Standard Combat Series

Hello everyone!

I’m back with another Wargame Wednesday, and this one ties in with my last post on VASSAL.

I mentioned in that post that certain games don’t lend themselves to playing via email well, because there might be a decision point in the middle of a turn that would require you to stop, have your opponent decide what they were going to do before you could take your turn.

There are certain games that are IGOUGO, which means I take my turn then you take yours.  These usually tend to lend themselves to play by email (PBEM) because there may not be tons of decision points where a quick back and forth is needed.  I mentioned in my last post Day of Days as my last 5 x 1 game, so today I want to talk about a great entry level wargame series (of which Day of Days belongs to) called the Standard Combat Series (SCS).

A wargame series normally is a variety of games that all fall under one ruleset, so instead of learning a ton of different rules, you learn the main rules, and then learn any game specific rules that the specific game in the series has.

SCS was originally published by “The Gamers” but is now published by MultiMan Publishing (MMP) who is really well known in the wargaming community.  Originally designed by Dean Essig, SCS is a great series for people who may be interested in getting to know more about traditional hex and counter wargames.  Many games in the system have a low counter density (which means there are few playing pieces on the map) and the rules are considered light (7 pages in the series rules, plus whatever game specific rules you are playing).

Essig writes in the designer notes of the series rules:

This series was designed for two reasons. First, it was meant to offset our other series which, by an order of magnitude, are much more complicated than the SCS. Second, it was designed to be a basic ‒ read FUN ‒ game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the “break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go” type of evening. While none of our games are designed with the beginner as their raison d’être, the SCS was designed as something the beginner would be able to handle ‒ as opposed to being devoured by.

So this series, while it might be difficult for a new wargamer, is not impossible to grasp and could be played in an evening (depending on scope of the game and scenario).

There are tons of games available in the SCS catalog, ranging from WWI to WWII to Modern Day.  The system rules adapt fairly well to various time periods (or so I’ve been told, I’m still waiting to play my first entry in the series, although I am very familiar with it and it comes highly recommended).

I am planning on playing Bastogne (World War II, Battle of the Bulge) with a friend, and starting in the coming days. I spent some time today outlining the rules and getting a grasp on the system, and I’m really looking forward to getting it played as a stepping stone and then onward to the monsters (very large games) in the series, including Day of Days.

If you are interested in the Standard Combat Series, you can find more information here:

http://www.multimanpublishing.com/Products/tabid/58/CategoryID/12/Default.aspx

http://www.gamersarchive.net/scs.htm

Latest SCS Rules

If you are a wargamer, what game(s) did you start with?  If not, but interested, are there any games you are interested in? Let me know in the comments!

Wargame Wednesday: VASSAL

Image Credit: http://www.vassalengine.org

I’m going to try something out, starting this week.  On every other Wednesday (I think) I’m going to do a feature called “Wargame Wednesdays”.  I’ve talked about my love for wargames in the past, and how wargames are pretty much responsible to getting me into board gaming at large.  So I’ll stick with what I know.

I have an addiction, which is monster wargames.  I don’t think there’s a set definition other than you know it when you see it, but I consider a monster wargame a game that takes up a lot of space (so multiple maps) and a lot of counters.  The scale doesn’t matter, as I have heard or own some that look at the grand strategic scale (so, country to country and dealing with armies) to much smaller levels, such as examining the first 10 days of D-Day (so a very zoomed in look at the Cotentin peninsula).

The two main obstacles to playing monster games is size and time.  I know that I own a few games that are considered monsters, and the time it would take to play them and the space it would take to leave them set up in between turns means I will never likely get them played.

Or will I?

I’d like to introduce you all to a program called VASSAL.  VASSAL is an open source, free program that can be downloaded at www.vassalengine.org.  VASSAL allows you to download modules (all types of board games, but I’ve mainly used it for wargames) that can be played live with another player (usually using a voice chat program like Skype or Discord) or that can be played via email by transferring a log file that keeps track of your turns/moves, then the other player loads that log file and continues the game.

There are a few caveats to using VASSAL, though.

  • In most cases, the module won’t enforce the rules for you. This isn’t a wholly automated computer game implementation of the game.  Some modules do contain automated features but that depends on who designed it.
  • Speaking of who designed it, some modules are fully supported by the game publisher and some aren’t. Some will omit vital information (such as combat charts or other things of that nature) so that you must own the game to play it.
  • On game ownership: The rule of thumb is that one of the two players should own the game in order to play it.  Some publishers only make the modules available on their websites, others are available from the website itself.  Either way, please please please stick to this rule.  Support the publishers who keep this hobby alive.

I haven’t used VASSAL much, but my main wargaming friend and I are planning on starting up a game of Day of Days, which is the last game I need to play to complete my 5 x 1 challenge for the year.  I’m looking forward to exploring VASSAL more if this is successful, as well as maybe sharing session reports and screenshots from our games.

