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Posted on Jan 26, 2021 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.” — John Paul Jones, 1778  Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons.  Board Game Review

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.” — John Paul Jones, 1778 Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons. Board Game Review

Iain Martin

Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons Board Game Review.  Publisher: Compass Games  Designer: Joe Carter  Price $69.00

Passed Inspection: well researched, historically accurate, easy to learn rules, beautiful components, easily moded, strong narrative campaign, can easily add players.

Failed Basic: printed errata sheet or revised rulebook did not ship with the retail version but are available for download.

Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons is the first wargame design by Joe Carter covering the summer and early fall of 1943 as the Allies launched the New Georgia campaign. PT boats played a key role in the Solomons attacking enemy supply ships, rescuing downed airmen or shipwrecked sailors, and supporting the Coastwatchers. Devil Boats is a solitaire game similar to the classic B-17 Queen of the Skies by Avalon Hill or more recent additions such as The Hunters / Silent Victory by Consim Press and B-29 Superfortress by Legion Games. Players take command of a squadron of four PT boats in a three-month campaign to destroy as much Japanese shipping as possible.

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The components in Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons are:

Rules and Tables Book

Two Counter Sheets of 5/8″ unit-counters (double-sided)

One Strategic Movement Map Board  8.5″ x 11″ (mounted)

One PT Boat Crewmen Placement Board  8.5″ x 11″ (card stock)

One Combat Board Card / Special Missions Board 8.5″ x 11″ (card stock, double-sided)

One PT Boat Damage Log / PT Boat Squadron Status Card (laminated, double-sided)

One IJN Barge Status Card / Special Missions / IJN Destroyer Status (laminated, double-sided)

One PT Boat Squadron Status Sheet (laminated)

Crewman Status Sheet (pad of single-sided sheets)

Campaign Log Sheets (pad of single-sided sheets)

Two-6-sided dice, four 10-sided dice, and one 4-sided die

Components
Components 2

Sequence of Play

New Campaign Game Set-up: A new commander chooses a short, medium, or long campaign. Crewmen are then assigned to the commander’s #1 boat. Sailors have a chance of having expert skills such as “Eagle Eye” torpedomen, “Mr. Fix It” Radioman and Engineers, or an expert “Navigator” or “Medic.”

Pre-Mission Set-up: A check for the crew’s health is made to see if they are disabled by malaria or dysentery–a realistic aspect of serving in the Pacific. Weather is also checked before a patrol which affects the sea state. Sea state is checked once per turn during movement on the mission map. Bad weather enforces a close ranged combat if the enemy is encountered.

There are two types of missions–an Offensive Patrol or a Special Mission. The primary goal of PT operations was intercepting Japanese supply runs to their island defenses. These were usually made by armed barges but on moonless nights the Japanese navy sent destroyers as fast transports. Enemy gun positions on land were deployed to help protect those supply ships.

Mission Board

Special missions might entail rescuing an aviator, delivering a Coastwatcher, running supplies or destroying an enemy supply cache. To accomplish these tasks a PT skipper has to get right in close to the shore where running aground on uncharted reefs is a real danger. Moving in undetected under the nose of enemy guns is a deadly challenge.

Movement on Strategic Map: Once the mission type and location are determined, movement occurs on an area map board. Each zone on moves from green, to yellow to red increasing the threat level faced by your squadron. Green and yellow spaces face possible air attack. Red spaces are mission zones where commanders check for both air attacks, enemy supply convoys and encounters with gun positions on land. A patrol may remain on station for up to four turns before returning to base. The chances for each of these encounters are modified by a myriad of factors: weather, sea state, crew quality, squadron speed and others.

Operations Map

Combat: Engagements are resolved on a two-sided Combat Board–one side for naval actions between ships and the other for encounters with land positions and special mission objectives. Each encounter type may face enemy air support. Combat occurs between three range bands from long range, to medium and close.

The decisions a commander faces on patrol focus on the range and duration of contact with the enemy. If the PT boats go undetected, they can ambush the enemy. An important choice is the speed at which you approach a contact or action with the enemy each turn. Once a battle is joined against surface or land targets the PT boats can fight it out or retreat to long range and escape.

