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Posted on Feb 11, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“Torpedoes Los!”. Compass Games’   ‘Raiders of the Deep: U-boats of the Great War 1914-18’ Board Game Review.

“Torpedoes Los!”. Compass Games’ ‘Raiders of the Deep: U-boats of the Great War 1914-18’ Board Game Review.

By Ray Garbee

Raiders of the Deep: U-boats of the Great War 1914-18. Publisher: Compass Games. Designer: Ian B. Cooper. $99.00

 

Passed inspection: Great narrative based game of World War One U-boat operations. Game generates an excellent narrative of the combat patrols of your character. Includes RPG elements for leader and crew skill development. Covers the war from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

Failed basic: Game play can feel ‘fiddly’ with the need to reference multiple charts and tables across each location in the patrol. Lacks a detailed tactical feel of maneuvering the U-boat to reach attack position against the target.

 

About ten years ago I had a co-worker – Dave – ask me if I’d ever seen the movie “The Sound of Music”. Sure, I replied. So, Dave goes on to question one of the plot points – how was it that the children’s father, Georg Von Trapp, was an Austrian U-Boat commander when Austria is a landlocked state? I then spent the next 10 minutes explaining to background of Austria-Hungary, Italy and the outcome of the First World War. That conversation captures the popular view of the U-boat war that it took place in only in the Atlantic with the German boats battling the British (and later Americans) trying to bring ships to England. But the U-Boat war was much more than just the defacto blockade of Great Britain. You’ll get some of the from strategic level games, but there’s rarely been a good operation level games that focus on the U-boat in World War I. Now, Ian B. Cooper explores the overlooked naval battles of the Great War through his recent game “Raiders of the Deep’.

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Raiders was inspired by the 2013 game ‘The Hunters’ a solitaire game of U-boat combat in World War II. by Gregory M. Smith. The Hunters covers the early Second World War U-Boat campaigns and spawned a direct sequel ‘The Hunted’ (for the late war) as well as a spin off in the form of Silent Victory covering US submarine operations in the Pacific.

Now Ian B. Cooper translates the game engine back in time to the U-boat operations of the Great War. It’s a relatively easy port of the game. Like ‘The Hunters’, Raiders of the Deep is a solitaire game that puts the player in command of a German submarine, this time of the German Kaiserliche Marine – the Imperial Navy. During the game, the player conducts patrols, locates enemy ships and ultimately attempting to sink those ships. Victory is a combination of surviving the war and a summary of the tonnage in enemy ships sunk.

The game consists of a sturdy box with colorful art depicting a u-boat at sea. Opening the box, we find a rulebook, a playbook full of charts, ten (10) u-boat cards, seven (7) double sided charts, a counter sheet, a pad of patrol log sheets, card-sized die cut counters depicting some historical u-boat ‘aces’ and assorted dice.

 

As mentioned, Raiders of the Deep is based on Greg M. Smith’s “The Hunters”/”The Hunted” and ‘Silent Victory’ series of games. The parentage is obvious as ‘Raiders of the Deep’ is a very clean port of the game engine into the setting of World War I Europe. If you’ve played The Hunters or one of its brothers in the past few years, you have an excellent understanding of how Raiders plays. For those that have never played, a quick synopsis…

Raiders of the Deep, like many other 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 or break off 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 warships. 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. 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 and 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 fared.

Like other titles in this series, It’s a narrative based game. You execute the patrol, resolve encounters and assess 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.  But at times, it can feel like you are just the participant along for the ride.

A solitaire game should provide both an immersive experience and offer the player engaging decision-making. Raiders of the Deep certainly delivers the immersive experience part with a game turn flow that nicely captures the cycle of a submarine on patrol. Where I think it comes up a bit short is in offering the player engaging decision making. You basically push the boat through each patrol zone and deal with each encounter.

Unlike its World War II cousins, there are unique cases which give Raiders of the Deep a distinct character of it’s own. These are the cruiser rules and the Q-ships. The cruiser rules govern when it is permissible to open fire on an unarmed ship and the treatment of the crews of captured vessels. It’s the ‘norm’ versus conducting unrestricted submarine warfare. At various times during the war, your U-boat is required to adhere to the cruiser rules when dealing with single merchant ships. On the plus side, you may have the opportunity to seize the vessel as a prize and return it to your port (thus earning a bonus for captured tonnage).

