Conclusion U-Boot: TheBoard Game is an innovative U-Boat simulation that allows players of any ability the opportunity to work together...

UBoot:TBG a Kickstarter Preview UBoot:TBG  a Kickstarter Preview

UBoot:TBG a Kickstarter Preview

UBoot:TBG a Kickstarter Preview

Conclusion

U-Boot: TheBoard Game is an innovative U-Boat simulation that allows players of any ability the opportunity to work together in a fun, tense and immersive board game experience. If you like games: that make you think, that require lots of player interaction, that are stressful (in a good way) that are asymmetric, where your actions determine your entire experience, that are based on real military history, then this cooperative wargame from Phalanx Publishing is well worth taking a look at.  (Kickstarter Preview page)

I don't normally start reviews with my final thoughts, but if you’re interested to see if you’ll like this game, read on. The first thing to mention is that this game is entirely reliant on a mobile app and my review is based on a prototype edition of the game so any art or components pictured, are subject to change. The prototype does, however, feel very advanced and has custom miniatures in 1/72 scale that represent the 32 submariners (2 work shifts of 16 crew) under the player's control. There is also a U-Boat model that serves as a crew position reference as they ‘mobilise’ around the submarine.
Close up of the U-Boat model
I will attempt to describe the most significant rules and features of the game to let potential Kickstarter backers judge for themselves whether it’s for them or not.

Game summary

In this game, up to 4 players, take on the role of U-Boat Officers during WWII. Players choose to be either The Captain, The First Officer, The Navigator or The Chief Engineer. Each of these positions has a very different, yet equally important, role in making sure the entire crew returns home safely, hopefully with some destroyed enemy shipping to their name. To carry out their particular role each player controls a set of four miniatures which each have their own set of abilities. Effectively managing where the miniatures are in the boat at any given time is crucial to this game i.e. having the right amount of abilities in the right compartment.  This will involve so much discussion among all players, all the time, I would say this is a hybrid cooperative/social/thematic war game …
Setup at the start of a mission
There are no rounds or traditional game-play phases in this game; it is a ‘real-time’ sandbox where your crew will have to react to events and conditions that are triggered either through the mobile app or card draws. In order to react to any event, each player has to move his miniatures around the U-Boat model/board to the correct compartment to carry out any particular order. However, no-one can move their players until they are ‘mobilised’ first by The Captain. (The official Core Rules video is here.)

Mobilisation

Mobilisation allows all players to move all of their miniatures to any compartment in the submarine, (unless it has been flooded). Each mobilisation is paid for by the Captain by advancing a token on the Order Track. Once the Order Track token can go no farther the Captain must advance a token on the Morale Track to pay for any mobilisations. The Morale Track is a measure of how tired and fed up your crew is. The Order Track does get reset after every other watch (huge relief) but the Morale Track is only reduced through certain events and The Captain’s cards.
The Order and Morale Tracks
Once all players have finished moving their miniatures around the boat, The Captain can issue an Order. Again, these must be paid for by advancing a token on either the Order or Morale Track. There are consequences for The Captain pushing the crew too hard; too many orders in a short space of time will cause command and control issues. When the Morale Track token lands on certain spaces an Event Card is drawn. These are nearly always negative consequences and ultimately could lead to a mutiny and the Captain being relieved of his command. 
 The official Captain rules video is here.

Orders

Each player, including the Captain, carries out the orders, by using the abilities of the miniatures under their command, after they’ve been mobilised to the right compartment. For example, to alter course the navigator must have two miniatures with the helmsman icon in the control room; to change speed the Engineer must have two miniatures with the telegraph icon in The Engine Room etc.  In all, there are a total of 17 distinct orders that the players cooperatively attempt to resolve.
The Captain's Player Board
However, responding to orders only describes half of your actions as an Officer on board the U-boat. You will also have unique tasks that you must do in your own play area. The Captain is managing crew morale through his hand of cards which allows them to issue orders and mobilise the crew.  The First Officer is controlling the mobile app and announcing events such as shift changes as well as looking after the health of the crew.  The Navigator is plotting courses and target intercept vectors as well as making sure the crew have enough variety in their diet. The Chief Engineer is attempting to keep the boat from sinking (too far) through repairing leaks and environmental conditions.
Oh dear, things are not going well!
This sounds like a lot of things to be managing, and it is, but the designers have used a time dilation feature on the app to provide some much-needed breathing space. This allows a dynamic passage of time, which gives players just enough time, if you respond quickly, to an event before the next issue crops up. This doesn’t stop issues from piling up if you just ignore them or don’t prioritise them appropriately. Sometimes feeding the crew is not as important as putting out a fire in the Torpedo Room. However as you’d expect, things are much more frantic with an enemy nearby.  The level of player engagement, whether that’s in transit mode (sped up time) or attempting to get a firing solution (near real-time) is spot on, in my opinion.  It’s just enough to keep things suspenseful without being exhausting.

