Run Silent, Run Deep--A Single-Take Review of The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43

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We don't write many wargame reviews here on Theology of Games, but the truth is that I (Firestone) enjoy the occasional conflict simulation. The wargame I've played the most in the last year is The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43, from GMT Games. This is a solitaire game where you play as a U-Boat captain during World War II. You'll go on patrols, attempt to sink Allied ships, and try not to get sunk. So is The Hunters the bomb, or does it get Das Boot? Let's find out!

 The Contents

  • 1 counter sheet with 140 counters
  • 4 2-sided player aid cards
  • U-Boat Patrol log sheet
  • 4 2-sided U-Boat display mats
  • 1 U-Boat Combat mat
  • 3 6-sided, 2 10-sided, and 1 20-sided dice

The Setup

The first thing you'll do is choose your U-boat. There are eight different boats to choose from--from the Type VIIA of 1939 to the Type VIIC Flak of 1943. These ships are historically accurate--from the number of torpedoes they can carry, to the parts of the world they patrol. The early-war ships are clunkier, but the Allies were still trying to figure out submarine warfare, so the Germans had a much easier time hunting. The later-war ships are more advanced, but by that point the Allies were getting much better at hunting the U-Boats, so those advanced ships come with a tougher road. 

You'll also choose a starting year. You can choose any year you want, within the parameters of your chosen U-boat. 

That's really the only setup, because the rest of your campaign is all part of the gameplay.

The Gameplay

A full game of The Hunters consists of patrolling and surviving through June 1943. The game can also end with the sinking of your U-boat or the death of your Kommandant, which is your role in the game. 

Once the game ends, you determine what level of victory you've achieved, based on the tonnage of ships you managed to sink.

Once you choose a U-Boat and year, you'll choose your loadout. There are two different kinds of torpedoes--electric and steam--and while each boat comes with a standard loadout of each type, you can adjust those numbers slightly to match your preferences. 

Then you'll find out where you're patrolling. This is the first of many charts you'll be consulting. You roll 2d6 and check the chart for the year you're in. Your roll might tell you you're heading to the British Isles, the Atlantic, the Arctic, or many other locations. 

Each boat comes with a specific display mat. This has all the information on your boat, including spots for damage, torpedoes, crew status, and the one you'll be using the most: Patrols. 

When you head on patrol, you'll move a marker through travel boxes. There are varying numbers of boxes, depending on the boat you're using, where the patrol is, and so forth. When you reach the last travel box, you'll head back in for refit and repairs. You can also head back early based on things that happen in the game--usually due to damage to your boat.

The first two and last two boxes are Transit boxes. This represents you heading to the area you'll be patrolling but it's still possible you'll be spotted by enemy aircraft. You'll roll 2d6 on another chart to determine if you're spotted. The likelihood increases as the years go on--through the use of a dice roll modifier (DRM).

If you're spotted, you'll attempt to dive, but first the planes will attack you--and you can shoot at planes with your flak guns, possibly shooting them down. 

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Once you're in the regular travel boxes, you'll roll 2d6 and consult a chart. Often you'll have no encounter, and you move to the next box and do it again. 

But sometimes you'll roll an encounter. It might be a capital ship, a tanker, a single ship, a ship with an escort, two ships, two ships and an escort, of a convoy (four ships, always with an escort). For tankers and capital ships you roll a 1d10 + 1d10 or a 1d10, respectively, to see which ship, exactly, you've encountered.

For each of the regular ships you first roll to determine if it's a small or large freighter, and then roll again to see which ship, exactly, you've encountered.

All of the ships are actual ships involved in WW2, with their real-life tonnage.

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The Encounters

So you've found a ship (or ships). Now you, as the Kommandant, decide if you're going to engage, and if it's more than one ship, which one you'll engage. 

I won't go into everything involved here, but you roll a die to determine if it's day or night (and this imparts DRMs), decide what distance you'll engage from (with more DRMs), roll to see if the torpedoes hit, roll to see if the torpedoes that do hit are duds, roll to see if you sink the ship, roll to see if any escorts find you before you dive away, and then if they do find you, you roll to see what sort of damage they do--if any. As you can see, it involves a lot of dice rolling. 

Some damage can affect your ability to get away, which puts you in a horrible spiral of getting more and more wrecked by escorts, and making it more and more difficult to get away as you add further negative DRMs. Then, if you're lucky, you finally roll what you need to get away, and you limp home. Or you don't roll what you need and you get destroyed. 

You're writing all of this down on a Log sheet. The game comes with a whole pad of these, and one sheet lasts for an entire game. People have also uploaded improved sheets to the Geek that you can print out yourself. On the Log you'll keep track of patrols, encounters, ships sunk, tonnage sunk, time spent in dock for repairs and refitting. It's the entire life of your Kommandant and his boat. 

The only other thing to add is that sometimes you'll go on unique missions, such as delivering a special agent to a destination, laying mines, or being part of a devastating Wolfpack. 

Other than a bunch of details, that's it. Either you reach June of 1943, or you die. Either way, that career is over, and you start a new one. 


The Verdict

There's no denying that much of the game comes down to dice rolls. You can mitigate the luck, somewhat. And you make choices that will affect those rolls, as well. (Choosing whether you'll attack an enemy at close- mid- or long-range, for example.) But as the years go on, there are many dice roll modifiers that occur simply because it's, say, 1943, and there's nothing you can do about it. 

As someone who doesn't like a lot of luck in his games, the fact that this is a dice-fest is disappointing. 

BUT, The Hunters also manages to create compelling narratives that pull you in and keep you wanting to run "just one more patrol." You can run a full patrol in around 30 minutes.

Halfway through my first campaign, my 7-year-old came down and joined me for a patrol. He was hooked. He's the one who drove us to keep playing, and he loved rolling the dice for us. He didn't care about the randomness. He just knew he loved rolling dice and checking charts with his dad. And when our submarine was sunk in the Atlantic, just a few months shy of that June 1943 date, we were both stunned. We'd spent a lot of time with this boat and its crew. 

Firestone's Final Verdict--While much of The Hunters boils down to dice-rolling and chart-checking, it still manages to create a compelling narrative. And the fact that you can knock out an entire patrol in around 30 minutes is a big plus. I've had a blast playing with my youngest son, so that increases my enjoyment. If you're interested in a well-researched solitaire game, The Hunters might be just up your alley. 

GMT has recently released a follow-up game called Silent Victory, which deals with American submarines in the Pacific. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I'll review it here once I have a few games under my belt. Thanks for reading!