Table for One: James Bond 007 Assault! Game (Victory Games) Review

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Though best known for their complex, incisive wargames, some of which remain the best simulations of their subjects to date, Victory Games also needed to pay the bills. This assemblage of ex-SPI staffers, working as an imprint under Avalon Hill, produced far more than just wargames during its nine-year existence, and they were by no means averse to license work. Whether a a “couples” trivia game featuring Dr. Ruth or a cooking-based roll-and-move made in conjunction with spice merchants McCormick-Schilling, the Victory Games catalog features a wide range of topics and game types that one might not expect from the same company responsible for conflict simulations with thousands of counters and dense rulebooks.

Their most famous licensed game came in the form of a role-playing game, the James Bond 007 RPG, arguably the finest spy RPG of all time. But Victory Games’ James Bond license wasn’t restricted to role-playing games; they produced a range of board games using the license as well. Most of these were children’s games, fairly simple point-to-point races loosely incorporating moments from the movies, but one marks a valiant attempt to create a wargame in the world of 007: the James Bond 007 Assault! Game.

Overview

James Bond 007 Assault! Game
Victory Games (VG), 1986
Designed by Gerard Christopher Klug

James Bond Assault! Game, Cover Detail

The James Bond 007 Assault! Game comes in a cardboard slipcase box with the same dimensions as Avalon Hill and Victory Games’ boxed wargames, which, at 8 and 3/8″ wide and 11 and 1/2″ long, annoyingly do not fit a standard Letter-size sheet of paper. The game includes one and a half die-cut countersheets with 264 5/8″ counters, plus a small third sheet with three specialized die-cut markers. The single map, of standard 22″ x 34″ dimensions, is matte printed on thick paper. A lidded plastic counter tray, much like those in other VG offerings, two d10, a single black-and-white saddle stapled rulebook, and a folded paper range stick round out the package.

Units portray individuals, either Soldiers or Leaders. Soldier units are numbered and have icons indicating their weapon type, while Leader units are all depicted with a central star icon; the named Leaders, heroes and villains alike, carry the character’s initials, while unnamed Leaders have a generic identifier. As a result, there’s nothing really distinguishing James Bond or Tiger Tanaka from other MI6 leaders beyond a “JB” or “TT” on the counter, something of a disappointment.

James Bond Assault! Game, Counter Details

Indeed, the counters lean heavily into the functional, acceptable in a more traditional wargame but less forgivable in a man-to-man tactical combat game based on a license noted for its strong visual iconography, from the gun-filigree on “007” to the Walther PPK. Perhaps space issues played a role, as even with the larger 5/8″ counter to work with, the numbers tend to the tiny, the legibility not helped by some of the color combinations.

The counter graphics are immediately identifiable as being from Victory Games; the unit counters, featuring numbers around the perimeter, with a central icon, could come straight from the Fleet series, if there were spies and ninjas in those games. Ted Koller, in charge of art here, helmed the graphics direction for many of the Fleet games as well, so the similarity makes sense. Counter quality in my copy was acceptable, with several counters coming close to losing text off the side due to a lack of printing margin and/or poor die cutting. (Monarch Avalon strikes again.) Side nibs do make a regrettable appearance, but only on a few counters per row, the majority of counters held to the tree by their corners alone.

James Bond Assault! Game, Partial Map Overview

The color map, covered not with a hex grid but with center-dotted 5/8″ squares, depicts the volcano lair from You Only Live Twice, where Blofeld and SPECTRE—er, make that Karl Skorpios and TAROT—have been launching rockets to steal American and Soviet spaceships. Due to the long-running dispute regarding the ownership of SPECTRE at the time, Victory Games was unable to use the nefarious organization or its members in any of their licensed products, so they dropped in Skorpios and TAROT as one-for-one replacements. (Karl Skorpios is not, of course, to be confused with Hank Scorpio…)

Not Karl Skorpios of TAROT

The map recreates many of the key features from the climactic fight in You Only Live Twice, most importantly the monorail and the blastproof control room, replete with armored shutters. The rocket, launch gantry, and helipad receive their own oversized counters, allowing for their movement on the map during play. Though the map depicts five vertical levels, clever design limits nearly every space on one particular height. limiting, but not eliminating, the need for markers to track units’ vertical locations. The retractable roof for the volcano lair is shown through the placement of roof markers, allowing it, too, to move.