Have any of you tried VASSAL before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

BGG.Spring Recap

It’s been quite a while!! I have been pretty busy with new projects (and new deadlines) at work, but I was super excited to get to spend 4 days gaming in Dallas with a few friends of mine at BGG.Spring convention this year! It was my first BGG.Spring convention, and my second BGG con overall, and I had a great time.  I got to play some games I have been dying to play, got introduced to some new ones, and came home with a ton of new things to play as well.  I also ate some really great BBQ which is also one thing I always look forward to on these trips.

Instead of giving you a play by play of every single game played (because there were some nights where we just played party games, which while fun I don’t think make for very compelling reading), I figure I will talk about the games I played which I really enjoyed as well as some of the games I picked up I’m excited to play.  So first, games I played which I really enjoyed:

 Ganz schön clever (or Clever, as we call it)
This is a pretty simple roll and write game, and for me it was the game of the Con.  I really like the mechanics in it and it plays quick enough that even if you play suboptimally, you aren’t stuck for too long.  Lots of choices to make and if you play your dice right you can set up combos which become really powerful at the end of the game.  I added this to my 10 x 10 list, replacing Viticulture because while I love that game there is no way that we will get it played 10 times this year.

The Colonists
I had been dying to get this one to the table as I’ve owned it for a couple years but never played it, and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s a heavier game that is rules light but the choices you get expand exponentially with each turn, meaning there is a lot to take in and do.  We played 2 out of 4 eras, and I definitely want to commit to playing a 4 era game some day.  Maybe next year to kick off the Con.  This was also on my 5 x 1 list, so it was nice to make some progress on that.

Memoir ’44: The D-Day Landings
Whoa buddy.  This was the whole enchilada.  I’ve posted about my love for Memoir before, but this really took the cake.  We had 8-10 players who played for a good 3.5-4 hours on 6 maps spanning the D-Day landings.  I feel as in this case a picture would help, so here you go.

IMG_20180526_003807_287

Everyone had a good time and we even had a few people who were learning the game for the first time.  This is definitely an experience to behold and I’m glad I set it up and transported all my Memoir stuff down there.

Mystic Vale
This is a unique deckbuilder where you are actually layering clear cards on top of one another to morph your cards into something different. I picked this up for my birthday back in February this year but didn’t have a chance to play.  Luckily my friend Chris also had wanted to try it again so we played through a game. It’s a mechanic that you see a lot of presented in a new way, and I can’t wait to explore it more.

Roads and Boats
This is a game about logistics.  There is no way around it.  It’s meaty, thinky, and a wrong play early in the game can totally screw you over in the late game (which is what happened to me).  I love playing this one about once a year, and it too was on my 5 x 1 list, so I’m glad I got to help teach it to a new player.

Space Base
This was a game I had never heard anything about but a new friend brought it to play the night before the convention actually started.  It reminds me of Machi Koro if you actually made meaningful decisions in Machi Koro; you roll dice, and depending on the roll and the cards you have, you get stuff.   The artwork was great and it was the perfect length for what it was.

And here are the games I picked up in various sales that I am super excited to play:

Bunny Kingdom
I actually played this on a recommendation from my friend who drove down with me, and it didn’t disappoint.  While it looks light, there are a lot of meaningful decisions to be made and the theme (and artwork, especially on the box) are a little silly.

V-Commandos
I bought this after hearing some really great things about it on BGG.  It’s a co-op game where you take a team of commandos on missions in WWII.  I think it will scratch the wargame-esque ameritrash itch if that is what I’m looking for.

Carrier
This is a super heavy, meaty game of WWII Pacific warfare from the 1990.  It’s long out of print, and so to find a copy that someone was willing to party with in reasonable condition was absolutely fantastic.  I am waiting for the right time to get this to the table when I can actually sit down and learn the rules.

Fire in the Lake
My second game in GMT COIN series (well, okay it’s actually like my third but this time I’m keeping it), this is a game about Vietnam, which is a subject I’m exploring more and more as I talk to my father (who served two tours there) about it.  I’m looking forward to trying this one out solo.

And there you have it.  A super fun time was had and I’m definitely glad I went and participated in the festivities.  Have you played any of these games? What were your thoughts.  Let me know in the comments below!

Top 10 Wargames

I was introduced into the board gaming hobby at large by hex and counter-esque Wargames.  I got my first Bachelor’s Degree in history, so seeing battles take place on the table in front of me always was a selling point (which is why I probably have too many Normandy wargames).

