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PQ-17: Arctic Naval Operations 1941-1943» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Based on first play rss

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Jay Sheely
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PQ-17 is Vol 1 in the Decisions at Sea series and my first ever P-500. I'm a sucker for U-Boats.

My friend and I played PQ-17 last night for the first time and afterwards we both agreed that it was fun, challenging and worthy of several more plays.

This game focuses on Britian shipping war material to the Soviet Union while defending the fragile freighters from the Germans. It is named after a particularly disasterous convoy run that saw something like 10 of 35 freighters survive. This game could have also been named "Convoy is to Scatter": the ominous radio message to PQ-17 seen as a key mistake leading to the subsequent slaughter.

Thanks to the designer for what was obviously a labor of love. I am ready to purchase Vol 2 of DaS.

I'll assume you are familiar with the rules and concept. This is a write up of first impressions.


Intro:
The first play of Scenario 1 took us 3.5 hours (including setup & teardown).

For the sake of our first play, we left out a couple rules. We just wanted to see the game flow and practice combat. So we ignored ice, Patrol White, Special Conditions and maybe something else. I didn't want to overwhelm my opponent and most of all I wanted him to want to play again.

A word about my opponent: Ed had never played a wargame before and had played Settlers of Catan once about 4 years ago and refers to it as "that one game with the octagons?"

But we both love anything to do with U-Boats and when he heard there was a game with them he was VERY excited. "It's a board game? Really?"


Components (Artwork):
I'm always excited to open a GMT game and the feel of the artwork is right up my alley. This game is no exception: the map is functional and attractive and the airplane counters are totally cool.

With these games though, usefullness trumps pretty. PQ-17 has both.


Rulebook:
Well written and laid out. Some things are 'out of order' but it is well cross-referenced. I'm not sure writing it in-order would be any better. This is a detailed, difficult game and I give the rulebook an A. I wish there were more drawings but I was able to learn the rules and was able to look them up on the fly quickly.

Thanks GMT for making rules downloadable before publication. This gives me a chance to see if it's my type of game and to be ready to play as soon as it arrives.

The scenario book has lots of background about every mission. This is fun to read and gives perspective to each scenario. There is also a "Books on the Subject" list. Hey man, thanks!



Game play:
In a word or two: Fun and logical.

We didn't feel bogged down in minutia.

As always, (for me at least) the game seems impossible until we get through the first couple of turns. We were constantly looking at the 'Sequence of Play' and it wasn't long before we were quickly moving through turns. By our third turn, we pretty much had it down.

Don't get me wrong though, this is a difficult game to learn. However, the flow and mechanics fit together well, make sense and offer interesting choices.

There were many tough choices, several moments of regret where strategic mistakes were realized too late and cheers when ships were sunk. We had fun but were overwhelmed by the amount of data one needs to keep track of. At least I felt overwhlemed, my forces were larger than the Ed's in Scenario 1. I knew the rules best and was 'driving' the game and keeping track of my larger Allied Force at the same time. As a result, my forces were badly battered.

So my point is: the procedure of the game is the easy part. It's the keeping track of and fully utilizing your forces that is the tough part. It takes some effort to know what's in your convoys and TF's, (they're on another board to keep them secret) and I got confused a couple times-my own fault.

But that's easy to expect on the first play when most of my brain power is focused on rules and not strategy. This always improves on repeated play.


Recon:
This seems like a new mechanic, so I'll mention it. It wasn't long before it seemed natural and easy. You draw a card for each enemy block your are searching. Then you simply use the little table on the card, "Let's see... night, force, reduced vis.. and bummer, that failed." The helper card in the deck is perfect.

Ed didn't like how he had to locate me to attack me but agreed that it totally made sense. He wanted to blow some stuff up!!


Rules questions:
As always, something happens during gameplay that was not anticipated during the initial rules readings. I expect this.

Questions have been quickly answered online and they were easily looked up during gameplay. We had only 1 question at the end of the game.


Replayability:
This is tough because it's not really obvious until you give a new game a chance and you play it a bunch. Some are an immediate turn-off, some are big hits. Some fizzle after an initial honeymoon.

PQ-17 is more towards the top. Afterwards I asked Ed if he wanted to play again, he immediately said yes and that he expected he'ld like to play the game "about 10 times". Me too, I want to play again.

After the game, we spent a good hour discussing this and that as he flipped through the Scenario Book.