Crew Figures

Prototype Miniatures
 Your miniatures, however, will get exhausted. Each time a miniature’s ability is used one of its activation spaces is blanked off by a token. Each sailor has two different abilities; this means that the dedicated repair miniatures (The Chief Engineer’s) or the dedicated observer miniatures (The Navigator’s) may not be available for their primary duty. Any other figure can perform an order for which they do not have an ability icon but they will be less effective doing so. You will have to blank off two of their activation space for one order. Each miniature only has 3 abilities to start with, so you should attempt to minimise this inefficiency.  This is easier said than done as you’ll constantly have to decide whether it’s worth the exhaustion of one submariner (not so bad) or mobilising the entire crew so the miniature with the right ability can move, and in so doing, advancing the Morale Track to a card draw space (bad) but completing the order (good).
Thanks Cap'n
Each miniature will recover one activation space on a watch changeover - announced by the mobile app and repeated for all to hear by the First Officer. The watch changeover will cause all players to flip their crew panel to reflect the new watch, which has subtly different abilities from the earlier watch, and hopefully more available abilities i.e. they’re more rested. The miniatures remain where they were and now represent the new watch. They have in effect, taken over the corresponding submariners’ task from the earlier watch.  Some events and mobilisations will cause the miniatures to take damage which is resolved by drawing a Health Condition card.  These cards have a strip of icons on them which indicate the effect and treatment.  Each of these Health Condition effect icons will also blank off the activation spaces of the affected miniature, effectively removing them from taking any part in the rest of their watch or until they receive first aid.

Player roles - The First Officer

First-aid is administered by The First Officer. Every Health Condition requires a specific treatment from the First Officers medical supplies. For example, a ‘Severe Burns’ condition wounds and exhausts that miniature and it requires three medical supplies to treat; syringe, ointment and bandage.  Health Conditions also consider the mental aspects of U-boat service, with exhaustion, depression and insomnia all making an appearance. If a miniature ever receives a second wound card they are KIA and no longer available for that watch.
First Officer's Player Board
The First Officer will be working like a one-armed paper hangar managing the mobile app, making sure the right people are aware or remember certain conditions and administering first aid from their supply of medical tokens.

The mobile app provides several first-person views, from the bridge looking through the observer’s binoculars and through the periscope, when at periscope depth, for enemy disposition and torpedo targeting. Whilst surfaced you can use the sextant which will report the grid square the U-boat is in. All of these will require the right miniature in the right compartment to legally access the screen. The integration between what you do on the board (U-boat model) with your miniatures and the app is very well thought out. The official First Officer rules video is here.
An exciting view for the crew...

Player roles - The Navigator

Every day the crew must eat.  In fact, food is one of the primary considerations in managing the morale of the crew.  As mundane as this sounds, it is absolutely right to represent this and the mini-game the navigator has to complete each day can have a significant effect on the Morale Track and can be surprisingly strategic.  The navigator has a supply of Food Tokens with which to prepare a meal every day, which dwindles over time. In essence, The Navigator is attempting to combine ingredients together, with some constraints. For example, having eggs and meat adjacent to one another allows ham omelette to be made with no discernible effect on morale. A casserole, requiring meat, eggs and onions, adjacent to one another, will lower the Morale Track by 1.
Navigator's Player Board
On top of this, The Navigator is responsible for Strategic and Tactical Navigation. Strategic Navigation is simply getting the U-Boat to the right area by plotting a bearing on the Strategic Map – as long as you know where you are.  Tactical navigation is completed by using the attack disk and the shipping tokens on their Player Board map. Reported contacts’ relative position should be plotted and updated (as well as possible) to minimise periscope Orders. The Attack Disk is then used to calculate the best intercept vector for the optimum Torpedo firing point. This was my favourite position as it pretty closely resembles my military experience. The official Navigator rules video is available here.

Player roles - The Chief Engineer

Aside from diving, surfacing and changing speed the unique task of the Chief Engineer is to repair the boat. The VII C, as evidenced by this game is a leaky bucket! There may be times where there are no repairs to manage but when there are you will probably have to coordinate those with not only your miniatures but those of the rest of the players as well. Repairs normally will consist of having the right miniatures, with the right abilities in the affected compartment. However in the most serious of repairs, the Hull Breach you will have a small technical puzzle to complete.  I can’t really comment on the puzzle as it wasn’t included in my prototype.
Chief Engineer's Player Board
As well as the four miniatures position, The Chief Engineer also manages the positions of the two toolboxes around the boat. If some events, i.e. ‘check electrics in crew quarters’ are ignored, they will ultimately develop into an Environmental Condition. These will require one of the supplies within the toolbox to effect repair – much like the First Officers medical supplies.  The toolboxes must be carried by a mobilised sailor into the affected compartment in order to start repairs.

