A new company on the scene the last few years is VUCA Simulations and they are coming out with some really great looking games. One of their recent new release games was called Donnerschlag: Escape from Stalingrad and we published an interview on that design on the blog. After that game, I was aware of several others that were nearing publication and reached back out to my contact there and asked if we could talk with Patrick Gebhardt about his other new design with Jack Greene called The Chase of the Bismarck – Operation Rheinübung 1941. Patrick was more than willing to discuss the game with us.

Grant: How did the two of you come together on this design?

Patrick: I (Patrick) was in contact with Jack through Facebook because Quarterdeck International was selling some of our games. One day I simply asked him if he would be up for collaborating on a new version of the game. He was immediately thrilled to do so….and the rest is history as they say!

Grant: What do you each bring to the design in the form of knowledge and focus?

Patrick: Jack is undeniably a connoisseur of naval history and brought incredible expertise to the table. Especially in terms of the values of the individual units in the game and how they should be balanced to recreate a historical simulation. I looked at the game from a playability point of view and optimized it toward that experience. It was a great and fruitful collaboration.

Grant: What historical event does The Chase of the Bismarck cover?

Patrick: The game revolves around Operation “Theinübung”, i.e. the attempted breakout of the Bismarck into the Atlantic, which was the first and last operation of this battleship.

Optionally, however, the historical setting can be tweaked through the use of some hypothetical units. Thus, players can see how the operation might have gone if the Tirpitz had already been operational, or if the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had been available.

Grant: What was your inspiration for this design? What challenges did you have to overcome?

Patrick: I ordered a used copy of Bismarck 2nd Edition from The Avalon Hill Game Company and played it several times. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but wanted to make the combat system easier and quicker to resolve, as the focus of the game should primarily be on the operational part of the game. After playing that game, and putting together a workable model and prototype, we did a lot of testing but with the many variables in the game, no two games went the same. Finally deciding for or against certain rules to be included was quite the challenge here.

Grant: What is important to model from the history of the period?

Patrick: For us, on the one hand, the rough combat values of the units were important, of course, but on the other hand, especially the aspects that had a great influence on the operation. So the visibility, the weather influence, the ranges and speeds in connection with the oil consumption. But also technical developments such as the Huff Duff played a role. The historical course of the famous Battle of Denmark Strait, for example, should be possible from the rules, though not necessarily very likely.

Grant: What is the scale of the game? What different type of units are included?

Patrick: There are five turns per day and single ships (except for destroyers). There are air units (reconnaissance and fighter) included with their own rules as well as additional naval units. The latter are subdivided into various warship types (namely individual units) and tankers. Convoys and submarines are handled abstractly in the design.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?

Patrick: There are lots of different markers and counters included in the game but let’s stick to the Naval units:
There are four counters for most Naval units:
1. Two counters for use on the Operational Search Board, one of them with reduced values (i.e. damaged)

These have the following information:
– Name, ship silhouette and the historical ship’s coat of arms (both for flavor).
– The speed and speed class
– A movement indicator that helps to track the fuel expenditure
– The ship class
– Radar if applicable.

2. One fuel marker per ship to track fuel expenditure

3. A tactical counter for use on the battle map. This one is larger and contains a directional indicator.

Grant: What is the purpose of the Search Boards? How are searches carried out?

Patrick: The Search Boards are the core of the game. Simply put, the German player tries to lead the Bismarck unnoticed or unseen into the Atlantic to sink convoys there.
The Allied player can “search” individual hexes if he has enough Search Factors in them. He needs a number that depends on the current visibility (weather and time of day). Ships and planes can contribute Search Factors, as well as certain hexes near the coast.

Grant: How do ships come to combat? How is the Battle Board used?

Patrick: If a ship (or Task Force) is spotted in a hex and an enemy Naval Unit is in the same hex, it can attack it and Naval Combat occurs. This is handled on the Battle Board. Units start at a certain distance from each other (depending on current visibility). Basically, they fire and move, and torpedoes can be launched if the distance is close enough. Then you can try to retreat from the battle or bring in reinforcements. Beyond that, there are also air attacks, but I won’t go into those separately here.

Grant: What information is contained on the Ship cards? Can we see a few examples and you explain their relative advantages and weakness?

Patrick: The ship cards show which armament the ship has on the one hand and on the other hand they are used to track the damage on individual weapons or on the hull. Other damage can also be tracked here using markers and some special rules are mentioned on them.

Grant: What does the map look like? What area of the North Atlantic is included?

Patrick: The design of the map is graphically based on original military naval maps from the time. It covers the North Sea and the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Sweden and from Greenland to Madeira. So the whole relevant area for the operation is covered.

Grant: How are damage markers and evasion effect markers used?

Patrick: Ships can receive various damage, for example, to the radar, gun batteries or rudder. In addition, they can lose speed due to damage. This is tracked with the evasion markers.

Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play? What does a typical turn look like?

Patrick: Typically (and slightly abbreviated), a turn goes as follows:

First, the visibility conditions for the turn are determined. Then both sides move their ships and aircraft simultaneously without the opponent seeing them. For this purpose, each player has their own operational map board and player screen.

Then the search takes place and both players may search hexes for enemy units, provided they have enough search factors in the hex.

After that Naval Combats take place. Then there is a Chance Phase where German ships can be discovered randomly. 

Finally, the Admin phase takes place, in which certain markers are adjusted.

Grant: When does the game end?

Patrick: The game ends immediately if the Bismarck enters a friendly port in France or Norway, if Bismarck runs out of emergency fuel or if the Bismarck is sunk. Otherwise the game ends after the Admin Phase of the last turn. The German player receives a Victory Point (VP) penalty depending on the type of game end condition. Thus, there is a need for him to earn a certain number of VP’s during the game. 

The German player can receive VP’s by hunting convoys or by damaging or sinking enemy warships. 

The Allied player however can raise the VP penalty for the German player by damaging or sinking German ships.

Grant: Which side has the more difficult time in obtaining victory?

Patrick: I think both sides have a good chance to win here and that was the way we tried to design the game. If the Bismarck makes it into the Atlantic undetected, your chances are pretty good, but even then victory is not certain. 

And the breakthrough has to happen first after all.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

Patrick: The game involves both players playing the game at the same time which is pretty unique in a lot of wargames. There is no sitting around here though waiting for your opponent to take their turn. Therefore, we have very little downtime and a lot of tension on both sides. In addition, the rules are not overly complex, but still offer enough decision points. Thus, the game fits perfectly into our product line.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

Patrick: We are currently working on a whole series of games.  As for the naval enthusiasts out there, we’ll be getting Task Force to the printer in the coming days. We are also working on a tactical game with Jack Greene and an operational / strategic Pacific game (Pacific Fleet) and one on the Mediterranean. That said, we’re still working on Red Strike and have two more Tetsuya Nakamura games in the pipeline. But we are also already working on the next release with Dirk Blennemann. So there is a lot to do!

Thank you so much for your time Patrick. We appreciate the effort in answering our questions and for highlighting the various features of the design. VUCA Simulations is doing a fantastic job with their games and I wish you all the luck in the world.

If you are interested in The Chase of the Bismarck – Operation Rheinübung 1941, you can order a copy for €89,99 (about $92) from the VUCA Simulations website at the following link: https://vucasims.com/products/the-chase-of-the-bismarck-operation-rheinubung-1941