|Solitaire U-boat Game from Consim Press|
Let me be upfront and state that his is not a review of The Hunters from Consim Press, designed by Gregory M. Smith 2013. For, there are no less than fifteen such already easily at hand (10 written, 5 video) on Boardgamegeek. Another review of this game, from this gruff voice in the wilderness, will not add anything new to what is presently available.
Rather this is more of an After Action Report (AAR) which I feel is sufficient to demonstrate how the Hunters draws a player in and immerses them into the exciting and dangerous world of U-boat combat through the use of narrative. That’s right Narrative, like in a story, for ultimately that’s what this game is, a series of interlacing stories about your boat and its patrols. Now that is not to say that the player has no decisions to make, for he/she does, and those decisions will affect the outcome. However many of the technical aspects of Submarine raiding such as, approach, angle off the bow, and evasion tactics, are abstracted. Thus the “Down and Dirty” of ship handling is non existent.
Initially, the lack of technical control and the procedural nature of game play turned me off from this title. My long love affair with Silent Hunter II, a video SubSim, in which a commander could virtually manipulate almost every aspect of his ship including setting actual torpedo depth and using thermal layers for evading contact, made me balk at the lack of “hands on” management in The Hunters. I actually shelved this game for two years after only a couple of patrols for just that reason.
Yet I thought I should give it another try and to be honest and I’m happy I did.
The game is easy to set up and play, and has a relatively small footprint with but a U-boat Display mat, which has everything you need to conduct patrols, including load-out, as well as the patrol boxes, and a U-Boat Combat mat where you resolve combat against enemy shipping. Counters on the mats represent torpedoes, damage to your ship etc.
For a complete breakdown of the procedure of play you can go to Single Handed Warfare on YouTube. Derek Case does a great job of showing each and every step in a very patient way.
Now on to the AAR. This is how I see things play out in my mind’s eye while chucking dice and cross referencing results. Don’t worry though I left out the bad language.
September 1st 1940 04:00 Brest, France.
U-46 Type VIIB commanded by Kapitanleutnant Sohler sails out into the Bay of Biscay and begins the long journey to his assigned patrol area, the Western Approaches in the Atlantic. Nothing to report for enemy activity.
September 7th. 16:00 hrs In relatively calm seas U-46 is cruising the surface 100 miles south of patrol area. Look outs spot an aircraft coming in low from the western horizon trying to hide in the sun. Alarm is made and the ship crash dives to avoid being bombed. 1st watch officer Kiel notes the aircraft looked like a British Sunderland but cant be positive. The dive works and the aircraft which was obviously at its farthest fuel range returns to base.
September 12th Western Approaches 12:30 hrs. Smoke spotted north on the horizon. Full speed till a stack is spotted. It looks like a large freighter. No escorts are seen. Kapitan orders flank speed on an angled parallel course to catch the target. Shadowing just over the horizon.
14:20 hrs. Ahead of freighter and change course to attack. Still no escorts and the lone merchant ship has not radioed out the distress signal SSS. Prepared front tubes for attack.
15:00 hrs darkness falls and the merchant has not changed course or radioed for assistance. Ship is identified as a large Freighter (Rodney Star) at 11,800 tons. Approached on the surface at close range to maximize accuracy and slowed almost to full stop. Fired three G7a steam torpedoes from tubes 1-3. #1 hits but does not detonate, Dud! #2 hits amidships beneath the cargo holds and detonates. #3 hits the aft end with a loud boom but the ship continues on though a fire has broken out in the stern..
15:03 hrs Radioman shouts to the Captain that the Merchantman has sent the distress signal SSS. Orders given for gun crew to man the deck gun. The Freighter is seen to be listing heavy to starboard and has lost headway.
15:13 hrs. Gun crew fires off two full salvos and the target begins to sink. Gun is secured and order given to change course to west, southwest at flank speed.
Eight days pass with no enemy sighted or contacts made, crew begins to feel restless and there is only enough fuel for another two more days of patrol before they must start heading back to Brest.
