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Introduction Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Strategy & Tactics periodicals released throughout the year. Your FLGS ...

Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine Strategy & Tactics #311 - Pacific Submarine

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine

Introduction

Most readers of this blog will be aware of the Strategy & Tactics periodicals released throughout the year. Your FLGS probably has some back issues in stock at any given time although you may have passed them by in the search for your next game. I am hoping that AWNT can feature regular reviews of these magazines as they are released; I will cover both the magazine and the included folio game that comes with a premium subscription.

I was fortunate to start with Strategy & Tactics issue #311 whose main article is a feature all about US Navy Submarine Operations in the Pacific which marries two of my prime interests of 20th Century Combat, namely the Pacific Theatre and submarine warfare. The history and combatants of the feature article are modelled for the included game, Pacific Subs.

The Game


The included game, 'Pacific Subs' is a solitaire simulation/game that allows the reader to model some of the tactical and operational considerations that a sub-commander may have had, or at least those detailed in the accompanying 'Pacific Subs' article. This marrying of article and game is a very effective way to explore some of the decisions and limitations that were imposed upon submarine crews of WWII. I always appreciate 'Designers Notes' in rulebooks and this magazine/game model takes that and amps it up.

I was taken aback at the quality of the components in this game, I was expecting PnP-grade components, but the reality is that they would not be out of place in any premium hex and counter wargame. The map and tactical display take up 3/4 of the (not quite A1) map sheet and there is a single counter sheet of 280 1/2 inch double-sided counters to play around with. Amazing! The quality of the components alone justify the $39.99 price tag not to speak of the magazine itself.



The rulebook does mention a few minor printing errors, most I could easily rectify however it says that they included 2 replacement counters in the plastic envelope; one for the Harbour - which was misprinted and a missing counter for the Submerged Timer. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find these additions. 

That the game designer and article author are the same, came as no surprise. The rules were neatly glued into the magazine with the glue that easily peels away and it left me with a pristine rulebook. The counters and map sheet come in their own plastic pocket which I will use to safely store the game components after I am finished playing.

I can't remember the last time I LoL'd (I apologise for using that as a verb) but I had a quick chortle about the rules for UHB's (Unnecessarily Hot Babes, or Undesirable Human Ballasts). However, after my first reading I thought I had a good enough handle on the Sequence of Play to attempt my first patrol as a newly promoted Lieutenant in the USN Sub-command. I still appreciated the support that is available online at http://strategyandtacticsmagazine.com/site/e-rules/ where you are able to download a detailed example of play which came in handy to resolve some minor issues.

Gameplay

Each scenario will consist of a number of different Actions which get resolved sequentially. The primary Action is Movement where you will expend fuel, move the boat counter (from 1 to 3 hexes) and determine what type of contact has been made in the new hex. In my experience, the move was normally just 1 hex as you attempt to skulk away from an enemy Escort or Flotilla.

Contact is determined by rolling a series of dice depending upon the features showing in the new hex. For example, if there is a shipping lane in the hex this will increase the chance of contact being made (makes sense) this is normally a stalking move and limited to just one hex. During the Contact determination you will roll an about a dozen dice, where 5 or higher means contact has been made by a Target (standard Merchant) a Tanker (higher reward at mission debrief), Escort (enemy combatant protecting a High-Value-Target (HVT), or an HVT itself. You can also make contact with a 'Rescue' indicating downed airmen or casualty evacuation from a beach hex. Although you're rolling a fair number of dice the outcomes felt well balanced i.e. you nearly always have a tactically sensible option - even if that is trying to run away...



After contact has been made the Tactical Display is used to determine the range and bearing from your boat. For me this was the most engaging part of the encounter; it really felt like the contacts were moving around the boat relative to the speed, depth and heading decisions you were making to get a good shot. 

This is one of the first sub-sim board games that doesn't abstract out the relative position and depth of the boat to the targets. I enjoyed this additional level of detail, and it is handled in such a way that doesn't slow the game down. 

I really enjoyed the game-play of this but I thought the rules could have been better with a few more examples of play. In many places you're left to interpret which arrows or tracks are being referenced but as with any game, familiarity makes this a non-issue. I am inordinately impressed that a game of this quality is possible (I hope consistently) every two months on the S&T publishing schedule. The minor printing errors and lack of detail in the rules book are almost understandable considering that major Wargame titles still suffer from this themselves with years of development.

Overall I thought this is an excellent game to explore the sub-combat/survival in the PTO. It won't be to everyone's cup of tea, but it was pretty much perfect for me. Subs - check, PTO - check.

The Magazine

Game-zine's have come a long way since I first experienced them back in the late 80s. With these magazines we get print quality that is indistinguishable from the premium titles you'll find on any newsstand e.g. New Scientist, National Geographic et al. The Magazine has 81 full-colour pages printed on nice thick paper stock. Of which 64 are packed with interesting content, in this issue, ranging from the Ancients Macedonian and Roman wars all the way through to the Pacific Theatre of WWII.



The feature article 'Pacific Subs' details some of the antics of the USN Submarine Force, including photos and attributes of all major types that were in use. The Author of the article, Christopher Perello, recounts some of the many considerations that faced submariners during WWII. Namely their own technical limitations, e.g. torpedo failures and the introduction of RADAR and Sonar systems to locate enemy combatants. The focus was clearly on the USN side as the Japanese submarine force is relegated to a few paragraphs at the end of the article. This was a shame as the Allied focus is very well written, in fact, all the articles are excellently written, I devoured the whole magazine in just two sittings, all of the articles were engaging and informative.

