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

Subject: Replayability rss

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Gene Baker
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I was hoping to get the thoughts of folks who have played PQ17 more than a couple times. A friend of mine and I really like the air sea combat portrayed, but I have a few reservations. I’m concerned that the game plays itself. Are there different choices players can make or does it boil down using one strategy and then hoping for favorable die rolls or cards?
 
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しんぶん赤旗
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I think the game has a great deal of replayability. The random element plays a significant part in the game (although arguably no greater than many other popular wargames). Given the nature of the conflict being represented the search deck is in my opinion an excellent mechanism for simulating the ability (or lack of ability in my case) of air or sea forces to locate and engage targets.

I have heard criticisms that the map funnels units through key hexs and that you can just shove you units into these to have the best shot at winning but I have not found this to be the case.For example. the restrictions on movement and attacking force for submarines mean that they can be avoided if they just sit in one hex and wait for a target.

If you are going to be lucky enough to play the campaign then you have nothing to worry about.

If I were you I would give the game a chance. I found the rule book hard to digest but once I did so I was very impressed by the originality of the game engine and the brilliance of the design. I can't wait for the Norway expansion to be released as I think that this will get a lot more people interested in and even playing this somewhat overlooked title.
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Brian Workman
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I've played the game quite a bit and for me the game has not gotten stale at all. The differences in weather, daylight, and ice provide enough variability in the various preset scenarios that you will have to plan differently and appropriately due to these circumstances. Even playing the same scenario against different opponents will require variations in strategy.

However, the game really shines in the campaign game. In the campaign, you need to be thinking ahead outside of the operation you a currently engaged in so that you end up with the right ships in the right ports to set yourself up for the next fortnight. You also need to consider the scheduled (historical) reinforcements/withdrawals to manage your assets. Add to that the special conditions for the campaign (never know when that Atlantic Breakout or Ground Offensive is going to turn up)

I think it is a game with great replay ability. If you tire of running convoys there are a small handful of other combat-only scenarios. Plus you'll need the base game if/when the Norway invasion expansion comes out.
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Gene Baker
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bolter wrote:
I have heard criticisms that the map funnels units through key hexs and that you can just shove you units into these to have the best shot at winning but I have not found this to be the case.For example. the restrictions on movement and attacking force for submarines mean that they can be avoided if they just sit in one hex and wait for a target.

If you are going to be lucky enough to play the campaign then you have nothing to worry about.


The funneling comments have me concerned.

Quote:
However, the game really shines in the campaign game.


How long does the campaign game take assuming you’re familiar with the rules?







 
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Brian Workman
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Re: funneling: I'll take the Brits against anyone who thinks they can win with this "strategy" and not be concerned.

Re:Campaign game: A LONG time. Starts in March of '42 and runs through January of '43, so that's 22 fortnight operations (except for those where both players pass - which doesn't happen often). Not something to be comtemplated for a single sitting or even a weekend, but if you have an opponent whose 'into it' you can start working through it. I've been playing an opponent via Vassal for about a year and a half and we're nearing the end, but that's with each of us emailing our turns back and forth a few times a week.

You can however agree ahead of time on a more limited time duration for a shorter campaign.
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Richard Cornwell
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Plenty of replay value here. I've played a number of the scenarios twice and they have played out differently each time. Weather, search and random events change things up.

It's interesting playing the scenarios in order. You see both sides, particularly the Brits, evolving their tactics and resources over time. Reading the British official history you see them grappling with the same issues you see in the game - juggling escort fuel, air cover, close versus distant escort.

The search system is much the best I've come across for a naval game. The random extra chits give an element of uncertainty to operations.
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Gene Baker
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I realize now that my title wasn’t the best. I’m really concerned that the fate of your forces is more in the hands of the card draw or whatever rather than any tactical decisions you make. Regardless the positive replies tend to push me toward buying. Thanks all and consider moving to the Mississippi Gulfcoast.
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しんぶん赤旗
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I guess it is like most wargames. A good plan should mitigate bad luck.
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Marcin Zaród
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Having played several times (with different partners), I'd risk statement that there are a lot more decisions involved than visible at first glance.

