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Subject: Wargame or Arcade Game? A Review of Sink the Bismarck rss

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Chris Hansen
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Riverton
UT
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If given the option, I would prefer to play with the green pieces, please.
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Game Summary

Sink the Bismark is a solitaire print and play game by Felbrigg Herriot (better known on BGG as FNH1, the host of the Print and Play Podcast). The game is based on the famous WWII Battle in which the German Battleship Bismarck was sunk by the Fleet Air Arm Swordfish biplanes. The player takes the roll of the gunmen on the Bismarck and attempts to take out as many Swordfish as possible before the ship is inevitably sunk.

The game board features the ship and several spaces representing the sky and water from which the enemy will attack. The Swordfish enter the board on the top row in a random space (based on a die roll) and each turn descend closer to the ship in a random direction (again based on a die roll). Once the planes reach the ocean they drop their torpedoes which continue moving one space toward the ship each turn. The player attempts to target them by placing four dice on the board in anticipation of where the planes will move when they descend. If the targeting was successful, the player rolls the die and destroys the plane on 5 or 6 or a torpedo with a 6. Each destroyed planes is worth one point while each torpedo is worth five. Each turn more planes enter the board. The game ends when five torpedoes have hit the Bismarck.

An example of targeting. All dice are positioned in the path of oncoming missiles.

Before I review this game, I should say that I am a huge fan of old arcade games like Space Invaders and Galaxian. (After watching the movie King of Kong I looked up my Asteroids high score on Twin Galaxy and discovered that according to their ranking, I would have the 4th highest score.) Anyone who has played classic arcade games will probably recognize certain elements of that gaming style in the description of this game. The pieces slowly descending towards your unmovable ship (as well as your eventual inevitable death) have a sort of a Space Invaders or Missile Command feel to them. In many ways, this game recreates the feeling of playing an arcade game, better than some of the board game adaptions of the actual video games! My love for those games has probably transitioned somewhat to this game so keep that in mind as you read the review. I’m biased towards this game but if you love the Atari 2600 as much as I do, you will be too.

The Good

For as simple as this game is, it makes great use of its theme. The game starts out pretty easy but as more and more planes enter the game the tension rises proportionately. Surprisingly, the game has a narrative feel - you can picture planes zipping away in the nick of time when they veer to the left around your shot. When you are lucky enough to take out a torpedo right before it crashes into your ship you can picture the crew rejoicing.

The sky full of planes and the water full of torpedoes! The tension can be high in this game!

The rules are short, simple, and well written. I was able to print, assemble, learn, and play the game within a few minutes. I never had to refer to the rules with questions after reading them.

This is not really a game where you’ll make a lot of decisions (at least in the Agricola sense of the word). Rather, this is a game of odds and taking chances. Because planes move randomly, targeting involves some guesswork. However, if a plane is on the edge of the board, you know that there is a 2/3 chance it will move strait down so you may be more willing to take the risk of not covering the adjacent space. Also, if you have a torpedo about to you hit, you may stick all of your dice in the water in an attempt to destroy it rather than focusing on the planes.

There is a lot of luck in the game and sometimes that can be frustrating. For example, there have been times when I’ve successfully targeted a plane with all four dice yet still missed the shot. But that is just the nature of these sorts of games and the fact that I’ve destroyed more than one torpedo with only one die makes up for those unlucky moments.

What’s unusual about this game is that it is impossible to win - your ship is going to sink at the end. You’re not hoping to achieve victory, but rather a high score (like the old arcade games). For me, this creates more of an incentive to keep playing as I want to see if I can do better than I did before. There is a variant in which you can win if you destroy all 36 planes in the fleet, but based on my playings, that is an impossible task.

The Bad

Despite my desire to set a new record for myself, this game can get a little dull and repetitive after only a few plays. Rolling for the movement of each plane on the board can start to feel a little fiddly as the game progresses. Once you figure out your strategy for dealing with the odds of how planes move and how many dice to target with, it can start feeling repetitive as you keep doing the same thing. The game is fun and I enjoy it but I usually only want to play a max of two or three times and then it gets put away again for a couple of weeks or months.

For me, the weakest part of the game is probably the last few turns when all you are doing is fighting torpedoes in the last row of the board. When there is imminent danger to your ship, you aren’t going to waste your resources fighting planes but you still have to take the time to move them each them turn. Fighting torpedoes has only a 1/6 chance of success rather than the planes 1/3 chance so the last few rounds typically involve a slow (or sometimes fast) death where all you can do is make the same shot turn after turn until the game ends. Unfortunately, the game is funner at the beginning than it is at the end, which sometimes hampers my desire to play again.

Print and Play Section
How Long to Make?

As far as games with counters go, this is pretty simple. There are 12 double-sided counters - it is probably easier if you glue the fronts to the backs, but since they are all the same, even that bit of effort isn’t necessary if you’re just looking to try the game. (You could just exchange a plane counter for a torpedo counter instead of flipping the double-sided counter if you preferred.) I printed my counters on regular paper and used glue stick to attack them to a cereal box before cutting them. The map prints on a single page and requires no cutting. Total assembly time: Approx five minutes.

What’s the Ink Damage?

This depends on which map you print. There are three choices available - one in black and white (included in the file with the rules) and the others in varying degrees of color. The total print out is four pages (although you could probably get by without printing the two page rules as a very good summary is printed on the board). If you print the game in the original pdf, the ink usage will be very low. The color maps both use a full page of color ink.

Quality of Components

The basic artwork that comes with the game is pretty simple but very functional. The counters actually felt a little small when I made them but fit the board very nicely during play. The board that came with the game is dull but both of the fan made boards make the game look a little more professional. The counter graphics look pretty nice, especially considering their small size.

How Difficult is it to Make?

This game is very simple to put together. The counters have clear lines separating them that are easy to cut along. If you printed the game on cardstock you could probably just fold the counters over over the line between them to attach the front and rear sides. I cut each column of counters out separately and had no trouble lining them up when I glued the back to the front.

Materials Required

You can easily get by with some scissors and glue stick. You may want to print the board and counters on heavy cardstock, but you can also get by with regular paper that is glued to thin cardboard to give the counters a little thickness.

Would I Buy This Game if it was Produced Professionally?

I doubt it. The game is fun and is an excellent time killer but I don’t think I’d be willing to pay more than the cost of an average Cheapass game for it. That’s not a bad thing, I’m just saying the game is ideal for Print and Play.

Final Verdict and Rating

Is this game worth taking the time to print and assemble? Definitely! Even though, as I mentioned earlier, it can get dull after a few games, those few games are a lot of fun. I think the game can be enjoyed by wargamers looking for something lighter and by Eurogamers who enjoy a bit of luck in their games every now and then. If you enjoy classic arcade games as much as I do, this game is a must play! Overall, I give this game a 6.5. I may sometimes put it away bored, but I always pull it out again for another round.
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F H
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Nice review, thanks!
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Arrigo Velicogna
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the DKM Bismarck was sunk by Swordfish?

ahem....



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Ethan Van Vorst
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Spencer
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The Swordfish roughed the Bismarck up so she could be sunk later by the Royal Navy. Game looks like Space Invaders a little bit...I like!
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