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Subject: First contact with UBOOT: The Board Game rss

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Mirosław Gucwa
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I played UBOOT yesterday. I will, however, begin not with the game itself, but with my attitude towards it prior to first contact. A long time ago (or even a very long time ago), I had a Commodore game called ‘Silent Service’. It was a WW2 submarine simulator. I remember trying to learn it and feel the atmosphere, but each time I tried I ran into a wall. In the end, I gave up and reconciled myself to the fact that the situations depicted in the game were not for me. I do not understand submarine warfare strategy, and the theme interests me purely from the statistical side (based on what I have read in books or seen in historical films), and the only way it evokes suspense in me is when I am watching a movie that tells a good story of this sort of events.

This is more or less the way may attitude was like towards playing UBOOT from the thematic point of view. I was, on the other hand, very interested in the mechanics, which are heavily based around real time and an application (it is currently a mobile app for Android, but an IoS and PC versions are in the works). I am the kind of person who is willing to try every game, so it didn’t take long to convince me.



There are four characters in the game and it basically seems to me that it will play best in this 4 player arrangement (although it allows even for solo play). Solo is indeed possible and would most probably work, but most of the emotional factor comes from live interaction between the players. Handling multiple characters would take away a large part of that emotional aspect.

Emotions. They are a very important element of this game. Combined with the pressure of time and the mood that is set when issuing and carrying out orders (connected with the functioning of the U-boat and/or the mission objective), they are a key aspect of the game. It is a very unique game because of that, and not just yet another one about performing tasks together, but a meaty submarine simulator. Honestly, I have not played a cooperative game like this before, although I have had the opportunity to play both ‘Space Alert’ and ‘Space Cadets’, both of which are based on a similar premise.

Gameplay. The players see a big diorama of the sub divided into sections, where particular actions are carried out. The sections are very strongly inspired by actual tasks performed on those kinds of vessels and, just as it was in reality, a particular character/officer is responsible for getting them done.



Characters/heroes/officers. The first officer handles the app (you can see what it looks like in the photos). He is responsible for setting the course and depth, operating the hydrophone (I’m sure you know the distinctive ‘ping’ sound, don’t you?), and administering first aid. He is also entrusted with keeping track of time (informing the crew of what time it is, speeding up or slowing it down), relaying information on enemy contacts and working together with the navigator. The navigator primarily keeps track of the sub’s position and, as you can see in the photos, he does that manually, essentially like a real navigator. They use a special tool (the disc thing, although I can’t remember its proper name), a ruler, a protractor, a map and a pencil. It is incredibly realistic, both on the strategic and the tactical map during combat. In addition, the navigator oversees the observer crew on the bridge (the number of men affects observation efficiency), and meal preparation, which was a very important part of the submariners’ (and other sailors) life, influencing their physical well-being and morale. The chief engineer is in charge of repairs, diving, and propulsion. Doesn’t seem like much, but without him, the sub is as good as a piece of junk.



I was saving the captain for last, as he is a key figure. Everything that the other players may do is only theoretical, for without the captain’s order they cannot do anything. It is like in the army. The subordinate knows that he can do something, but he waits for the order. The captain watches the other players’ dashboards (the map, speed, depth, etc.), listens to them reporting, and then he decides. He is not interested in how the order will be carried out, he only waits for the result to be reported by his soldiers. Being the captain puts one under the pressure of not only time, but also the responsibility for the fate of the crew and the success of the mission.

Gameplay mechanics. They are not actually complicated. Each player has four figures at their disposal (it simulates the whole crew on the boat). Each of them can perform particular tasks (marked on the player boards), and by doing so they become tired. Just as on a real ship, there are watch changes, and then the figures become the sailors from the other watch (with the first ones having their well-deserved rest) who can also perform the actions from the field of their commanding officer, but with each particular action now being done by a different sailor. You can tell that by the shape of a figure’s base.  It is therefore necessary to relocate them to different sections than where they were before the change of the watch occured. It is a very clever way of showing this sort of logistics. Individual players perform their tasks/orders, sending their men to the appropriate sections, they mark the actions on their player boards and take care to optimize their crew’s performance. The captain issues orders and marks it on a special order track, which upon ‘overloading’ starts impacting the morale of the crew. Orders can still be issued, but it’s likely that mistakes, accidents, or even mission-threatening events may occur. The rules are not difficult, but they are merely a framework for the reasons and effects of the officer’s actions, the pressure connected with time and the whole predicament of serving on board of a submarine. And trust me, you can feel it.    