On the downside, there is a chance that the single merchant ship you’ve encountered is a Q-ship. The Q-ship – an armed warship disguised to look like an unarmed merchantman – was designed to lure the U-boat into making a surface attack, during which the Q-ship would engage it with gunfire and attempt to ram the submarine. (Submarines of the Great War period were not particularly quick at diving).

Deconstructing a patrol mission, player decisions occur at the following points;

The dread random event: This rare event will throw an unanticipated problem at you. Generally, these deal with some aspect of the boat or the crew and not an enemy attack. From a decision standpoint, you have to decide if the problem is bad enough to abort the patrol and return to base (RTB).

Combat encounter: The player decides whether to engage or not depending on the nature of the target and the current status of their u-boat.

Combat decisions – attack during the day or attempt to wait until night. Determine the range of the attack. Determine to attack surfaced or submerged. Allocate torpedoes and gunfire. Continue combat or break off?

Once the escorts find you, the narrative takes over. Your decision input is basically whether or not you should try to exceed crush depth in an attempt to escape. There are some optional rules which model the u-boat trying to shake off the escorts, the results of which can modify the damage the attacking escorts inflict.

Following combat, you again can decide to continue with the patrol or abort the patrol and return to base.

Combat is process based – especially for torpedoes. This process masks how ineffective torpedoes can be. Between the to hit roll, the dud check and the actual damage roll, the likelihood of a torpedo delivering a killing blow is rather low. Maybe on the order of 20-25%. Given the finite supply of torpedoes the subs carry and their poor performance rate, you’ll find yourself relying on your deck gun when dealing with one or sometimes two freighters.

All this means that as you step through the patrol narrative, you should be prepared for a lot of disappointment when using your torpedoes. Just remember, it’s not you – it’s the fish.

What this narrative based flow does not deliver is the detailed feel of stalking your prey and dashing ahead to a firing position. It’s not a super detailed tactical simulator. If you are looking for that level of detail, you might try digging up a copy of the old Avalon Hill ‘Submarine’.

 

That’s not to say there’s a problem with the game. I’m a big fan of both Great War history and Gregoy Smith’s ‘The Hunters’ game system. I thoroughly enjoy taking a U-boat out on patrol and watching the story of the crew’s patrol unfold. What may seem a dull unproductive patrol can be transformed with a single encounter roll.

Raiders of the Deep includes rules for the Austro-Hungarian U-boats so you can go all Georg Von Trapp on the Italians in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.  Also, there is an impressive selection of U-boats from which to choose. These range from early war small coastal boats to the larger longer-range boats of the late war. In addition, you can patrol the Baltic Sea and face off against the Russians.

Air power is present, but it is not as devastating as it is in The Hunters. Raiders nicely captures the relative ineffectiveness of aerial ASW. Historically, air power is credited with sinking 1 submarine during the war. You need to keep a watch on the sky, but you are unlikely to have to detail with enemy aircraft until late in the war.

It is clear that Ian Cooper put a lot of time into the details of this game. The game includes a comprehensive list of U-boats listed by type and time period as well as correspondingly deep details on the ship target tables where the listed ships correspond to a historical ship that fell to the U-boats during that month of the war. It’s a great example of a game where the will of the player can translate through the lens of ship command to give an engaging and immersive experience.

If you have an interest in the First World War or submarine operations, I recommend that you locate a copy of the game and dive into the action.

 

Armchair General Score: % 94

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 Manager 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.

 

2 Comments

  1. Hi Ray,

    I’m the designer of “Raiders of the Deep”. Thanks so much for publishing a wonderful, detailed, fair and objective review!

    I should mention that Gregory Smith deserves at least equal credit for the game. When I decided to try to adapt his brilliant “The Hunters” to the Great War, I was just a gamer and a fan of Greg’s board games. Without his game system as a foundation, I would never have been able to even begin to create a U-boat game set during the Great War. Greg was a mentor to me, and a great help at every stage of the game’s development. So it’s really his game as much as it is mine.

    Thanks again,

    Ian.

  2. Ian – you are most welcome! Job well done.

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