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Subject: Review of Silent War by Joe Steadman rss

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Joe Steadman
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Overview:

People who know me know that I love solitary wargames and those that involve WW2 in particularly. I have recommended them many times and typically play a solo game at least a few times a week. Some of my favorites are B-17: Queen of the Skies, Ambush! and Patton’s Best. With these games and some other solo games you have an opportunity to have a war story fold out right before your eyes. You actually begin to feel a bond with a bomber/tank crew or the members of your infantry squad as they fight their way through your dice rolls and command decisions.

So, you can image when I read that Compass Games had released the long awaited WW2 submarine solitary game “Silent War” I was very excited. Silent War had been in the works for a few years and I can admit a little drool in anticipation on my part. It is one of the few games that I have where I knew the rules before getting the game in the mail. Silent War is a solitaire simulation of the United States' submarine war against Imperial Japan during the Second World War.

The designer, Brien Miller, ambitious goal was to design a solitary game that would have the capacity to simulate everything from the career of a famous American submarine commander to a recreation of the entire war with the player controlling all the subs in the American fleet (ComSubPac). In each of these types of games you are trying to best the historical submarine commanders and sink more ships and tonnage than they did or be washed out and retired to a desk job.

The rulebook and scenario book are full of historical notes and you can tell a lot of research went into the making of this game. The huge amount of flexibility in the game allows the player to play a game from any where between 15 min, a single submarine patrol, to a campaign that may last weeks maybe even months of play. Remember, every American submarine that was deployed to the Pacific in World War II has its own counter.

Components:

The many counters are in full color and are of a good thickness and quality. The game map covers the huge expanse of the Pacific from the Aleutians to Australia and from Samoa to the Sea of Japan. The map is real nice and summarizes most of the information a player needs to play, with a distinctive set of easy to use graphic charts. The rules are well written and will have the player running his first submarine patrol within 45 minutes of opening the game box.

Game Play:

The game is divided into four distinct sequences. Each of these is then divided into further sub steps. I could go into great detail about each of these steps but instead will just tell you in my own words how the game plays in the simplest to understand terms.

Phase 1: First you roll a D10 and see if any random war events happen, this adds some randomness and historical flavor and is omitted if playing single submarine career. Along with this in the campaign game you can roll for torpedo improvements under curtain circumstances and for the Ultra phase, giving the player some secret information you can use to your advantage later.

Phase 2: This is the house keeping phase. You roll for new subs, fix damaged subs, and basically ready your fleets for sailing. This is really only used in the campaign mode and adds some historical logistical elements to the game. At first I thought ti a bit tedious but after a few weeks of playing the game I have come to enjoy this clerical aspect of the simulation.

Phase 3: This is the bread and butter of the game. In this phase you commence your operations and do your best to send some Japanese to the bottom of the ocean. Most of your time is spent in this phase and there is a lot I could type about it. In a nut shell, you roll against a table with modifiers for every sub you have on patrol in the different areas on the map. You are attempting to make contact with the enemy and if you do you then roll to see what you find. From there you go to the more tactical part of the game and fire off some fish. After all combat is resolved you move into a final long range movement sub-phase and end out phase 3. Let me give a little more detail on all this.

First thing in this phase is that all subs that are patrol side up (the opposite side of the sub up means it is transit mode) can move to one adjacent operational area or stay put and patrol the area they are already in. If they move they have to roll for random transitional effect that would take place in route between the operational areas. Historically many subs were lost in route to patrol areas and this helps to recreate this possibility

Next you roll against the activity table that is located on the map in each of the different operational areas. This table will determine the odds of making contact based on what war period you are in and how good of a die roll you make. If you roll well and make contact you results will be color coded according to the table. The colors tell you the activity level (how many ships you find). You take this result and cross-reference it with a new roll you make against the Contact table on the left edge of the map. This roll will tell you if you found a small convoy up to a naval task force. Finally you use the Engagement table to determine the exact number of ships you pull from each of the four possible pools of enemy ships. These pools (I use cups) of random ships are set up before the game depending on what war period you are in. Cup one is full of merchant targets and cup 4 is mostly warships. The other cups are somewhere in-between. You have to draw these randomly and keep their identity face down (the Japanese counters are one sided). This can be a bit hard, I just grab one and lay it down, and if it is face up I toss it back in the cup and try again. I really like these cups and they force historical sightings by only allowing you to find ships according to these guidelines. There are destroyers in each cup and sometimes you may draw nothing but these devils. This is a great way to randomly allow you to come upon targets.

Combat at last! Once you have drawn your random ships and placed them face down on the TDC board you place your sub(s) on the bottom part of the board. The TDC is setup in four columns with the Jap ships being set up in each, determined by the game. You then decide where to align your submarine. It will be able engage targets in that or adjacent columns only. From there you get to place a set number pf randomly drawn TDC markers on targets equal to the command rating of skipper on the sub you are using. These markers will give you modifiers and they can be good or bad. The targets can be flipped over revealing what they are or left alone if you are afraid it is a destroyer. Then you allocate your attacks on whatever targets you like as long as it has a TDC marker on it and you have enough attack points to do so. Each sub has an attack rating based on various factors. From there you roll against the defense value of the target and if you roll it or less you score a hit. I skipped a few steps but you get the point. You will now be counterattacked possibly and withdrawal is possible if you survive. Overall, I really like the system for combat. It is pretty simple but allows for some use of tactical strategy.

