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Subject: An entire submarine fleet awaits your command. rss

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What is Silent War?

Silent War is a unique solitaire conflict simulation requiring an appropriately unique approach by players. There’s not a lot of ‘excitement’ or ‘tough decision making’ that often characterises other ‘wargames’. Instead, players are simulating submarine campaigns from a high fleet command level and are striving to achieve broad strategic goals over a long period of time.

The enjoyment of the game comes from the feeling of effectively managing your submarine fleet over a period of months and years of game time - which is weeks/months of playing time. They do so through ‘directing’ where captains should patrol their submarines and what type of enemy ships they should target. The indicators for effective management of the fleet are ‘Enemy Ships Sunk’, ‘Tonnage Sunk’ and ‘Friendly Submarines Lost’. These are the player’s focus. They want to maximise the first two whilst minimise the number of submarines they lose. In each scenario players need to strive to achieve targets in all three, with a focus on the first two. Players also manage individual submarines out on patrol (indeed in a full campaign they manage every single submarine in their fleet), but the successes/failures of an individual submarine are only a very small part of a much larger campaign.



Players can also play a short 'Patrol' scenario where they will attempt to sink enemy ships on a single submarine patrol. However, there's very little decision-making going on here and most of these scenarios just boil down to pure luck of the draw. They are handy, however, for understanding how the game works before diving into the larger scenarios.

How does it feel in general?

The feeling of the game is very much one of struggling against the odds, being frustrated by the constant failures of your submarine captains and being occasionally rewarded in a small way by a successful patrol. These are very rarely ‘game-changing’ victories, rather, each small victory (an enemy ship sunk) contributes in a small way to achieving those overall targets of ships sunk and tonnage sunk. As a result, this is not a game well suited to those who need constant tension and excitement. It is generally a very dry simulation where you are managing transit routes, patrols, repairs and refits of submarines whilst striving towards very long term goals that may take weeks of playing the game to achieve.

What is the appeal?

However, it is this aspect that appeals to those who enjoy the game. If you enjoy watching voting results slowly trickly in over hours on election night or like to analyse the fine details of statistics and charts, then this is your type of game. If you were to spend two hours every night playing the full campaign of Silent War, providing you meet your ‘checkpoint’ targets and remain in command of the fleet, then you will be playing for months. Silent War is the ‘old reliable’ type of game, the type of game you can go back to at any point and easily pick up and jump straight into. You can leave the game mid-way through a turn and easy return at any time and pick straight up where you left off without any confusion. You could leave the game unplayed for months, then return and jump right back in where you left off and easily continue your campaign. Thus, Silent War is what I’d call the ‘cricket’ of the conflict simulation world (as in the sport, played in many countries outside North America). You’re striving for hours/days hoping that in the long run you’ll achieve your target. Small ‘successes’ along the way are great to see, but the prime target is to watch your ships sunk and tonnage sunk totals slowly increase over time. For example, it is nice to sink a 5t Maru (equivalent to hitting a boundary in cricket), but when you’re trying to sink a total of 90t to make it past your first ‘checkpoint’ you realise that Maru is only a small drop in the water (like a boundary is only 4 runs towards your century - a personal milestone in a cricket match).

What decisions do you make?

The decisions made by players are generally ‘long term strategic decisions’, similar in many ways to the allocation of air units in John Butterfield’s RAF (where the impact of your air allocation, whether good or bad, is felt over the course of many weeks). Except in Silent War, the effects of your broader decisions are felt over a period of months as you very slowly increase your ‘Ships Sunk’ and ‘Tonnage Sunk’ totals.

The two key decisions you make are:

1. Where to send your submarines to patrol - this can be both a broad strategic and short-term operational decisions. For example, early in the war your ‘broad strategic’ decision may be to focus on the safe areas to reduce submarine losses and make it easy to repair and refit close to base, but if you’re not getting enough ‘hits’ on the enemy you may want to take more risks and send some ships into more active areas.



2. What column and type of enemy ships to attack - there are up to four columns to choose from, A is easy but has little reward whilst D is hard but has high reward. Early in the war you may want to focus on the ‘A’ column and the lighter (and easier) ships to get your ‘Ships Sunk’ hit rate up, in order to get better torpedoes, then as your submarine quality improves you’ll increasingly target larger ships for higher ‘Tonnage Sunk’ results.



Again, there are broad strategic implications in these decisions that are only really felt over a period of hours/days/weeks of playing the game. If you’re falling behind your targets it is easy to change your strategy to be more aggressive, but again, you won’t feel the effects of this more aggressive strategy for a few more hours/days as your increasingly aggressive submarines slowly sink more (and heavier) enemy ships. As the war progresses the situation will urge you to change your strategy. Better submarines and better torpedoes become available to you, but the enemy also increases their anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, threatening to increase your Submarine Losses. Other factors, such as wartime events, also play into the decisions you need to make.



