[This post originally appeared in Game Nite Magazine #7. ]
Sometimes, we are learning a new game or we just don’t have anyone to play with. Sure, it may be easier to play a game on an iPad, but often times it’s just nice to sit back and relax with our favorite beverage and relish in the cardboard on the table — to disconnect from our electronic lives. In this on-going series I hope to highlight some games that play well solo. These could be co-op games, multi-player games with solo variants, or games specifically designed for one player.
It’s midnight, December 1941, your U-Boat is patrolling the icy, North Atlantic. Several days have gone by without incident until… off your port bow a tanker, a small freighter, and an escort. You surface and sneak up on the small convoy, you decide to fire on the small freighter with your deck gun. A hit! It sinks but you’ve been spotted by the escort, you immediately submerge trying to escape, depth charges hit the water, explode and you start to take on water…
This is the kind of narrative that emerges from gameplay and enters your imagination in The Hunters German U-Boats at War, 1939-1943 – a solitaire game designed by Gregory M. Smith and published by Consim Press.
Initially, you choose a U-Boat type specific to the starting year of your patrol. Historically, only certain U-Boats were in service during certain times during the war. You have a limited number of steam and electric torpedoes at your disposal and your deck gun may have a limited number of rounds to fire. Choosing a different sub may mean your patrol starts later in the war, which gives you less time to level up your captain and his or her crew. Also, U-Boats became easier to detect in later years, so there’s that danger.
You have a play mat that depicts your sub, and using counters track your armament, hull damage, flooding, damaged systems, crew status and track your patrol progress. Don’t be too scared, there are not a lot of counters in this game. There are a lot of dice rolls so providing additional dice than what comes with the game will make the game move a little quicker and smoother.
A U-Boat combat mat tracks damage to convoys and other ships you encounter. It also tracks your range to the target and incoming hits on your U-Boat. Conveniently, there is a player aid to track all the steps required during combat vs. escorted ships. There are encounters tables, patrol assignment tables, torpedo dud charts, escort detection charts and damage charts to check but the more you become familiar with the game the easier it is too manage it all. What’s really nice is that you can perform a patrol or two, put the game away and come back to it later (after your sub has been refit in port) and continue your career.
Although the mats are pretty bare bones and track what needs to be tracked, BoardGameGeek user Koinskyz (real name: Delphine Echassoux) created a giant play mat utilizing an old map of Europe, the Atlantic and North America as well as a custom submarine graphic to more visually present torpedo loads, mechanical systems and track damage. Although not necessary at all, it does add a significant amount of theme and ambiance to an already fantastic solo experience.
The Hunters is a great solitaire experience especially if you are interested in submarine warfare during the Second World War. For those of you who’d rather play the allied part, there is a version coming called Silent Victory where you control U.S. submarines in the Pacific. Randomness is pretty high in the game since it relies on dice rolls for most outcomes but much of that is offset by the decisions you make: should I surface or perform a submerged attack? Should I attack during the day or follow the convoy and wait until night? At what range shall I attack thereby increasing my chances for success but increasing my chances of being detected? Should I even attack at all against so many ships with such a damaged U-Boat? When all is lost, should I crash dive to dangerous depths to escape my enemies? Tensions are always high when you are discovered by the escort and you are still trying to attack vessels. Or are you trying to escape but the enemy keeps hammering on you with their depth charges?
Die roll after die roll, the game is a nail biter as your torpedo and deck gun resources are dwindling. Levels of victories are contingent upon you sinking enough ships. It may seem a little abstract but out of game play comes a personal chronicle as you track which vessels you sink, which in the game were all real ships sunk by U-Boats during WWII. You will track their tonnage on a log sheet as you try to complete a patrol in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic or off the west coast of Africa. Your captain could be promoted which gain you modifiers in die rolls against enemy ships. Over time, the career of each captain has a permanence, which gives each play and the game overall a history all to itself on your gaming shelf.