Saturday, 8 October 2011

Ambush Alley: first playtest

With all the fuss being created in the wargames community with the launch of Force on Force in April, I've been swotting up on the rules for Ambush Alley this week. AA was really the predecessor of FoF, and while FoF has a fairly broad coverage in terms of post-1945 conflicts, AA is focused heavily on urban combat in the contemporary Middle East, particularly Iraq.

I chose one of the scenarios from the back of the AA book to give it a test drive this weekend The key was to get a feel for the game, and whether this was something Sebastian and I could play in the future. The mission sees three US Marine fire teams led by a squad leader, travelling in an APC with a sniper team. The two man sniper team has to establish itself in a building to provide fire support to a battle happening off the table, while the Marines provide security.

The game reminds me a little of Savage Worlds, in that troops are rated according to Training and Morale using different dice. Hence, the Marines were using d10s while the insurgents were largely using d6s with the odd d8 leader. It is therefore possible for the Marines to be heavily outnumbered, but still hold their own, as most activities require a target number of 4 to succeed. To hit a target, you need 4s, for example.

The initiative seems to lie very much with the Marines, and it is up to the insurgents to try to interrupt their mission and play merry hall with them. I think Sebastian found it a bit frustrating as a first game, as he surprisingly opted to play the insurgents, and while this gave him theoretically unlimited reinforcements, his lack of heavy firepower meant that the US APC became a nut he could not crack. In the whole game, he only hit it once with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The game started well for me, with the armoured car speeding to its destination. In the picture you can see the entire table, with the APC already making progress towards the target building in the top right corner of the table. We drew a Fog of War card at the start of the game, that revealed there was a notorious insurgent leader on site who would also need to be eliminated before the Marines withdrew. Luckily, he popped up on the roof of a building early on and was shot by the .50 calibre MG mounted on the APC.

The unit reached its destination building and took up position, with the sniper team moving inside. This is where I made the beginner's error of not putting my fireteams on Overwatch, something that is critical in AA. It allows you to fire on insurgents who pop up and try to attack your men. Consequently, Sebastian got the drop on my teams and some amazing early dice rolling saw five Marines wounded. It began to look like the Americans were in trouble.

Here you can see the situation as it stood when I bungled. One fire team is already inside the building, one has taken cover behind a wall on the north side of the plaza, and another with the NCO is against the wall on the south side. We did not occupy any other buildings overlooking the target - BIG MISTAKE!

I counteracted this by putting one fire team in the building on overwatch, laying down covering fire while the corporal on the ground collected up his wounded. But things got worse, with three more Marines taking wounds. They all had to be loaded into the back of the APC while the team in the building continued to strafe occupied buildings in the vicinity.

The Marines ARE pretty tough in this game - a typical fire team wears body armour and carries a grenade launcher and a Squad Assault Weapon (SAW) as back up firepower. They get 2d10 extra for the support weapons and 1d10 in defence for their body armour. Still, if the insurgents can lay down enough fire into a small area, people start getting hit.

Luckily Marines don't need to make morale checks very often. Things have to be going very badly wrong before they begin to lose it. I realised I would not be able to get 100% fire suppression on the enemy, particularly as more reinforcements were turning up all the time. They can make something called an Out of Contact move, which means if the Marines can't see them, they can move anywhere they like until they are seen. This allows the insurgent player to bring reserves up fairly quickly to where they can do the most damage.

I had to risk putting my sniper team on the roof while the overwatch team continued to provide cover and keep the surrounding roofs empty. The snipers completed their mission, but the spotter was KIA as they were coming off the roof, and the other sniper was hit and wounded trying to get from the building back to the APC. In addition, we had to draw another Fog of War card this turn, which saw a communications break down with HQ, forcing the team to stay put in the building for another turn. It was left to the final fire team to drag the wounded sniper with them as they exited the building.

This shot [right] shows another insurgent squad on the roof of the building we SHOULD HAVE OCCUPIED. The sniper team can be seen on the roof of the derelict target building (next to the die used to track how many turns they'd been up there). An overwatch team is also in the same building, blazing away at anything that moved.

The game ended with the Marines escaping in their vehicle. The insurgents lacked anything that could damage the APC at this stage in the game, and as it was lunchtime we decided to call it a day.

I have to say I really liked Ambush Alley. It seems overwhelming at first, because of some of the odd concepts, like interruption rolls, only being able to fire on units where you have line of sight to at least 50% of the members of the unit, and the ability of troops to zoom around the table in fairly quick order. But it does seem to do a good job of simulating modern urban combat, particularly in scenarios where trained regulars are battling guerrillas. I'd be interested to see how it fares with Vietnam, and I understand that a Vietnam War supplement called Ambush Valley is out imminently.

In some ways it also reminds me of Space Hulk, in that one side is trying to complete an objective, while the other is trying to stop them, and has unlimited reinforcements coming on-table. I think we had just about enough figures to cover all the insurgents - we only once reached a point where we were one man short. I particularly like the way the insurgent player can nominate 'hot spots' which spawn reinforcements, giving them effectively a number of random entry points, and the way the Marines can neutralise these. All in all, a really good game, and I'd be keen to play it again some time.


  1. It seems tailor-made for a Blackhawk Down re-enactment!

  2. I think there is a 'Day of the Ranger' supplement coming out, detailing the fighting in Mogadishu in 1993. Meantime, I think I'm going to need some wounded markers and insurgent support weapons, plus possibly some more Humvee gun trucks. Stay tuned for more Ambush Alley when I get the chance.