In the past several months, I have become aware of a new design from Matthias Cramer and Engin Kunter that takes the hidden movement mechanic and puts it into a historically based game about the struggle over control of the South Atlantic between the British Royal Navy and the German Kriegsmarine during the early years of World War II. This game is appropriately called The Hunt and is launching on Gamefound on March 15th. We reached out to the design team to get an inside look at the design and both Matthias Cramer and Engin Kunter were more than willing to provide what we were hunting for (pun intended here).
If you are interested in the game, you can get a look at a general overview of the game by visiting the Gamefound preview page at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/saltandpepper/the-hunt
Grant: How did the two of you come to collaborate on a design for an asymmetric game like The Hunt?
Matthias: I am always looking for themes allowing an asymmetrical game design. The three-month showdown at the River Plate was ideal since the Germans are hunting freight ships at the beginning. But when the British forces came into play, the hunter becomes the hunted.
Engin: As Matthias and I met, he was already working on The Hunt. We played this a few times early stages during design and I was immediately hooked by the theme. We discussed the mechanics, the theme, and I started researching the details and brought the project forward. After a while I worked on the theme with Matthias, and then he surprised me with a new cover containing my name too. It was a great moment!
Grant: What do each of you bring to the design process and what are your strengths?
Matthias: When Engin and I met, I had just started design of The Hunt and we were testing a lot together. I was appreciative of her energy, thoughts on the theme and willingness to do some of the research which she is very skilled at.
Engin: Matthias is an established designer with many games to his credit and having his knowledge on the project made it much easier. I was beginning to learn to be a designer, and during the evolution of The Hunt I am still learning. Our strengths together are the ability to have long and productive discussions that lead to changes or additions that improve the design. We enjoy arguing different game ideas.
Grant: How much has a game like Watergate helped you in designing a game like The Hunt?
Matthias: When designing Watergate I learned that it is completely different to balance an asymmetrical game as compared with a Euro game. Especially when there are various victory conditions with different probabilities for the player factions as are contained in The Hunt. This experience game me better insight into what it takes to make an asymmetric design and guided me along the way.
Grant: What from the history of the Battle of the River Plate and the hunt for the Graf Spee did you feel the need to make sure to include in the game?
Engin: The historical events are full of little stories that carry the feeling of the period into the present. The crew of the Admiral Graf Spee (and also the supply ship Altmark) used a lot of tricks and deception maneuvers to conceal the identity of their ship, e.g. altering the silhouette by creating a dummy funnel.
On the other hand, the British perspective is also very interesting, given the huge need for the logistics required to organize a search in one of the biggest sea regions on the planet.
Ensuring these elements were reflected in the design took a lot of work and discussion. They are at the heart of the game and needed to be included to create a game that would help players to understand the history.
Grant: What research did you do to get the details correct? What one must read source would you recommend?
Engin: My main sources were a lot of internet sites from the UK, USA, Germany and Spain, also a lot of video material and even original orders of the time can be found. After this, there are a lot of military or historical books too. Which one you want to read or see is just a question of your taste.
Grant: Where did the concept of hidden movement come to your mind? How does it connect with the subject?
Matthias: The first versions of the game had open movement. When we were testing, this always felt boring and it was difficult to explain to other testers, that a ship has to search another vessel when both players know that they are in the same space. Selecting hidden movement opened a new world for hidden tactics and bluffing and created a more tense and strategy filled decision space.
Grant: How does the hidden movement work?
Matthias: The Admiral Graf Spee is operating hidden with the player noting the position on a piece of paper. He must show his position only if he attacks a freight ship, or the British Admiralty conducts a successful search on a space where the Admiral Graf Spee is hiding.
Beside that, there are lots of British card functions, which will provide hints on Admiral Graf Spee’s location. So the British player often knows that the German battle ship is in one of a few hexes.
Grant: How important is bluffing?
Engin: It is very important for the Admiral Graf Spee. For example, the German player can spend movement points without moving the Admiral Graf Spee to lead the Royal Navy into the wrong direction. But finally, he has to go for the freight ship, so the British is never completely made helpless by this fog-of-war.
Grant: How do the cards work in the design?
Matthias: The Hunt is a new take on the CDG system. You fill up your hand after every impulse. Not only the card you are playing is important, but also the cards, you keep in hand since they reflect your tactical battle plan.
