As most of you already know, I’m quite the history buff, which means I enjoy historical games as well as pseudo-historical games. In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is a historical game set in World War Two. Specifically, it covers submariners in the Pacific. There is some really cool stuff in this book!
This game is meant to describe the kinds of stories one would tell about sailors on a submarine in WW2. What kind of story is that? Well, it’s about a few different things. First is the execution of the mission. One player is the Skipper of a particular boat, and part of the story is the action one sees while being a submariner. Second, In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is about how a man advances in the United States Navy during WW2. There is a really cool mechanic called “Notice” which works sort of like social XP, allowing one to advance in rank by gaining the positive (and enduring the negative) Notice of your superiors in the Admiralty. Third is Shore Leave, and what you do with your time. Interactions between regular Navy, Marines, and even Army men while on leave are ripe for stories about camaraderie or inter-service rivalry. Fourth is the Honor and Practicality dichotomy. Everyone has 20 points
(ten in each) to start, and as one become more honorable or pragmatic, the balance can shift towards one or the other. Finally is the interaction of the players. Many military stories are about a group of men who don’t get along but then resolve their differences through bravery in war. This game does this, too, although not explicitly like the previous actions.
Gaining Notice, fighting the boat and shore leave are all mechanics that are present in the system. Fighting the sub is almost a mini-game in and of itself, since one needs to know all sorts of things about the condition of your boat as well as worrying about what the enemy is doing.
In Harm’s Way: Pigboats actually has four different systems (all variations on a theme) in it. The basic rules are percentile, d6-d6, d6 pool, or d20 based. Respectively, the systems are known as StarPerc, StarZero, StarNova, and StarPool. Essentially, these are granular percentile systems with varying increments of difficulty. For instance, selecting the percentile option gives a lot more fine adjustment in TNs than the d20 version. What I like is the idea that the granularity can change the feel of the game, without having to convert anything else. A pistol does +15 damage no matter what system you’re using. The Notice, Sub fighting, Shore Leave, Honor, and other sub-systems (no pun intended) also seamlessly work with any of the four dice systems.
My favorite section of this book is the “Extra Credit” section. This part of the book discusses exactly what actions are performed on a sub. It gets into some pretty neat details about what each action feels like, all without getting too technical. In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is an awesome game.
Playing this game offers some cool challenges, as it seems to be built for troupe play, in which everyone has several characters of different ranks (Officer ranks, of course). One way of playing the game is to run a Wolf Pack in which everyone has different characters on the boats, giving everyone the opportunity to play Skipper! In Harm’s Way: Pigboats is a game I can heartily recommend as worth your money and your time. It’s a great game with a whole lot of potential as a fun game in between serious and beer and pretzels. It’d be a good filler game or campaign game!
The author has posted 14 actual play reports as a free PDF! They are available at Pigboats’ official page.