For example: During summer scenarios, I'd rather risk potential iceberg by taking nothern route. Another factor is matter of escort swap and cruiser support. If you want to keep your cruisers close to the body of a convoy, they might suffer from negative AA defense modifier. Another critical issue is the escort swap - how many DD should sail next to the convoy, how many should RAS and how many should pass from balast to the inbound convoy. My favourtite suprise is somewhat bold deployment of allied CV (part of remote escort) as the unlocated CV TF enters same hex as the located convoy, same hex at the brink ofrange of Luftwaffe bombers. Obvious reply (Bomb them!) results in little dogfight, with a chance of shooting out some Ju-88s.

Axis have their own set of problems. Apart from classical (should I move big'uns), U-boats deployment rely on weather situation. Usueally main convoy is defended better, so balast one is easier target. Focusing efforts only on the main convoy (at first glance an obvious choice due to VPs) might result in rapid depleting of bomber resources.

PQ-17 has unique flow, some parts of it might be similar to others. Being devoted Euro-fan, I value this game for creating a tense narrative rather than mind-boggling puzzles.
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Andrew Brazier
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I'm in the process of playing my 4th campaign (all as the Axis) mainly PBEM via VASSAL. Each run through has taken us several months exchanging one or two logfiles a day. It's an excellent PBEM game as there's little interaction required in a turn and unit density is low so making a move is pretty quick.

It's true to say that the path the convoys take is quite constricted as they near Murmansk but the randomness of the weather and recon results mean that locating convoys (and other units) never certain. You can pack all the WPs into one hex through which the convoy must pass but if recon fails you, it will slip past unscathed. I've had operations where the Axis pick up the convoy early and hold it all the way but in the operation we are playing at present Axis recon has been terrible and the laden convoy didn't suffer a loss. Even when recon nails it your attacking forces must find the target before attacking and the result in terms of MVs sunk is far from certain, again we have had the range from almost 50% MV losses to 0%.

As the Axis you have three tools to sink ships; WPs, Luftwaffe and surface forces. Of the three the LW is the most potent, WPs really need darkness and some luck to make it past the screen and the surface forces can cost you the game if they are sunk (but can, if used well and you're lucky cause serious damage).

The actual system models operational air/naval combat very well indeed in my opinion. It is relatively simple and once learned play flows very smoothly. I would highly recommend the game, don't let thoughts of "funneling" put you off, you won't regret it.
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Doug Cooley
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gbaker59 wrote:
I’m really concerned that the fate of your forces is more in the hands of the card draw or whatever rather than any tactical decisions you make.


The very nature of needing to search to find something is going to make air/naval games much more random than your average wargame. In the game I played today, my opponent had identified my convoy on a Night turn and I was expecting to get hammered by Nazi bombers soon. Instead, I got a Gale that allowed it to escape and become undetected (and unharmed, although half the force had dispersed) by the next Day turn and the convoy made it to Murmansk intact. Had I not gotten a Gale result on the weather roll, it would have gone badly for me.

This is not to say that good play won't beat bad play much of the time, if not almost all of the time. It is to say that naval/air games that require searching for success are going to hinge to some extent on how well you search and *when* you are successful.

I would compare this game *in this sense* to Combat Commander, a game where your squads aren't going to move if you don't have the card in hand to do it, and if you need that card and don't draw it for a long period of time, it will hamper your operations, perhaps to the point where it costs you the game. I love CC and enjoy playing it, but I am not someone whose ego is closely linked to whether or not I win games (nor am I saying anyone's ego is) and I am as interested in how the game evolves as who wins, if not more.

In my view, this is true of pretty much every non-tactical naval game I play, and while I really like PQ-17 and it is a game I am currently "evangelizing" amongst my wargaming buddies and enjoy playing a great deal, at the same time I recognize that it's also a game that can play you as much as you play it. If you have problems with that kind of game, I'd suggest you stay away from this particular title.
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Lee Hamer
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Late to this discussion...

