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Posted on Mar 16, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

The Fox is Cunning, But It Still Fears the Hounds. Consim Press/GMT Games, The Hunted. Tabletop Game Review.

The Fox is Cunning, But It Still Fears the Hounds. Consim Press/GMT Games, The Hunted. Tabletop Game Review.

Ray Garbee

The Hunted. Publisher: GMT Games.  Designers: Gregory M. Smith. Price $55.00

Passed inspection: Captures the experience of putting to sea in a German U-boat in the face of a capable and dangerous opponent.  

Failed basic: Minor errors with the rulebook. Game brutally reflects the dangers faced by the U-boat crew in the latter half of the war. Most campaigns will not make it to the end of the war.

Two torpedoes slammed into the unsuspecting merchant and detonated. The freighter’s back broke and the ship split apart. ‘A good start to the U-boat’s patrol. Now to evade the escort!  Just a couple of rounds of depth charges and we’ll slip away to find other targets. ‘

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Those were my last thoughts as the British destroyer’s ‘Squid’ depth charge thrower bracketed the U-boat with three depth charges. The ensuing explosions crumpled the boat’s pressure hull like an empty tin can, ending the patrol along with lives of her crew.

In early 2020 GMT Games’ released a reprint of Consim Press’ solo board game, ‘The Hunted’. A direct sequel to Gregory Smith’s earlier game ‘The Hunters’, ‘The Hunted’ continues the campaigns of German U-boats fighting to strangle the maritime lifeline that keeps the Allies in the war. What sets ‘The Hunted’ apart is that the ‘happy times’ are over – the Allies are resurgent with an expanding umbrella of air cover, hunter-killer groups of more powerful escorts and a host of technological innovations which all make the U-boats mission much harder to accomplish.

‘The Hunted’, like ‘The Hunters’ before it and similar solitaire games, is focused on creating an engaging narrative of events. Once you set sail, you’ll consult a variety of tables that lead you through patrols, ship sightings, attacks and hopefully, your return to base. Throughout the process you’ll make decisions on when and how to attack and when to evade an escort or terminate a patrol.

Conducting the patrol consists of determining your patrol area and then placing your boat on that areas patrol track. You advance the counter across the track, stopping in each area to check for an encounter with merchants or warships. If you encounter something, you’ll the resolve your attack before moving on.

Sometimes you will tangle with an escorted convoy or high value warship. If the escort locates you, you’ll have to escape. I can’t say ‘fight your way clear’ as you can’t attack the escorts once you’ve been detected. (You can however, attack the escort *prior* to being detected, but this carries its own risks and rewards.) All you can do here is try and survive and escape before your boat takes enough damage that you either surrender, abandon ship, or sink to the bottom into Davy Jones’ Locker.

But assuming you survive the dangers of the sea, you’ll bring your vessel back to port for a little rest, refit and hopefully the chance to train your crew. After ever few missions, you’ll check for skill improvements amongst your crew as they get better doing their jobs. The corollary is that if you suffered heavy casualties in your past patrol, your crew quality may drop as the ranks of your boat are refilled with landlubbers straight out of the schools.

You’ll repeat this process of going on patrols until either your boat fails you or the war comes to an end. At that point you assess whether you have ‘won’ or not. Victory in this case is measured in the classic submariner’s currency – tonnage of enemy ships sunk. Were you a U-boat ‘Ace’ that will be captured in the histories? Did you get by doing an adequate job or were you a complete failure as a U-boat commander? The score will let you know how you ranked.

The box art immediately evokes the later war period with its image of a surfaced U-boat festooned with flak guns.  But what about the game? Let’s crack the hatch on the game and see what lurks beneath the surface of the game’s box.

Inside the box are the following components;

  • One ½” full-color counter sheet
  • One ¾” wide full-color counter sheet
  • Rules booklet with designer’s notes
  • Five player aid cards, 2-sided
  • Six U-Boat Display Mats, 2-sided
  • Three U-Boat Patrol Maps
  • U-Boat Combat Mat
  • Eight U-Boat Kommandant Cards
  • U-Boat patrol log sheet
  • Three 6-sided, two 10-sided dice, and one 20-sided die

The counters replicate the format used in ‘The Hunters’. These depict crew quality, targets, markers, system status and consumables such as ammo, torpedoes and decoys.

