My Little Man's first real wargame play: Barbarossa Solitaire
Das Boot in action!
Wolfpack is an operational simulation of the convoy battles between the Allied Convoys and German U-boats during World War II in the Atlantic. It is a solitaire game where the player controls the German U-boats deciding where to deploy them, what size wolfpacks to put them in, and which convoys to go chasing after to discover if they are the real deal or just invisible enemies that vanish into the night. The game system controls the movement of enemy convoys as well as the land based air that assisted the convoys on their journey across the Atlantic. Each turn, the Allied air units will search, convoys will move, U-boats will have the chance to search and sight the enemy after which the U-boats move in for the kill and the convoys retaliate. In the end, the player scores victory points for each successful hit on convoys and loses points for every U-boat sunk. At the completion of fifteen game turns, the victory points are tallied and success is measured which ranges from Allied Victory to German Decisive Victory.
[u]Playing Time:[/u] The game takes a few hours to play once you have the basic mechanics down pat. Some game turns will fly by quickly, especially if no convoys have been sighted while others will take awhile longer particularly those that have the Allied air units finding U-boats and U-boats battling convoys. Still, a few hours to perhaps as many as three or four appears to be average.
Map: The map depicts the area that was used a convoy routes during 1942-44. The map shows the partial land areas of the UK, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. It also has two areas of ocean one which is playable and one which is not. The map also has a line from each land base showing how far each type of air unit can move from that base and has shading to show the areas where potential fog may occur. The map also has the charts and tables needed to play the game arrayed across the top half. The color scheme is the basic “nuts and bolts” type that one would associate with SPI back in the day
Counters: The counters are the ½ inch type and represent the U-boats, convoys, convoy escorts, dummy units, and land based air units. Each of these combat units is represented by a simple outline of the unit with convoys having an ID number as well as a game unit number and U-boats having a number as well. The color schemes for each make them easy to tell apart. There are also informational counters regarding weather, wolfpacks, sightings, and straggled convoys as well. Again, there is nothing fancy here just a purely functional approach.
Rules: The rules depict the trials and tribulations that faced the German U-boat commanders during the Battle of the Atlantic. Each turn consists of determining weather events (fog and storms) and moving those storms across the map. Then, the game system takes over as the Allied land based air goes searching for U-boats. The more U-boats in a hex, the greater the chance of being spotted and the range at which the U-boats are located from the base also impacts the search. The result gives a range of number(s) and if the die roll falls within that range, the air units strike and the battle is on! Any time U-boats are attacked the result can be on of three things: nothing happens, the U-boats are “pinned” (which restricts their movement and search capabilities) or they can be both “pinned” and suffer the loss of a U-boat Once the air step is over, then the Allied Convoys move out. Here a single die roll is made and chart is consulted to determine which direction the convoys will move. As the convoys sail on to their destination, U-boats can search convoys that come within their search range. The higher the number of U-boats in a hex, the greater its search area for a maximum of three hexes (the one the U-boat is in plus the one in front and behind of the sub). If convoys are successfully searched, there are flipped over to reveal whether they are dummies (better luck next time!) Or the real McCoy at which point they can be attacked during the combat phase. Any convoys that are real an attack U-boats in hexes through which they move using the same procedure at that outlined for air units. Once the Allied phase is over, the Germans are on the move with U-boats being able to be organized or reorganized into wolfpacks (which reduce the movement abilities of the U-boats while increasing their combat ability) and then the hunters can go after discovered convoys or maneuver to search face down convoys on the next turn. The wolfpacks then can attack any convoys they are directly in front of and score victory points. The convoys then have the chance to counterattack before the turn is completed. The other significant rule is that regarding straggling which reflects the disruption of the convoy formation. This can result from German attacks or from the weather. Straggled convoys are critical for victory as they score double the victory points when hit!
Things I like about the game:
The tension. When you start moving your wolfpacks around trying to find the real convoys, it can get both tense and very frustrating.
The simplicity of the system. The game does a nice job of simulating the Battle of the Atlantic without getting bogged down in a lot of chrome.
The depiction of air power. I’ve just finished reading Power at Sea: The Gathering Storm 1919-1946 and the author emphasizes how important land based air was to this struggle. I had never really heard much about this (and was a bit skeptical about his claims) but after seeing this in action in this game, I could not agree more with his analysis!
Things that can be annoying:
The turns can get a little tedious. The pattern is always the same and there are no real random events here. The only real randomness comes from the weather and the potential for convoys to zig zag which does not happen as often as one might think.
The deployment. If you don’t separate the Allied convoys from escorts, you can double the set up time
Overall evaluation: = I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! = wargamer heaven!
Map= Bottom line: the map is functional. Nothing fancy here, no great color schemes just old school two tone SPI grit.
Counters= The counters are really functional with only a black outline of each unit. Again, this old school SPI.
Rules= I like how the rules are outlined and how they depict this battle. The mechanics are simple yet smooth. The convoy movement rules are easy and allow enough variety to keep things interesting. Air power is well depicted and the U-boat operations are also well depicted. However, there is no chrome here. But you will get a good operational feel for the Battle of the Atlantic.
Deployment of Forces= This is pretty simple, but does take a bit of time especially organizing the convoys. Separating the convoys from their escorts will lessen the pain considerably.
Overall= Despite what may seem like low scores above, I give this game a high rating for several reasons. First, if you want to know why in the movie Das Boot there seems to be so much boredom time and little action, this game will show you. Sailing all around the Atlantic, chasing reported sightings and then arriving to find out someone screwed up can get annoying but it is also historically accurate. Second, the game is a nice, simple solitaire system that easily whets the appetite of the gamer without overloading him. Third, the tension. Just wait until you run all around the board, find out the first four convoys you search are dummies and then that fifth one turns out to be genuine! You will yell for joy, shout “Tally ho! (Or the appropriate German equivalent if you know it ) or simply “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” The frustration as well as the thrill of the hunt will taunt and tantalize you! Finally, Wolfpack is just a good clean gritty old school wargame that is fun to play! Bottom line: this is not the best wargame ever made, but it a good one that can be loads of fun to pull out from time to time. The low counter count, the simple rules, and quick playing time make it the ideal game to break up those longer chrome laden behemoths we all like to play. But when you get that itch to go trolling the Atlantic in search of big, fat Allied convoys, Wolfpack delivers enough gaming and simulation punch to easily allow one a good, solid, sustained scratching session! :
The appropriate German equivalent for Tally Ho is Horrido.
Leong Yew Lam
There is a book written by Col. Toliver titled Horrido ...about German air aces in world war II