Practicalities of playing

The game is very 'playable'. The rules are easy to understand and the Patrol scenarios allow new players to quick and easy jump straight into the game. The rules are very well structured to follow gameplay. Finally, the game takes up some space. The maps is of reasonable size and there are a lot of tables/charts to refer to regularly. So if you're going to set everything up for a full campaign you'll need some decent space for a decent amount of time. As noted above, the full campaign can be quite long, but the Cyberboard and Vassal modules available make Silent War well suited for PC/Mac-play.



For those interested in adding a more personal touch to the game, I’d recommend downloading the patrol log here: http://compassgames.com/downloads/SWpatrol_log.zip
This allows you to track the successes of your different submarines and allows you to ‘connect’ more (psychologically) with the captains and submarines under your command.
There are also a handful of other great Silent War downloads on the Compass Games download page here: http://compassgames.com/downloads/

Conclusion

In sum, I'm the type of person who loves elections as I enjoy analysing voting patterns and statistics as they come in. I'm also very patient and don't mind long periods of inactivity in return for a long term strategic victory. Finally, it's nice to have the type of game that I can leave at a moments notice and return to at any time and jump straight back into at ease. Silent War is a great conflict simulation, and I would certainly recommend it for the right type of gamer - but it could potentially be very boring and disappointing if you were expecting something more fast-paced, exciting and tense. Hopefully this review encourages 'the right type of gamer' to buy and enjoy this.
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Very nicely done.
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Morten Lund
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Well written and argued!

Having read the patrol accounts and other narratives, I have considered getting into Silent War. Your review covers my lingering questions nicely.

I see the appeal of a game that can be played whenever you have the time, but ultimately I am not a statistics afficionado, so I think this might not be for me, interesting though the subject matter is to me

I look forward to the coming narratives/session reports, et al.
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Joe R

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Nice review. Seems that this is a game ideally suited to a low tech (low graphics) computer application. Perhaps one in between VASSAL and a full blown computer game.

Question for all = based on the characteristics of this game as a model of how the submarine war in the Pacific played out (which, btw, seems very accurate from a strategic sense) what lessons does this game have for other PW games? Said another way, based on what you learned from this game, how well do the other war in the Pacific games out there represent the submarine war?
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Steve Herron
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Quote:
You can leave the game mid-way through a turn and easy return at any time and pick straight up where you left off without any confusion. You could leave the game unplayed for months, then return and jump right back in where you left off and easily continue your campaign.


That is why I really like this game, it suits my style of play & game time schedule. I played the 41-42 scenario (early war) and mostly attacked column A. I did very well, ended up winning. I prayed on the "El Cheapo" 1T junks. I preordered Steel Wolves I liked the game so well.
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Steve Carey
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Very nicely done, Nathan - good timing too with Steel Wolves soon to be released.

I really enjoyed the strong narrative of playing Silent War, and so recommended it to a good friend. He liked it so much, we ended up playing the game cooperatively in order to share the experience.

I then recommended it to two other diehard gamers who absolutely hated the game due to a lack of decision-making and perceived boring play.

As your review so aptly highlights, Silent War is not for everyone; but those who do get into it will most likely be richly rewarded.
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Steve Carey wrote:

I really enjoyed the strong narrative of playing Silent War, and so recommended it to a good friend. He liked it so much, we ended up playing the game cooperatively in order to share the experience.


That's a good point that I should have emphasised more. There is a very strong sense of narrative flowing throughout the game. Thanks for pointing that out Steve.
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I was pretty excited about getting Silent War and took peoples comments about it being repetative with a pinch of salt (seeing as most solitaire games are slightly repetative, thinking B-17, Pattons Best RAF etc).

However on my first run through I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of submarines you have to deal with before you reach the end of a turn. The actual process you go through for each submarine is a fine experience but with so many submarines I simply got worn out! After about 10 or so submarines (maybe more), and as I cast my eye over the remainder of the Pacific that I still had to resolve, I was beginning to wonder when I would reach the end of the turn.

I eventually gave up on my first run through. (I possibly wouldn't have if I hadn't of received a new game in the post that I wanted to get on the gaming table) The experience left me frustrated and I immediately began to try and off load the game via a trade.

To be fair I haven't given it enough of a chance.

It requires a fair amount of patience, actual cups for the japanese counters (not bags - made drawing counters a lot of work, comparatively) and a log to record individual sub stats would make it a much much richer experience imo.

I think I should give it a second chance.
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I doubt I would ever play the full campaigns, for some of the reasons given above. But I find the game quite good and manageable with the released mini-campaigns.
 