James Bond Assault! Game, Rocket and Gantry Counter Detail

Four scenarios come with the game. The Introductory scenario uses a handful of troops on each side, with Tiger Tanaka facing off against Skorpios to demonstrate basic rules. The Movie scenario claims to “most accurately duplicate” the action in You Only Live Twice, with ninjas rappelling through holes in the roof and Tanaka, Bond, and Kissy Suzuki attempting to break into the control room. A third scenario uses the extensive water section of the map to imagine a boat-borne assault on the volcano, while the final scenario uses all the units in the game to portray a grand assault on the volcano lair. All four scenarios revolve around exclusive location control, either a particular hex or a series of rooms.

Gameplay

Designer Gerard Christopher Klug envisions the James Bond 007 Assault! Game as a gateway game, a bridge between two worlds that often intersect in the game store but not, perhaps, on the game table: that of wargamers and role players. In the game’s introduction, he notes:

Perhaps the most striking design feature of James Bond Assault is its intention to provide an introduction to wargaming for role players, as well as an introduction to role playing for wargamers. With these goals in mind, we have attempted to provide the basic elements of both types of gaming in as straightforward a manner as possible, while still delivering an exciting game.

In terms of the game’s wargaming pedigree, units are rated for weapon class, weapon proficiency, movement points, and morale, with Leaders having a command radius as well. Units that suffer wounds are flipped to a less-effective side, and rudimentary line of sight and cover rules affect fire combat. Different terrain carries differing movement costs, and while no zone of control rules impede units, stacking limitations do exist, with a maximum of six units in each twenty foot square.

James Bond Assault! Game, Control Room Attack

On the role-playing side, the game’s combat resolution derives from the James Bond RPG’s Ease Factor and Quality Result system, a success determination method whereby the unit’s inherent skill is multiplied by the relative difficulty of the task to derive a Success Chance that must be rolled against on two d10, for a 1-100 outcome. Rolling lower than the derived number yields a success, and a table indicates the degree of success relative to how low of a number was rolled. It’s arguably a more involved, if not more detailed, mechanism than used in other man-to-man tactical combat wargames.

James Bond Assault! Game, Quality Results Table Detail

More significantly, named Leaders, both Hero and Villain, may alter results by spending Hero and Survival Points, respectively. Hero Points can increase or decrease the degree of success, while Survival Points can only decrease it; effectively, all named Leaders can prevent themselves from being wounded or killed, while Hero Leaders can also increase the success of their own side’s attacks.

Combat thereby involves a fair bit of calculation for each attack, and because the units all have a wide range of skill differentiation, even within units of the same type, multiple table lookups are required for each attack. Players will spend most of their time in the fire resolution process; multiplied by the sheer number of units in all but the Introductory scenario, the game devolves into a constant series of die rolls with little tactical nuance required beyond getting units into their optimal weapon ranges. Other units, friendly and enemy, do block line of sight, so a common tactic for the Skorpios force boils down to stacking bodies between MI6 units and the objective locations, with MI6 attempting to whittle away enough units to gain control of the location. In particular, the Skorpios named Leaders can shrug off up to ten attacks due to the Survival Point mechanism, potentially allowing them to deny location control for several turns all by themselves.

The influence of miniature gaming hangs over the entire affair thanks to the inclusion of a range stick that is used to measure distances between two given squares. The paper stick is lined with the effective ranges of all the ranged weapons classes in the game, making for an easy, if awkward, means of quickly determining range and line of sight. Other than a smaller scale and limits on stacking, this game could be easily transformed into a miniatures game.