Lastly you make your endurance checks and make any transit moves you would like. The endurance checks are a clever way to determine if your subs need to return to base for fuel and provisions. It can be alloying if you get a sub out in a patrol zone and then thanks to a bad roll he has to return immediately, but I think it all balances out in the end.

Phase 4. You move markers noting different stats. You continue this sequence from week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year, till the war ends.

There are special rules included for American torpedo improvement, ultra, submarine repair and readiness, wolfpacks, campaign and combat events, war progress, patrol and search, TDC solutions, merchant shipping, Japanese battleship doctrine, two player rules and more.

Conclusion:

This is a great solo game, perhaps the best I have ever played. The design is smooth and really makes you feel like you are commanding the American submarine fleet. Some complain the price is high but with the quality of the product and the amount of time you will spend playing Silent War it is well worth twice the money. I will be first in line for the future Atlantic version of the game for sure. If you buy any solo game make sure this is the one.

Keep your powder dry,

Joe Steadman
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Jeff Coon
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Hey Joe. Great review, thanks. Although I'm not a war or history buff, I do really enjoy submarine warfare. Having played and enjoyed Ambush! a great deal, I was hoping this would be as good. After reading your review, the random dice rolling / cross-referencing event tables sounds a lot more like B-17 Queen of the Skies. I didn't enjoy that one as much, as it felt like I was just there to roll dice and look up information on tables. I never felt as if I were making any important decisions that affected the outcome of the events.

Can you compare and contrast Silent War to B-17 & Ambush, and talk about what interesting decisions the player gets to make?
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Joe Steadman
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OK,

In SW you decide where your subs hunt and who to engage in combat...You can go for a risky roll (torpedo launch at a warship) and face the consequences if you roll bad or play it safe and stay quiet. You also get to roll for sub improvement and a few other things. The tables in SW are small and right on the board with no charts to flip through like in B-17. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like either game, other then recreating history and giving you a bond with your sub crews.

Hope that helps.
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Big Willy's Taxidermy
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I am seriuosly considering buying this badboy. Great, intelligent review.
- John
 
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Claude Stone
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Great review Joe. One of my favorite solitaire games is London's Burning. Any idear how this stacks up against it.
 
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Christopher Schall
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Claude,
I have both and feel there is really no comparision. LB puts you in command of individual planes/pilots in a small portion of that historic battle. (ok, both involve a lot of die rolling which is the nature of solo games.) SW gives you the opportunity to play the entire Pacific sub war-daunting at best. As stated, you can opt to play individual patrols which may only take 15 minutes to play. I like both, but I like SW better. If you have any interest in this campaign at all--you can not go wrong with Silent War.

Great review Joe.

Chris
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Steve Sallot
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A good review, however, there are a number of drawbacks to the game. You cannot beat the research and accuracy and it is an elegent and simple system that keeps the game moving. All components are sharp and top-natch. Overall, I rate the game as excellent, but I am disappointed in a few areas.

One area, is the set of charts and map charts. In generally they are redundant. Secondly, they could have included a few more charts, to complement play. For instance, detailed combat resolution sequence with modifiers. Lastly, the detailed sequence is neither printed on the map nor included in a stand-alone chart, so you have to refer to the rule book until you get it memorized.

Lastly, I find the combat sequence (individual boats) out-of-place in grand strategy type game, and sometimes bogs the game down.

Bottom line: If you don't mind fumbling through the rules for the most frequent activities for a while until you get it, then its a excellent game.

Overall, I like it and I will pre-order (makes it affordable)the next one "steel Wolves"

Cheers
H6
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Black Destrier
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Steve;

We are going to work to ensure the charts and comprehensive sequence of play points are addressed in Steel Wolves. Additionally- we will try to provide a downloadable comprehensive sequence of play on the Compass Website.

Brien J Miller
Designer: Silent War
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Steve Sallot
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Brien, Hats off to you. Well done! The research only is awesome! I appreciate your rapid response, candor, and humility. So when will Steel Wolves be open for Pre-order?

As an aside, why two volumes for the German U-Boat campaign? I understand and appreciate the break point you all have chosen but what is the real reason. Cost? sheer size? I can't imagine the mechanics and the system changing significantly except for the pieces (order of battle).

Cheers,
Steve
 
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Stephen Jackson
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Steve, you pegged the two main reasons. Sheer size and associated cost. Consider that the Germans *lost* three times as many submarines as the Americans deployed in the war. For the entire war we're easily talking twenty-plus countersheets.
 
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Black Destrier
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Yes, as you guessed, and as Steve J confirmed, it's a matter of sheer size and the cost of providing hundreds of submarines that will hardly make it past their first patrol. That plus the cost of the copy of Das Boot, the gun with one bullet, and the cyanide capsule... It's a bit depressing past that point.
 
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I've never played a game like this before, but the subject matter is interesting to me. Is it only a solitary game? The main BGG game page suggests that up to 3 can play. With multiple players, it is players all playing US subs or is it one side playing the Japanese and one side playing the US? Sounds interesting if you could have a couple of people playing sub careers at the same time.
 
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Black Destrier
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Shawn: Multiple players can play- we generally recommend two- both are US Sub commanders: one for Pearl, one for the SW Pac command. Hope this helps.
 
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Kenneth Bailey
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I finally got this game and jumped right into starting a campaign. It is a very fun but frustrating game (I was playing early war). Can't wait to play more.
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