Computer Ambush

Computer Ambush was one of the earliest tactical games released for the computer, and possibly the earliest man-to-man title. Strategic Simulations Inc. released an ambitious text-only game for the Apple II in 1980, and later versions for other platforms followed. For fledgling SSI, the game was one of the projects that they cut their teeth on:

In 1979, (Joel Billings) was planning to go to business school, but all he really wanted to do was get into computer wargames. A friend had shown him a TRS-80, so he knew his idea could work. He tried to convince a programmer at IBM, but the man just wasn't a wargamer and didn't believe there were people out there who would buy these hard, complicated strategy games.

   "SSI all started with an idea and it was touch and go for awhile as to whether I was going to go to business school or start this company."

   Finally, Billings put questionnaires in local hobby shops for programmers interested in wargames. There were two responses: John Lyon and Ed Williger. They were both programmers but, more importantly, they were wargamers. Around this time, a venture capitalist introduced Billings to Trip Hawkins, who is currently president of Electronic Arts. But back then, Hawkins was a marketing manager for Apple. He convinced Billings that Apple was going places. "We were very lucky that way or we could have gotten started doing TRS-80 games.

   John Lyon was a wargamer into miniature figures. He had been a programmer since the '60s but had done nothing in BASIC and had never worked on a personal computer. Ed Williger was more of a wargamer than Lyon, but also had no experience in BASIC.

   Lyon wrote SSI's first game, Computer Bismarck, and Williger wrote the second, Computer Ambush. The first version of Computer Ambush for the Apple was incredibly slow. It could take three hours to process one turn! "It was just terrible." But it was one of their first products and they needed the money.1

In the Winter 1981 issue of Fire & Movement, J. Richard Jarvinen was able to report on his experiences with the game, citing a price of $59.95 for a boxed version for the Apple II Plus (48K) - a price he described as "steep" though the game generally received a favourable review as far as contents and "a fine sense of realism and attention to detail."

The Atari and Commodore 64 versions had a graphical interface and shipped with acetate map and grease pencils to mark the position of soldiers on the map.

Commodore 64 screenshot

All three versions seem to have the same dossiers for the fictional members of the squads, one German and one American, all with unlikely names right out of central casting:

Sergeant J.C. "Buck" Padooka   Feldwebel (Sergeant) Kurt Reich
Acting Corporal Rodney "Rich-Boy" Richfield   Unteroffizier (Corporal) Wolfgang "Achtung! Achtung!" Kleindorf
P.F.C. Luigi Bastinelli   Obergefreiter (P.F.C.) Oskar Zimmer
P.F.C. Aloysius "Gunner" Garrity   Obergefreiter (P.F.C.) Erich Albrecht
P.F.C. Lee Cheng   Obergefreiter (P.F.C.) Ludwig "Lover" Schneider
P.F.C. Charles "Chief" Lawson   Obergefreiter (P.F.C.) Erick Braun
Private Walter "Doc" Wheelock   Obergefreiter (P.F.C.) Hans Gruber
Private Ben "Big Ol" Hoss   Gefreiter (Private) Klaus Muller
Private Maroot "Root-Toot" Marootian   Gefreiter (Private) Dieter Dusel
Private Denny "Dim-Wit" Dumke   Gefreiter (Private) Max Wagner

Jarvinen's review of the Apple version continued:

The scene in Computer Ambush is France during World War II. A player is given control of from one to ten individual soldiers and a specific mission which he must execute successfully in order to win. He can play against another human opponent or against the computer. Some missions call for eliminating all enemy soldiers; others, for the destruction of a specific objective with plastic explosives. Each soldier has several characteristics and abilities which include strength, intelligence, dexterity, power of observation, marksmanship (throwing and firing), and skill in hand-to-hand combat. In fact, each soldier has his own name and dossier, which one would be wise to peruse for clues as to individual strengths and weaknesses. For instance, one notes that Private Denny Dumke has an intelligence of only three, but the dossier reveals he always obeys orders and never runs. Similar information can be gleaned from the German dossiers...So a player who likes this sort of thing can get quite involved with the personalities of each soldier, cursing vehemently when Private Marootian forgets to fire his machine gun or cheering wildly when PFC Lawson throws a grenade on time and on target.



  1. Powell, Jack "The Story of SSI" (ANTIC VOL. 4, NO. 3 / JULY 1985 / PAGE 28) accessed online at 

Computer Ambush

Developer: SSI
Platform: Apple II, Atari, C64
Date of Release: 1980 (Apple), 1984 (Atari), 1985 (C64)
Scale: Man-to-Man
Genre: WEGO
Players: 1 or 2
Campaign Type: nil

Components of a typical Commodore 64 box were plentiful. A Fall'86/Winter'87 catalogue in full colour is included, as are 20 page "Rule Book and Soldier Dossiers", customer feedback card, two grease pencils, two identical laminated double sided sheets (map on one side and map key/terrain chart on the other), two identical card stock double sided reference sheets, a small quick start reference card, and of course the 5-1/4" floppy disk. Artwork on the box lid and rulebook seemed to deliberately invoke Joe Kubert's vision of Sgt. Rock who was popular in American comic books at the time.


tacticalwargamer.com 2008-present    email: The Tactical Wargamer