From Russia With Love: Our First Play of “The Hunt for Red October”

I am a lucky fella. Not only does my wife kindly turn the other way when she sees me trying to sneak my latest game purchase into the basement, she also enjoys playing (some of) those games with me!

Me and my better half.

In the past we’ve played things like Axis and Allies, Dawn Patrol, and Battlecry. I am a big fan of games that simulate a potential naval conflict between NATO and the USSR during the Cold War years, but something like “Harpoon 3rd Edition” or “Blue Water Navy” is not really her style. Thankfully, there’s a few “Rules Lite” gaming options I have on my shelf, and we decided to bust out “The Hunt For Red October” and give it a spin. Neither of us had ever played this one before, so I did read through the rule book a few times just to try and get a feel for the system.

The Soviet Admiral considers her next move…

So let’s talk about these rules. One of the key aspects of modern naval wargaming is “You can’t shoot at it until you can detect it with radar/sonar”. This game handles that issue with the use of “detection markers” that each player receives at the start of each turn. The NATO player get’s a lot more, and that makes sense considering the available technology and the SOUSUS nets.

The game also uses a “Attack First/Attack Second” system that allows undetected ships to attack without being fired upon. This was actually the only rules issue that we ran into while playing. The rules made sense to me because (as someone who spends a lot of his free time reading “Proceedings” and Larry Bond novels) I understood what the game was trying to model. My wife doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe naval warfare, so it wasn’t as intuitive to her, but it started to “click” by the end of the game. In short, if you fire first, you get detected by the enemy, so it’s somewhat advantageous to hold your fire till the second phase in a lot of cases.

The game also models the idea of screening ships in a task force with displays that let you assign your ships to the core, AAW and ASW “levels” within the force. That didn’t come into play very much this game since the Soviet player only has submarines.

The Venn Diagram style attack board isn’t always the easiest to decipher, but it started to make sense after a few turns.

I had considered Scenario #2 (which is the actual “Hunt for Red October” in which the Soviet player actually uses a separate copy of the map in an attempt to sneak past the other forces) but it doesn’t really give both players a chance to learn the rules. So we went with Scenario #3 for our first game. The NATO player tries to shuttle a convoy and escorts from New York to France, and the USSR tries to inflict as much damage as possible. If this scenario has one flaw, it’s that there is really only one route that the NATO task force can take. There’s a little wiggle room, but the Soviet player knows where you’re heading for the most part.

What a doofus…

The strategy for the NATO player in this scenario is to use their submarines as as a sort of “Advance ASW Screen” to clear a path for the convey. The subs are the fullback, and the task force is hoping to find a hole in the defense to scurry through. But if you fail your detection roll, it’s a bust.

The Soviets seemed to find the most success when they were able to make the NATO player “spend” a lot of their detection markers. The Russian subs essentially roll double attacks when they fire on a surface ship, and since each hit is a victory point you’re basically trying to see how much damage you can do before you are (inevitably) sunk by the NATO task force.

The missus jumped out to an early lead, but I ended up winning. I could care less about getting the win, it was just really nice to to play a game with my wife, and have her say “oh yeah I’ll play that again”. I’ll definitely take her up on that, and who knows maybe eventually we can give Harpoon: Captains Edition a shot?

She sunk two of my subs on her first turn.

Final Thoughts

  • The game board is mounted, and really pretty to look at. And there’s just something about it the folded cardboard pieces and clamps they feels really….good to handle I guess? I just love these components.
  • This game is never going to get super complicated, but the advanced rules and bigger scenarios should keep most “serious wargamers” (what does that even mean?) interested and engaged.
  • The second scenario requires the player controlling The Red October to have literally zero understanding of the rules. You are just trying to sneak around the NATO ships. It might not be the most “fun” but I could see it being a great gateway game for a younger kid. There’s also a really interesting 3 player variant I saw on the BGG forum.
  • Even though I’m not sure how often I’ll actually put this on my table, I’m really glad I got this one. I think it’s easy enough to teach to middle/high school students and this is definitely a game I would bring to a school club.

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