Devil Boats offers a deep and varied damage model—boats can become separated from each other in the dark, systems can be destroyed, guns can jam, engines knocked out, compartments flooded, fires on deck and crewmen wounded or killed. At what point does discretion overcome valor?

the boat

Damage to the PT Squadron and enemy combatants are tracked on the laminated cards with dry erase pens. The PT Squadron card has one side for damage and the other for combat readiness and repairs. The target card has a side for destroyer convoys and the other for barges. The dry erase cards make it easy to track a lot of information on printed check boxes.

An important aspect of Devil Boats is that the crew details are focused on the commander’s PT boat #1. These crewmen are individually named and represented by counters placed on the Crew Placement Board for both interior and exterior duty stations. Fire extinguishers and med kits are also represented, along with torpedoes, cargo and passengers. PT boats 2-4 do not track individual crewmen but take damage to systems. The purpose of this was to achieve a balance between detail and playability.  

Boats and Crew

Return to Base: Squadrons make their way to safety to rescue wounded crewmen, repair damage and possibly receive medals for success or censure for taking severe losses. The loss of a boat will require a Court of Inquiry. Repair and replacement times are calculated before another mission. Victory points are earned for inflicting damage upon the enemy. Penalties are deducted for suffering losses in action. The total of these points at the end of a campaign will determine the commander’s overall level of success.  Crewmen who serve on twenty or more missions become veterans with added bonuses.

Overall Thoughts: This game delivers in spades on what it sets out to deliver—an engaging narrative driven campaign of PT combat in the Pacific. On a practical note, Devil Boats has a small footprint and can easily be played on a small desktop. The components set a new standard for Compass Games with thick precut counters a mounted campaign map, and laminated cards. The gameplay flows easily because most of the rules are embedded as notes in the event tables. A mission can be played in an hour or less.

The rulebook is laid out in an order of play sequence and easy to follow. A detailed example of a campaign mission was a helpful reference. Compass Games made an errata sheet and revised rulebook available for download. (In essence a few clarifications, a modified table with examples of play.) The game plays fine out of the box. I liked the brief historical notes Joe added mixed into the rules explaining details that were crucial elements to the naval war in the Solomons.

The rules are straight forward–set up your squadron, establish a crew, assign a mission and roll for encounters. The real crunch to Devil Boats (much like B-29 Superfortress) is in the tables and a convincing damage model. The combat model I found engaging and streamlined enough to focus the action on key decisions a commander would have to make. Player decisions balance risk versus reward when facing the enemy. The game does not bog down into a simulation of machinery, but also does not ignore historical accuracy.

counters

It was this question of historical accuracy that interested me to review Devil Boats. My hat is off to Joe Carter for doing his homework. A few examples–the dangers of phosphorescent wakes are included into the tables for contact with Japanese air patrols in good weather. (The greatest threat to PT boats were enemy float planes lurking high overhead in the darkness.) Radar sets were just being deployed on PT boats in the summer of 1943 and included in the contact table for surface targets. The three Japanese destroyers included in Devil Boats are historically accurate. One of them, the Teruzuki, was torpedoed and sunk by PT-37 and PT-40 off Guadalcanal on the night of December 12, 1942.

Final Thoughts: Like other games in this genre, Devil Boats can easily be modded to include more details or other campaigns. It would not be hard to create an early Guadalcanal or New Guinea campaign. Something I wanted to add was an accurate moon state for the months covered during the campaign. On Boardgamegeek.com someone already posted a three-page moon state chart. It would be easy to add a Higgins PT boat card or the later Elco gunboats that appeared just after the campaign in Devil Boats ends.

Compass Games are releasing two new games based on the Devil Boat rules–Schnell Boats and Dog Boats. Schnell Boats covers German torpedo boats in the English Channel, and Dog Boats covers Royal Navy motor gun and torpedo boats is the English Channel and North Sea.

If you enjoy narrative solitaire wargames or have an interest in American PT boats in the South Pacific, Devil Boats is highly recommended.

Armchair General Rating: 90 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Unsuitable for Solo Play and 5 being Perfect for Solo Play)

About the Author

Iain Martin is a twenty-year veteran of the publishing industry and works for General Dynamics-Electric Boat as a technical writer. He is the author of In Harm’s Way: JFK, World War II, and the Heroic Rescue of PT-109 published by Scholastic in 2018. Iain proudly still owns his original copy of B-17 Queen of the Skies.

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