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Month: May 2021

Game #9 : Computer Ambush (1980/1982)

What else can you tell me about the Germans occupying this village, Lieutenant Narwhal ?
Well, first there is Feldwebel Kurt Reich
– Felwebel Kurt Reich ?
Yes. WWI veteran. He used to be a forester, but then he joined the Wehrm...
How would you even know his name? What else ?
Well, there is that idiot, Wolfgang Kleindorf. His men call him “Achtung” because…
Enough ! What I wanted to know is what equipment they have ?
Oh ! Grenades, lots of grenades, and of course some side weapons like machine-guns, rifles and SMGs.
Those are not side weapons !
Oh, for them they are.

With the detailed descriptions of the 10 American and 10 German default characters, Computer Ambush makes war personal

Released in June 1980, Computer Ambush is the second game released by SSI. Designed and coded by Ed Willinger while the rest of the company (aka John Lyon and Joel Billings) was working on Computer Bismark, the game was more ambitious than anything released up until then: it would be the first game to try to simulate small scale infantry combat realistically. Sadly the technology, and possibly the lack of coding experience of Ed Willinger, did not match this level of ambition. The game was notoriously slow at release – reputedly taking about half an hour to resolve a turn, of which there would be typically more than 30 in a game.

The game therefore received a second edition in 1982, with a more senior developer (Larry Strawser) recoding part of the game directly in Assembler for way better performance. The 1982 edition also added several features, including an option to customize the squad (names, stats and equipment). This is the version I will be playing – the original 1980 edition seems to have all but disappeared.

I will be playing two scenarios (out of 5 available). The game allows to choose either default characters or custom ones, and I used this to make the commenters play the first of the two attempts below.

Just a small village to cross

June 1944, Normandy. Sergeant Helly and his squad have been parachuted on the wrong side of a village. To join the rest of the unit, they need to cross it :

The game has no scroll option, so I had to ask the game to display the (M)ap from row 11 to show row 11-28, then from row 29 to show row 29-46, etc.

They knew that the village was defended. According to preliminary observation, there would be 10 elite SS soldiers.

If you wanted to play against normally good soldiers, you are out of luck

But Helly was confident in his men. There was his core team : Corporal Dayyalu, PFC Fellow and PFC Andnjord. And of course, there was the promising Private Kalarion, the less promising Private Baud and the new guy : Private Laxeu.

Despite what was claimed by one of the players, “PO” is not “Postal Office” skill.
The game never specifies the type of the Rifles/Machine Guns/”Auto-rifles”

First surprise for the group as they deploy : a German is next to them, just as surprised as they are !

All the characters are shown by the first letter of their name. Two custom characters’ names can’t start with the same letter

He is immediately mowed down by Dayyalu’s machine-gun and Baud’s Thompson. Another German fires at the group, but misses !

To be clear, anything in color is my addition

He is shortly thereafter killed by Kalarion and Helly :

With the entrance to the village clear, the group spreads out and proceeds carefully. Andnjord and Baud take care of the flanks while the rest advance in the center.

The blue areas are either “overwatch” or “stop to look around” actions

I run into my first problems with the less experienced soldiers. Baud is not a very smart man : as soon as he loses sight of the two NCOs (Helly and Dayyalu) he advances very, very slowly. Laxeu is not doing great either. On the other hand, Andnjord clears the factory complex at the bottom left very quickly, though he is begging for support as his rifle will not help him much in close combat. Laxeu and his submachine gun is allocated to help him, but the guy is just too slow.

The squad continues progressing through the village. At the first crossroad, Kalarion and Helly sneak instead of running, but there is still no hostile in sight.

Baud decided to clear the bottom-right corner, but is incredibly slow doing it so he drops out of the screen.

it is time to cross the street. No one wants to remain exposed, so Fellow, Andnjord and Helly run as fast as they can :

How movement is shown during turn resolution phase : moving characters let a “trail” with their letter. Turn resolution always has white background, while turn plotting has black background.

Eventually, Andnjord, Helly, Kalarion and Laxeu explore the network of small shops and modest dwellings on the left when Laxeu hears something :

Sometimes, a German is seen (or heard) during turn resolution phase, but disappears again during turn plotting.

One isolated German should be manageable. Helly shoots in his general direction – even if he does not see the German he may hit him, or at the minimum force the German to duck. Meanwhile, his men surround the enemy, Andnjord and Laxeu by the left, Kalarion by the right.

No one has a visual, so Kalarion decides to throw a grenade.

… and the German is killed.

More movements have been spotted in the church, so Helly decides to go fetch Baud and together assault the church. Meanwhile, Andnjord and Laxeu should be able to clear the buildings in front of the church.

Kalarion with his machine gun takes position in the garage overlooking the market square, prepared to cover either the group assaulting the Church, or Andnjord and Laxeu :

Sergeant Helly running to the soldiers lagging behind. He crossed 17 tiles when Baud did not even finish his move through one. Kalarion may seem slow, but he is moving sneakily, in the hope of not being seen from the church.

Once everyone regrouped on the right, Helly leads an assault on the church. With Fellow and Dayyalu offering massive cover fire (Fellow has the better eye, but Dayyalu has a machine gun – presumably a BAR), Helly throws a grenade (that misses) and runs into the building with Baud :

Hard to say if the German in the church is dead or just ducking.