The rule book is a 44-page soft cover booklet. Using a similar format to The Hunters, it lays out how the game is played and also covers the new technologies and weapons available to both sides.

The players aid cards are the heart of the game. These contain the various tables you’ll consult for events, combat and refit of the boat. Two half pages of these are taken up with ship names and tonnages. 

The U-Boat display mats are where you track the status of your boat. These are double sided and provide 12 unique types of submarines for you to experience with the game. While including the mainstays like the Type VII and Type IX, the game also includes long range cruising boats as well as the resupply boat (the ‘Milch Cow’) for those looking for a different type of experience. These will be familiar to anyone who has played The Hunters, Silent Victory, Zeppelin Raider or Raiders of the Deep.

The Patrol Mats are a nice feature. These depict the geographic position of the various patrol boxes across the oceans and seas. Similar to the patrol mats found in Silent Victory, the patrol mats ground your sense of place to regions of oceans. The three mats cover the North and Central Atlantic, the Atlantic and Mediterranean with the third mat covering the far-flung Indian Ocean theater. While not technically necessary to the game, these are a big plus for helping to cement the sense of the setting.

The Kommandant cards provide short biographies into 8 different U-boat commanders who served during the period of the game. While not directly needed for game play, they provide historical benchmarks against which you can measure your performance.

The Hunted does a good job of capturing the nature of submarine warfare during the later years of the Second World War, specifically from the perspective of the U-Boat commander.  My first mission out of the box is summarized by the introduction to this review. Cruising off West Africa, we encountered an escorted freighter. While I sank the freighter, the escort promptly detected our boat and with a singularly bad die roll I found myself on the receiving end of the latest in Allied ASW technology – the Squid. There was no enduring a series of merciless depth charging or mulling over whether to exceed crush depth in an attempt to escape. The boat was sunk and that was it. It as a stark lesson in how the submarine war in ‘The Hunted’ is markedly different from that in ‘The Hunters’.

The patrol mats are excellent. These mats convey that sense of place and space critical to setting the geography of the narrative. While you can use the patrol tracks listed on each boat’s play mat, the maps are a huge improvement in connecting you with the environment and place of the larger conflict.

This well-defined sense of narrative is critical as I feel it directly contributes to the enjoyment a player will derive from the game. While it is certainly satisfying when a player sees their career through to the end of the war, the brutal realty of ‘The Hunted’ means this won’t happen very often. Players may feel the deck is stacked against them.

Those players are not wrong. The game is qualitatively more difficult than it was in ‘The Hunters’. That increased air cover means being detected more often. Convoy escorts may not pick you up during your attack, but will generally make your life miserable after the attack. The ‘high-tech’ weapons of Hedgehog, Squid, cannon or rocket armed aircraft and aerial homing torpedoes (aka ‘Fido’) all contribute to a robust defense designed to drive off or sink the U-boats.

Making things even more difficult, your European bases start coming under air attack by the Allied bombers. What used to be a safe harbor is now just another opportunity for your boat to take damage and your crew to suffer casualties. (But not while you are based in France. The U-boat shelters there make you immune to air attack…right up until D-Day renders those ports unusable.)

This difficulty of success translates directly into what I think makes the game enjoyable. The satisfaction of a successful attack that is often rapidly replaced with the sense of dread you get once the escort detects you. Earlier in the war (when playing ‘The Hunters’) you have the sense that while you may be detected, you are confident that you can shake off the escort to continue to fight another day. While playing ‘The Hunted’, I find myself satisfied just to be able to escape from the escort, if only to bring a badly damaged submarine back to port. It brings to mind the adage “There are old sailors and bold sailors, but no old, bold sailors.”

Gregory Smith is upfront on the deadly nature of the game in his designer’s notes. He’s not pulling any punches on the nature of the war. But he includes some advice on how to succeed in the game – get transferred to the Indian Ocean.