Grant: What is the anatomy of the cards?
Matthias: Every card has the classical pairing of Action Points and a printed event. British cards contain an intelligence box in addition to these helping him to pimp up their searches by adding bonuses to those rolls.
Grant: How did you come up with the number of cards? How did you go about building in asymmetry into the cards?
Matthias: We wanted the players to have to cycle through the deck a few times, while there is a partial deck destruction through the strong events as they will be removed when played. Some cards are the same in both decks, for example weather conditions. But most cards are unique following the different actions of the players.
Grant: Can you show us an example of a few cards and tell us how they work?
Engin: For example “Harwood’s Intuition” is a strong event. After the Admiral Graf Spee attacks a Freight Ship in a space where a Force is located, the British player can try to surprise the attacker if he manages to locate him. But there are also strong events in the game that might have an answer to this situation:
Grant: What is the layout of the board? How did you decide on the number of hexes?
Matthias: The board shows the nearly endless area of the South Atlantic. During the testing phase we always fallowing the trial and error approach to the exact number of spaces. The 36 spaces we finally have chosen had the right balance between action, excitement and possibilities for both sides.
Grant: What actions are available to the players?
Matthias: Mainly for movement and searching other vessels. The German player has also to maintain his plane, the Arado Ar 196 A1, which is completely unreliable and brakes after each use, since it was a protype.
The British player can also use cards for intelligence, boosting all searches of the current turn or forcing the German to provide information about Graf Spee’s location. The Royal Navy can also use Action Points to receive progress on the commitment of additional forces. In October 1939, the HMS Eagle, Ark Royal and 16 cruisers were patrolling the South Atlantic in search of the German pocket battleship.
Grant: What is the strategy for both the German and the British player?
Matthias: The British player is searching for the battle since the odds favor them, depending on which Force is involved. Before that battle, the odds are for the German since Freight ships are more likely to be sent to the seabed than escaping to their destination. So both players are competing against the time: the German goes for quickly sinking the 5 Freight Ships before his airplane gets irreversibly broken and before the British manage to deploy more and stronger forces.
Grant: How important are Reserves? Why do only the Germans have Reserves?
Engin: Not everything is predictable at sea, especially in the situation of Admiral Graf Spee, except that troubles will arise. The Reserve symbolize the necessary division of seafarers’ forces in good weather for bad times. Contrary to the British Admiralty, the supply was more difficult because it had to be done secretly, it was not possible to return or enter ports, etc. In addition just the German has the Reserve, because it is the asymmetrical opponent to the multiplying forces.
Grant: How does combat work? What is the possible outcome of a battle? Who has the advantage in battles?
Engin: The odds are clearly for the Royal Navy, depending on which Force is involved. The battle itself is quite simple and played in a few minutes by just dueling 5 cards. But the dilemmas are happening before the battle since players are building their battle hands in the game phase before. The question is always: do I want to play the strong card or do I want to keep it in the case of a future battle.
Grant: How do players earn victory?
Engin: In most cases, the Admiral Graf Spee either sinks 5 freight ships or is beaten by a superior Force. But also the German can win an open battle or the British manages to bring 5 of the 9 ships safe to their destination. And there is a pair of special cards reflecting the historical outcome. The German can decide to go to Montevideo to repair battle damage by taking the risk that the British has reserved the card forcing the Langsdorff to sink his own ship.
Grant: What other designs are you working on?
Matthias: I recently finished another design, the The Promised Land, with the same CDG system. This is a 150 minute game covering the Israeli-Arab conflict in the decades following the War of Independence. The Promised Land focusses on the political level, but players can also go to war and even negotiate the Camp David Peace Treaty in the late 70’s.
Thanks for your time in answering our questions Matthias and Engin. We appreciate your answers and are excited to share The Hunt with our readers.
If you are interested in the game, you can get a look at a general overview of the game by visiting the Gamefound preview page at the following link:: https://gamefound.com/projects/saltandpepper/the-hunt
Hey Grant,… Hadn’t thought too much about this game but it looks quite interesting. Wondering IF this will solo and IF I can pick either side to play as. Production quality looks serviceable, small footprint? Thanks again for the look…. how much?
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Unfortunately it won’t solo. Hidden movement is the whole game.