I have played several hidden movement games over the years and enjoyed them all. Some of these titles have included wargames such as They Come Unseen from Osprey Games, Sniper Elite: The Board Game from Rebellion Unplugged and Bomber Command from GMT Games as well as few board games including Hunt for the Ring from Ares Games. The concept of moving cautiously, attempting to evade pursuers, all while trying to locate and acquire or destroy objectives. These situations can make for some really tense games that cause your head to ache and your wits to be tested. But they rely on some bluffing as well. Trying to force your opponent to anticipate where they think you should be and then trying not to be there. A really great mechanic in board games but not always easy to pull off and make for a very playable and interesting game. Recently, I became aware of a new design from Matthias Cramer and Engin Kunter that took this hidden movement concept and put 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 very soon on Gamefound. I was provided a prototype copy of the 2-player game and Alexander and I gave it a few plays last weekend….and simply had a blast! Let me tell you what I think of the game in my First Impression post covering The Hunt from Salt & Pepper Games.
The Game is Compact but is a BIG GAME in a LITTLE BOX
First off, you might be a bit surprised that a game attempting to tell this grand struggle on the waves of the South Atlantic is such a small game. But it is, at least in its number of components, play footprint, board and box. But, in this case size is very deceiving and get ready to get punched in the gut as this one packs a lot of power for such a small container.
The board. The board is a very compact hex based board that shows the area of the South Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America with Great Britain shown at the top of the board. The reason for this area being the focus of the game is that the Admiral Graf Spee, a Deutschland-class Panzerschiff or armored ship, which was nicknamed a “pocket battleship” by the British, patrolled these waters during the early years of World War II hunting for Allied shipping targets traversing between Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Great Britain.
There are 36 total playable hex spaces found on the board and each is given a 2-digit number, which is very important to the play of the game for the German player as they must secretly keep track of their location throughout the game. There are not a lot of spaces that are used in the game and I would say that most of the action takes place in the same 18-20 hexes each game. But, those other hexes can be used and sometimes you have to consider their use as you are trying to shake your pursuers as they have your scent. The remainder of the spaces on the board are the port hexes which cannot be entered by either player but toward which the Allied Freight Ship counters will move based on their destination being one of 4 places, including Great Britain (GB), Brazil (BR), Argentina (AR) and South Africa (SA).
At the bottom of the board is shown an image of the Graf Spee in all its glory. You will notice two different areas that can be interacted with on this part of the board, one on the left and one on the right. The Airplane Track is where the German player stores their Recon Plane asset that can be used to assist in locating shipping as a part of the Search Action and on the right are the numbered spaces of the Reserve Track where the German player can store unused Action Points from that turn to use in a later turn up to a maximum of 2 AP’s.
Along the top of the board is the Strategy Track where the British Task Forces stay until they are advanced through the use of Operation Points to move them along that track readying them for launching and to assist in hunting the elusive German Cruiser. I really liked this concept of the game as the Royal British Navy had to maneuver and distribute their scarce Task Forces around the North Atlantic, South Atlantic and into the Baltic Sea. This portion of the game represents those logistics and is really a great commitment by the British player to get those TF’s through that Track to make ocean fall on the South Atlantic to join the hunt. With such a small board, having 2 or 3 Task Forces out hunting makes it easier to cover the wide open 36 hexes but understand the British player will never have the Action Points to activate each of these Task Forces every turn.
Cards. The cards are beautifully illustrated by Albert Monteys and really provide a great look at the history of the conflict with specific references to happenings (such as the Montevideo occurrence), tactics and orders from High Command. These cards are divided up into several different type of cards called Hunt Events, Mandatory Events and Battle Events. Each of these cards also has an Action Point (AP) value shown in a white circle on the middle left of the card. These can be used to fuel actions such as Movement, Search, Use of the Recon Plane, Strategy and Intelligence. Each of these Actions has an AP cost and players can play a card for the entire amount of the AP and then spend them one at a time from their menu of actions to fund the actions until they don’t have enough to take anymore. Only the German player can take the Reserve Action and place an unused AP onto the Reserve Track. Cards can be played for either the printed event or used for the Action Points. Not both, unless directed to by the event text itself. Sometimes, the Event will direct the player to Remove the card from the game. These one time use cards are typically more powerful and their repeated use would imbalance the game.