What an excellent question Gene - 'Does the game play itself?'

I am a huge fan of this game and will play it for years, so I am biased in my response...but I have to admit that to a certain extent it does play itself. Any operational or tactical decision you make is greatly influenced by dice rolls and card draws. Many tactical decisions are taken out of the players hands. Now to me, this is a good thing, because WWII naval combat was not characterized by a great deal of control. Games that give you lots of control are not accurate in terms of presenting historical events. Read any account of 20th century naval warfare and you will note a catalog of 'if onlys' and 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' along with accounts of timely fog banks, rain squalls and the like. To me this illustrates the tremendous difficulty commanders had in bringing their forces to bear in order to take advantage of fleeting opportunities.

What PQ-17 does give you are lots of choices and scope for decision making, but the choices are perhaps more subtle than most players are used to, or may even want in a naval game. PQ-17 stays firmly rooted in operational levels and refuses to mire players in micro-managed tactical actions.
Do I risk taking heavy air losses against this particular convoy? Should I sail heavy ships outside of air cover? Should multiple carriers be in one Task Force or two? When does the Home Fleet turn back? What forces should escort the convoy? Do I concentrate subs or use them as pickets?
And so on. The decisions often involve timing and whether to risk a given force or not.

The other question in this thread involves the perceived drawback of play being funneled. Frankly I don't get this critique at all. I do see that there are large hexes on the map and that near Murmansk play often pivots around 1-2 key hexes, but the search rules take this into account. Piles of air, subs, covoys and task forces can co-exist peacefully in one hex without ever contacting each other. So the problem takes care of itself. I suppose play looks funneled because of the big hexes, perhaps that is the issue. But if you think about it, all naval combat is funneled. It is the nature of the beast. Naval combat mostly happens near a critical land objective, and all forces will be 'funneled' to this battleground. A great example of course are the Solomon night actions, where epic battles take place along the famous 'Slot'. Are these battles boring because they are funneled?

If you are really wresting with whether to buy this game or not, check out the PQ-17 action reports over on Consimworld. Brian W and his opponent have posted brilliant screen shots along with insightful description about each move in their campaign game. I think you would get a great look at what this game is all about and whether it is for you or not.

No game appeals to everyone. I tried to get one of my wargaming buddies to play the game and he hated it after our first run through. He did not like the searching mechanisims and making contact and losing contact. If you don't like the search aspect of the game, its a sure deal breaker!
On the other hand, my wife loves to play this game. Before we started she knew nothing about WWII naval combat (she was iffy about the distinction between battleships and aircraft carriers) but now she handles operations like a pro.

As many folks have stated in this thread, PQ-17 has high replay value. No two games will be alike, and good fleet tactics will beat mishandled naval forces.

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Gene Baker
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I’d like to thank everybody for the detailed and passionate comments. You guys definitely went beyond what I expected. I’ve forwarded this thread to my buddy and we’ll pick this one up in the future. Currently we’re committed to 2 games of FAB: Bulge, since it’s already in our gaming group, and then PQ 17.

Lee Hamer wrote:
What PQ-17 does give you are lots of choices and scope for decision making, but the choices are perhaps more subtle than most players are used to, or may even want in a naval game. PQ-17 stays firmly rooted in operational levels and refuses to mire players in micro-managed tactical actions.
Do I risk taking heavy air losses against this particular convoy? Should I sail heavy ships outside of air cover? Should multiple carriers be in one Task Force or two? When does the Home Fleet turn back? What forces should escort the convoy? Do I concentrate subs or use them as pickets?
And so on. The decisions often involve timing and whether to risk a given force or not.


Great comments. Thanks

Lee Hamer wrote:
A great example of course are the Solomon night actions, where epic battles take place along the famous 'Slot'. Are these battles boring because they are funneled?


