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Subject: Silent War Review rss

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Craig Simms
Australia
Adelaide
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I purchased Silent War about a year or so ago and having mused over it on and off since then got it out again for another go at the full campaign.

As a disclaimer all the following is based from the rules out of the box and no updates or erratas have been checked. So if the updated version makes my claims look silly... then... ummmm... OPPPS

I assume that most people have a vague understanding of what this game is and how the game engine works. To recap briefly this is a sim (not game as such) of the entire Pacific allied submarine war where your task is to take each and every US (plus supporting Dutch and British) submarines and rack up an historical tonnage as quickly as possible.

You do this by sending your boats out into the patrol area of your choice each turn and, using the colour coded table provided, roll for size and type of contact before randomly drawing chits to give you individual targets to launch torpedoes at.

Now I am in no way suggesting that Mr Compass Games does not know his stuff and when they claim to have spent years testing their game engine against the historical results of not only the Pacific, but also the German U-boat campaigns of both wars then I believe them.

However the game engine is not without it's little quirks and, to my mind at least, the campaign is somewhat lacking in a few areas.

First the quirky bits.

Each sub has a tactical stat that determines how many targets it can attempt to track each turn. Within the game this is the number of ship chits that can be flipped over and then attacked so in theory the higher the stat the better.

In practice yes and no. Japanese destroyers do not attack you if they are still face down. Hence in some situations having an old sub attack can be a lot safer although you do miss out on target choice.

Combat Events are also driven by flipping target chits so again the more chits you flip the greater chance of having an event. Now as the Combat Event sub table gives about a 50/50 mix of good and bad results this does give some strange feeling effects. Combat with the deck gun (with exception special rule for the monster sub in the 1932 'what if?' campaign) can only occur from having a Combat Event chit turn up. The end effect is that your big 1930s submarine crusiers with the twin 6inch guns - the ones you really want to shoot things with - have actually less chance of shelling at target then a later Gato class as the tactical rating for the big crusier submarines are different. This different in tactical rating also means that a newer sub is more likely to have a critical equipment failure in combat then an old boat as again, this random event comes from the chit pulls.

Missing from the game, and your mileage may vary, is a need to manage the amount of submarines out of any one base. Repair limits are set, so have too many damaged subs at once and one of your boats will need to rust in the corner for a while, but there is no real limit to the amount of subs that can operate out of a base. My knowledge of the submarine war doesn't go as far to say if this is a good thing or a bad thing but without it there is no real incentive to start scrapping your old S class boats as your Gatos come online. To my mind in the real world someone would be pulling the crews from the older boats for the new Gatos while in the game you may as well keep them for as long as possible and use them to fill up some of the lesser patrol zones just in case they get lucky.

However to me the biggest downfall in the long term enjoyment of this game is the fact that nearly everything you do exists in a vacuum. While your tonnage and ship numbers are used to drive both the turnover from one War Period to the next and the slow and painful improvement to torpedo values, very little else in the game is actually driven by your actions. There are scripted events that happen via dice rolls throughout the game but they all happen completely randomly. In my current game Manila is still happily sending out patrols at the start of June 42 while in a previous one both the Philipines and the Dutch East Indies went down before the end of 41. In fact in my current game I actually don't want to try and push the War Period change as I will lose my useful base in Manila.

Yet at no stage in either game did I get a feeling for actually defending the Philipines. I am not patrolling the South China Seas to hunt down Japanese invasion ships and to try and help the brave defenders on land, I am patrolling the South China Seas cause it is a target rich environment slap bang next to one of my bases. Any target I manage to sink in that area doesn't save the Philipines, it just adds to the overall end score.

Not that the Japanese care. In the game the basic tactic seems to be find the closest target rich patrol zone and fill with 7 subs (8+ subs starts to get bad DRM as you crowd each other) before starting to fill the next best patrol zone until you run out of submarines. In the real world the Japanese would react in someway to this sort of massing of submarines, either by moving in more escorts (historically unlikely from what I understand), changing the convoys (again unlikely as I understand) or being forced to stop when they run out of ships. True the change in War Periods does this to a limited extent but until those big changes happen there is no reason to send boats all the way to Japan to patrol when there is a perfectly good happy hunting ground in the Marshall Islands for about 12 to 14 months of game time.