The app. It is necessary to play the game. At the beginning, it sets out mission objectives (e.g. patrolling a given area, attacking particular targets, taking some cargo or passengers on board, etc.), and then communicates all the events that occur during gameplay. Not just strictly mission-related issues (enemy contacts, their movement parameters, aerial attacks, the effects of depth charges, our attacks and enemy defense), as well as regular life on the sub (scheduled events such as meals and random events like crew accidents, malfunctions, fire, etc.). The most important element that the app does is the passage of time. You can adjust its settings and later speed up or slow it down according to the situation. For example, when there is nothing going on as you sail towards your target, you can hit fast forward and the app will slow back down whenever there is any event, resetting back to almost real-time speed (1 second = 30 seconds in the game). We also observe the surroundings through the periscope, listen to contact propeller sounds with the hydrophone, and encipher or decipher messages with the Enigma. In general, the app is our eyes and ears, and the game would make no sense without it.



Cooperation. As a rule, every cooperative game is plagued by the alpha player syndrome, where one player imposes his own vision upon everybody else. This game tackles the problem with a very clever solution. Here, a player like this is actually necessary, and It is best if this player plays as the captain, as he will have to issue orders clearly and later demand their execution. An order, followed by its addressee’s confirmation of readiness, and then a report stating its completion is nowhere near funny or superfluous here, as it helps the captain and the remaining officers stay in control of the situation on board of the sub. The time is always ticking and it is pointless to keep asking and checking whether everything has actually been done. There is an order and it must be carried out, but it is up to the players tasked with it to decide how to go about it. The captain expects a result that he wants to see (on the player boards) or to hear (reports from the observers or the hydrophone) as a consequence of issuing the order. He is the driving force behind the game, and yet without the constituent element of the other players performing their tasks skilfully, the captain will achieve nothing, and everyone will, consequently, lose the game.   



The model. It looks very pretty and was cleverly made. Everything is to scale: both the sub and the figures, so it’s easy to see what the kriegsmarine submariners of the period had to come up against (they probably felt like sardines in a can). After assembling the model, there is no need to tear it down to the last bit in order to store it back in the box. The bow and the aft click off and the thing disassembles into three large parts that easily fit back in the box (slightly larger than ‘Scythe’-sized). As I have said already, the model looks great, but I have mixed feelings about it, as it is easier for me to look at everything from up above and the upper deck gets in the way. This problem doesn’t exist when you are sitting, but it was a little bothersome for me.



Realism. This game is very realistic and because of that it is not for everyone. You need to know, for example, the distance at which the enemy can see your periscope (about 800 meters), and that your maximum speed drops by half when you submerge. You must know how to approach the target, at what angle, and with the target in the 60 degree firing arc in front of the bow. It is really a simulation, as all such elements are in place and raise the quality of the game.



Impressions. I started with a long introduction to tell you about the attitude that I had when I was sitting down to play this game. Once it was over (we got sunk by a destroyer) my attitude made a 180 degree turn and gave a proud salute. It indeed felt as if I had served on a real submarine. Of course, the fact that I have never been inside one probably helped it, but I was comparing my impressions with what I saw in the movies and I felt the very pleasant ‘wow factor’. The app plays various atmospheric sounds and reports, shouting at you in German. The crew carries out orders, and, as I was the captain, I felt it even more strongly. There is always something going on for each of the four roles and it really takes very little to become totally immersed and feel the claustrophobic shape of the steel tube that the submarine is (with tons of water overhead, the destructive power of the torpedoes, and the threat of enemy presence). All of us later talked about our experiences and it actually turned out that everybody had similar impressions: we all felt important, and nobody got bored. It is not a one-shot game. I see it more as a game to play with the same people in the same roles. With each game, everybody will get better within their field, and it will improve the overall results. I feel that it will be very easy to get into the role and simply perform service. I know it sounds serious, but if you look at it  from a fun perspective, then you are right - it shows what emotions and experience the game provides and what kind of game it is.