There are a lot of people who think Wargames are super involved and detailed and the rules take forever to learn and twice as long to play.  And they are partially right.  There are definitely wargames that I have tried to read the rules for, was unable to understand them remotely, and (at the time) didn’t have YouTube tutorials to look up, so I passed on them.  But there are also very accessible wargames as well.  The games on this list present both a wide range of complex options and entry points into the wargaming hobby.  I think I’ll probably do a “wargaming primer” post for people who are interested but don’t have any idea what ZOC means (zone of control) and what the difference between tactical and operational level games are.  For now, I’ll try to keep the jargon limited or explain if I use a term that doesn’t translate well to overall gaming.  Also, some of these games are solitaire only, where you play against the game system itself.  A lot of them are, actually, because most of my gaming group aren’t that into wargames.  I’ll note those as well.

One final point before we get to the important stuff:  These all fall in to my definition of a wargame (which is I know it when I see it).  These may not fall in to your definition, and that’s okay.  We can disagree on things.  What I absolutely hate is people using a game like Memoir ’44 or Twilight Struggle as a litmus test for people who want to enter into wargaming and having people say “Oh, that’s not a wargame, you aren’t a real wargamer”.  I’ve had it happen to me, it sucks and it’s not a good way to introduce and grow the hobby.

If you are new to wargames, check out this helpful geeklist on Boardgamegeek: Wargames??? YES YOU CAN!

With that out of the way, here are my top 10 Wargames, [with the publishers in brackets]

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition) [Academy Games]

This is a 2 player World War II tactical game (rough idea is that it’s a very focused scale; usually a small part of one battle or one battle, depending on the time).  It uses an action point system, where each player gets a certain pool of points that they can use to do various things like move, fire, assault (moving into a hex with an enemy unit and fighting).  It also includes cards that allow you to do various things.

I have really enjoyed my few plays of this system.  There is also a solo expansion that lets you play against the game, and while I own it, I haven’t had the chance to sit down and digest the rules for it.

I like it because it’s simple and the narrative that can develop really gets me into the action.  I feel it’s rules light and the rules start simple and gradually add complexity with each new scenario, so you can take your time with it if you are just starting out.

Silent Victory [Consim Press]

Silent Victory is a solitaire WWII game where you control a submarine crew.  This game doesn’t look like what many people think of when they think of wargames.  There isn’t really a map, and there are a lot of charts.  Some people argue that there aren’t many meaningful decisions to be made in this game because you are left to the die rolls on the charts and that’s about it, but there are some decisions you can make:  how to load out your sub, at what range to fire, what targets to fire on and what ones to leave alone.

This game is in my top 10 because it is quick to play a patrol or two and the story that develops is absolutely phenomenal.  You get attached to your submariners and your commander, and it always leaves you wondering “maybe I should have taken a shot at that last convoy when I had a chance”.

The level of detail is also astounding; there is an entire chart of Japanese capital and warships that you can sink, as well as tons of charts with various smaller ships.

Memoir ’44 [Days of Wonder]

This was my first wargame.  This is a 2 player variable scale WWII game.  It’s primary mechanic is that it’s card driven, and each card allows you to activate certain sectors of the game board.  There are certain scenarios that have objectives you can hold, but usually you are just trying to eliminate a certain number of enemy forces to win.

There are tons of expansions for this, and I own just about all of them.  I don’t get this played nearly at all, but you can play everything from one battle on one map to a campaign over a series of battles, to the D-Day landings over 6 maps that when put together don’t fit in my game room (Seriously…I haven’t done it yet but I will one day).

There are minis for each unit and each nation has a different color.  Seriously, the amount of content that has been released for this system is astounding….dang, I really need to get this to the table again.

The Greatest Day: Sword, Juno, and Gold Beaches [Multi-Man Publishing]

This is the first game I haven’t actually ‘played’ on this list.  I have set it up on a computer program called VASSAL because this thing is huge.  It is part of the Grand Tactical Series and it’s a bit of a zoomed out tactical look at the D-Day landings on the British and Canadian beaches.

This is what’s known as a monster wargame because there are a lot of counters and a lot of map space.  You can play a single map scenario, or you can combine them to play the whole enchilada.

This is probably the most ‘traditional’ hex and counter wargame on my list.  I have two other games in the GTS series, and every time I see them on the shelf, I go onto YouTube, look up a play list on how to play the system and get excited…then don’t commit.  Maybe this year is the year I actually play a scenario of this.

Ambush! [Victory Games]

This was my first solitaire wargame, and it’s one of the few games I’ve purchased twice.  Ambush! was published in 1983 and was designed by one of the highest regarded solo wargame designers, John Butterfield.

Ambush! is a tactical WWII (do you see a theme here?) solitaire game where you control a squad of American soldiers in different scenarios in Europe.  The counters each are an individual soldier, and much like an RPG, they each have different skills and weapons that you can roll on tables to create.

Ambush! is similar to a choose your own adventure book.  You have a paragraph book that you consult whenever your squad does something (outside of combat) that drives the action forward; you might hear a bullet whiz by your head, you might see a plane going down in the distance, who knows?

