Harpoon: Captain's Edition - Hunter Killer

I decided to take a little break from Pacific War and get back to playing Harpoon: Captain's Edition. If you haven't heard much about Harpoon: Captain's Edition, feel free to check out my overview of this fun GDW release from 1990.  Browsing through the game's rulebook, I realized I hadn't yet played any of its scenarios that involve submarine warfare.  I've always loved the slow-paced tension of submarine versus surface ship duels ever since watching "Run Silent Run Deep" on late night TV as a kid.




Leafing through the scenario book, I finally found a match-up to whet my appetite. "Hunter Killer" is an exciting and tense scenario that pits a pack of Soviet submarines against a task force of American destroyers during a late-1980s World War III. The background story is that a US carrier group is due to pass between Iceland and Scotland in a few days. To secure its passage, the Americans send a hunter-killer formation of surface ships to the area in an effort to destroy any Soviet submarines lurking in the depths below.  NATO wins if it is able to sink two Soviet subs.  The Soviets must keep as many boats alive as possible.  If the Soviets can sink two NATO ships, it offsets the sinking of one of their subs.  The game lasts seven turns.

The Soviet Akula class submarine [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


NATO forces consist of two destroyers (one Arleigh-Burke class and one Spruance class) with two frigates (two OH Perry class).

NATO forces




















The Soviets get three submarines - two Akula class subs and an Oscar.

Soviet forces


I also decided to use the Dummy cards for this scenario. I'm playing solitaire, which obviously complicates matters. I've decided that my initial ship movements for both sides will be blind. Although I know how the ships will be grouped together, I don't know which groups of ships belong to which counter on the board.  So I could be moving the Arleigh Burke or a NATO dummy counter - I will have no idea until I need to do something (i.e. attack or detect) with the counter that would require knowledge of the ship's composition. After I know what ships each task force counter actually represents, I'll roll dice to help decide where ships will go and what they will do. It is less than ideal but it helps to introduce some aspect of hidden information into the game, which is a big part of Harpoon: Captain's Edition.

Soviet setup with Task Forces D, A, C in red. NATO Task Forces (blue counters) will enter from the bottom of the map.


The Soviet player sets up first, placing his ships anywhere along the line of hexes from 0816 to 1419. These hexes lay between Iceland and northern Scotland.  One thing to note is that the Soviet side is unable to move its subs beyond two hexes of their starting hexes.  The Soviets put their boats into three separate task forces, Task Force D is placed in 0816, Task Force A is in 1118 and Task Force C is in 1419.  NATO has three task forces, TF-14, TF-5, and TF-12, which are set to enter from the bottom of the map edge on turn 1.

Turn 1

Harpoon:CE works by chit pull so we start yanking chits out of the cup.  Task Force 12 enters first at speed 3, followed by Task Force 14 at speed 2 and Task Force 5 at speed 1.  The NATO ships are coming up along the west side of the play area, near Iceland.  Whether or not this is a feint is hard to say. The task forces are close enough to mutually support one another if attacked.

NATO Task Forces enter the map.


Soviet Task Force D activates next and moves south to 0817. Rolling to check if TF-D is a dummy or not beforehand, I find out that it is actually a dummy.  The NATO side does not know this,however, and may send ships after it.  Hopefully, NATO will take the bait and leave some of its ships vulnerable to submarine attack.

Task Force A and C get a chance to turn and both move closer to the NATO ships, attempting to detect them and failing.

Soviet sub Task Forces move towards the NATO surface ships and attempt detection.

With the last chit pulled, turn 1 ends.

Turn 2

Things really heated up this turn. Task Force 12 ended up being rolled as a dummy when the NATO player went to see if it could make a detection attempt versus Soviet Task Force D. It went down to speed zero and stayed put, hoping to lure in Soviet Task Force D (which was, unknown to the NATO player, also a dummy marker).

Task Force C moved west one hex to 1218 at speed 1 while Task Force D (a dummy group) stayed put and reduced to speed zero. Next, I pulled the Task Force 14 chit and it succeeded at its attempt to detect Task Force D. It was revealed as a dummy and the task force chit was taken off the board. Task Force 14 then sped up to speed 2 and attempted a detection on Task Force A in hex 1019. It succeeded!

The enemy task force was identified as an Akula-class submarine and an Oscar. Task Force A also succeeded in detecting Task Force 14 so the Oscar launched its compliment of 12 SSMs at the NATO ships, which were identified as an Arleigh Burke destroyer and an OH Perry frigate. The Burke's long-range SAMs shot down 6 of the Soviet incoming missiles and the Perry's short range SAMs took out the rest. That is not good for the Soviets.

