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Subject: Review of Ambush + Move Out + Purple Heart + Silver Star rss

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Early this year, I acquired Ambush! and all three of its expansions. I decided to play them straight through -- why unlearn and relearn the rules more than once? So I set up my table...



...and four months later, I'm done. Here's what I thought.

General Impressions
There's a reason Ambush is many people's #1 solitaire game ever. Lots of games tell stories, but the Ambush games tell specific stories. You can imagine the Victory Games crew sitting around like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, brainstorming the "screenplay" for each mission. That's what they feel like: little movies. Or, even better, a Halloween funhouse of sorts, where you are given some degree of freedom to wander about, but sooner or later you're going to run into a ghost or a dude with a chainsaw.

My god, what an effort it must have been to produce these games! The delightfully old-school mission cartridge sleeve! The brilliant usage of PC checks/panic/weapon skill/etc! Those tiny-print paragraph booklets! (Including some paragraphs that are enigmatic little masterpieces of atmosphere: "A cigarette is still smoldering on the table.") The Action Round Track is also a thing of beauty, taking what could have been a very complex negotiation of turn order into a simple, graphical, easy-to-manipulate chart.

For me, one of the best things about the system is how forgivable it is. Maybe you didn't use the right rules to shoot your Medium Machine Gun. Maybe you never quite figured out all the LOS rules (I know I never did). Minor mistakes rarely affect the flow of the game. Even when I knew I was screwing up, it was a blast.

Of course, the primary pleasure from Ambush comes from guiding your crew: eight bright-eyed, nervous-stomached greenhorns at the beginning, and only a few (that's if you're lucky) damaged and shell-shocked vets by the end. Do you become attached to certain ones? Uh, yes. Ask my dogs, who have sprinted from the room more than a few times after my bloodcurdling screams.

For example: I've never forget when Private Dan was trapped, wounded and prone and panicked, beneath a German officer firing point-blank, and yet he fought him off turn after turn after turn, eventually managing to kill the officer with one blow.... and then, after stepping from the building victorious, being shot dead by a German sniper from halfway across the map.

(Pause to wipe a tear from my eye.)

All right, on to the mini-reviews. I've heard of some people playing all the scenarios in chronological order, and it would certainly add to the narrative, though bouncing back and forth through the expansion-specific rules (not to mention counters) sounds fairly nightmarish.

So I suggest plowing through in order of publication. Here is my recommended purchasing plan: buy Ambush! and Move Out now (both are fairly easy to acquire), lurk around until you get a deal on Purple Heart, and then splurge on Silver Star.

Ambush!
John Butterfield & Co. do a tremendous job easing the player through ever-more-difficult scenarios, leading up to the introduction of vehicles--which is a bit of a head-scratcher at first, mostly because the lack of Track counters. (These do finally show up in later expansions).

The tension of those first few missions is palpable. Will it be this hex that's an ambush? This one? This one--oh crap. And there's nothing like that first time you see a convoy of tanks heading your way. The game is packed to the gills with these giddy, what-the-hell-do-I-do-now moments. Usually the only way to win is to take a few crazy risks: men diving into open fire to save a comrade or pitch a grenade into a window.

I challenge anyone to play Ambush and not go scrambling for the expansions.

Ambush! Move Out
My unscientific survey says that most people consider Purple Heart the series apex, but for me it's Move Out. Taking the rock-solid rules of the original, this simply cranks up the intensity without adding a single new counter. You just dive in.

I found each scenario fresh, lively, challenging, and (best of all, considering later expansions) fluid.

Ambush! Purple Heart
Look! My copy was still in the shrink!


You have to hand it to this expansion -- it really doubles down on the original. There's not a speck of laziness here; the designers attempt to out-do everything that came before it: bigger, louder, crazier.

Mostly, they succeed by using unforgettable cinematic set-pieces: the runaway train, the two-map artillery mission, all those damn motorcycles like attacking bees.

It's great, bombastic fun. That said... I did suffer at least one "dud" scenario, where I ended up just wandering around the board waiting for something to happen until, anticlimactically, the mission ended. A minor glitch; we fight on!

Ambush! Silver Star
Ciao, Italy! A whole new setting, new maps, new geography, new color scheme. This is the the point where you can feel the wheels start to creak a little on the Ambush machine. The first scenario involves swimmers and divers and immediately you're plunged into a page full of hard-to-grok rules about being above water or below water and LOS this and LOS that... Frankly, it gets in the way a bit, and it isn't only time it happens in this expansion.

Also, by this point in the series, there are simply some elements that have faded in importance. In the original game, having a high PC rating was of utmost importance; thus you would reward surviving soldiers by upping it. By the Silver Star era, you almost never fall out of combat rounds. Aside from the odd mine field or booby trap, your money is better spent on weapon skill, etc. This is indicative a slight slide toward bells-and-whistles over solid gameplay.

But, man, the good moments are still good. Just look at this death-stack Germans after one of my guys bullseyed a grenade into a German jeep.



