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  BY STEALTH AND SEA FROM DVG Not so long ago when I reviewed Pavlov's House , the designer David Thompson was a comparative unknown and...







Not so long ago when I reviewed Pavlov's House, the designer David Thompson was a comparative unknown and it was the topic and game company publishing it that drew my interest and many others'.  Fast forward to today and the question now is what's David Thompson designing next.  That has been accomplished through a number of very different successful designs and the makings of a "must-have" series that began with Pavlov's House.

If you, like me, want that third series game then you'll have to be patient for the arrival of Soldiers in Postmen's Uniforms.  Instead once again it's "... and now for something completely different."  Well that's not quite true.  It is a purely solitaire game. We are still in the period of WWII and, like Castle Itter, we're still with a topic barely known, never mind gamed!

By Stealth and Sea takes as its subject the exploits of Italian two-man torpedo actions in the Mediterranean.  If you're asking what on earth they are,  I was slightly ahead of you.  My encyclopaedic knowledge of the topic comes from a strip cartoon story in the hardback Christmas annual of one of my favourite childhood comics!  Perhaps, however, it's no surprise that the heroes of my comic were British and highly successful against insurmountable odds.  

In fact, the British "Chariot", as it was named, was directly inspired by the exploits of the Italians, but, as you'll discover, the Italian actions are a far cry from those depicted in my comic.

The presentation of the game, being a DVG product, is unquestionably immaculate and with some additional surprises.  This was most evident in the game board or, I should say, boards!  I had expected a generic map with terrain tiles in the style of Sherman Leader or, considering the nautical topic, that it would be even more likely to have an abstracted board as in U-Boat.

Far from it, there are three boards.  Each depicts a specific geographical location; the harbour areas of Gibraltar, Alexandria and Algiers.  In their monochrome grey-blue tones, they exude the feel of an aerial blue-print that I find adds to the impression of historical authenticity.

The boards also boast the traditional standard hexes for manoeuvring your equally traditional square cardboard units.  These mainly depict the various ships that will be both the targets for your Italian attackers and, in some cases, the ships that will be seeking to attack and thwart your plans.  You, yourself, have but three counters to manoeuvre - these are your three SLCs.  These letters SLC stand for "siluri a lenta corsa" or, as we called them, slow-running manned torpedoes.

Though much smaller than the counters familiar from other David Thompson designs, they have a similar appearance with a coloured edging identifying whether they are Navy, Cargo or Patrol vessels.  However, if you were hoping for the familiar head and shoulder profiles of historical individuals, they are still here.  In this case, they are not on counters, but on a set of small Operator Cards that depict each two-man team and there's a substantial range to choose from 

The ones you choose or those designated by the Scenario are placed on separate display sheets, one for each SLC.  The only slight criticism I have of the components is with the thin card for these displays.  A much more substantial quality would have added little to the cost.

By contrast, the several wooden discs that mark various items of equipment on these cards are much solider, as are the various A4 sized player aids that cover the Turn Sequence, potential SLC Actions, Roster Sheet for the Operators  of the manned torpedoes and both an Historic and a Custom Campaign After Action Report Sheet.

Finally, there are the two booklets: one of Rules, the other of Missions.  They are identical in being printed on quality glossy paper and laid out in large, clear text with an abundance of illustrations.  Though the basic rules occupy 20 pages, this is misleading as the generosity of diagrams and textual layout probably double the amount of space a less luxurious  production would fill.  In addition the rules are sequenced to take you step by careful step in chronological order through a turn.  The Mission set up uses the first scenario from the Mission Guide, the attack on Gibraltar harbour.

Nothing could be simpler or more straightforward - for those weened on the typically extensive choices and deliberations made in planning that begin most of DVG's solo games, this may be a welcome relief or a disappointing departure.  Even when you add in the extra elements introduced when playing a Campaign, the preparatory choices remain fairly few.

In fact, this is the main limitation of the game and it is a limitation based on the historical abilities of what is being simulated.  You are dealing with actions in which the participants could only manoeuvre their craft either on the surface or submerged. Their prime actions are avoiding detection until they can reach a target, detach the warhead that is part of the craft they are manning and attach it to the target ship.  Along the way you will mainly be coping with the vagaries and inadequacies of the equipment and as often as not these will determine the success or failure of even reaching your target. 

There are only four Phases to each turn.

The Fault Check Phase: its title is fairly self-explanatory.  The top card of the Fault deck is turned and a die roll check made.  Failure affects a range of six possibilities including individual items such as breathing gear or a wetsuit to the ballast tank of your manned torpedo or its warhead.

SLC Phase is where you choose two from the possible action list for each of your manned torpedoes.  Many of these choices are related to movement, either on the surface or submerged.  As a full move is two hexes and ordinary movement only one, while even changing facing takes up one Action, progress is very slow!  The other Action choices include diving and surfacing, repair [a highly likely essential choice], evading anti-torpedo nets, detaching the warhead, attaching the warhead to a target and attack from an SLC; these latter two are variations of the only type of attack you can make and lead to the compulsory Actions of Scuttling the SLC and Escape.  Nearly all of these involve some sort of die-roll check, though a few can be automatically achieved by spending both Action Points.

Harbour Defense Phase
Here the Alert Deck comes into play.  Some elements of the harbour defence are not immediately introduced, while others may be strengthened, particularly if playing a campaign of three scenarios.  Though typical elements such as Searchlights and Shore based Mortars feature, along with detection by ships,  All comes down to card turning, even the slightly more mobile element of Patrol Craft Response & Patrol Craft Attack follows the same lines. 

Clean-Up Phase
This simply covers the removal of Patrol Craft or their flipping from Exhausted to Ready and moving the Time marker on.

All in all, a very straightforward and easily assimilated system: even  playing a Campaign, which takes up the rest of the rule book, adds only a few more options, such as choosing the skills that can be increased and the Harbour defences developed.  Finally, there is an equally beautifully produced Mission Guide with 9 Scenarios of which six are devoted to Gibraltar, one to Algiers and two to Alexandria. 

The key decks that cover virtually all that you do.

All the contents bar the wooden markers.

The SLC  displays with appropriate markers

 The many targets at anchor in Gibraltar harbour

The history has been thoroughly and lovingly researched and crafted with the expected quality of production, but the nature of the situation leads to what I would call a very passive experience.  As a player you are very much in the hands of the turn of the various cards and the accompanying dice rolls.  I felt very much that I was in a narrative with too little control of its outcome and, more than anything, I was disappointed that all the many lovely counters depicting historical ships simply sit there as interchangeable targets for a last lucky or unlucky die roll!  Unlike both Pavlov's House and Castle Itter which are tense, pulse-raising every time, By Stealth and Sea didn't get my heart racing.



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