PQ-17 is the first game in the Decision at Sea Series of WWII air-naval games highlighting the impact of reconnaissance, fuel, and weather without the drawbacks of a double-blind system or tedious bookkeeping. Players maneuver blocks on the mapboard, each a force of submarines or surface ships whose identity is hidden from the enemy player until it is located by a successful search and the block is turned up. It may represent one ship or one hundred – or none at all, as it may be a dummy. Cards are used to resolve searches quickly and efficiently; a successful search yields intelligence of varying accuracy, while failure to relocate the enemy in a timely manner results in lost contact and generation of another dummy. Players must also cope with fuel restrictions, using simple rules and the use of markers on Force Displays (where all ship counters are kept until needed for combat), precluding the need for record keeping while preventing unrealistic freedom of action.
In this tense game of bluff, the Allied player strives to pass convoys to and from north Russia in the face of appalling weather and determined opposition from his Axis opponent. PQ-17 features nine historical scenarios, including all the major actions of the campaign: the Fleet Air Arm torpedo attack on Tirpitz, the decimation of convoy PQ-17, the climactic battle of PQ-18, the Battle of the Barents Sea., and the 1943 Battle of the North Cape. To add uncertainty, each side is subject to a special condition in every operation, which may impose additional requirements or restrictions – or afford additional opportunities – while remaining secret from the opponent. Just like their historical counterparts, Allied players can seldom be certain that the Germans will not attempt to break out into the Atlantic with one or more heavy ships, and Axis players must beware of a possible attack on Norway; both players may face conflicting priorities and demands that must be met with limited resources.
In addition, a 1942 “random” scenario enhances replay value by further disguising starting forces and objectives. Each operational scenario can be played to conclusion in 3-4 hours, and, for players seeking a richer experience, a 1942 campaign scenario reflects the challenges of continuing operations over the course of this key year.