In truth, my mixed review of this expansion is personal: Commander Buddy, the sole surviving member of my original unit, finally died in Mission #19. It was, in a word, depressing. Who were all these other guys? I barely knew their names! I continued but with a sigh. My investment decreased. When would this war end? I just wanted to ship back home.

(Yep. Battle fatigue. The game has that, too.)

Final Thoughts
I'm shelving these for now, but there's no way I'm getting rid of them. Five or ten years from now, I'll be able to play them fresh again (and Purple Heart and Silver Star are almost instantly replayable due to elements of random-placement). I need some R&R, but I do suspect I'll check out Battle Hymn one of these days, and even Open Fire.

I can't help it. I miss that mission cartridge sleeve already.

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Fantastic review of a fantastic game. I think you're spot on in your assessment: the gamer interactively creates stories inside the scenarios, and becomes invested in them. I felt your pain with Private Dan, and I think anyone who plays Ambush! has similar stories to tell.

Thanks for the inspiring review. Once I finish DDaOB (in honor of the 70th anniversary this week) I need to pull out Ambush! and continue my trek through the scenarios.
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Confusion Under Fire
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A good and interesting review of the system. Unlike most solitaire systems, Ambush creates a tension when you can't see the enemy. When starting a new scenario you never know what your going to meet.
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Martin Gallo
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After my first few scenarios of Battle Hymn I had an irrational fear of Palm Trees. These games get inside your head. Wonderful review of a wonderful game (series).
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Jim P
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Great Review. I like your brief as you go style. This is one of my favorite games, though I haven't played it in too many years. I do hope to get this one back on my table in a few months. As you said at the end when I lost my four of veterans in a single battle I was heartbroken. I put in on the shelf and haven't played it since.

Thanks for your review it has given me the drive to drag this one out.

Jim P mb
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Pelle Nilsson
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Fantastic review! It really sums up why the game is so much fun.

I must ask: How well did you do? Did you win many scenarios? Did you ever restart a mission or the campaign? We (playing coop) always started over if the entire squad was wiped out in a mission, so I never saw the last mission (our most successful attempt, in 2002 iirc, reached the next-to-last mission).

There is also the Traffic Control mission from Victory Insider that you should probably play because it looks official enough to me to me. Just have not played it because of no squad surviving all the other missions yet.
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J.L. Robert
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Thanks for the review. Brings back great memories.

Now, I'm writing from work, so I don't have my database handy. But Issue #7 of The Victory Insider (an insert mini-mag inside 8 issues of The General) includes a mission for Ambush! Complete with paragraph pages and mission cards. From what I recall, it's not a bad scenario.
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Greg Clensy
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I first played Ambush! In 1984 when I was 11 years old. I have great memories of playing all of the base game missions on my bedroom floor.

I have no idea where that copy went, but I re-purchased Ambush! and all of the expansions 23 years later and have loved every minute of all of the hours I have spent playing through the base and Move Out. I still have Purple Heart and Silver Star to go.

It was actually my gateway game into (back into?) the board game hobby.

What is amazing is that the designers made so many missions that replayability is not even an issue. However, has anyone ever played the new missions made by eBay seller armed_medic? I have never found a comment from anybody who has actually played one.
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Eren Koyunoglu
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thejadeape wrote:
I first played Ambush! In 1984 when I was 11 years old. I have great memories of playing all of the base game missions on my bedroom floor.

I have no idea where that copy went, but I re-purchased Ambush! and all of the expansions 23 years later and have loved every minute of all of the hours I have spent playing through the base and Move Out. I still have Purple Heart and Silver Star to go.

It was actually my gateway game into (back into?) the board game hobby.

What is amazing is that the designers made so many missions that replayability is not even an issue. However, has anyone ever played the new missions made by eBay seller armed_medic? I have never found a comment from anybody who has actually played one.


I got these expansions from armed_medic but have not played them yet. I will give any feedback when/if I play them. Also I recently discovered that armed_medic is the chief of Dice Tower; Bart Brunscheen who is well known in the wargame department.
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Michael Dorosh
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If you're curious about Open Fire, go for it, but as someone who played Ambush, Battle Hymn and all the modules to death, I was disappointed with Open Fire and it seems to be the consensus. At any rate, I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a rare copy thinking you'll get the same play value - because you won't. If you're a completionist, though, it does look nice on a shelf.
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Greg Clensy
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ErenKoyunoglu wrote:
thejadeape wrote:
I first played Ambush! In 1984 when I was 11 years old. I have great memories of playing all of the base game missions on my bedroom floor.

I have no idea where that copy went, but I re-purchased Ambush! and all of the expansions 23 years later and have loved every minute of all of the hours I have spent playing through the base and Move Out. I still have Purple Heart and Silver Star to go.

It was actually my gateway game into (back into?) the board game hobby.

What is amazing is that the designers made so many missions that replayability is not even an issue. However, has anyone ever played the new missions made by eBay seller armed_medic? I have never found a comment from anybody who has actually played one.


I got these expansions from armed_medic but have not played them yet. I will give any feedback when/if I play them. Also I recently discovered that armed_medic is the chief of Dice Tower; Bart Brunscheen who is well known in the wargame department.