There are quite a few expansions for this, and since the game is out of print, they can be hard to find.  Luckily, I own them all, as well as the Battle Hymn game (which is Ambush! set in WWII Pacific theatre) and it’s expansion.

Since it’s paragraph driven, there can be limited replayability since you know what will happen each mission, but if you are like me and take your time between scenarios, that shouldn’t be an issue.

I normally don’t rank games, but Ambush! is without a doubt my number one Solitaire wargame.

Thunderbolt/Apache Leader (TAL) [Dan Verssen Games]

TAL is a solitaire game where you control a squadron of close air support aircraft.  There are tons of campaigns to choose from, and each campaign has a bunch of different situations you can play.

There are two parts to this game.  The first is actually choosing your squadron.  You get to choose both the aircraft that comprise your group and the pilots who actually pilot the craft.  Each pilot has different skill levels and at each of those levels, they have different ratings for different ways to fire weapons, removing stress, and they can gain XP to level up to get better stats.

Once you’ve done that, you actually fly missions where you are taking out enemy battalions that may have special abilities that hinder you in the earlier mentioned portion of the game.  You load out each aircraft with specific weapons for the enemies you’ll face, and then you fly the battle out on a map comprised of various hexes with varying degrees of cover that you and your enemies can use.

The RPG/campaign type elements and the story that evolves as you play this game make it replayable time and time again

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection [GMT Games]

Liberty or Death is a COIN game set in the Revolutionary War period.  COIN games are relatively new in the hobby, but COIN is an overall system that focuses on “guerrilla warfare, asymmetric warfare, and COunterINsurgencies around the world – in both historical and contemporary conflicts” (taken from http://www.gmtgames.com/c-36-coin-series.aspx).

There are tons of settings currently, from Cuba in the 1958 revolution to present day Afghanistan to Roman Britain.  The thing about COIN games is that there are usually 4 sides, and while they may work together they each have their own specific goals on how to win the game.  You can also play these solo as GMT provides flowcharts for each side that you can use as AI players.

The first game I tried in the COIN series really didn’t click for me, but Liberty or Death came strongly recommended by a few wargamers I follow on Twitter.  I ordered it on a whim, set it up, went through the example of play and I was hooked.  For some reason, it just clicked.  I am looking forward to my first 4 player playthrough of this next month; it’s how I’m celebrating my birthday this year!

Commands and Colors: Ancients (CC:A) [GMT Games]

Commands and Colors: Ancients is in the same system as Memoir ’44, but instead of WWII you get a wide swath of ancient history, mainly focusing on the Mediterranean.  It doesn’t have miniatures, but stickered blocks (that the buyer has to sticker themselves) that represent various units.  There are tons of expansions that have art that reflects the timeframe for each expansion (for example, Republican Roman blocks are grey, while Imperial Roman blocks are Red).  It’s also a bit more complex than Memoir ’44 because the different unit types can do ranged fire or close combat and have some other special rules.

When I want something quick to play, but want it to have a bit of oomph to it, CC:A is pretty much my go to.

D-Day at Omaha Beach [Decision Games]

D-Day at Omaha Beach is a tactical (there’s that word again..) solitaire game of storming Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings in Normandy.  This one is also designed by John Butterfield, and it’s probably the oddest looking map of the bunch.  The reason for this is the game system uses different color coded dots to determine who can fire at you and how deadly it is, and so there are different dots in each hex.  This is a game where cards drive a lot of the action, and so even though it focuses on one segment of one battle, I haven’t had two games that have played out the same way.  This too generates a great narrative, and was successful enough that they published two more games in the series for the landings at Tarawa and Peleliu.  I would say it’s a step up from entry level, but there are plenty of playthroughs and player aids online that help get the flow of the game down.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations (HL: CAO) [Dan Verssen Games]

Last and certainly not least is Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations.  This game is in the same ‘Leader’ series as Thunderbolt/Apache leader, but instead of close air support you are flying fighters and bombers off of air carriers.  This is my favorite Leader game, and I don’t think anything will come along to unseat it (unless someone happens to buy me a pledge level of the Corsair Leader Kickstarter that’s running at the time of this writing).  Growing up I was enamored with the F-14 Tomcat, and in this game that is one of the major planes you can take on missions.

The game is structured much like TAL, so it would be pretty repetitive to dive into that again, but the aircraft and armaments are different, and the way you play the battles out are different as well; in HL:CAO you are focusing on one target and the anti-air emplacements around it.  There is even a Cthullu expansion which I own, but haven’t had a chance to play ( I want to get through the base game campaigns, and since it was released in 2010 I have some work to do).

 

Well, there you have it.  My Top 10 Wargames.  Are you a wargamer? What’s your favorite game or system to play?  If you aren’t, do you have any interest in trying out a wargame? Leave me a comment and let me know!