Monday, 16 November 2015

They come unseen

After several unconfirmed reports of misterious disturbances and naval encounters along the Atlantic Ocean in the Grand Banks area were officially disregarded, both United States and Soviet Union showed their concern over the Barents Sea area. Unofficial reports indicated the presence of polar military bases which raised tension between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, conducting on alleged escalation and conduction of naval operations.
But according to repeated statements by both Soviet and American Governments, nothing of what you are about to see...
Ever happened.


Boardgame day! They come unseen is a different kind of stuff from what I am used to. It's quite a strategy boardgame and it's all about deceiving and placing your submarines wherever the enemy expects less...

Designed by a retired submarine officer, the game takes place in some kind of Cold War scenario on the Barents Sea, where the Soviet Union has placed several different stations. Two NATO-led submarines are to infiltrate and destroy them. But beware! The Soviets will of course defend their stations...

First thing that will call your attention is the very display of the board. Well, boards. You will have the main board, where action will be seen and Soviet player will deploy his ships and stuff... And the NATO player will have a smaller replica of the board, which only he is allowed to see, where he'll keep track of the movement of his submarines. This way, the submarines will be moving along and the defender will never have the certainty of where they are.

These are the boards. I will play the NATO submarines
The different colours represent different depths. 250 ft., 450 ft. and 650 ft. Submarines can dive up to 200, 400 or 600 ft, consuming energy on the process. When in the 250 ft. areas, they must move slower (shallow waters are always dangerous, you know!)
Submarines can move and execute different actions each turn. They can attack a Soviet station (when in the tile), they can lay mines for the enemy to hit them or they can go up to periscope depth and snort (i.e., barely move and let the batteries recharge). They will win the game if they get to destroy four out of the six ice-stations (determined randomly before the game).

The NATO display board, submarines are on their way!
 The faster they move, the faster the battery will empty, so you have to be very careful about how you move and when to recharge.

The unaware Soviet display board
Soviets have two kind of vessels, two destroyers (which will try to search and destroy the submarines before they achieve their goal) and three supply ships, which will be moving ammo and fuel through the ice-stations, where the destroyers can harbor to resupply; besides, they can also resupply by getting adjacent to one of these ships.

Fuel and salvoes
 Destroyers can make a sonar sweep in order to locate the subs:

Bing... bing... bing...
If a submarine is under any of the tiles covered by the sonar, the player must tell the Soviets in which quadrant, but nothing else (hence the colours). No contact this turn...

Both subs moved along the shore line towards their targets (the blue one is covered by my own shadow, nuts!)
Next turn the Soviets moved a destroyer closer to Charlie Station and the sonar sweep offered some juicy stuff. Contact red. Contact red. (That's the code to say that there was a contact on the red quadrant). The destroyer then sprung some mortar bombs off:

No, those are not sugar lumps
The Soviet player lays the bombs on any tiles he feel. He sets them on two depth levels at will (again, hence the colours). Being on a 250 ft. area, he can only release them at 200 ft. or surface. White ones were at 200 ft. and black ones were at surface. This time, the sub was at periscope depth, so we had a mortar bomb on the right tile, but wrong depth. That means the blue sub got some damage, but was still operational.
Fun thing is that the Soviet player still doesn't know for sure on which tile was the sub, so he just makes an educated guess and places a marker...

Just to get an idea of the whereabouts
Next turn the Soviets really put all their effort in chasing the subs. Yellow destroyer tried to close access to Charlie ice-station, while the red one ressuplied close to Alfa.

No contact, tovarich! Where are those subs?
Close, really close, but out of range
If you look (really close) the pic above, you'll see the green sub sneaked its way into Alfa Station just on the verge of detection range. So it got the station destroyed! I got the card associated to my target and...

Ouch! Some nasty secondary effects!
Right, all fuel from Station Echo just went! Really hard strike for the Soviet player, as it was the main warehouse at the moment. From now on, the destroyers will have to be really careful about the fuel they use!!

Both destroyers actively search for the subs..
But on the tiny board you can see they both are slippery! Green one leaves Alfa and blue gets into Charlie
So Charlie Station was also destroyed. NATO subs still had to strike Bravo and Foxtrot (once again, the defender isn't really sure of which are the targets of the attacker, that can drive him crazy, having to defend them all!)

