For a while, I went through an “acquire solitaire board games” phase. This phase was motivated by the fear that, someday, an apocalypse might take out the electrical grid, and all my friends would die. Somehow, I alone would manage to survive in this nightmare world, along with my board game collection. That apocalypse may or may not come, but in the meantime, I’ve hoarded stacks of solitaire games, and I want to play them.
One of these is Ambush!, which I tried once, years ago, quickly realized I was Doing It Wrong, and flipped the table. By the way, did you know that you’re probably Doing It Wrong? Not just romantically and career-wise, but also when it comes to board games. Many years of my own personal research have determined that people simply can’t remember board game rules.
“But Tony!” you splutter. “I’m a hardcore nerd! My life’s passion is board games! I have a poster of Vlaada Chvatil taped to my bedroom ceiling!”
After the jump: A rude awakening.
First of all, cool poster, and secondly, even you are Doing It Wrong. Especially when playing solitaire games, because there’s no one across the table incentivized to watch you like a hawk.
Don’t believe me? Go to YouTube. Look up playthrough videos of your favorite solitaire games, like Mage Knight, Nemo’s War, or Gloomhaven. Then scroll down to the comments. Welcome to Correction City! Please enjoy your stay. If you find a solitaire gameplay video that doesn’t have corrections in the comments, it’s because not enough people have watched that video yet.
This realization is crushing, but also oddly liberating. If everyone’s an idiot, the pressure’s off you in particular. So just chuck some dice, move some dollies, and play your pretend-times alone in your bedroom. You’re 100% guaranteed to trample the designer’s vision, but he’ll never know!
But before I start playing this game wrong, let me tell you a little about Ambush! It was published in 1983 by Victory Games, which kindly provided an actual street address on the box: 43 W. 33rd Street, New York City, Suite 603. According to Wikipedia, Victory Games folded in 1989. But I was curious: what does 43 W. 33rd Street look like? What’s in Suite 603 now? Might there be a stray d10 or errant chit hidden somewhere in the building? And thus begins the new feature-within-a-feature that I’m sure will become a regular, uh, feature of this site: Quarter to Three Investigations.
Like the logo? I spent 11 million dollars on it.
43 W. 33rd Street was built in 1915, according to Streeteasy.com. As you can see, it’s a 6-story building with retail on the first floor, including a currency exchange, a clothing store, and, uh… wait, what?
Aww, how romantic! I visited a full week after Valentine’s Day and Empire Exotics is still in the mood. That’s nice to see.
I squinted into the foyer and saw this sign:
So, Suite 603 is now occupied by “Crest Mills + JBL Trading,” eh?
I’d have to explore further.
Using the time-honored tradition of “sneaking in behind someone going into the building,” I got on the elevator and rode it to the 6th floor. Once I was up there, I discovered hallways polished a gleaming white like a See’s candy store, and hotel art on the walls. I wanted to take some more photos, but people were walking around and looking at me strangely. I decided against telling them I was just trying to find some chits. I still don’t know what “Crest Mills + JBL Trading” does, but I can assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with hex-based WWII simulations.
When I got back downstairs, I looked at Empire Exotics a little more closely.
This warmed my heart. While Victory Games may be no more, it’s clear that the spirit of gaming lives on at good old 43 W. 33rd. I purchased a copy of Sexual Role-Play for my next game night. And I’m calling it now — I get to be the halfling.
God, that logo was money well spent.
Having completed my investigation, I was now ready to play some Ambush! The game is awfully streamlined and elegant for 1983. You start with a random amount of “Squad Points,” and a random amount of “Weapon Points.” The formula is balanced to give you more Weapon Points if you got bad luck when you rolled for Squad Points, and vice-versa. You use the Squad Points to generate your eight-man squad, as might be obvious from the name of the points, which, again, is “Squad Points.” Character generation couldn’t be simpler: dudes cost from zero to 21 Squad Points, depending on a stat called “Initiative,” the value of which is between 1-5, chosen by you. (Soldiers with an Initiative of 4 can be designated “Commanders” for an additional Squad Point cost, and all soldiers with an Initiative of 5 are Commanders. Commanders are cool for reasons I may share in later entries.) Once you’ve spent your Squad Points, you roll for some more stats: Perception, Weapons Skill, and Driving Skill. Initiative gives soldiers a bonus to each of these stats, but with a lucky roll even a low-Initiative soldier might have high scores in these skills. Finally, there’s Movement Point Allowance, which has a straight one-to-one correlation to Initiative. Initiative pretty much rules everything!
Now you’re done making dudes and it’s time to buy weapons with Weapon Points, unless you’re playing the first mission, in which case you start with a predefined loadout. This is a little annoying because I rolled a relatively low amount of Squad Points (33, on a 29-43 scale) and I don’t get the compensation of extra Weapon Points, but I’ll live. The question is… will these guys live?
I’m pretty sure they will. After all, I’m their boss.
Here’s what these guys will look like on the board:
Damn. Get a faceful of these sweet-ass chits.
But wait! Here’s what they’ll look like when they’re on the board and crouching:
How many different poses does each character in Gloomhaven have? I’ll never know because I don’t have $500 and I hear it’s bad, but I bet they have fewer than 2 poses! Burn!
Here’s the game board for this mission:
“Nice map,” you’re saying. “But what does it look like after you set it up?”
Before I answer this question, I advise you to buckle up, if you’re in a car. If you’re not in a car, go outside, get in a car, and buckle up.
IT IS SET UP.
Setup time: Ten seconds. Take that, Eldritch Horror! Eat my dust, War of the Ring! Sure, I took some additional time to create characters, but we all know character creation isn’t setup. It’s character creation. You’re making decisions. Decisions = gameplay. Gameplay is not a part of setup.
But you know what’s really not a part of setup? Moving dudes on a map, engaging in tactical combat with Germans, and experiencing a storyline parceled out by the brilliant game system that is Ambush! And we’re going to do all that next.
Tony Carnevale’s writing and videos have been featured by BuzzFeed, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, MTV, VH1, and many other fine media outlets.