Time. I am devoting a separate paragraph to is, because for me it is the main element that contributes to the quality of the game. It makes for 60% of the fun. Without real time and its pressure, it would have been yet another co-op with a different theme. You have your mission and you have your options, and they have to be adjusted to fit each other within the time provided. Stay calm, strategize, and there is a big chance that your solutions will work. The game creates pressure which sometimes makes you botch easy tasks, or perform them in the wrong order, and then everything will literally go down in flames. There is no pause button in the game and I hope that it will stay this way in the final version. Perhaps it won’t appeal to some people, as the game rarely forgives random decisions, but if it is supposed to be a simulator, then let it be this way. It is not a game for everybody and for every situation, so it can be governed by its own brutal laws. If somebody has to leave the table for whatever reason, then somebody else can take over their duties for a moment. During our game there were voices that argued for introducing the option to pause the game, but I sincerely hope that the authors and the publisher will not be intimidated to yield under such pressure. A difficult game doesn’t mean a bad game, as I am sure PC or console Dark Souls afficionados know very well.



Summary. There has never been a game like this, until now. Are you interested in submarines? You’ve got to have it. Do you like co-ops with a strong theme? You’ve got to have it. Are you looking for mood and immersion? You’ve got to have it. I can’t believe I am writing this myself, given my initial scepticism, but that’s really how it is. It will be a hit on Kickstarter and further on. We will see about that in January.

===
The original text comes from my polish blog
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Very Stout
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Is the app primarily used to track time?

Could you play the game without the app, and manually track time or does the app do other things that you can't take care of yourself?
 
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Aaron Lillibridge
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The app does stuff that only the app can do: Enemy contacts, mission info from HQ, watch change, conning tower/periscope view....and on and on

There is no way this game can run without the app in its current form.
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Dan Kudirka
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Thanks for the excellent write up.
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Brett Soutter
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Great write up. Thanks, man.
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Andrew DiGregorio
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thanks for this review... very excited for this...

And 10 pts to you for mentioning Silent Service! I used to love that game. I still playing it from time to time on my Atari 800.
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Awesome feedback, thanks for sharing your experience !!
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greg gregory
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Could you go into more detail on how combat works? How does the game deal with TDC data, how do you go about figuring out torpedo firing solutions?
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Sean Young
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slyde wrote:
thanks for this review... very excited for this...

And 10 pts to you for mentioning Silent Service! I used to love that game. I still playing it from time to time on my Atari 800.


Me too!
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Andrew DiGregorio
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Sean3Dguy wrote:
slyde wrote:
thanks for this review... very excited for this...

And 10 pts to you for mentioning Silent Service! I used to love that game. I still playing it from time to time on my Atari 800.


Me too!


lol, very cool.

Are you still playing it on your original Atari 800? I've kept mine going all these years, disk drive and all....
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Artur Salwarowski
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@Skvid:

Combat in Uboot is totally diceless and relies mostly on the players' skills.

Offensively, this means that in order to maximize your torpedo hit probability, you need to approach the target as near to a perfect broadside angle as possible (90 degrees, perpendicularly to its course). The more the approach deviates from it, the smaller the chance of hitting the target. Put it another way, the hit probability decreases the more the angle is off. What is more, the target has to be within the torpedo firing arc in front of or behind the U-boat. That is why it is very important to have a good navigator, because if he positions the sub perfectly, then you can launch a salvo and hit more than one target within a single approach. Oh, and you'd best not get detected, because then you're screwed

Why? Because when a convoy escort detects your presence, it will immediately start pounding you with its deck guns. You have to dive right away to avoide severe damage. Once you dive, the escort will close in and try seeking you out with ASDIC (active sonar). If you hear the 'ping', you need to get out of its detection arc and range as soon as possible. Turning sharply is one thing you can do to get out of the escort's way, and then diving deeper is another that can reduce the chance of sustaining heavy damage. Anyhow, one thing is certain: if you allow the escort to get a few successive 'pings' on you still don't change the course and depth, then it is very likely that the depth charges will drop right on top of you. And then you're in a world of hurt, I'm afraid

That's it in a nutshell
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Jeffrey Owen
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Muttah wrote:


Once you dive, the escort will close in and try seeking you out with ASDIC (active sonar). If you hear the 'ping', you need to get out of its detection arc and range as soon as possible. Turning sharply is one thing you can do to get out of the escort's way, and then diving deeper is another that can reduce the chance of sustaining heavy damage. Once thing is certain: if you allow the escort to get a few successive 'pings' on you and you don't change the course and depth, then it is very likely that the depth charges will drop right on top of you. And then you're in a world of hurt, I'm afraid

That's it in a nutshell


Will you be able to hide behind the sound of it's own screw to mask your presence? I'm always the hunter, never the prey.
 