My buddy actually bought Tokyo Express but it seemed more solo designed so he lost interest. If this system started with the Solomons he’d have already bought it, funneling or not.

Lee Hamer wrote:
If you are really wresting with whether to buy this game or not, check out the PQ-17 action reports over on Consimworld. Brian W and his opponent have posted brilliant screen shots along with insightful description about each move in their campaign game. I think you would get a great look at what this game is all about and whether it is for you or not.


I’ll take a look but I’m not wresting with the decision anymore.

Lee Hamer wrote:
On the other hand, my wife loves to play this game.
wow
I'm lucky to get mine to play Lost Cities.whistle


 
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Chris Janiec
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Thanks for the well-considered answers to Gene's question, gentlemen. As the designer, I didn't feel it was my place to give my subjective views, and I appreciate all of you taking the time to offer your opinions.

Quote:
On the other hand, my wife loves to play this game.


Wow! Other than Louise Strickland, I don't think I know any wives who play hard-core wargames. Does she have a sister?

Quote:
I’ve forwarded this thread to my buddy and we’ll pick this one up in the future. Currently we’re committed to 2 games of FAB: Bulge, since it’s already in our gaming group, and then PQ 17.


Please drop me an e-mail, Gene, and I might be able to help you out.
 
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Lee Hamer
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Sorry Chris, no sister. It is a rare thing for a woman to play these games. I about keeled over when she said she wanted to try a wargame. Now she talks about a game room...I'm pretty lucky I guess. Heck she even lets me win sometimes!
 
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Gene Baker
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PQ 17 just arrived. Now to really dig into the rules.
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Doug Cooley
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gbaker59 wrote:
PQ 17 just arrived. Now to really dig into the rules.


Here's a little tip: you can bypass a good part of the really difficult section of the rules and just look at the handy chart in the play aids for what sort of ships are heavy, capital, cruisers, etc. Also, the rules aren't going to give you much help on understanding why you plan the convoy routes out in advance. In fact, you don't *need* to do this, but at the same time it will save a lot of hex counting later in front of your opponent. If you want to get a better sense of what the planning portion is for, check out the extended example of play.

Just finished the PQ-9/10 scenario from C3i today with yet another friend I've introduced the game to. It skips over the planning portion, but be aware that it starts on the Day 3 PM turn. The first scenario is OK for learning, but chances are you'll never do anything with the aircraft in the game as the Germans, so it's pretty much a Sub vs British Navy kind of game.

Good hunting!

Doug

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Andrew Brazier
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To add to Doug's excellent advice, you can probably skip the surface combat section of the rules to start with. Surface combat doesn't figure very often in the game and when it does I find it's easiest to work through the process rules in hand to make sure I don't miss anything rather than try and do it from memory.
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Doug Cooley
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Yeah, I didn't even try to understand combat until I ran across it - too many permutations to do this ahead of time.

I did have a question about some things, though. There are some types of combat that don't involve specific ship types, in particular torps vs Escorts. Not on the table at all. Is that because they are so small that they can easily avoid the torps coming at them, or because it's so hard to hit them at all? Seems especially odd given that a single ES can effectively screen two DD in surface combat with little trouble.
 
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Chris Janiec
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Quote:
There are some types of combat that don't involve specific ship types, in particular torps vs Escorts. Not on the table at all. Is that because they are so small that they can easily avoid the torps coming at them, or because it's so hard to hit them at all? Seems especially odd given that a single ES can effectively screen two DD in surface combat with little trouble.


See the Design Note in 7.5.5. Each Escort CS is not one ship, but up to four, so if a sub torpedoes one it makes no difference to the Escort strength overall (and I'm not aware of any corvettes sunk by Axis aerial torps). So instead of adding even more complexity, it's simpler just to make torpedo attacks on Escorts impossible in the game. They're only on the Naval Gunnery Table to allow for them being driven off in surface combat, but they "resurrect" after the battle per 7.5.5.
 
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