I must admit my knowledge of the religious struggle between Christian Europe and Islamic countries is limited to a school-grade level of awareness of the Crusades featuring white-tabarded knights with red crosses on their chest. My 'crusader' knowledge also has a smattering of Monty Python in my sub-conscious as well...however, the second article laid out some of the major impacts and battle successes that the Muslim armies of the 7th century had on the development and landscape of the Europe that we know today. It could be argued that Northern Europeans, and I still include the UK in that category... owe the relative dominance of their politics/economies to the highly successful Muslim invasions in Spain and Eastern Europe.


I have just finished watching Ken Burns' excellent documentary on the American Civil War so I was pleased to read the third article which recounts the exploits of Major General Sheridan's Cavalry Corps of the Union Army. As an outsider to America, it is obvious that there is a lasting legacy and reverence of the ACW. The author, Arnold Blumberg, has chosen a pivotal moment in the tactical development of the Union forces and how they deployed their Cavalry; shifting from a largely reconnaissance role to a major combat role. I am in awe of the bravery of soldiers throughout history, as they faced increasingly devastating firepower with nothing but their wits and lady luck to protect them. These technological changes are most evident in the ACW and WWI with the advent of the machine gun and artillery capabilities respectively.

The last major article focuses on one 'Fra Diavolo' early in the 19th Century i.e. Napoleonics. Now I'm familiar with the major Napoleonic campaigns but I had never heard of this one. I am no longer surprised when I read something I thought I had a good grasp on and it ever-so-gently reveals to you, you know nothing! Or at least a darn sight less than you thought you did. And I suppose that is where I think I will derive the most pleasure from this magazine, from learning details of minor and major skirmishes of events that I think I knew fairly well. Each major article, with the exception of the first - whose topic I really do know my stuff, was enlightening. The first too was an excellent read.



The back pages of this magazine include a diverse array of military snippets; for example the profiles of memorable U-boats and the tactical difference when the Roman Legion faced off against the Greek Phalanx. I am looking forward to reading the next issue and would like to thank Decision Games for providing this as a review copy.

Had some free time this Saturday so I decided to provide you guys with a bit of Cold Waters gameplay! My mission was a success...until...

Cold Waters Gameplay Video Cold Waters Gameplay Video

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine





Had some free time this Saturday so I decided to provide you guys with a bit of Cold Waters gameplay! My mission was a success...until it wasn't.  Watch on Youtube





You can also read my review here.

In the frigid depths of the North Atlantic, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine glides silently beneath the waves. The Cold War has...

Cold Waters Review Cold Waters Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine




In the frigid depths of the North Atlantic, a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine glides silently beneath the waves. The Cold War has gone hot, and you are at the helm of a vessel that will make all the difference in how it plays out. That is the scenario presented when you fire up a campaign of Cold Waters, the newest nautical experience from Killerfish Games. The developers of turn-based WW2 naval combat titles Atlantic Fleet and Pacific Fleet, have switched gears by releasing a real-time submarine focused title set during the Cold War. 




Cold Waters occupies a happy medium on the sim-arcade spectrum, with all the appropriate bells and whistles you would expect in submarine simulation, presented in a streamlined and easily controlled manner. If you're like me, and most of your submarine skippering abilities were taught via Tom Clancy novels, you will feel right at home here. After playing through the series of interactive tutorial missions, you will understand all the mechanics of commanding your sub. The controls in Cold Waters are very easy to grasp. The sub is maneuvered using the keyboard (WASD to steer, surrounding keys to control throttle and ballast), and firing weapons is as simple as clicking on the map in the desired direction/range. There is also a solid primer on sub combat tactics in the in-game manual that you will probably want to review. Despite the informative tutorial, if you don't have much experience with post-WW2 submarine tactics, the school of hard knocks will likely dish out a few more lessons in short order. 

After completing the tutorials, your next stop will either be one of the preset scenarios or the dynamic campaign. The scenarios offer some good variety, starting with a simple 1v1 sub engagement, then increasing in complexity and difficulty until you are staring down entire enemy battle fleets. I tried out a couple of these to get started, but the bread and butter of the game is definitely the dynamic campaign.


Cold Waters offers two different time periods for the campaign. You can play in either 1984 or 1968. I mostly have played in the 1984 setting, since you get far more toys to play with and the combat is generally faster paced. For now, you can only play as NATO. In both settings you will have several different sub classes to choose from, all the classics are here. Once the campaign begins, you are presented with a series of news bulletins laying out the circumstances that lead up to war. This style of news bulletin will continue to pop up throughout the course of the campaign, keeping you up to date on the state of the conflict. Your successes and/or failures will directly influence these events over the course of the war. 




The campaign map also shows the state of the war, with icons indicating Soviet progress against NATO forces on the continent. A variety of other icons representing ships, aircraft, subs, and even satellites travel around in real time. Keeping track of all of this is a bit of a mini-game in itself, as you click on the map to have your sub travel at slow or fast speed to your chosen destination. Let an enemy air patrol spot your sub and you can expect an enemy attack sub to make a beeline in your direction.

Your movements on this map will be based on the missions you are assigned throughout the campaign. Most will have you moving to intercept or hunt down various enemy vessels. A more exotic assignment might have you dropping off commandos for a daring raid deep in enemy territory. Friendly reconnaissance units will occasionally reveal enemy positions and movements, and then you must use your judgement, and the intelligence from the mission briefing, to rendezvous your sub with its prey. One drawback with the game was that this screen can leave you feeling a bit like you are fighting the war all alone. Your lonely sub ventures out repeatedly to strike at the enemy, but no other friendlies seem to be in the fight at all. This leaves the conflict feeling a bit less "dynamic" than it might be if you could actually see the battle that is supposedly raging in the North Atlantic.