As for the other components, they consist of a few colored wooden discs (yellow represent intelligence reports on the location of the Graf Spee called Hint Markers while red represent damage sustained in battle and are called Damage Markers). There are also about 15 counters in the game. The German player has one counter representing the Graf Spee (which is almost never used), one counter representing the Altmark, which was a German oil tanker and supply vessel used to resupply the Graf Spee. The Germans also use two gray colored wooden disks to represent the number of Reserves they have and the condition of the Recon Plane, either ready, used or broken.
There are 3 Task Force counters for the British player representing the hunting forces of Task Force G, Task Force H and Task Force K. Two of these start on the Strategy Track while Task Force G starts deployed on the board. The other counters represent Allied freighters that sail between ports in the the South Atlantic. There are a total of 9 Freight Ship Markers and 2 of these counters start on the board selected randomly and the remaining counters are placed in a draw bag or clean, dry ceramic mug or cup from which they will be drawn later. At the beginning of the British player’s turn, the ships on the board will be moved one space towards their destination port. If they happen to arrive in port without getting sunk, they will score 1 VP for the British Player. If they are sunk by the Graf Spee, they score 1 VP for the German player. The Freight Ship Counters are each marked with the historic name of the ship, its port of origination and port destination. The arrows found on each of the port spaces show the hex that vessel will start in and where they are going. During the Freight Ship phase of the British player’s turn, if there are less than 2 Freight ships deployed to the board, a new one will be drawn from the bag/cup and placed out on the board.
That is all there is to the components of the game itself. Pretty simple. But despite that lack of pieces and counters, the game is very good, full of tough decisions and packs a punch for sure.
Card Play is Fantastic
The heart of the game are the cards and both sides have their own 18 card asymmetric decks. Similar to a game like Watergate designed by Matthias Cramer, The Hunt is a Card Driven Game and the cards are used for either the printed event on the card or for the Action Point value to fuel actions. Each player has a hand limit of 5 cards but there is a trick here with the German player and how they have to manage that hand.
The Altmark counter is placed on the board and acts as a resupply option for the Graf Spee as at the end of the German turn the number of cards they will draw is associated with the proximity of the Altmark counter in relation to the hidden location of the Graf Spee on the board. If the Graf Spee is in the same or adjacent space as the Altmark, the German player has the option of drawing up to 5 cards which is their maximum hand size. If thy are not adjacent to the Altmark, they can only draw cards up to a maximum of 3 cards. And here is one of the best parts of the game in relation to cards. Bluffing. The player may very well be adjacent to the Altmark and could draw up to 5 cards but there are times that you MUST NOT draw the cards you COULD. You have to think about how much the British player knows about your location and how close they are to you. If they find you, this will end in an immediate battle and the winner takes all and combat is not as easy for the German player.
The Actions are also a source of bluffing and we will talk about that more in the next section.
Hidden Movement is Very Key – With Bluffing, Staying Put, Full Steam Ahead and Everything in Between
Because the game is based on hidden movement, and there is an ongoing cat and mouse game between the two players, bluffing is a major tool for the German player in the game. This bluffing revolves around the card draws as mentioned above but also in how Action Points are spent and what is declared versus what is actually done.
Movement is the main area of deception as you simply have to stay hidden as much as possible to keep out of the reach of the British Taskforces. The German player can move each of their two ships just once per turn, so you cannot move, search and attack and then move again with the Graf Spee. The German player must state out loud the number of AP that they are spending to move and then moves how many hexes they wish up to the maximum logging their position on the board secretly on a piece of paper hidden from the view of the British player. Movement has different costs. If the German player spends 1 AP, they can move either the Graf Spee or the Altmark one hex, if they spend 2 they can move 2 hexes but to move 3 hexes they have to spend 4 AP’s. This is very costly to do though and usually is used to get distance for the Graf Spee from the hunting British Task Forces. Usually, movement is more cagey with spending 1 or 2 AP to move 1 or 2 hexes leaving AP in their bank to then take a Search Action to hunt for a target Freight Ship. It is also very dangerous to move and search in the same round unless there is distance between the Graf Spee and the British Task Forces. If you move and then search, you will be unable to move again and the British will know exactly where you are if you were successful in sinking a Freight Ship.