Same Japanese apathy to what you sink. Get lucky and knock off four Japanese carriers in the start of 42 and you are rewarded with 4 ships and about 90,000 tons. Do that in the real world and you get a change in the balance very similar to the Battle of Midway but without the dead USN pilots. Again there is no reward beyond that magic final tonnage level that ends the game and to me that is the biggest 'put down and play something else' factor in this game. I sit down, I move some subs and I rack up some tonnage. Then I do it again the day after. Did I win the war? Dunno, I just launched the torps and undated the log book.

It's a game I am not upset I purchased but once I get bored with this current campaign I am playing I can see this beastie going back in the cupboard for another 18 months.
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Mike Windsor
United States
Fort Worth
Texas
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I think your review is dead on. My experience was that Silent War was real fun for a few go arounds. It wasn't that it got to be work later on, but it just seemed like a lot of the same thing over and over. I eventually sold my copy.
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mike souber
United Kingdom
cobham
surrey
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Agree also.
One of the things that helped was naming each sub's skipper and keeping a record of tonnage/boats sunk. Adds another layer but at least you cared a little about some individual boats.

Too much the same, for too long. What were we expecting about a WW2 pacific war simulation? Dunno really ..but a bit more and a bit less than this.
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Michael Guerin
United States
Connecticut
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I agree with your comment, to a point. Probably the weakest aspect of the game is the War Event Table. For example, I ended up with a War Event on just about every turn so far (playing Campaign 2).

I hit events in the following order:

Hunt for Wounded Bear
Fall of Luzon
Barrier Mission to East Indies
Aleutians Campaign
Run to Corregidor.

What would probably help the game is to create a War Event Table matrix, meaning that certain turns would lend themselves better to historical events over other turns. Also, you could tie in the events to follow a chronological track versus basing the events solely on a 0-3 roll in the War Event phase and then a 0-9 result for a random event.

I don't think you'd want a purely "historical" track for events, b/c then players could plan accordingly. For instance, when I got hit with Fall of Luzon I had 2 subs in Repair box 3 and had to scramble about 12 subs or so to Fremantle, ruining any decent patrols for the next couple of turns. So keeping some "fog of war" for when certain events happen is a good idea - and reworking this aspect of the game might tie it into a broader historical context rather than being a "statistical exercise." Just a few thoughts...
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davide pessach
Italy
Milan
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So I can't seem to find a palatable interesting submarine game. Steel wolves is a dice fest, this one seems dry, the hunters from gmt is far away in time, wolfapack I don't know (a 40 years old game...)

Any hint? Is there a game on the theme I haven't considered?
 
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Hugh Grotius
United States
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Davide, maybe U-Boat Leader? I haven't tried it, but I've played Phantom Leader. PL is on the "lite" side of the wargaming perspective, maybe more game than simulation, as someone said in another forum. I do enjoy it. U-Boat Leader might not scratch the itch for a detailed sub sim, but it looks like it might be fun. My main concern is that people think it's on the easy side.
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Jan Tuijp
Netherlands
Volendam
Noord-Holland
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Craig Simms wrote:
Missing from the game, and your mileage may vary, is a need to manage the amount of submarines out of any one base. Repair limits are set, so have too many damaged subs at once and one of your boats will need to rust in the corner for a while, but there is no real limit to the amount of subs that can operate out of a base. My knowledge of the submarine war doesn't go as far to say if this is a good thing or a bad thing but without it there is no real incentive to start scrapping your old S class boats as your Gatos come online. To my mind in the real world someone would be pulling the crews from the older boats for the new Gatos while in the game you may as well keep them for as long as possible and use them to fill up some of the lesser patrol zones just in case they get lucky.


I don't think this is true. Submarines are not I-phones and apparently didn't depreciate that fast in this war of attrition. I took the trouble of actually examining a few of the oldest subs to see when they went out of commission and lo and behold, most of them were not decommissioned until '45.

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Martin McCleary
United States
Huachuca City
Arizona
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I'd avoid U-Boat LDR until you go thru the thread for the game. There is a good set of variant rules available her eon BGG but out of the box it appears to be a dud.

For a 40 year old game Wolfpack is fine and it is readily available. It is not an individual sub game but rather tries to capture the BOTA from an "operational" level perspective.
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