Once an engagement begins, we get to the meat of the game. Your viewpoint for the game is mostly from a third-person camera orbiting your sub or another object such as a torpedo. The only first-person view you will find here is when gazing through the periscope. If you are looking for the claustrophobic immersion you might remember from Silent Hunter III, you won't find it here. That said, I know I spent most of my time in Silent Hunter using the external camera anyway, but the omission does detract a bit from the immersion factor. Other items you will find on the screen include a tactical map and a multi-tab information panel. The map shows all the various contacts you may be seeing, and some detailed information about your sub and whatever item you have targeted. You can also pull up a full-screen map when needed. Over on the information panel you will find just about everything else you need. A panel for managing weapons, one for damage, one for water conditions, and one for sonar contacts. 




I found that most missions played out in three phases, which I dub the hunt, the attack, and the chase. 

During the hunt you will be stalking silently, listening for contacts and working to get them fully identified. In some missions you are there to destroy everything in sight, but oftentimes you will have a particular target that must be taken out or the mission will fail. Getting a positive ID of your target before engaging is a must, since you may only get one shot at it. During this time it is also smart to plan out your entire attack and exit strategy. Failure to plan ahead will regularly result in a poor performance once the action gets going.




Once you have your target and plan of attack, it's time to pull the trigger. Torpedoes and missiles are fired by simply selecting the weapon tube, configuring a few settings for the weapon, and then clicking on the map where you want it to go. Once that first shot is released, things get a lot more hectic. The enemy will now be actively closing on your position, but you will want to stick around long enough to confirm your target's destruction or let loose another volley if needed. 

Gradually the attack will shift into the chase in most circumstances. At the very least you will usually have enemy ASW aircraft dropping sonar buoys, then torpedoes and depth charges if they get a bead on you. Once you become the hunted, the tension really ramps up. You've succeeded in your mission , but now you have to get your crew out of the area alive. This stage is where I lost my sub 90% of the time.

After the mission, whether it was a success or failure, you will go back to the world map. You will soon get new orders, but may need to retreat back to your home port for repairs. The more success you have, the better the war goes, and vice versa. Eventually one side will emerge victorious, though I have yet to survive long enough to see that. 




Overall, the actual combat always left me satisfied. As you start out playing the game, each battle will usually leave you with some kind of lesson you can apply to future encounters. This is always a good sign in any game where death can come suddenly. Usually that death was your own fault, but it isn't a failure as long as you learn from it.

The graphics of Cold Waters work quite nicely. The various sub and ship models are detailed, and the water in particular looks great. The sound effects are also generally good, but one distinct feature is lacking in the audio department, there are no voiced lines at all. Reports of new contacts or weapon discharges are presented only as a line of text. The developers have promised to rectify this with an update, so I look forward to seeing how that adds to the experience.  The game loads up extremely fast and I did not encounter any major bugs or glitches. There were a couple of UI issues which have already been resolved in a patch.


Cold Waters is a submarine sim that I think will please many gamers interested in the topic. However, I know there is a crowd out there hoping for something a bit more hardcore, and this game may not be for them. Some of the finer points of sub combat are left out, for example, the towed sonar array on your sub is completely abstracted. Cold Waters is all about getting you into the action rapidly and often. Once in the thick of things, even the relatively simple mechanics will keep any player quite busy. Between maneuvering the sub, tracking enemy contacts, dodging torpedoes, and managing repair priorities, you will have white knuckles in no time.




What makes me enjoy and want to recommend Cold Waters is how it gives you a sense of being in The Hunt for Red October or similar fiction. Sometimes a scenario will play out simply, with you firing a weapon, destroying the target at range, and then skulking off into the sea. However, other times the battle can turn into a chaotic mess, with your sub maneuvering right next to an enemy sub, looking to get a perfect shot off while dodging torpedoes. In these moments the game really shines, as the simple controls let you stay hooked into the action. 

Killerfish Games are already busy improving the game, with a couple of patches out that have fixed several minor issues and added a couple of quality of life features. They promise to eventually add in voiced lines and a matching set of Soviet scenarios and campaigns. Extensive modding support is also on the agenda, so those looking for a more hardcore experience may need only wait for a mod or two to change things up.

At $40, I think Cold Waters is reasonably priced for being such a niche game. There simply aren't many games like this out there, and this is a very solid title with some more improvements on the way. I give it a strong recommendation for anyone looking for a fun submarine combat sim.

- Joe Beard

Official Site: http://killerfishgames.com/games/cold-waters

Cold Waters is available on Steam for PC and Mac


I'm coming to you from a classified location, somewhere under the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. The Cold War has gone hot, b...

Cold Waters - Review in Progress Cold Waters - Review in Progress

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine




I'm coming to you from a classified location, somewhere under the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. The Cold War has gone hot, but there's nothing warm about this particular theater of operations. Cold Waters, the just released title from Killerfish Games, has you as the captain aboard one of several different submarines, lurking about looking for prey in a dynamic full scale war environment. 


I did not get a review copy until the day of the game release, and I have not had enough game time to reach a final verdict before setting off on a full-fledged family road trip tomorrow. So I thought I would at least give some first impressions on the game since I know a lot of people are interested in it. Such games as this are few and far between, but there is definitely an audience out there looking for their next chance to fire off a few torpedoes into unsuspecting vessels.



So, is this a technical simulation requiring hours of study to even know what is going on (I'm looking at you Dangerous Waters) or is it an arcade style combat game focused on blowing stuff up? Cold Waters manages to tick all of the naval lingo boxes you could hope for, while being startlingly simple to jump right in to. This will probably make it ideal for most players looking for some Cold War naval action, while perhaps not meshing with a few gamers on the extremes of that spectrum.