I would love to hear how they play.

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pelni wrote:
Fantastic review! It really sums up why the game is so much fun.

I must ask: How well did you do? Did you win many scenarios? Did you ever restart a mission or the campaign? We (playing coop) always started over if the entire squad was wiped out in a mission, so I never saw the last mission (our most successful attempt, in 2002 iirc, reached the next-to-last mission).

There is also the Traffic Control mission from Victory Insider that you should probably play because it looks official enough to me to me. Just have not played it because of no squad surviving all the other missions yet.


I did pretty well, winning about 3/4 of the missions. I never had all 8 men die in a mission--my max was probably 4. I did replay one mission because, as mentioned above, it was a "dud"--clearly I was being set up for some big event that never occurred. And it didn't happen the second time either!

I have the Traffic Control scenario, but I think this game may be mentally left behind me for now. Next time!
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Todd R
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Great Review!
Ambush, is still one of the greatest solitaire games of all time.

I wish someone would come out with a new game in this style. . .
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Alex Rathburn
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I bought my first copy of Ambush in 1984 when I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA. I still have it; never played it...why?, I have no clue. Maybe I'm saving the best for last.
...soon to be played, I'm sure, with all this new interest!
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Jason Koskey
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PzrLehr wrote:
I bought my first copy of Ambush in 1984 when I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA. I still have it; never played it...why?, I have no clue. Maybe I'm saving the best for last.
...soon to be played, I'm sure, with all this new interest!




Ohhhh. You are in for a treat.

Just open and enjoy.....lol
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Alex Rathburn
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Cool....yes, the counters are still unpunched, lol. However, I'm working on a personal campaign to win all the solitaire - Victory Point Games first arrrh

Rock~n~Roll baby!!

Alex
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Ruben Rigillo
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Great review, Gator!
I think Ambush is a game which rarely disappoints who try it!
No solitaire have ever reached its narrative level.

I, as many of us, can't forget the long night session playing all the mission coop with my cousin looooong time ago.
I played it again whole through (in chronological ) some years later and I opened it again last year. Its replayability is amazing!!!

A note: if you play it chronologically you have to start from Silver Star....and the beginning is quite harder!

Give a try to Battle Hymn and Leather Neck too, they worth it definetely!!!

Thanks for your thoughts!
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It's time to call and yawn for a reprint of the whole series. I missed out the whole series as I didn't have the money to buy them all during my teenage years. I had to choose between series games and individual non-serial games. In view of the range of topics I was interested in, I chose the non-serial path. I somehow regret it now. So please someone comes up for a reprint. And keep all the cartridge sheets and sleeves!
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I have just unearthed my copy of Ambush and Move Out after 10 years of storage. From the very first day I purchased them - way back when - I knew that they would stay with me till death do us part.

Today as I re-acquainted myself with the rules, I kept having these *moments* of sheer awe at the unparalleled elegance of the system.
The other thing that struck me is how well the rules are written: clear, comprehensive, unambiguous - seriously, the writing is second to none.

I am now working through the first mission and I am reminded of why this game is simply the best solitaire wargame ever created in the known universe. I grinned like a 10 year old as one of the first events I triggered was seeing a Typhoon with a smoke trail crash beyond the road, followed by startling away some birds from a shrub. The tension kept on mounting until a sniper and fellow officer hidden in the tree line ambushed us and drew blood on one of my commanders.

Now I really kick myself for not buying Purple + Silver back in the days.

Eric, if you are reading this, for the love of god, find a way to reprint this absolute gem
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Jason Theriot
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I just recently bought the game and am so glad I did. I also don't understand why they don't do a reprint...
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Greg Bales

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I'm fortunate enough to have all of the Ambush modules plus Battle Hymn and Leatherneck. Unfortunately it's been years since I've had the room to comfortably spread out the map(s), books, charts, etc. and leave them up long enough to play more than one more game before having to put it away until the next time.

I seemed to have been fortunate (or skillful... probably more lucky than good) not to have suffered any major catastrophes in a single battle, and finished Ambush! and Move Out with two of my original men. My worst luck was with Battle Hymn; I approached some rocks with my men spread out well, but walked right into an ambush with Japanese armed with an HMG; the rolls went something like 1,2,3,4 (or was it 4,3,2,1?) Anyway I lost 5 men in that one encounter, was never able to kill the [fatherless child] and finally had to withdraw. Got him the next time though, lol.
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Peter Hindman
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PzrLehr wrote:
I bought my first copy of Ambush in 1984 when I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA. I still have it; never played it...why?, I have no clue. Maybe I'm saving the best for last.
...soon to be played, I'm sure, with all this new interest!
I am in the same boat ....er foxhole as you!! I bought Ambush in 1987 and have looked at the rules every few years, but just haven't taken the plunge yet after 30 years. I don't know why. Too many other games?...all the errata makes me think ugh!!!? Who knows, but maybe like you I'm saving the best for last. Unpunched, and also have Battle Hymn. I'm retired now, and have been getting a lot of games to the table. Maybe this year!!
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