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Posted on Mar 23, 2014 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

The Hunters – Boardgame Review

The Hunters – Boardgame Review

By Rick Martin

the-hunters-game-boxThe Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43. Boardgame review. Publisher: GMT Games and Consim Press. Game Designer: Gregory M. Smith. $40.00

Passed Inspection: Easy to learn but complex and immersive game. Roleplaying elements. Tense historical action. Well laid out rule booklet with index. Tons of value for the money.

Failed Basic: Can’t attack escort ships. The rule booklet needs to be a little more damage resistant.

It was our 1st Patrol, Sept. 1939, Type VII A Undersea Boat U34 – the Atlantic

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Our three week patrol is over. We sank 3 British ships (two heavy freighters and 1 light freighter) for 20,400 tons. We used all torpedoes and 75% of our 88mm deck gun ammunition. We were attacked by a destroyer during our attack on a convoy and we suffered moderate hull damage plus our batteries suffered extensive damage and our boat’s chief engineer was wounded. Several of our crewmen and our boat’s doctor were killed. We dived deep and managed to escape. Our last engagement of this patrol was a surface action in which we used our deck gun to sink a heavy transport, the 8,200 ton Tajandoen.

We will spend October in dry dock having the hull damage repaired.

—From the log of Lt. Reiner Wolf

Click here to read the full log of U34‘s actions in The Hunters game.

*            *            *

The Hunters is an extremely immersive solitaire game from Consim Press and GMT Games. It simulates the missions of German U-Boat commanders from 1939 to 1943.

Upon opening the box, the player will find a rule book, U-boat log sheets, nice-looking full-color and die-cut counters, 3 six-sided and 2 ten-sided dice and card stock mats. There is a mat for each U-boat type used in the game. Mats are also included for Combat during missions, Patrol Assignments and Encounters (merchant ships, capital ships and aircrafts), ship target rosters, random events and torpedo and deck gun to hit and damage charts and U-boat damage and repair charts.

The rule booklet and the mats and charts are well laid out and logically presented. The rule’s index is complete and adds greatly to ease of use.

The player can command either the most numerous type of U-boat produced during the war, the Type VII (including models A, B, C, D and the rare Type VII C Flak boat) or the longer-ranged and heavier Type IX boats (including models A, B and C). The type of U-boat the player picks can influence the mission and patrol zone. For example, the greater range of the Type IX means that a Type IX commander may be assigned for missions to the West Coast of Africa, North America and the Caribbean. Type VII D commanders may have more missions involving mine laying, owing to that model’s extra weapons-storage spaces.

Each U-boat is rated for various features including how much flooding and hull damage it can sustain, status of internal and external systems such as the boat’s batteries, periscope, radio and engines, how many fore and aft torpedoes it can carry, number of torpedo tubes, torpedo load-out (either steam or electric), type of deck guns and anti-aircraft guns as well as the amount of gun ammo storage, crew and captain status, crew quality, awards and medals won and patrol range and usual type of missions.

The player creates his U-Boat commander and crew and picks the type, model and designation number for the boat. The type and model number of boat he picks dictates the month and year that the campaign game starts—in other words, the later the model of boat the player picks, the later in the campaign the mission starts. What this means from a player perspective is the later the player starts the campaign, the more difficult the missions are for the boat, as Allied anti-submarine technology and Allied skill at hunting the subs increase. No missions are possible after June of 1943 owing to the sudden change in technology of the U-boat hunters, but the designer has stated this will be left open for a sequel!

Before a mission, the player outfits a U-Boat mat with status markers that track the promotion level and medals of the commander, the skill of the crew, the number of steam and electric torpedoes and ammo for the deck guns. Next, the boat leaves its port and dice are rolled in order to pick the mission area for the patrol. Mission areas include the British Isles, Mediterranean, Spanish Coast, Caribbean, North America, the Atlantic, the West African Coast and even the Arctic. Special missions such as mine-laying or dropping off spies may be assigned to the player.