Mistakes were made:
Aside from rules that were left out, we made a couple mistakes. We were drawing cards for every force searching on every enemy force. So we drawing say, 12 cards per hex rather than 3. There were a couple DRM's that we accidently applied the wrong way.

Mostly our mistakes were the result of using a new, complex system for the 1st time.

I was nervous going into the 1st play. I was hoping that it would move quickly and that we would not have our heads in the book too much. I was pleasantly surprised afterwards at how we were able to pick it up and go. (However my downloaded rulebook is heavily marked with highighter, ball point pen and accompanied me on a few flights and roadtrips. I probably read it 12 times.)


Conclusion:
1. Rules are detailed and extensive but 'learnable'.
2. Play is fun and tense.
3. The game looks good.
4. The game is well researched.
5. I am eager to play again.
6. Steep learning curve

Recommended only if you are at least mildly interested in the theme and willing to learn a detailed rule-set.

But the pay-off looks to be huge.

Jay


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Chris Janiec
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Thanks for taking the time to write your review, Jay. Glad to see even a non-gamer interested in the subject had fun (with help from an experienced opponent). Ed should enjoy your next game even more, since the Axis player has considerably more resources to work with in the other scenarios. Has the one question you had when you finished been answered? And which side won?
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Jay Sheely
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Our lingering question is this: let's say there is a gray block in an adjacent hex to a blue one. On the German turn, the player wants to move his force through the blue blocks hex into the next empty one.

Does he have to draw a card (and stumble upon the enemy force) or not? And what if either block is a dummy?


Results:
I was the Allies, Ed was the Axis. Final score = negative 7. I didn't realize my main mistake until it was too late. C1 and TF1 were in the same hex but C1 had only MV and the TF had all the warships. They were unable to come to the rescue. In one turn, Ed pulverized the 8 ship convoy with a triple attack of medium bombers, subs and destroyers. The TF was unable to engage in round 2 and the convoy was unable to withdraw.

He sank my last freighter within 3 hexes of destination.

We had a great time!
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Przemek
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Man or Astroman wrote:
Our lingering question is this: let's say there is a gray block in an adjacent hex to a blue one. On the German turn, the player wants to move his force through the blue blocks hex into the next empty one.

Does he have to draw a card (and stumble upon the enemy force) or not? And what if either block is a dummy?

In this case the allied (not moving) player is doing recon. See 6.6.1 Transit


Man or Astroman wrote:
Ed pulverized the 8 ship convoy with a triple attack of medium bombers, subs and destroyers.

All turns are night in first scenario. German bombers can not fly at night.
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Dan Conley
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Nice review, Jay! Thanks for posting it! I got my copy and have the "want-to" to play. We just moved AND I have a civic theatre show I'm playing for very soon. So, between unpacking and practicing, game time is pretty limited right now. yuk

After the show's over, this baby is hitting the table!
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Chris Janiec
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Quote:
Our lingering question is this: let's say there is a gray block in an adjacent hex to a blue one. On the German turn, the player wants to move his force through the blue blocks hex into the next empty one.

Does he have to draw a card (and stumble upon the enemy force) or not? And what if either block is a dummy?

Our Polish friend is correct. If the Allied block is a Dummy, the search automatically fails [6.2 and 6.5]. If the Axis block is a Dummy and the search is successful, remove the Dummy per 6.2.

Quote:
All turns are night in first scenario. German bombers can not fly at night.

Except when the 'Twilight Attack' Random Event occurs, per Scenario Special Rule #5.
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Jay Sheely
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Thanks for catching the medium bomber restriction. Like I said, mistakes were made. I guess in Scenario 1 they'll sit idle through most of the game.

Pertaining to the question: what if neither block is a dummy. What if the transitting player does not wish to engage the unknown enemy force as they transit? Would a successful search require combat or what?

Jay
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Chris Janiec
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Quote:
what if neither block is a dummy. What if the transitting player does not wish to engage the unknown enemy force as they transit? Would a successful search require combat or what?

Per 6.6.1, "...either player (inactive first) may attempt to initiate combat..." Note it reads "may," not "must," so the transiting player is under no compulsion to attack. If either wants to attack, a locating draw is still required per 7.1.1.
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Gene Baker
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Games with dragons, spaceships, and bears aren’t wargames. Call them conquest games or strategy games or crap but they aren’t wargames.
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Man or Astroman wrote:

Rulebook: This is a detailed, difficult game and I give the rulebook an A.


And it has an Index! I feel faint right now.

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