In Raiders of the Deep, designed by Ian Cooper and published by Compass Games, the player takes on the role of a German U-Boat commander in World War I. Building upon a tried and true solitaire system, the game submerges the player in an engaging narrative of daring, luck, and excitement.
Reporting for Duty!
Although not the first use of submarines in warfare, World War I saw their first wide-spread, systematic, and effective employment as a strategic weapon. Germany sought to challenge the primacy of the Royal Navy through the use of this weapon, courting both controversy and national pride in their performance.
With Raiders, the player assumes the role of a commander of one of these boats. The game provides for a random system for character creation, including name, origin, and starting assignment, and then unleashes the player on unsuspecting freighters and their escorts. Depending upon the player’s assignment, he has access to wide range of U-Boat types (including mine-layers) as well as patrol zones, from the British Isles, to the Baltic Sea, and to the Mediterranean Sea. During the course of the campaign, the player has to manage his assignments, promotions and awards, crew experience, and mission load-out (i.e. torpedo types).
The status of a Type U-19 after being rammed by an escort
With each patrol, the player moves across several travel boxes that have randomized chances to encounter enemy shipping depending on the location and time of year. In some patrols, the player may not come across any enemy shipping at all. In others, the player may not have enough opportunity to sink all the spotted ships. The game provides detailed tables of the ships and their tonnage that can be targeted, all of which are historical ships lost to German submarines during the war.
Capturing the Prize
Once the player encounters an enemy ship, the decisions made will determine the fate of the boat and its crew. Ships can be alone, in pairs, in a convoy, or escorted. They could be small 200 ton trawlers or large capital ships. The time of day, the range of the attacking U-Boat, and the type of attack will all bear on the success on the mission. Given the relative unreliability of torpedoes at the time, as well as the small number available on most submarines, the player will be strongly encouraged to conduct many surface attacks with deck guns. Capturing ships as prizes in this way, as opposed to sinking them, earns the player more prestige when pursuing awards.
The status of UC-25 after a patrol that included an encounter with a convoy
But danger lurks in every opportunity. What appear to be unassuming freighters could in fact be Q-ships, warships disguised as merchants, waiting to ambush an unsuspecting U-boat commander. Failure to sink a ship in the initial attack could prolong an engagement long enough for escorts to arrive on scene. Once entangled with escorts, players will find it difficult to escape. Ramming attacks, and later depth charges, can inflict serious damage on an fleeing submarine. Additionally, transiting to patrol zones also can endanger a submarine, with mines blasting cruising boats right out of the water.
A Day in the Life
I managed to complete two campaigns. In the first, Lieutenant Hans Schmidt and U-25 (a Type 19 U-boat) managed to sink seven ships for 15,600 tons in seven patrols. The boat was lost with all hands by a mine in September, 1915 somewhere around the British Isles. In the second, Kapitan Hans Kolbe and UC-25 (a mine-laying ship) managed to survive the war, sinking 87 ships (13 with mines and capturing 14 as prizes) for 323,300 tons in 22 patrols. For historical comparison, this would place him 3rd among World War I U-boat aces.
Players track their performance and progress with a patrol log sheet that makes it easy to manage the campaign. The game also adds origin stories and character fates (assuming they survive the war) for flavor, based on historical commanders. The submarine mats also provide easy identification for awards, armament, and the status of the crew, which can make a huge difference.
The patrol log for Hans Kolbe and U-19/UC-25
Some players might be put off by what appear to be a lack of choices for the player. Many things are left to chance. However, the game provides player choice where it matters most: the point of contact with the enemy. This game, above all, is a risk management simulation, where the player must decide how much risk to assume for his boat to capture the ultimate prize. Navigating that risk successfully can make the commander a renowned raider of the deep.