Meanwhile, Laxeu could not keep up with Andnjord’s fast pace, and when Andnjord enters a shop and sees a German, it is only him, the German and their rifles. Andnjord has a split second to decide what to do. His bayonet is ready, and he charges at the German :

… but Andnjord is mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, Helly enters the church through the sacristy. Baud stays outside the church and Dayyalu comes to support Helly in clearing the church :

Note that dead characters – Andnjord here – don’t disappear from the map.

Helly spots a dying German at the top-left corner of the entrance – it is unclear what killed him. As he approaches, the German who was at the bottom corner, and who was presumed dead (there was no movement), shoots Helly !

Dayyalu mows the German down, but it is too late !

As the new person in charge, Dayyalu runs out of the church to regroup his men, and in particular to fetch Laxeu…

… a bad decision. A bullet hits him. He is wounded, and throws himself to the ground :

Dayyalu crawls toward the North to put his machine gun into action through the hedge, supported by Fellow who enters the church. Laxeu and Kalarion regroup to avenge Andnjord :

Baud engages the German sharpshooter, but at this range his submachine gun is not the best weapon. Fellow sees the German that killed Andnjord and forces him to duck with a few shots in his direction, allowing Kalarion to throw a grenade.

Kalarion’s grenade misses. On the other hand, a German grenade does not miss Fellow, who dies instantly.

Dayyalu tries to retreat, but he is killed by a second grenade.

With all the non-privates dead, Baud, Laxeu and Kalarion decide that they will not try any further to kill the Germans, rather they will try to leave the village as soon as possible.

At least, with no other rank than Private, I don’t have “away from commanding officer” movement malus.

The safest solution seems to be to follow the Eastern wall of the village :

On the way, they meet one German in the bourgeois houses in the top right corner, then another covering him. The initial exchange of bullets is inconclusive, and a grenade thrown by Laxeu misses :

Not wanting to stay too long in the same spot, given how much the Germans love their grenades, Kalarion and Laxeu find a better angle, and they kill the first German.

Crossing the hedge separating the two houses, they are fired at by the second German. Laxeu has a last grenade left. He throws it…

.. and is hit by a third German. Meanwhile, Baud is killed by another grenade.

Laxeu is badly wounded, but he survives. He crawls towards Kalarion. His grenade explodes, killing the second German, but the second German has shot one last bullet. That last bullet found Kalarion, and now Laxeu is alone.

Alone, wounded, Laxeu leaves the battlefield.

Actually, I had to force this screen, as the soldiers do not evac as long as they are not 3 (alive) in the evac tile, so the game would carry on until Laxeu or all the Germans are dead. Given Laxeu’s wounds, continuing was pointless though.

Helly’s squad had been annihilated, with one badly wounded survivor.

The Revenge

The Germans had killed their friends, and four soldiers from the default squad would avenge them. They would blow up the Nazi local HQ with plastic explosives, and come back. Ideally all of them.

The scenario

It would be only four men : Corporal Richfield, PFC Garritty, PFC Cheng and Private Hoss

Wisely, the man who knows how to use plastic explosive is the one who carries the plastic explosive.

The men deploy next to the garage, South of the plaza with the church. The building they need to blow up is on the other side. A German is immediately spotted, but the men are ordered not to engage him and rather to approach the target by the South-West

I like challenges, so I take 4 guys when the manual recommends 5-6 for this mission

Before he can even move, Private Hoss is killed by the German. War is unfair, random and brutal.

There are 3 men left. The group progresses along the small houses where Andnjord was killed, until Garrity spots a German !

Garrity opens fire with his machine-gun, while Chen also moves in position :

But Garrity is suddenly shot from the side. Wounded, he falls to the ground !

Wound level above 50 means “out of action”, wound level of 99 means dead. In gameplay terms, there is no difference between 51 and 99.

Neither Cheng nor Richfield are good shots, but they have grenades, and they plan to use them :

Both their grenades miss. Unfortunately for Richfield, the Germans also have grenades, and unlike them he has no cover… he is killed instantly. Again, there are no more NCOs to lead the soldiers.

Well, Germany : 2 Americans : 0 so far.

But I cannot retreat again. While Garrity carries on trying to shoot at the Germans while using whatever cover is available, Cheng tries to find a position where his grenades will NOT miss :

But by the time Cheng is in position, the two Germans are dead, or dying.

Cheng and Garrity then proceed into the building through the window. The corridors are safe :

… but in the central room, Cheng finds a German. Cheng is lightly wounded, but being the only one who knows how to use explosive, he moves away immediately. Clearing the room will be Garrity’s job.

Garrity moves in chased steps [yes, the game allows moving in one direction while facing another] to the opening, ready to shoot …

… but the German shoots first, killing him.

Well, the last hope is a grenade, which is pretty dangerous to let explode so close. Nonetheless, Cheng takes the risk…

… and it pays off !

Cheng can now safely plant the explosive, and leaves !

The German headquarters blows up, killing or mortally wounding the three remaining Germans :

I am sure Cheng did not even look back at the explosion !

Everyone died except Cheng. A bittersweet victory, but a victory nonetheless !

I will be reviewing Computer Air Combat soon, which is about air combat during WW2 and (as I will be using the data disk) the Korean War. It is a game where you build your own scenarios, so comment which (historical) country match-up you want to see in my After Action Report. You can even go down to era or plane level. Available countries for WW2 : Germany, UK, US, USSR, Japan, Italy, Romania, Poland and Finland. The Korean War only allows “United Nations” against North Korea.