James Bond Assault! Game, Range Stick Detail

The game’s most innovative feature is the use of a chit-draw mechanism, a somewhat rare feature in man-to-man tactical games and even more so in the fact that the chit draw determines not just which side acts but what type of action is allowed. Rather than a chit draw allowing one side to run through a sequence of play, the chit draw indicates both side and phase: Command, Movement, or Fire. All three phases will occur for each side every turn, but their order depends on the draw, such that one side could have a Fire phase, followed by the other side’s Command phase and then Fire phase, and so forth. This variability makes for far more interesting gameplay than a monolithic sequence of play, especially due to the potential for “double” turns where one side moves and fires before turn end and then moves and fires again immediately following the turn change. There are no limits, however, on firing and moving in the same turn, so inevitably every unit winds up firing if it can and moving if it can, removing a beneficial source of tension from the decision making process.

Solo Play Suitability

With no hidden information and the existence of the inherently solo-friendly chit draw system, the James Bond 007 Assault! Game plays very well solitaire. As noted, the uncertainty of what phase and what side will act next helps mitigate the difficulties in knowing both sides’ plans. A feint by one side can become instead the locus of attack should the chits favor it. Too, the very specific objectives in each scenario drive play—there are only so many approaches to the Control Room, and each side has sufficient forces to defend and attack all of them. Due to unit stacking limits and line of sight restrictions on firing through units, all of the avenues of attack will necessarily be in play because of counter congestion.

James Bond Assault! Game, Bond and a Boat

The only problematic system in the game in terms of solo play stems from the use of Hero and Survival points. For the Skorpios forces, it’s fairly obvious that the named Leaders will use Survival points every time they might suffer a wound, but with Hero points, which can be used offensively as well, the solo player will have to judge when to burn them, particularly in situations where Hero points might be used to offset Survival points, or vice versa.

Because the James Bond 007 Assault! Game draws heavy inspiration from the James Bond 007 role-playing game, it’s easy for players to envision themselves as Bond, Suzuki, Tanaka, or even Skorpios, the bland counters notwithstanding. Ordinarily, excessive identification in solo games leads to bias towards one side or the other, but here, trying to play the characters appropriately—brash, bold, brave, heroic, or craven—can help guide actions. It’s best to take this game in its cinematic stride, embracing the stylish and exciting approach as opposed to a more methodical tactical method. Would James Bond scurry from cover to cover across an open area or ride atop a monorail, firing his gun at someone trying to get the drop on Tanaka? You know the answer…

Final Die Roll

For all its attempts to provide an exciting wargame in the world of 007, the James Bond 007 Assault! Game falls nobly short. While the game has as one of its remits the ability to play out mass assaults in a method that dovetails with the rules from the RPG, the linkage both holds the game back and makes it unsuitable for playing out such attacks. The combat phases bog down due to the sheer number of units and the individual calculations, complete with range determination, required for each attack. The process bogs down quickly.

James Bond Assault! Game, Helipad Counter Detail

That manual complexity does not translate into complex gameplay, even with the strong chit pull mechanic, and wargamers will not find much in the way of tactical challenge here. As for role-players who encounter this game as an initial foray into wargaming, I fear they get a healthy dose of dice rolling without any of the nuances that elevate most wargames into conflict simulations as opposed to elaborate versions of Stratego or Risk.

Normally I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to wargame graphics, holding Game Designers’ Workshop and Simonsen-era SPI counters to be exemplars of the type, but the lack of any visual pop here detracts from what should be a celebration of the Bond films’ particular style. There’s just no visual joy here. Gameplay, too, lacks any sense that you’re playing with Bond and friends against iconic and outlandish enemies; it’s very much a meat-and-potatoes tactical commando game, with only the extravagant volcano lair setting it apart from any other base attack scenario. Well, that and the ninjas.

I can’t fault the effort to bring James Bond into a wargame, and given the expense of such a license today, James Bond 007 Assault! is likely the only one we’ll ever get; I just wish there were more of James Bond, and all that the name promises, in the game.

A post in the Table for One series.

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