Once the player knows where the boat and crew are shipping off to, he rolls for encounters every few days while on patrol. Encounters include finding a convoy, single merchant ships or capital ships; deadly aircraft attacks on the boat may occur. Once a surface contact is established, the player then rolls for the type of ships encountered, the name and tonnage of the ship, and whether the contact was during the day or at night. The time of day matters because if the encounter is at night against an un-escorted ship, a surface attack with torpedoes and the deck gun may be more productive than a submerged attack. But beware, if you are caught on the surface by an escort or an airplane, your hunt could go bad really fast.

If the sub is attacked by an aircraft, the player still has a chance if the crew can effectively use the U-boat’s flak guns. If not, the only hope is to try a crash dive and pray.

If attacked by an escort destroyer, things get interesting quickly. The escort will attempt to use its depth charges to destroy the sub or force it to the surface. The player is given the option of exceeding the test depth of the sub by diving deep but, if the player is unlucky, the sub’s hull could rupture like an eggshell, killing everyone on board. Using the optional rules, some escorts are more aggressive than others and will keep pounding away until either the player’s sub, or the player’s nerves, break. Other escorts will just drop a few depth charges and call it a day.

Damage to the submarine is tracked on the U-Boat mat and can include everything from minor damage to flooding, hull breaches, damage to the electric or diesel engines, damage to other boat systems and crew casualties. While damage control teams can attempt to repair the sub on patrol, other damage may force the player to abort the patrol and head back to base.

If the boat has a good solution on its targets (i.e., a good chance of hitting), the choice of torpedo type (or use of deck guns) and range can affect the attack. Dud torpedoes are always a frustrating problem, but one that subsides as the years progress from 1939 to 1943.

“Wolfpack” tactics are abstractly but effectively handled by the rules.

The success of the patrol is based upon total tonnage sunk. Random encounter charts list the type of ship, tonnage and the names for hundreds of real-life vessels.

A random event chart provides for surprises that include losing a man at sea, storms, the arrival of friendly Luftwaffe recon airplanes (which can help spot target locations), etc.

Back at port, the player is evaluated and can win promotions, increases in crew skills and possibly be assigned a more advanced model of boat.

The roleplaying element of this game motivates the player to weigh each and every command decision. Does the sub make a dangerous close-range attack or a safer but more difficult long-range attack? Each and every decision may make or break the submarine’s crew.

Optional rules make the game more challenging, and on-line support provides for additional rules—including a handy U-boat commander’s name-generation table.

Historical briefings and designer’s notes round out an excellent package.

If the game has any flaws, they are few and far between. Escorts cannot be attacked. I recommend a rule that allows the boat to attack an incoming destroyer but if the attack is unsuccessful, the boat suffers an additional attack from the destroyer. I also found the rule book to be a little frail and printing on heavier paper would allow it to stand up to more abuse. Luckily, the rules are posted as PDF files at the company’s website so a new set can be printed when necessary.

Nonetheless, The Hunters is an outstanding simulation of U-boat missions during the Second World War. Highly recommended. Now cast off and start hunting!

Armchair General Rating: 95 %

Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 5

(The first printing of The Hunters sold out rapidly, but GMT is already working toward a second printing.—Editor)

(Click here to read an Armchair General review of John R. Bruning’s recent book about U-boat warfare, Battle for the North Atlantic.)

About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

3 Comments

  1. I have run more than 30 missions and find the game immensely entertaining. There are enough variables with the variety of subs to pick, and missions to run, that the game retains it’s interest. Can not wait for the Pacific version to be published, supposedly this fall.

  2. This is a wonderful game which can be a nail-biter at times. I have seen the game criticized for an alleged lack of decisions available to the player, but do not find that to be the case, particularly when compared to a game like B-17 which I do enjoy. As an example, on a recent mission, I had a large escorted freighter almost sunk, but was suffering from flooding. Should I go for the kill or get back to base, hoping to pick off an unescorted ship on the way? I sunk the ship, but suffered more flooding, and had to scuttle my U-boat after being attacked by plane in the transit box. At least my crew got rescued so I can sail another day. Definitely intense!

    • Wow – that sounds like a dramatic end to that campaign. Glad you like the review and the game.

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