Ranger from Omega Games is a game that I’ve had on my radar for a long time now. It’s actually been on my shelf for a long time too, but between work, school, kids and rules reading it actually took me a long time to get it to the table. Ranger is an entirely unique solitaire wargame that put’s you in command of a squad or platoon that has to perform a patrol in a fictional modern combat setting. Designed by Bill Gibbs, a former US Army Captain, the game presents an unendingly realistic simulation of patrol doctrine and the day to day of active duties.
Ranger was first put out in 1984 by Omega Games, and unlike a significant number of other wargames, is void of almost any kind of movable playing pieces. No counters, no markers, no blocks, no stickers. It was a little unnerving unboxing the game and having nothing to punch out and organize – the flip side of which is that I saved on having to buy counter trays! So what kind of a game has no playing pieces?
Ranger is a tactical level game where you take the role of a squad, or platoon leader. You’ll be assigned a specific patrol mission and then you’ll plan out and execute that mission. Now, I’ve played a healthy amount of solo games, and I love planning out missions, identifying the best avenues of attack, etc., but I honestly didn’t know what planning was until I played Ranger. I love games like Phantom Leader from DVG where you’ll pick pilots, specific aircraft, and carefully load out each plane with ordnance to drop on targets. In Fields of Fire from GMT Games, you can organize different battlefield signals with coloured smoke that trigger units to advance or flank, etc. But Ranger… Ranger is something else.
The game is primarily played on a glossy map, that you write on with dry erase markers. Your mission card provides you infiltration and exfiltration coordinates as well as the location of the target. Again, you will physically mark these on the map. At the target, you might need to perform a recon of an enemy emplacement, or set up an ambush, or rescue a downed pilot – also dictated by your mission card. You have to pick the members of your squad, deck them out with tactical gear, and then plan out the patrol.
Now, at first I was quite intimidated because I don’t really have any practical knowledge of what a modern military patrol might do, or look like. As you can see from my game, I took an extremely simple (and probably tactically suspect) route. I tried to skirt the edge of the jungle to give my self an emergency evacuation option if things took a turn for the worse, and tried to minimize the amount of time spent on roads, in the open, etc.
Since playing I tried to look at what other people had done with their missions and it was clear that my tactical prowess lacks any kind of formal training. I saw people that used deep zig-zagging formations to disguise their directions, and be more thorough in their recon of the areas, etc. So I learned a lot from what other people had done, and if you don’t have a military background, I’d recommend just looking at other people’s pictures to help spark your imagination.
A Modern Literary Classic
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of a stretch – this is no Faulkner to be sure – but the writing in the game warrants talking about. The game is played in a style not dissimilar from the old choose-your-own-adventure style books we all loved as kids. The main book in the game has hundreds of paragraphs in a large tome that you will flick through, read out loud and then implement. These paragraphs will literally tell you to draw a route on the map. Then to draw a back up route, and finally expend half an hour on the turn track. You follow along to the next paragraph that tells you to pick your squads, divide them into various recon teams, equip them with support weapons, cameras, night vision, extra ammo, mines, grenades and all manner of other things. And then the Odyssey begins.
The reality of the game is that you will read through a lot of paragraphs and roll some dice that will determine the outcome of your plan. So make no mistake, there’s some random dice rolling, but there are modifiers based one how good of a route you planned, and how well you were able to prepare the day before. This keeps the game from being a narrative dice fest like Target for Today or Silent Victory. Your decisions do matter, and mattered as soon as you put pen to map.
Unlike those other games the execution is so much more than just dice rolling as well. Each paragraph that you read is eloquently written. The style is a great mix between telegraphic military speak, and rich, evocative descriptions. The text never loses you with acronyms and jargon, so pouring through the story feels organic and tells an excellent story that is as tense as it is realistic. Again, I’ve never been on a combat patrol, I’ve never even been to the jungle, but honestly having played a mission or two of Ranger, I felt like I was right there in the brush, mud, flies, vines, and sweat.
Is this game for me?
Hear me out on this one: This game most likely isn’t for everyone, but I think everyone should try it once. I love a narrative in my solo games. That’s why I enjoy games like Rifles in the Ardennes and Redvers’ Reverse. Sitting down and pushing counters around in a purely tactical and mathematical setting isn’t the most engaging experience and sometimes can feel dry. But adding some kind of narrative device, or using a game system where the AI is unpredictable, or particularly cunning makes for a standout solitaire game.
Ranger takes story telling to the next level. The written paragraphs are incredibly fun to read, and there’s so many options and paths and outcomes. So for those that love a good story this is a definite must have game. If you’re more into crunchy tactical solo games, like the Lock N Load tactical solo mod, then maybe this won’t be in your wheelhouse. With that being said, I’d highly recommend giving it a go at least once, just to see what a unique game it is. If you know anyone that has a copy absolutely borrow it and dive into it just for the experience.
I was informed by one of our YouTube channel viewers that the owner of Omega Games, and designer of the game Bill Gibbs passed away a few years ago. So please, be patient with communicating with the company. The game is still available and it comes with some of my highest recommendations, with the understanding of what kind of a game it is.