The sub battles can sometimes turn into real knife-fights.

On the one hand, to play the game effectively you will need to understand and manage active/passive sonar, what cavitating is (and what depths/speeds it occurs at), steering your sub using speed/rudders/flaps/ballast at the same time, weapon loadout, planning your attack as well as your escape, dealing with upwards of a half-dozen or more torpedoes in the water simultaneously (yours and theirs), and how to use the thermal layer to your advantage.  

On the other hand, the game is played entirely with a third-person view of your sub. Looking about in the crystal clear waters, you will be able to watch enemy torpedoes coming in as you try to dodge them. This can feel a bit like cheating at times, since you can even jump the camera to one of your wire-guided torpedoes and steer it into an enemy sub. That said, the situation often becomes complex enough that you need all the help you can get. Targeting and firing your torpedoes feels a bit too simple compared to the likes of Silent Hunter 3 and its kin, since you simply look at the map and click where you want the torpedo to go. However, you do still need to be pointing in the correct direction to fire off the shot. You can also jam your tubes if you try firing while maneuvering too sharply.


I'll save a more detailed discussion for my full review, but my current thinking is that if the above paragraphs didn't dissuade you, and you are looking for some sub simming action, then Cold Waters is definitely worth taking a close look at. The missions and campaigns quickly get you into the action, but then you will usually need some real strategy and planning to accomplish your goals and live to tell the tale. That escaping alive part is really the crux of the game. More than a few times I got my crew killed by firing off my weaponry, then lingering about since I had not thought that far ahead. Anti-submarine aircraft are usually swarming above, just waiting for you to reveal yourself, and then the hunt is on. Run too hard and you may run smack-dab into an enemy sub that was patiently waiting for you in silence. Once the enemy torpedoes start closing in, the tension level ramps up to white-knuckle levels. 

Look for my full review and a gameplay video in about a week.


- Joe Beard

Official Website: http://killerfishgames.com/games/cold-waters









GATO LEADER As promised, my next undertaking is an AAR for Gato Leader .  I decided on this route, because a review would have simp...

GATO LEADER AAR GATO LEADER  AAR

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine

GATO LEADER


As promised, my next undertaking is an AAR for Gato Leader.  I decided on this route, because a review would have simply been about 95+ % a replication of my review of U-Boat Leader As a prelude, these are the few differences, none critical, as they mainly reflect the historical backgrounds.

Gato Leader :

Includes some differing Special Missions, such as Mine and Recon/Rescue.

Wolfpacks are handled differently.  In fact, I would personally have called them something else, as I don't think that the Americans used this term.  Essentially, you chose whether or not a number of submarines begin as a group together in the same port.  So, no seeing whether a Convoy turns out to be a valuable target and then trying to call in other subs.

Takes us up to 1945, whereas U-Boat only goes as far as 1943, so there is more possibility of using radar.

Provides Forward Operating Bases [that can be purchased with Special Ops points]which allow for removing Stress points and reloading torpedoes.

Takes account of  the inferior quality of torpedoes by having a set of rules for dud torpedoes and a chart to roll on.  At its worst , none of your torpedoes may hit and in plenty of cases at least half will be duds! [Technically, this is not a totally new rule addition as U-Boat Leader 2nd edition has an optional rule for dud torpedoes.]

Allows for reloading torpedoes while on the Tactical Display.


These last two seem to me the most significant differences and one seems in part to balance the other.  However, I do not think that the ability to reload while on the Tactical Display is the big deal some comments on the game have made it out to be.





One other point worth mentioning is that the Event cards can be far more deadly than in U-Boat Leader and, overall, you will probably have to draw more too!



So, with that said, on to ...


Campaign Mission :
Turning The Tide
Short Scenario.



Stategic Segment



This gives me 40 SOs with which to purchase my submarines and any Special items.



I spend 36 SOs on submarines and the remaining 4 SOs on Special items.








Here's everything set up for the start of the Campaign, including my trusty dice tower!  On the left is the mounted play board which  has areas along the top for the Merchant Cards, the Escort Cards and the Naval cards and then beneath is nearly all the necessary information for conducting the Tactical Segment of a turn.  On the right is the Campaign Mission card with the map on which the subs operate in the Operational Segment of the turn.  The very blurred, vaguely bluish shapes are my four subs in groups of two.



Slap bang in the centre is the mounted Tactical Display board on which [surprise, surprise] the Tactical Segment takes place.   On the left side of this board are the holding boxes for the Event cards and Convoy cards and the rest is the lovely depiction of a sonar screen.  It's worth pointing out that this Tactical Display is part of the expansion pack.  It's brilliant, but the one that comes with Gato Leader itself is half the size and not as impressive because of the reduced area to play on.




My choices were:



Guardfish [Trained level + Torpedo Modifier]

Gudgeon  [Trained level + Radar] 

Both placed in Peal Harbour and formed as a wolfpack.  So, these two will operate together.

Silversides [Veteran + Torpedo Modifier]
Tautog       [Veteran + Radar]

Both placed in Freemantle and formed as a wolfpack.  So, these two will also operate together.

My decisions were based on the following reasons: the radar would gain a modifier in locating Convoys and the Torpedo Modifier would mean that the sub would roll one column better when checking for dud torpedoes.



A closer look at Guardfish, loaded up with 10 torpedoes Ready and another 14 Stored on board. 

It has markers showing its 6 gunnery factors and the Torp modifier.