Repairs (and observing), unlike any other order, take time. When a miniature is repairing something one of their activation spaces is blanked off by a special repair activation token. These are coloured green, orange and red to correspond to maintenance, failure, or major failure, which could take a different amount of time and/or number of sailors to repair. The official Chief Engineer rules video is here.
This is not going to end well

The mobile app

I know there’s some ill-will in the board game community towards app-driven games but I don’t share that opinion.  The app in this game helps with your immersion (… anyone?) and integrates more with the game here than in any other app driven game I have tried (Mansions of Madness, Imperial Assault, Descent 2nd Edition).  The app provides some of the events (Morale Track provides the rest), it tracks your world position, it generates enemies, it gives a first-person view and adds an authentic feeling soundtrack. German is definitely the best language in which to bark orders!
My U-Boat credentials
This take on submarine warfare is more immersive than any computer sub-sim I’ve played (see above pic) albeit it’s not as complex. However, through playing the Silent Hunters and Dangerous Waters of this world, I think they are missing a crucial element; when I play them I don’t feel like I’m working together with a crew.  From my military experience, the crew or the people you have around you are what makes or breaks your mission.  In U-Boot: TBG, because there are four of you working together; it really feels like (as far as a game is able – let’s get serious!) you’re a crew on board a military submarine.

In most areas, the designers have got just the right amount of complexity to keep the game enjoyable and realistic at the same time. I would struggle to describe it as a simulation, in my head, they are not fun and usually end with your instructor giving you a less-than-pleasant debrief. However, I think the designers want to implement different levels of complexity within the app that you can try for more of a challenge.

Gameplay Experience

During our missions we’ve experienced amongst other events, compartment fires, leaks, electrical conditions which all divert your attention from sinking enemy vessels. We were advised to check the electrics in a compartment, we ignored that because we didn’t want to have to mobilise the crew again. Unfortunately, it turned into an electrical failure and again it was ignored. Finally, it turned into a hazard causing damage to all miniatures in that section, and any miniature that needed to mobilise through that section. Things were not going well. This seemed to cause multiple lighting failures all over the boat and we had three compartments with no lighting. At this point our First Officer suggested that we turn off the lights in the room we were playing in (we didn’t). A few chuckles were had when Toilet Cleaning was required in the crews quarters.
That's one trigger-happy crew...
On one mission we found a lone merchantman and sunk him for 2500 GRT. We then decided to go and visit Scotland, not a good idea – we were hit by multiple mines and eventually sunk. On our next mission (everyone wanted to play again), we found a small convoy. Everything got very hectic after this as we were nursing several leaks, and electric motor repairs, which led to a fire just as we were lining up on the leading destroyer. Unfortunately for us, at Periscope depth, we were distracted by all the mechanical issues and we were rammed and sunk by the enemy. In hindsight, we should have gone for the merchantmen at the back.  As ever, discretion is the better part of valour. We had such high hopes after discovering the convoy as well!

Future Development

The app is by no means perfect but I wouldn’t expect it to be at this stage. Several things haven’t been fully implemented and I’m sure that through further development the designers will add more content. For example, we were alerted to a patrolling plane but this was only an engine overhead sound, we ignored the second one and nothing seemed to happen. The deck guns aren’t implemented yet so we couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. We received a new message from HQ, but couldn’t read it because the enigma machine hasn’t been implemented either.
The Hydrophone
If I have one quibble with the current gameplay, it is that the TDC screen feels a little simplistic, it’s a case of flood the tube and fire. That is probably not going to satisfy the Silent Hunter aficionados out there. I would like to see more complexity, as an option for experienced players, added to the app.

Things that are currently missing, which could be implemented are the ability to work in conjunction with other U-Boats in wolf packs, maybe even over the internet with another group of players…  The prototype only has one patrol mission in the North Sea and after playing it four times I’m ready for some more variety.  I would like to see different types of missions, namely escort missions, rendezvous missions, troop insertion missions, specifically targeted vessels, risky transits from one base to another i.e. going through the Gibraltar Straits or the English Channel, to name a few. I would also like to see a campaign mode covering the rise and fall of the U-boat in WWII. Maybe this will add experienced submariner crews with bonus abilities from successful missions. I have no idea how some of that would be implemented but from what I’ve seen so far I’m sure the final product will meet most of my expectations.

Kickstarter project

In my opinion, this project has come to Kickstarter at the perfect point in its development. It is a project close to what I think Kickstarter was originally intended.  It’s not a polished CMON product offering masses of miniatures as stretch goals nor is it a completely finished-already Queen Games Kickstarter. This is a small(ish) publisher taking on a brilliant (in my opinion) and well play-tested prototype from dedicated designers that needs more development. The game is brimming with potential and is already good value for money at £65. This will only get better as the Kickstarter campaign progresses and more elements are implemented through further design.

The designers and publishers have been very active on the games bgg page, so if you've got a (hunter) killer idea or must-have feature then get in touch with them through the game forums at bgg.

The Kickstarter campaign is currently due to go live on the 22nd January 2018. 

2 comments :

  1. What a product and what a review that does it justice in all respects.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Mike. It really is a great game.

    ReplyDelete