September 20th 15:00 hrs. Western Approaches. Hydrophones pick up the slow screw sounds of what could be a convoy bearing 270. Surfacing U-boat turns to make the heading and investigate further. Flank speed.
16:00 hrs. The sun begins to set and the Kapitan orders full stop and silence so the Hydrophones can listen. Definite convoy contact slow screws are closer and there are now the telltale high pitched screw sounds of escort vessels as well. Bearing 285 and holding. Course set for 330 to intercept .
17:20 hrs. Large Convoy spotted bearing 300. Kapitan orders course correction and all ahead slow. He does not want to try and slip through the escort screen of which he sees one Flower far to the rear. There are definitely at least two more from the hydrophone contacts. He sets up at medium range on the surface and waits for the proper angle off the bow. Knowing this is his last real chance to take some shipping out he has ordered tubes 1-4 flooded as well as the aft. He plans to fire at the four closest ships, two small freighters and two tankers all in line with the forward tubes and use the aft shot as a follow up on one of the tankers.
17:40 hrs. Loss, Loss, Loss, Loss! The boat lurches as each Eel leaves its tube. “Right full rudder all ahead full” is whispered from the con and the U-boat begins to spin about get get its aft torpedo aligned. First watch officer Kiel watches intently over the choppy sea praying for a good hit. The minutes pass like hours and every one waits with baited breath. “Loss Aft” comes down the line and whoosh! another Eel is on its way with a lurch.
Dive! Dive! Dive!
Hydrophone operator Amann turns and says. “Number one has hit but not detonated.” Time clicks off another fifteen seconds.
“Number two is a miss” The Officers grind their teeth in frustration and worriedly count the next fifteen seconds while the boat dives deeper into the black sea.
“Number three hits but no detonation.” Damn to Hell all engineers and their faulty fish!” growls the Kapitan under his breath.
“Number four has detonated, I hear her hull breaking” and a muffled cheer goes up as the news is passed through the ranks in whispers. The hit was on the Tanker identified as the Mordrecht of 7,500 tons.
“High speed screws bearing 150, 180, and 250 respectively sir,”
Kapitan orders the boat to level off at depth, all ahead slow, rig for depth charges. The whirring of the escort props can be heard approaching over head, whining high pitched fear. Then the splash of the charges are picked up by the hydrophones, “Depth Charge in the water!” The crew listens and waits, with baited breath each prays that the escorts have not been able to fix their position.
18:00 hrs. Depth charges explode all around the U-boat rocking her violently but no direct hits. A thunderous maelstrom of noise of hellish proportions fills the boat when two charges burst close. Then silence.
Operator Amann puts his headset on and whispers the bearing of the the escorts. The Kapitan orders “five degrees left rudder, all ahead full.” He wants to make a burst of speed while the escorts cant hear him as the U-boat is now abaft of the pursuers. “Damage report all departments!”
“Battery bank A is leaking gas and all periscopes inoperable sir.”
The pings of the Escorts can be heard heading away, frantically trying to find the U-boat. They lost contact during the attack. Repair crews hurry to the Battery compartment to repair the damage and contain the leak and the Kapitan orders another five degrees left rudder. The escorts are unable to reacquire contact and after two hours race off to rejoin their convoy.
22:00 hrs. Boat surfaces blind, no Periscopes are working but no hydrophone contacts either. The ship needs to vent the chlorine gas from the battery leak which has been repaired and charge the batteries by running on the surface. Orders are issued for all ahead standard to conserve fuel. And a course set for South Southeast. They are going home.
September 24th 02;00 hrs. U-46 slips into Brest harbor quietly after an uneventful steam from the patrol area. The Kapitan and crew are pleased with their achievements. They sank two ships for 19,300 tons, evaded a possible aircraft attack, and got away with minor damage during a depth charge assault.
Any game that can make me conjure up imagery such as this, really has something going for it. Perhaps it is my affinity for the type of warfare the Hunter’s represents or maybe it is the general and abstract presentation of all the little details that forces me to fill it in using visualization. It matters not, because at the end of the day after running through a patrol or two, I feel a sense of accomplishment with success and despair with defeat.