Operations Segment



My first two subs left the port of Freemantle for the South China Sea, each drawing two Event cards.


Silversides



A Fatal Error                   + 3 Stress

Equipment Malfunction  + 2 Stress



[See what I mean about Event cards!  my sub is almost nearly up to its Shaken level and it hasn't even started to look for the enemy.]



Tautog

Lone Merchant - expend 1 torpedo and score 1 VP
Rough Seas         + 2 Stress


My other two subs left Pearl Harbour for the Marianas, each drawing two Event cards.

Guardfish

Nimitz Takes Notice  -  gain 2 SOs if you score equal or more than 10 VPs this turn.
Clear Weather            - no effect

[Well that draw went a bit better.]

Gudgeon

Rough Seas - + 2 Stress
Minefield [condition N/A, so gained default] + 1 Stress



The unfortunate Silversides which has picked up 5 Stress pts

just by sailing in to the South China Sea




 Tactical Segment



[N.B. all die rolls use a d10]



Tautog rolls for Contact



Contact die roll 6  mods +2 [number of subs in wolfpack],

+1[ radar], -3 [sub moved during the Operations segment].



Result 6 = 2 Contacts


Place Contact marker on the Campaign map board, draw a Convoy card and flip Contact marker from 2 to 1.

Contact card drawn is Card 043 [6 Merchants and 3 Escorts]  Unidentified markers are placed on the Tactical Display for all nine ships.



Convoy card 043 showing where the relevant unknown ship markers should be placed


The card only shows the 4 Centre Convoy Sectors and the 8 Short Range Sectors.  Beyond those are the 8 Medium Range Sectors and finally the 8 Long Range Sectors.  






Here are the six blue unidentified Merchant ship markers and the three unidentified escort ship markers, before I place my two subs in any of the outer Long Range Sectors.  



Once I do that, I choose for both submarines to submerge and move one sector nearer the revealed Escort Ikuna and the following enemy are revealed because of range : Merchants Santyo Maru, Katori Maru, Nanrei Maru and Hoten Maru.



As a result of Lag Movement, the two submarines move one sector towards the Convoy's wake.  [The top of the board is marked as the Convoy's course and the bottom is the Convoy's wake.]  The Escort Ikuna rolls for detection of the subs.  A 1 fails to detect the sub Silversides, but a roll of 8 detects Tautog and so, the other two unidentified Escorts converge along with Ikuna on Tautog.  The other Escorts are revealed as the Momi and Etorofu.  Ikuna and Etorofu are now directly in the same sector as my sub Tautog!



Also, the last two Merchants are revealed as the Harbin Maru and the Sakito Maru.



The image shows all the ships now identified and two Escorts in the same sector as the detected Tautog.  Tautog is just about to Deep Dive to try to avoid the Escorts attacks which are not rolled for, but Damage chits are automatically drawn.  In this case, it would have meant drawing 7 Heavy Damage chits in total - in all probability this would have been fatal for my sub!

*[At this point, with two Escorts at range zero, panic set in and I forgot that Tautog had the Aggressive quality and could have fired at the Escorts before they could fire at him.] 

Instead, not too surprisingly, the sub opts to Deep Dive to attempt to avoid the imminent attacks, first it takes 2 Stress points as a result of making the Deep Dive.  Though avoiding drawing damage tokens for attacks from the three Escorts, the sub still has to roll against its evasion rating and is successful for two of the three attacks, but fails against the other and so takes a temporary Flooding marker.  Not good, but could have been much, much worse if the Escorts' attacks had gone in.

[Crash Dive, which is what you do if you are attacked while on the surface, states quite clearly that an Evasion roll is made for each Escort attacking you.  With a Deep Dive, the rules are not 100% clear as to whether you make an Evasion roll for each separate Escort, as I did, or whether it's a single die roll.]

Because the Tautog has dived, it cannot attack. 

[Again, a point worth raising. In both Gato and U-Boat Leader, there are no restrictions on Escorts sailing into and through Convoy Sectors.  In my review of U-Boat Leader, I queried the historical validity of this total freedom.  Still not sure how appropriate this is.]

The other sub Silversides, however, now unleashes a spread of 5 torpedoes at the Katori Maru and another spread of 5 at the Hoten Maru.

Resolve those against the Katori Maru first.  The die roll for duds means that only half run true [i.e. 3 torpedoes out of the 5].  So, modifiers are +2 [3-1 for torpedo spread] +2 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -1 for range, giving a final mod of +3.

The torpedo rolls are 1,3, 9, becoming 4, 6 and 12.  Taking the highest result 12, this is compared with the target's stats and as 12 well passes the target's third number, the Katori Maru settles beneath the waves.  Silversides chalks up 4 VPs and 3 Experience Points.

So, the focus turns to the attack on the Hoten Maru.  All five torpedoes run true; no duds this time.  Modifiers: +4 [5-1 for torpedo spread, +2 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -2 [range] = +4.

Die rolls for the five torpedoes are 3, 7, 8, 9 becoming 7, 11, 12, 13.  like its sister ship, a final result of 13 is more than enough to sink the Hoten Maru and Silversides gains another 3 VPs and 2 Experience Points.

The Combat Resolution phase is over and so the Deep Dive marker is removed from the Tautog and a new round begins.

Silversides surfaces and moves 2 sectors away to the western most Long Range sector, while Tautog opts to attempt Silent Running and rolls a 1 [hurrah], so the detection marker is removed  and the sub's speed drops to zero.  As a result, in the Lag Movement phase, Tautog drifts two sectors south and out of detection range of the Escorts.