Green sub barely avoids the sonar, blue gets detected but escapes unharmed
Then the Soviets focused in detecting the green sub, while the vessel had long gone from Alfa and was heading to unprotected Bravo. They also protected Foxtrot, but blue sub went up to periscope depth and recharged, waiting for their chance to strike...

This is what the Soviet player saw...
...but this was what the NATO player was doing
Soviets tried to defend Delta and Echo, which happened to be a terrible mistake, as the NATO targets were in fact Bravo and Foxtrot...

Trying to defend the wrong outposts...
While Bravo station was destroyed and Foxtrot was about to be...
Then it all was up to a few tactical decisions. Soviets moved their destroyers. Contact red!:

Mortar bombs! If you check, none of them hit the sub
The desperate defender then took a calculated risk. Knowing than none of the mortar bombs had hit the sub, the captain ordered 'full speed ahead!'. He had reached the right conclusion, the NATO sub had to be recharging at periscope depth, and there was little space for it to be but in X32 tile. So he really rammed into the sub... Hitting it so hard that it sunk!

Ke-rrunch!
 (Note: We made a mistake here. This can only happen if the submarine is completely at surface level, which is only likely to happen if it has run out of battery and needs to surface. But well, for the sake of this report let's assume that this event happened, that in the end added much more tension to the game!)

Slowly moving at periscope depth
Soviets will not let a single tuna sneak in!
Contact Purple! Mortar bombs!
Right tile, wrong depth. Near-miss
Almost there, almost there...
We won't let that submarine escape! Contact red! Go for it!
The sub took another near miss (which turned into a full hit for gae purposes; a sub can take three direct hits before sinking). Anyway, it was too close to its target to miss it...

And the last target is engaged and destroyed
So NATO victory, the ice-stations have been neutralized and the Soviet plans have been severely hampered. But remember, the official version is that only fishing boats were reported to sail those days along these latitudes...

The game is incredibly tactical and interesting, with lots of tense situations and fun all over. Looks realistic enough within the range of abstraction (which, of course, is high); as it was our first game we disregarded some special rules, but enough to say there are weather rules regarding sea currents and stuff. I have never sailed the Barents Sea, but I bet that's a major issue there!
In my opinion, it is way too unbalanced in favour of the submarine side, which in fact makes total sense and reflects the strategic horror of facing this kind of irregular warfare. The Soviet player in fact has little chance to stop the submarines, which are a real nightmare, the enemy never knowing for sure where the hell they are. I'm afraid my opponent made a mistake that costed him the game. Right after destroying Alfa base, my sub sailed out of the area, and the Soviet destroyer that arrived next turn skipped my escape route for just one tile. So he focused in chasing a ghost that had long went away. That conditioned him (as well as the fact of having little fuel reserve) and gave me the definite advantage.
If I was to say any word against the game, it only could be about the fact of having only one scenario. It's of course replayable and will present new challenges every game, but after some time players may find it repetitive. Anyway, making homemade scenarios shouldn't be that difficult. A little bit laborious maybe, but totally rewarding.

So this is it. Deploy your units, play your Red October OST and just enjoy!

12 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. El juego está muy bien, es un constante gato y ratón que te hace pensar y calcular cada movimiento. Da de sí para unas cuantas partidas bien interesantes :D

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  2. Replies
    1. It is! Besides, the price is quite reasonable for the product, it's a killer trade!

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  3. Replies
    1. The game is really fun! First time for me on these naval games, I absolutely enjoyed the experience :D

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  4. Thanks for the report. Seen this advertised, but hadn't come across any reviews, so this made good reading.

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    1. Hope you found it useful! I enjoyed it!

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  5. Thank you for the review Suber. I think this is unusual in that it was written by a submariner. Interesting stuff.

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    1. I think it is not that common, right, and that's production value! :D
      The game includes a booklet with some history about the use of submarines and it's truly fascinating.

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  6. Very interesting review Suber.
    I never used to bother about submarines until the movie Das Boot came out. :)

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    1. Ooooh, what a classic! This has been my first submarine game, it was quite a change!

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