ATLANTIC CHASE REVIEW
This is the Hexed & Countered review of the 2nd printing of the game Atlantic Chase, designed by Jerry White and published by GMT Games. The game debuted in 2021 and quickly sold out, a sure sign of a good game. It took under two years for a P500 reprint to appear, which is something of a “blink of the eye” in P500 terms (some of those can run a lot longer, to the frustration of many a grognard). I was one of the P500 backers and was thrilled to finally get the game in my hands. After playing it, I’m ready to provide a review and if you’re one of those “Too long, didn’t read” types, the bottom line is that this is a fantastic game.
First, a little background: Atlantic Chase is an operational-level game of – you guessed it – the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War. It pits the British Royal Navy against Germany’s Kriegsmarine. The focus is on the surface forces; British submarines, German U-Boats and both sides’ air assets all play a role, but that role is decidedly one of support and not a starring role.
The map is a large, hex-based map covering the North Atlantic from the coast of North America to the western Baltic and from the Arctic Circle to the fringes of the South Atlantic – which covers a lot of open water. One of the first things that show Jerry White’s innovative design is that the game’s primary counters – the ships themselves – do not live on the map but rather on task force displays, 8.5 x 11 inch cards. The British card has space for ten task forces and each has a color and a band on it to identify that task force while the German display has space for five task forces. Both sides’ displays also include reinforcement boxes.
So what is on the map? Wooden bits – cylinders and then rectangular blocks – represent the task forces on the map. The cylinders are called “stations” and represent a ship’s known location in space & time. That is, we – both players – know that this task force (which can be one ship or several) is in that hex. The rectangular pieces are trajectory segments and this is where that innovation really becomes apparent. Trajectories represent a “we know the task force is somewhere along this path, but are uncertain where exactly that is” – it’s fog-of-war but in a new way based on the concept of a string on a map in a war room, perhaps one where Churchill stares at it in his inimitable bulldogish way, cigar clamped between his teeth. And that string? It not only represents the enemy’s ships, but also your own. It is a rather clever way to provide limited information to the player while still allowing the player to plan and act on said information.
Key to this is the length of the trajectory – longer means you have less idea where the task force actually is – shorter means your information is getting better. This impacts the actions you take upon the trajectories with actions involving longer trajectories being more apt to be unsuccessful. Actions involving forces with shorter trajectories, or better yet, stations with a known location, are much more likely to be successful.
OUT THERE… SOMEWHERE
There are nine possible actions that you can take – when you have initiative, that is. These run the gamut from utilizing air and stealth forces like submarines and mines to searching for the enemy, attempting to engage the enemy or just “completing” a trajectory to get it safely into port. Setting up for, and using these actions correctly are absolutely vital to success. Yes, you need to roll dice ultimately as is the case in many wargames, but your chances are significantly improved by performing actions in the right sequence, at the right time and on the right trajectories to get the result you’re seeking. Every action is harder when employed on long trajectories and easier to successfully pull off when the trajectories are short. And you can shorten trajectories in a variety of ways, most of which also have the side effect of shortening your own trajectories, which makes the enemy’s information more precise and therefore more advantageous. Initiative changes in a variety of ways, depending on the actions the player currently holding it takes. And it is important because as the inactive player, you are limited in what you can do and sometimes have to watch as your enemy hones in an all-important task force, wrecking your plans. All in all, this is an extremely clever system.
You’ll end up with trajectories crossing each other – or at least intersecting – as you attempt to nail down the enemy while hopefully not getting yourself in a bind doing so. For the Germans this is often a precarious task. The Kriegsmarine has limited resources and needs to be both bold and careful, which is a tightrope act of the first magnitude. The Royal Navy’s task isn’t easy either, it has convoys to protect and they are often vulnerable with rules that (rightly) prevent the player from loading up a convoy with an escort of big, powerful ships – in most cases you’re limited to one ship as an escort and this can range from a destroyer squadron to a battleship (or even potentially an aircraft carrier though that in itself would be risky).
The game does an excellent job of portraying the real-life cat and mouse nature of the Battle of the Atlantic. There are mechanics for intel, evasive action, contact between forces that proves indecisive. The battle game is fairly simple, but mechanically sound and for those who want more meat on the bone, there is a set of advanced battle rules that make things more realistic.
The folks who will be interested in this game are likely familiar with the real-life history of this battle, the chase and sinking of German raiders such as the Graf Spee and the most famous of all, the search for, and ultimate destruction of, the Bismarck. And yes, there are scenarios that feature both the Graf Spee and the Bismarck. The game includes a slew of scenarios covering the course of the war from the early days of September 1939 when the British and French fought together all the way through the year 1942 when France was occupied and the Soviet Union and United States had joined the Allied cause and Britain no longer fought alone. There are solitaire scenarios, two-player scenarios and even a campaign game where you build and marshal your forces, with things carrying over from operation to operation (each operation in the campaign typically covers one year, with their being two of them later in the war).
For the solo player, this is a real gold mine. Not only is there a booklet full of solitaire scenarios, but each has a crafted AI “bot” which utilizes tables and scenario specific rules to manage the enemy forces, but all of the two-player scenarios and campaign are also eminently playable solitaire. Just simply manage both sides to the best of your ability – something most of us have done many times.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In summation, I can not recommend this game highly enough. It does an incredible job of managing the uncertainty, or “fog of war” of the Battle of the Atlantic in a fresh and innovative way that simply works. Weather plays a role, utilization of support assets is important and making the right decisions with your forces is crucial.
ATLANTIC CHASE Videos
Videos on ATLANTIC CHASE from GMT Games
A first look video and two playthrough videos.