[In the image above, Tautog has just successfully rolled for Silent Running and its speed drops to zero.  Consequently, in the Lag Movement phase, the sub will move two Sectors due south, towards the Convoy's wake.]

* [I realised much later, I had made a mistake here.  The attack by Silversides would have placed an Alert counter on the Tactical Display which would have increased the Escorts' detection range by one and put Silversides in potential detection range of the Escorts.] 

Consequently, the Escorts roll for random movement.  End of Combat round.

For the next 3 rounds, the two subs lurk on the fringes, out of escort range, while Silversides reloads 2 torpedoes per round.

On the next round, both subs move into firing range of the Merchants.

Tautog fires 6 torpedoes at the Sakito Maru and half run true.  Modifiers +2 [3-1 for torpedo spread] +1 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -2 range = +1

Torpedo dice rolls are 10, 7, 1 becoming 11, 8 , 2

The Sakito Maru is sunk and Tautog gains VPs 4 : Experience Points 2.

Silversides launches 5 torpedoes at the Harbin Maru, but a pathetic die roll of 2 means that only one torpedo runs true and one of the torpedoes that miss errs dramatically off-course and hits its own sub!  This causes 3 Heavy Hits on the sub;  the first adds 2 Stress, the second is No Effect and the third causes lasting Hull damage.

To counter this appalling SNAFU, the 1 torpedo that strikes the Merchant rolls a 10 and with +1 total modifier the Harbin Maru is added to Silversides' growing total, gaining 3 VPs and 2 Experience Points.

On the next round, both subs surface in order to be able to move two sectors.  The Tautog is able to exit the Tactical Display, but Silversides can only reach the Western Long Range sector and so is easily detected by the Escorts who converge for the kill.  Silversides opts to Crash Dive and adds 1 Stress, so that the sub is now at 8 Stress, one away from the maximum it can take before becoming Unfit!  But all evasion rolls are successful.

On the next Combat round, the sub can exit the Tactical Display and the situation moves to the Post-Combat Resolution Phase.

Silversides records his 10 VPs and 7 Experience Points on the Campaign Log.

Tautog records 4 VPs and 2 Experience points.

Each sub gains 1 Stress at this stage.

Silversides moves to 9 Stress, and so I decide to place the sub back onto the Campaign Map in the Area's Searched Box.

Tautog, now at Stress 5, fully reloads and with 1 Convoy-sighted marker still on the Tactical Display, I decide to continue the Tactical Segment and draw a new Convoy card which reveals two Merchant ships and Escorts.  A second Convoy card is then drawn for its random Event.

Tautog decides to fire off 5 torpedoes at each Merchant ship [this causes them to be revealed as the Anyo Maru  and the Tatuwa Maru]. 

Firing at the Tatuwa Maru -  the roll on the dud table is low and only one torpedo hits the ship doing no damage, while one of the misses hits his own sub adding 1 Stress, Lasting Electrics damage and No Effect.

The other 5 torpedoes fired at the Anyo Maru all run true and with the best of his five dice being a 10, plus a small modifier, a final Merchant ship is sunk adding 4 VPs and 3 Experience Points to the tally.

In the next Combat round, Tautog immediately exits the Tactical Display to add one more Stress in the Post-Combat Phase, so the sub's Stress is now at 7.

Tautog also records 4 VPs and 3 Experience points.

With virtually no torpedoes left to reload and a high Stress level, I decide to call it quits and place Tautog in the Searched Box where Silversides has already been placed.

[... It was now the turn of my other two subs in the Marianas and I hope that you will allow me to draw breath at this point and pass over their exploits, until another day.  Otherwise this AAR is going to ... argh my two typing fingers have gone numb!

Some time later...

Once all your subs have been activated and gone through the processes that I've detailed, you move to the last Segment Refit.]

Re-fit Segment

Promote Submarines

Silversides  spends 5 of Experience points to promote the sub's commander to Ace level.

Tautog spends 3 Experience points to promote the sub's commander to Ace level.

As there is no Forward Operating Base in the area, neither sub can reduce their Stress level and neither sub has the Cool Special Ability which would allow 1 Stress point to be removed.

Any temporary damage received is removed, but lasting damage remains on the sub.

Finally the submarines are put back from the Searched Box into the South China Sea area and the process starts again.

With neither sub fit for much action, I simply return them to the Port of Freemantle from which they had started.  Of course, if subs travel further afield, you can head for the nearest Port or journey back drawing Event cards for moving into areas as you do so.  Thankfully for these two battered heroes, Freemantle borders the South China Sea and so they go straight into the Port Box.

Once in Port, each sub can remove the appropriate amount of damage, in this case 5 Stress points each for Freemantle Port.

This concludes 1 Patrol for each submarine which is the maximum they can do in a Short Mission.

Between them the Silversides & Tautog had notched up 18 Victory pts, enough to get me exactly half way to scoring the minimum total of VPs to earn the Adequate level in game terms!!


A FINAL FEW WORDS

First of all, this was a hugely enjoyable experience, though it took 10 A-4  pages of careful record keeping just to cover the details that covered half of the Campaign and several sessions that tallied about nine hours in total.  To play the game, without all the written record keeping to produce this AAR, is [I can assure you] a whole lot quicker!

I'd like to thank DVG, who very kindly sent with the game the Expansion Ship Miniatures and Battle Board which provides a mounted Tactical Display board twice the size of the smaller board in the game itself. But, as mentioned in my review of U-Boat Leader, the latter is rather small for the number of counters and markers likely to be placed on it. 

I love the expansion, but it does add another £22.99 to the cost of the overall package.