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Artur Salwarowski
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Sure thing Once the escort finishes its attack pass, it loses contact and has to reestablish it. This will either make it enter a search pattern, or return to the convoy.
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Jeffrey Owen
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Muttah wrote:
Sure thing Once the escort finishes its attack pass, it loses contact and has to reestablish it. This will either make it enter a search pattern, or return to the convoy.


Excellent
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Jim Gutt
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Great write-up, Miro, thanks! One question I didn’t see you address: how long (real time, of course!) did it take to play the actual scenario and how long to setup/tear down? I understand the position of ‘no pause button’, and agree for the most part, but bathroom breaks and phone calls do tend to intrude real life onto gaming time, unfortunately (I’m working on an app for that!😝)...

Also, do you know an approximate price point?

Thanks!

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Michał Ozon
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Jim, the retail price point is $100, with 65 GBP price at KS: http://kck.st/2Ahv2tv

The scenario they played takes ~60 minutes (4 days in-game time). Setup time is standard for a large boardgame. Here it took longer, as I had to teach all the rules, as crew haven't time to read the books before the game.
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Andrew DiGregorio
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The more i look at this, the more i want in.

(dammit, i promised myself no new KSers for a while.....)
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Aaron Lillibridge
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Andrew, you won’t forgive yourself for passing this one up.
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Andrew DiGregorio
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lol, i know.

i think i'm in....
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FieldMarshal Kholemann
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Are there thermal layers?
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Jeffrey Owen
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jamescoleman wrote:
Are there thermal layers?


Thermal layers were pretty much irrelevant in that era of submarine warfare.

The temperature inside the U-boat was pretty much the temperature of the water surrounding the U-boat's hull. Engine heat was only present when the U-boat diesel engine was running while on the surface or when the boat was running with the schnorkel, and thus the batteries were fully charged. The humidity was also pretty high, so mold and mildew were everywhere. The crew wore multiple layers of clothing while at sea, except when the boat was operating in the warmest waters near the equator.

This was true of all submarines, of any navy, in that period.
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Cdr Jameson
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But what about the acoustic properties afforded by different thermal layers in a column of water? I think this is what the previous question was referring to.

I'm going to answer my guess with another guess and say that that is a step too far to model in a fun and engaging board game so my guess is no there aren't thermal layers. There will be no considerations to the temp profile of the water. I think that was what the Field Marshal was referring to not necessarily the clothes worn by the crew.
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Jeffrey Owen
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Cdr Jameson wrote:
But what about the acoustic properties afforded by different thermal layers in a column of water? I think this is what the previous question was referring to.


oh duh... for some reason my mind went to infrared detection. I would assume yes that your detection should drop significantly beyond 100m depth. If they have destroyers own engines disturbing detection including this wouldn't be much more difficult. But you know what they say when you assume.

Edit to add educational info:

The British did want the Germans to think they were detecting their Uboots using infrared. When in reality they knew there locations because of code breaking and obviously they didn't want the Germans to know they broke the code. So the Germans devoted resources to find a counter-measure for infrared detection. They eventually developed the Type XXI which was an amazing actual submarine, but it was too little too late to make a significant impact on the war.
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Erawen Lowhunger
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Artur Salwarowski
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One more thing about thermal layers is that it could sometimes deflect the sonar 'ping' straight towards the bottom of the sea. Gordon Williamson writes about this phenomenon in his 'U-boat Tactics in World War 2'.

Furthermore, early in the war the British did not realize that U-boats could actually dive as deep as they could. Therefore, the early versions of their depth charges had their maximum depth setting at 100 meters (or so, I'm not sure so maybe someone here can verify).

So many things to implement, and so little time and money... Well, this is going to be a very busy year
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