Back to bluffing though. It was very common for me to say I was spending 2 AP to move the Graf Spee but only actually move 1 space or sometimes not at all. This is the only way that you can confuse and redirect their actions. If you simply move what you are saying every turn, you are giving yourself away somewhat as your movement can be mentally tracked. It is challenging but you must exercise caution and use your wits to move cagily or you will find yourself at the bottom of the South Atlantic.
In the picture below, you will see the hexes that I moved the Graf Spee through in our first play. Notice that on 3 separate occasions I didn’t move. And most of those times, I would spend 2 to 4 AP to give the impression that I was moving a great deal. In our 2nd play, I was even more deliberate in my moves and did even better as I never was close to being detected. The bluffing aspect with movement has got to be your number 1 deception and you will gain confidence and skill as you ply your craft. Such a great aspect of the game and really makes it both exultant for the German player and extremely frustrating for the British player. This coming weekend, I am going to take the reigns of the British Royal Navy and give Alexander the chance to confuse and frustrate me. I just hope that I don’t lose my cool and flip the table to reveal where the Graf Spee is.
Hunting for Shipping
One other aspect that was very interesting was the hunt for shipping by the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee must move into a location or be in a location with a Freight Ship and then for the cost of 2 AP search for that Freight Ship. If the player has the Recon Plane ready, they can use it without having to spend an AP to add a +2 DRM to the die roll. The player then rolls a D6 and on a result of 5 or greater the Freight Ship is found and sunk. The recovery of the Recon Plane is a bit challenging though as you will have to roll another D6 after the Search and must roll higher than the number of German cards removed from the game. This will make it hard for the German player to use their cards for the printed events often as getting more than 2 makes is harder to keep that plane around to be used and that bonus +2 DRM is a lifesaver. I would say that once 3 cards are used and removed from the game, you should just plan on losing that Recon Plane.
But herein is another really gut wrenching decision point in the game. You have to play smart and sometimes playing smart means using discretion and reserve to make the wisest decision. Now, of course, at certain points of the game it is fine to throw all caution to the wind and be aggressive but a more measured and thoughtful approach is best for the Germans.
Ship to Ship Combat
One final aspect I want to cover is the Ship to Ship Combat. If the British player happens to find the Graf Spee with an Intelligence Action and rolls the required 5+, sometimes at a +1 or +2 depending on Event Cards played or with the presence of Hint Markers, a battle will ensue. At the outset of the battle, each player will immediately get to draw their hand of cards up to the maximum of 5. The battle will be fought over the course of 5 separate duels which are tied to the play of an Event Card from the players hands.
The players simply select a card from their hand using the AP Value and then compares that value with the other player. The highest value will win that duel and the loser will be forced to take a Damage Marker. The British Task Force in the battle will get to modify their AP Value by the value listed on their Task Force Counter, either a 1/2 (this basically allows for ties to be broken), a +0 or +1. Battle Events are also triggered during these duels and can add modifiers and other tricks to the mix. It is wise to have at least one good Battle Event tucked away in your hand that is being saved for this time. After the 5 duels, the winner is declared who has the least amount of damage and the game comes to an immediate end. If tied, the British player will win. A very simple process that you definitely don’t want to go into lightly. You have to be sure you are going to have the advantage because the game is on the line.
We absolutely had a blast with The Hunt! The game plays in 45 minutes, has lots of tension and agonizing decisions and is just a great puzzle to figure out. There is a lot of strategy here and when coupled with the bluffing and ongoing game of cat and mouse, which we always really love in any game, this one is a winner! It has lots of tricks to explore, great little events that give one side a great advantage during their turn, bluffing, prioritizing what actions you take, planning ahead for the next few turns, really tough decisions about how to spend your scarce resources in cards or AP and the opportunity to take what you want. This is a fantastically deep and interesting game in a very small package. Don’t be fooled by its size and jump into the water to give this one a go. You won’t regret it!
The Hunt is going to be kicking off their crowdfunding campaign on Gamefound as of March 15, 2023. You can check in on the project at the following link: https://gamefound.com/projects/saltandpepper/the-hunt?ref=search
We also have a written interview with the design team coming up on the blog as well as a preview video on our YouTube Channel.
Salt & Pepper games provided us with a copy of the game to play and create this preview, for which we are very grateful.
Very nice report!
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Thanks Bill. Very interesting and fun little game.
Unsurprisingly, this funded successfully, and I am very much looking forward to getting my copy!
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