Both U-Boat Leader 2nd Edition and Gato Leader are for me excellent additions to my solitaire experience.  I imagine that the UK gamer may well settle for the former and the US gamer for the latter.  Both give equally satisfying and rewarding experiences.




























U-BOAT LEADER from DAN VERSSEN GAMES As hoped for, having soared to great heights gaining my pilot's wings over Vietnam in Phan...

U Boat Leader by DVG Games Review U Boat Leader by DVG Games Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Submarine

from DAN VERSSEN GAMES


As hoped for, having soared to great heights gaining my pilot's wings over Vietnam in Phantom Leader, I have been allowed to sound the chilling depths of the North Sea and Mid-Atlantic with U-Boat Leader.  Having surprised myself with the amount of enjoyment I gained from an air war simulation, I had little doubt that a topic I have always liked, namely submarine warfare, would immediately appeal.  Being part of a series, I was not surprised to find that there are many similar features to both games.  But would that make for disappointment or would two totally different environments be capable of being successfully simulated by similar mechanics?  Before solving that key question, let's take the traditional peak inside the box at the physical components.





Once again quality stands high on the agenda ranging from the same deep strong box with its beautiful artwork, counters of even greater richness and thickness and visually first-class cards.  For me, the sombre brown, shading to sepia of the illustrations of ships seen through the periscope lens and the faded writing are perfect for conjuring up the period and ambiance of the game, but they may evoke different responses, especially if striking colour is more to your taste. 

What has definitely caused a degree of concern and complaint has been a number of significant production errors.  None of them prevent you from playing the game, but they do raise questions.  Above all, virtually all the cards depicting the surface ships [Merchants, Escorts and Naval] have been printed on the front as Merchants.  DVG has an excellent record on customer care  and they have been swift to reassure buyers that complete new decks will be supplied, but this will take at least a couple of months.

In the meantime, in practical terms of playing the game, this can swiftly be sorted out by comparing the ship counters with the cards and the correct three decks created.  But to save you time, the Escort cards are those numbered from 86 -100 and the Naval cards are those numbered 101-112.  The simple process of using sleeves with different coloured backs is a further quick way to make sure that you don't have to go through the process of sorting at the beginning of each game.  Having been a gamer since 1976, it's no big deal for me, but I can quite understand and sympathise with those for whom this is a very off-putting factor.

The problem seems to stem from the printers, but even more disconcerting is that the main play aid [labelled Help Sheet], which contains important rule sequences, wrongly contains the old Combat routine instead of the new 2nd edition ones.  Again the mistake can be easily overcome by referring to the rule book, but as one of the main criticisms of the 1st edition was the simplistic and unsatisfying Combat rules, there must have been considerable focus on this element.  So, this mistake really should not have been allowed to get through.  I'm hoping that like the cards this will be corrected for those who have already received the game, though so far I am unaware of any pronouncement from the company on this.






[This is the mounted board Help Sheet.  The incorrect Combat Sequence is in the bottom left corner and as you can see the central pile contains all the Escort cards wrongly printed as Merchant cards and to their right are the Naval cards, again, apart from the two I've put on top of the pile, wrongly printed as Merchant cards.]



These drawbacks will sadly deter some from ever buying the game and will cause many to justifiably wait until they are sure all has been put right.  However, my personal major disappointment is the Tactical Display Board on which all the direct action between submarines and the vessels that they encounter is performed.  As it stands, it looks the part, but small is definitely not to be considered good here.  This central focus of the game takes the form of a sonar display and the quadrants are barely large enough to hold more than two ship/submarine counters, as the picture below shows. 







the Tactical Display Board contained in the 2nd edition

Considering that in Phantom Leader [PH from now on] the equivalent board is twice the size and excellent in every respect, I was puzzled about this reduction.  Fortunately, I received, along with my review copy of the game, the U-Boat Leader and Gato Leader Ship Miniatures and Battle Board package.  As the Tactical Display Board in this expansion is exactly the size of the board referred to above in PH, I strongly feel that this should have been a basic part of the 2nd edition production.  It certainly transforms the whole experience - as the identical set up on the larger board [shown below] reveals.





the Tactical Display Board contained in 
the U-Boat Leader and Gato Leader
Ship Miniatures and Battle Board package



All that now follows establishes that both PH and U-Boat Leader follow similar effective paths in all other respects.  4 Campaign cards take us from the early years in The Battle Begins [Sept 1939 - May 1940] on into the Axis domination of The Happy Times [June 1940 - May 1941] and up to the period of parity and then the gradual British upturn in The Hunted [June 1942 - June 1943]. The fourth Campaign is, for me, something of an unknown sideshow taking us to the Caribbean and the American coast in Operation Drumbeat [Feb 1942 - June 1942].  I'm not sure whether this was an eye to the American market, though Gato Leader which takes us to the Pacific war with American submarines will certainly satisfy that desire.



My first four submarines set up ready to start
 a Short version of The Happy Times Campaign

Each Campaign contains the ability to play at Short, Medium and Long length.  The length of campaign determines the number of SOs [Special Operation] points that you receive and the number of patrols each submarine must make.  SOs are mainly used to buy your submarines.  In PH your aircraft was designated by its call sign [e.g. Digger]: in U-Boat Leader, each submarine has an historical U-boat commander's name on the card.  I liked the call signs and feel that being able to sally out with such characters as Gunther Prien makes play even more immersive.  You can buy each submarine card at one of four levels, Green to Ace, as against the six levels of pilot in PH.



Above are the cards for those first four submarines.

If you have your own copy of PH or have read my review of that game, you will quickly see that U-Boat Leader is marginally simpler and easier to play at each stage that I'm now going to take you through.

