I was skeptical as I walked by the demo table for The Hunters at PrezCon. I mean really… as if people were going to play a solitaire game at a convention. Who on earth would pay to go to con in order to do that? Later on, I cottoned on to the fact that there was almost always two or three people there playing the game. When I tried to play a game on a nearby table, I was frequently interrupted by shouts from people whenever they’d sunk something or got hit by enemy destroyers. Finally I had to see what all the fuss was about and I sat down to try it.
I began the game by rolling 2d6 to see where I’d be patrolling. Next I checked to see if aircraft had spotted me as I was heading out to the Atlantic. Indeed I was, but I managed to dive before they could do me any harm. I pushed my marker counter along a track representing my progress on my mission, and then rolled 2d6 to check for an encounter. (There are different tables depending on where you are.) It was a convoy! I rolled percentile dice to find out which four ships I was in contact with. The tonnage was they key thing as far as the game was concerned, but the ship names on the chart are all historical. One of the ships that came up with my rolls was Empress of Britain– the largest freighter in the game!
The careers of each player’s alter-ego were posted for all to see!
Things were serious now. I had to decide what range to fire at. I chose close range even though it made it easier for the destroys to track me down. The torpedoes I was using would leave a bubble trail that would also help my simulated opponents find me. I fired all four forward torps at the behemoth, checked for hits, checked which ones of those were duds, and then rolled for damage. I’d sunk it!
But the destroyers were on me now. They sighted me. I crash dived to try to avoid them, but I couldn’t shake them. I was hit! But… it was just my deck guns and a couple of other extraneous pieces of equipment. I couldn’t get away, though. Their bonuses were stacking and I seemed to be in a death spiral. I was taking hull hits now and my chances of escaping were sinking fast. I had to decide… do I dive deep a third time for a slight edge in my chances even though it would cost me more hull hits? I opted not to. I bet that the dice would suddenly go my way and… a three came up and I was screaming so loud I was disturbing the Euro gamers at the next table.
The encounter charts.
I’d just sunk the biggest ship in the game! Yeeeeeeee-haw! (Or whatever it is that Nazi’s would say in similar circumstances. Is there a 2d6 table of colloquial German expressions…?)
At this point I really wanted to get back home in one piece. I was damaged, but I still had a bunch of torpedoes on board. That wouldn’t do! I found some more freighters and fired at them at medium and long range… but I didn’t sink anything. (Darn duds!) I also didn’t get sighted by enemy ships, so at least that much went for me. I headed back to port, avoiding being sighted by airplanes as well. My ship would be in dry dock for an extra month because of the damage I’d taken to my hull.
This game allows you play out the complete career of a Nazi U-boat captain. As the months go by, your capabilities may improve due technological advances. On the other hand, your challenge is slowing increasing as well, because the “bad guys” are getting better, too. Gripping hand is that in the late war period, you’ll hook up with a “wolf pack”… so the world of hurt stands a good chance of falling down on your anonymous cohorts.
This game is a treasure. It’s very similar to the “Life Path” style of character generation that was pioneered in the Traveller role playing game. But it goes beyond that by letting you do more than choose your career and whether or not you re-enlist. Here you actually get the make the key decisions of your career. And just like in Traveller, your character takes on a life of their own even though they emerge from a sequence of die rolls.
The “ship display” and combat tables.
Your sub’s “ship display” format will be familiar to Star Fleet Battles and Car Wars fans. The random damage results can really come back to haunt you when you continue with your mission. And as in role playing games, you have a chance to repair them… and your crew stands a chance of improving with experience. (One guy at the table ended up getting the equivalent of SFB’s “legendary officers.” He got a Leonard McCoy calibre doctor… lost him in battle… and then got another one!)
Unlike a lot of space games, this one does not overload itself on complex rules or extraneous detail. This is a very clean design. You get a cornucopia of interesting results without a lot of overhead. If you know anyone that has spent hours rolling up dozens of Traveller characters, then you should do them a favor and point them toward The Hunters. This game will be like crack cocaine for them.