Soviet Oscar fires 12 SSMs at Task Force 14.


The Burke and Perry swaggered north into the hex with the Soviet subs and commenced aggressive ASW, scoring 2 hits on the Akula sub (which could take a maximum of 3 hits before sinking).

Hello Baby!  Task Force 14 enters into hex 1018 and begins ASW operations.


Task Force A subs went next and moved in for torpedo shots at the Burke and Perry ships. The Akula and Oscar got abysmal rolls but managed a single hit on the Burke and another hit on the Perry frigate, sinking it.The Burke-class destroyer got another chance to conduct ASW and sunk the Akula.

NATO Task Force 5 activated next and entered into the same hex where the damaged Burke and the Oscar submarine were fighting it out. The Spruance and Perry-class ships conducted additional ASW on the Oscar and managed an incredible 3 hits thanks to some excellent rolls. The Oscar was still barely alive, however, and if its chit got pulled next turn, it could manage to fight NATO to a draw.

Task Force 5 joins up with Task Force 14 and pours the hurt on an Oscar-class submarine.



Turn 3

The Burke, Spruance, and Perry formed into a single mighty sub-killing task force at the start of the turn and resumed pounding the Oscar. Task Force 5's chit got pulled right at the start of the turn. The Soviets just could not get a break. The Burke rolled 5 dice on its ASW and scored a single hit on the Oscar submarine, which sent it to the cold depths of the ocean floor.

Task Force C managed an activation but was unable to move any further as per scenario rules. With no SSMs to fire at the NATO ships, the game was over at this point. The US player had achieved two Soviet sub kills and simply meandered away from the battle area, leaving the Soviets fuming. We chalk up a nice win for NATO.

Newly combined NATO task force wanders away while Akula in TF-C sits by in impotent rage mode.

Conclusion:

If I had to play this one again, I would have the Soviet subs hang back a bit at the beginning to make detecting them as hard as possible for NATO. Because they were moving during Turn 1, they were easier to detect and the hunter-killer groups had a real heyday finding and destroying them, especially after the dummy task force was found out.  I also might have grouped those Soviet task forces a little tighter so they could help each other out.  It was very frustrating to see Task Force C stuck uselessly near its starting hex at the end of the scenario.

I know you shouldn't blame luck too much but the NATO rolls were pretty amazing throughout the game while the Soviets had some rough luck, especially with their torpedo attack on the Burke. Finally, I should have pulled the Soviet subs back after their attacks on Task Force 14.  Keeping them in the fight and just hoping to get a chit pull for a nice free torpedo attack was silly and cost me the game.

I found this scenario to be well balanced and quite tense!  I didn't know if the dummy cards would work as a solitaire player but they were fine and added a lot to the tension.  I'd like to try this game with the air components next and see how they fit into the game.

I should note that this scenario played out very quickly and fluidly.  Aside from a few glances at the rulebook to find hit tables and detection modifiers, it was easy to play the whole thing through from setup to conclusion in less than thirty minutes.  It is a small scenario but so far, I'm finding that the game does what is promised on the box cover.  It is a fast-paced and very simple game of modern naval combat.

Comments

  1. Hey Brad, Could you explain a bit more about how you use dice rolls to determine movement? I've been wanting to give this one a go solitaire as well but wasn't sure how to handle dummy task forces and movement. Seems you've stumbled on a happy medium.

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    1. Thanks Mike! Once I discover the dummy ships, I basically implement a crude die-rolling A.I. system to make decisions about where ships will go and what they will do. So, for example, if I have two Soviet task forces (one of which I know is a dummy) that are both equidistant from a NATO task force, I will roll a 6-sided die during the NATO task force turn to choose which task force it will pursue and try to attack (1 -3 it will go after one task force, 4 - 6 it will go after the other one). For the dummy task force, I will usually roll to see if it will try to bait the enemy by moving one hex closer (1-3) or if it will hang back as a threatening reserve force (4 - 6). It's very crude and you might need to adjust the probabilities based on the situation and what you feel a sensible commander would try and do. Hope that helps!

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  2. In real life if had TF5 left the battlespace with a (known?) Akula contact remaining the commander would have been court martialed: just thinking this trough had the carrier moved through the area a few days later it could have been torpedoed by that submarine. That makes the scenario design calling two out of three kills a win quite interesting.

    Nice write-up by the way.

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