The Strategic Segment especially is much quicker than the equivalent procedures in PH.  Choose your submarines and spend the few SOs you may have kept back after putting your submarine group together on such things as Special Missions such as Raider or Air Searches and Supply ships.  That's more or less it.  There is none of the lengthy deliberation on what types of ammunition and missiles you need, as each sub card tells you how many torpedoes you have in store and ready loaded and whether it has a gun capacity for surface firing.  Torpedo capacity may vary, but all subs with guns get 6 potential shots!  Place your subs in whatever ports are available and you're ready to sail on to the Operational Segment.



Close up of the submarines in port ready to sail
in the Operational Segment on the Campaign map.

To my surprise I rather missed the more complex decision making of PH.  On the other hand, I did like being able to get down to the action quicker and here there is a major difference, as your U-boats have an Operations Segment where each moves individually on the Campaign map from sea area to sea area drawing and resolving Event cards as they do so.  Though a simple process, I like the extra dimension of deciding how far you're going to move and finding out what happens as you keep pressing on.

When you have moved all your subs, you then change to the Tactical Segment and once more sub by sub roll to see if you make contact with the enemy.  The possibility is from zero to three contacts, with each contact giving you the opportunity to draw a Convoy card.   When you have drawn a Convoy card reduce the Contact marker by one.  The size and composition of the convoy may vary and, if you don't like what you see you can always decide to abort that encounter.




A close up of the Tactical Display with two Merchants identified.

One has taken damage, the other so far is unscathed.


If you do decide to tackle the convoy, then in some cases you may be able to form a wolfpack, if you have chosen to move more than one sub to the same sea area and the pickings look particularly rich.
With the Convoy card accepted, you set out the enemy ship markers according to their positions on the Convoy card.   Often there will be a number of merchant ships with one or two escorts, on the Tactical Display.  As yet your targets are unidentified and so their markers are those with question marks on.  Then you  place your sub/s on the outer most ring of the display.

You move your subs one space if submerged and two on the surface, while very simple and easy mechanics govern the movement of enemy ships.  As these come within range, you'll draw an appropriate card which will identify the ship and you will place its named marker on the display.  This whole part of the game is engrossing with all relevant features taken into account through very accessible rules.

And so the heart of the game is under way.  Decisions, decisions!  The element I always appreciate in a game.  Attack on the surface, so that you can use your gunnery as well as torpedoes and become a more easily identified target by any Escorts.  How many torpedoes to launch at one target to improve your chance of hitting?  How do you react to being attacked?  Always loved Silent Running and Crash Dives in warfare?  They're both simple options that you can go for.

At this point the following familiar and in most cases identical elements from PH kick in.  Your subs indicated on their card as aggressive fire first, then the enemy and then cautious subs. OK and Shaken status play their part as does Stress.  The different hit numbers on the enemy ships determine the amount of damage your die roll inflicts on them, up to and including sinking them outright.

What has greatly improved the game is the introduction of damage chits to be drawn randomly for the enemy attacks on your subs.  Overall, this works very, very well, with only one slight concern on my part and that is the almost nil chance of Merchant ships inflicting damage and the seeming lethality of Escorts. 

It does mean, of course, that you try to keep the Merchant ships between you and the Escorts, but as the Escorts can both sail through and fire through the Merchant ships, this isn't too easy.  I must admit that here I feel that a house rule might come into being for me, limiting the ability of Escorts simply ploughing straight through the Merchant ships.  As things stand at the moment, once the Escorts start firing, it's time for my subs to cut and run to fight another day.

Once your subs are off the display, that particular encounter is finished and there is the opportunity to reload torpedoes and attend to other housekeeping elements.  However, it does not necessarily mean that your current sub is finished with.  If you still have a Contact level remaining you may draw another Convoy card and the Tactical cycle begins again or if you have an enemy ship on the verge of sinking you can spend a Contact point, fire off a torpedo or gun if on the surface to guarantee that it does settle beneath the waves and add to your VP and Experience point tally.  These ideas get another thumbs up from me. 



Just some of the high quality counters contained in the game.

This continues until all your subs have been activated or you do not want to activate any more.  However, all is still not quite done, as you still have to return to a port passing through the sea areas necessary to do so and drawing Event cards as you do so.  This constitutes one Patrol.  Finally, you reach the Refit Segment with such items as promotion of U-boats if gained, Stress recovery and torpedo reloads.   If playing a Short Campaign, you'll now determine the success level, as your subs only undertake one Patrol; if a Medium or Long Campaign, you will prepare for another Patrol and off you go again. 

All these elements are handled in the rule book with excellent clarity and in the appropriate logical progression familiar from DVG's solitaire games.   Components are clearly explained, as are all the different cards, followed by the Set Up instructions.  Next come the rules for the various Segments I've talked you through, a short historical section on different types of U-boats and a very helpful three page example of play.  This latter part is standard in all the DVG games I've played and is thankfully becoming a feature of other companies' rulebooks.

In terms of game play, I can thoroughly recommend the experience of playing U-Boat Leader and would suggest that it is an easier starting point than the many solitaire air warfare games produced by DVG.  For those of you who are hesitant because of the production problems needing to be rectified, you could always move straight to Gato Leader, which covers the Pacific war from the periscope lens of the American subs.  Hence the title. 

Obviously, the appeal is solidly aimed at the US market, but everything in the box is spot one with none of the slip-ups to be corrected in U-Boat Leader.

As the only difference in the rules are very, very minor, a separate review would be a pointless repetition and so, I hope, in a few weeks' time to take you instead through a detailed AAR of a Short length Campaign from play of Gato Leader.  Until then, beware the enemy above!



  













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