For me, the Indian Ocean is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. I had recently read Lawrence Paterson’s “Hitler’s Gray Wolves: U-boats in the Indian Ocean”, and was intrigued by the activity of the U-boats in the Indian Ocean. While the story of the ‘Sea Wolves’ from book and film reminds us that U-boats were active in the Indian Ocean, it’s something I tended to think of as a sideshow. For example, we rarely think of the U-boat patrols off Australia. ‘The Hunted’ lets you explore this far off theater with the added benefit that it tends to be more survivable for your career.

‘The Hunted’ is much more than just the Indian Ocean theatre. You’ll also have the opportunity to engage convoys to the Soviet Union in the Arctic, cruise the warm waters of the Caribbean and Southern Atlantic as well as standards such as the North Atlantic, British Isles and Mediterranean Sea.

Like other titles in this series, ‘The Hunted’ is a narrative based game. You execute the patrol, resolve encounters and assess your performance. The game does a good job a generating the narrative in a way that you can then embellish into a nice sense of a story.

The inclusion of the tonnage and names of targets goes a long way towards making the game come alive. Now you are not just targeting nameless objects, but a ship with a name, a crew and a cargo. Those little details and sense of your enemy greatly enhance  the enjoyment of the game.

I find the narrative structure engaging, it requires the player to embellish the bare bones of the table results into a story. While running through the process of the game turn is engaging, I find the most enjoyment is in writing ‘patrol log’ entries that recap each encounter and flesh out the narrative of the game. The game covers the gamut of possible encounters ranging from unescorted merchants through engagements with enemy submarines and Mosquito fighter bombers armed with six-pounder cannon (the ‘Tsetse’ variant.)

Like it’s brother games, ‘The Hunted’ is best played as a campaign of successive patrols. Assuming your boat survives long enough you’ll see your crew mature into veterans. This brings in an aspect of the role-playing game as their officers are akin to the ‘non-player characters’ assigned to help you out. You’ll get a sense of satisfaction from watching your well-trained veterans assist in making your success easier. A good chief engineer is invaluable! Your executive officer (the ‘Eins WO’) can be a great help with increasing the odds of a successful attack. But good first officers are also candidates for commanding their own boats, so you may lose him and have to start over training a replacement.

The Hunted is a solid follow up to ‘The Hunters’. While the game is an engaging experience, some of the execution by GMT Games was imperfect. The rulebook has some errors. One that jumped out at me was the escort detection numbers in the book are much more generous than those found on the player aid table. If almost looks like a copy/paste error from the text of ‘The Hunters’. 

While the game does include the Type IXD2 and the Indian Ocean theater it does not focus on the strategic supply missions some of these boats performed. These were cases of cramming as much valuable material into the boat as possible and then shipping either to Japan or back to Germany. Some of these runs resulted in delivery of V-2 rocket parts as well as smaller weapons and complete blueprints for tanks and aircraft. In additional to the German boats, large Italian cruising submarines were deployed on these missions. Perhaps someone can add a U-boat mat for Comandante Cappellini class boats as an add on to the game? I’ll grant you that running what is basically a submerged freighter not might be the most exciting role, you’ll still face the challenge of the journey.

The Hunted checks all the boxes you would want in a solitaire game that has a strong narrative style. This is not like B-17 Queen of the Skies, where you can feel like you are just along for the ride. You need to constantly evaluate your situation. Can you engage another escorted convoy and live? Is your boat shot up enough that you will pass on attacking escorted targets and hope a straggler comes your way? With each area you patrol, you’ll wrestle with deciding to press on with the mission, or realizing you should pack it in and hopefully make it back to base.

The Hunted is a good representation of the challenges faced by the u boat crew in the latter half of the war. With a variety of boats and theatres the game provides hours of play. It’s much more than just hunting ships in he North Atlantic and surviving the depth charges of the convoy escort. It’s a brutal game in which failure is not just an option, but a common outcome. If you are willing to play to capture that experience over playing to ‘win’, you’ll enjoy your voyages with ‘The Hunted’.

Armchair General Score: % 95

Solitaire suitability (1–5 scale, with 1 being virtually unplayable as a solitaire game and 5 being completely suitable for solitaire play):  5

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a Product Owner in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.

box art
counter art
Type IX boat mat
Atlantic map

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