This past week has been kinda stressful. Had some sick family (everyone’s fine now) and several changes to the plan for school (both mine and my son’s) had me a little frayed. I had planned to put a new game on the table for an AAR for the blog…and I just kept putting it off or finding excuses not to play. And I finally decided what I wanted wasn’t to play something new, but to bust out an old friend. Sometimes, you need some comfort food, and that’s what Ranger is for me.
If you are not familiar with Ranger, the best way I can describe this solitaire classic is a choose your own adventure on steroids. Alex from The Players Aid wrote a good in-depth look at the game, and Brad from the Hexsides Blog has a few AAR’s that give a good idea of how the game plays. These guys have done an fantastic job discussing how this game works and plays, so I’m just going to focus on some of the intangibles about this game, and how it makes me feel when I play it.
Reason #1: The Map
I talked in my review of “Guards and Martyrs” how there were details on the games map that made me feel like I was looking at a “real” map. But when it comes to realism, nothing even comes close to Ranger. You physically create your path by drawing it on the laminated map sheets. And when you get bored with what comes in the box, the rules actually encourage you to pick up military maps and use them as new settings! My favorite part of this game is sitting at my table, and working on the main and alternate routes for my patrol to take through the jungle. This is probably because I love being outdoors and walking off-trail in the forest preserves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out for a hike in the woods and I’ll just start thinking about “how would this look in Ranger?” The act of drawing on the map and plotting out all the “actions at the objective” is always my favorite part of the game because you just become completely immersed in the mission. The closest thing I can compare it with is playing a game of D&D with a DM who knows how to make everything come alive.
Reason #2: The Patrolling Tactics Book
When I was in high school there was a guy I worked with had a decent collection of unique military books. One day he let me borrow one of the official army field manuals (I’m 99 percent sure it was the survival guide) and I didn’t give it back to him for almost 10 years! I LOVED that book, and I love the patrolling tactics book you get in the Ranger box for many of the same reasons.
I’m not suggesting that after reading the tactics book you are suddenly qualified to lead a squad of men through the jungle…but you almost feel like you could 😉 Sometimes even when I’m not playing Ranger I’ll pull that book out and thumb through the sections about how a Ranger patrol does things like crosses a road or sets up an area recon the correct way. You feel like you are holding something that maybe you shouldn’t be. Like, you’ve got access to this super-secret awesome military handbook.
I think that just shows the quality of this game, and how much attention to detail was put into this game. I never had the chance to speak with Bill Gibbs (the man who ran Omega Games) but from all accounts I’ve been able to find online he was a good dude who put a lot of work into designing and supporting his games.
Reason #3: It’s a Wargame About Avoiding Conflict
One of my other big hobbies is playing older video games, and this love letter to Ranger would not be complete without bringing up one of my all time favorite childhood games. Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation was one of those games that just consumed every free second of my life for months when I was in high school. But when I first put the game in, I HATED it. See I thought it was going to be like…Rambo meets Escape from New York. Run and gun all the bad guys. But instead you spend most of the game hiding, sneaking around or using things other then your limited weapons and ammo to deal with the games enemies. It was like no game I had ever played before, but I quickly became obsessed with trying to beat it. I mean I played this game so much I would literally dream about it. If you’ve never seen this game before, check out the video below.
Ranger scratches that same itch for me. If you draw a squad mission, you have maybe a dozen soldiers, and you’re most likely going to be working a recon or rescue mission. You job is to get in, do your job without being seen and get out on time. And if you do happen to have contact with the enemy, you had better know exactly how to handle the situation according to that handy dandy patrolling tactics book.
This is the part of Ranger that I would guess turns some folks off. There are important decisions to make in Ranger, but when it comes to contact with the enemy, there are very specific reactions that you need to make depending on the enemy size/attack. Make the wrong one and your squad or platoon will get hit hard. Even if you make the right decision, you may still take heavy casualties. But that’s when you start making more open ended decisions again. Do you continue the mission? Do you have to leave some of the equipment or men behind? Do you need to make up for lost time by changing your formation or taking the alternate route? Few strategies survive being punched in the mouth, and I think that watching my best laid plans get completely wrecked is part of the fun.