Sunday, February 13, 2011

PQ-17 (GMT) ~ "I. PQ-6: The Kriegsmarine's First Effort"

Game: PQ-17
Scenario: "I. The Kriegsmarine's First Effort"
Participants: Jim "HeavyD" D and Myself
Time: Friday, Feb 11th ~ 6.30PM - 9.30PM

Tonight HeavyD and I had our first game of PQ-17. The game simulates Surface, Submerged and Air combat at Sea in the Arctic. It covers a subject that I had only read about in the context of other works on WWII. I have read Clay Blair's excellent pair of books on the submarine campaign in the North Atlantic as well as some other books on the WWII European Naval conflict, non focusing on this subject though. One thing that immediately caught my attention was the game designers including a selected bibliography of the source materials he used in designing the game. I am now the proud owner of three new books on this topic, one of which I have already started and really enjoy. I love it when a designer includes a bibliography in the designer notes.

This game uses blocks to represent surface and submarine units and task forces. Counters are used to represent air units. There are two turns per day, and if I recall the scale is roughly 100 miles per hex. Your convoys will move one hex usually, while your warships will move two and in some cases three hexes in a turn. Subs can move two also, but then are unable to attack if they moved. The most interesting and promising mechanic of the design has each player use his own deck of cards to handle all of the things needed to maintain fog of war. This is key in Naval games and from what I've seen so far this process is very successful. The idea as I understand it came from Lee Brimmecombe-Woods excellent work in his "The Burning Blue", also by GMT. The way the cards work allows each player to do searches when applicable without divulging if a block is a real unit or dummies. The same process is used to handle Ice Damage, which also played a big role in this campaign.

HeavyD and I selected the small 'trainer' scenario to start off with as that is what is suggested by the designer (Chris Janiec). This scenario covers PQ-6, this convoy managed to reach Murmansk unscathed in December of 1942. It was one of the first ones that the Germans actively tried to engage in the campaign. The weather is very Icy and with each turn a night turn, there is very little chance that the Luftwaffe will get a chance to play a part in the action. The German player has 4 operable DDs and three U-boats at his disposal to interdict the progress of PQ-6. The British Player has the Convoy of 8 merchant ships and nearly a dozen warships at his disposal to protect the convoy en route.

I wont go into too much detail on the actual game as it was our first and we spent a lot of time getting to know the many mechanics of the game. I will say that I am excited to continue with this game as I think its got some good potential. I like the search mechanics a lot. We didn't have a chance to use air or surface combat, but we did get used to the ASW and Torpedo combat process and I like what I've seen so far. I do like the components, they do the job and don't detract from the game. The game creates a good narrative and moves at a good pace, even when each player has a lot of things going on. As I understand from the boards at CSW you are going to be able to play many of the scenario's in one sitting, and this is a plus. Also there is a campaign component that looks very promising once we get the hand of the mechanics down.

The rulebook has seen a lot of errata and I was at a disadvantage having not downloaded the most recent version as well as reading the additional errata since that version. I hope that once the game matures a bit that the rules will become tight. HeavyD and I are set to play the next scenario in line in the near future, with both of us looking forward to it.

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