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Where I found the game shines is with Vassal. I created a small Access database to track my patrols, so I can record stats. And pulling from virtual cups in Vassal is a much easier affair. (I have a real problem with determining which side is up as I pull the chits from the counter to keep them hidden). I use the real map and sub counters for the strategic of it, because I love shoving cardboard about.
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Brien Miller
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If you will all allow me a moment to muse:

It will be interesting to see how both supporters and detractors of Silent War view Steel Wolves given their experience with the pacific game. Both simulations are an abstraction which, at best, attempts to quantify and qualify a few of the actions and or activities which we, the designers, after years of study, believe have or had an impact on a major wartime endeavor many years in the making. It is, essentially, a thought exercise about something that is effectively a remote and generally unknowable experience the purpose of which is to highlight key aspects of a grand historical event in ways that can reveal paths into understanding it.

In short, both games are simulations about a unique position that only a scant few men in all of history have ever held (or will ever hold); a war time command of a nation’s strategic submarine force in a campaign to destroy the enemy’s ability to support and supply their nation through maritime sea-lift power. That is, in essence what is under study.

As noted (and now much quoted) in Silent War, the job of the U.S. Commander of Submarines, in Steel Wolve’s case BdU, is that of an accountant. It is a job about logistics, about operational deployments and tempo, about post patrol analysis, and about piecing together— while ashore— an ever changing tactical situation at sea through the use of information gained imperfectly through nascent voice and code based radiotelephone technology- and this in a situation critically reliant on good information in order to predict effective future actions. As it was with Christie and Lockwood, this was also the world of Karl Dönitz, the Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU), the supreme commander of the Germany’s Kriegsmarines U-boat Arm (Ubootwaffe) during World War II. Like Silent War, Steel Wolves is a game about one man’s unique job.

So in many basic ways, both the American and German Admirals had similar, simulatable, responsibilities. However, unlike Silent War’s American counterparts, Dönitz had, and faced, a wider range of considerations during his tenure, not the least of which was that he was tightly linked into the military-political leadership of NAZI Germany. Ideology aside, unlike his foreign equivalents, he had direct access to the highest circles of leadership and had to vie, first with Erich Raeder, the Großadmiral of the Kreigsmarine from 1939 to 1943 for naval resources; with Herman Goering, the Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall (OkL) for air asset support; with the many Generals of the General Staff of the Army (the Heer and OkW), and ultimately with Adolf Hitler, supreme leader of NAZI Germany in the matter of any military activity that came, literally, to der furher’s attention. It would be as if Admirals Christie or Lockwood had direct lines to the Roosevelt’s White House and visa-versa, and had the enshrined ability to jump over Nimitz’s and King’s head to the highest levels of Government to discuss submarine issues directly with the President.

Also, unlike his American counterparts, Dönitz had a tremendous influence on pre-war submarine construction. Although he did not possess absolute control over it, it was with his guidance that the character and nature of the U-Boat arm developed. It was Dönitz, answering to the problem that daunted his World War I predecessors, that being the ability of the British to move the blockade beyond the range of the High Seas Fleet and its U-Boats, who selected the Type VII as the preferred boat, failing to realize that they too would be required to operate at even greater ranges as the war pushed and pulled them even further out into the Atlantic.

Lastly, Dönitz envisioned wolf pack tactics as an answer to the convoy system which so effectively curtailed the successes of the U-Boats in World War I. However, this required essentially inventing from new cloth methods and procedures for communicating and controlling forces at sea from a central command center ashore and meant that, in the words of the American commanders, he would be “playing checkers” with the submarines to a greater degree than previously envisioned. The great insight Dönitz proffered was that packs would not be set structures but rather fluidic in nature, with boats moving into and out of them as needed as opposed to a pre-set task force comprised of several submarines with an overall commander “at sea.”

These aspects, the scope of his involvement with the political arena, the influence on design and construction, and the use of fluidic wolf packs casts an unique set of conditions upon the German Campaign which the American Campaign did not have.

More critically, Dönitz faced an opposition wholly unlike the Japanese, an opposition armed with the 1917-1918 convoy experience of Great Britain backed by the then immense industrial might of the United States, and all this combined with the (although often un-coordinated) advantages of rapid technological development. And of this technological prowess, nowhere was it more evident than in the emerging science of mechanical code-breaking. Although, ironically, Britain and her allies never cracked the Italian codes, the Germans might as well have published their plans on the front page of the Völkischer Beobachter. With swelling numbers of new merchant hulls to replace the losses from the rickety depression era fleet, with the experience gained in convoy operations, early airborne ASW, and improvements to the escort fleet, both tactically and technologically, Dönitz faced an inevitable Götterdämmerung (as it so proved) if he didn’t interdict England before perhaps the middle of 1941.

With all this in mind as the apex Wagnerian drama we knew we sought to portray in a game based on Silent War, we avidly noted all of the comments, good and bad, positive and negative, critique worthy and those of mere opinion that that the pacific game garnered. In general, the comments fell into one of two categories; the first concerned critiquing the resulting abstraction the game entailed in order to design a no-record-keeping required, story driven, experience; and to that end Silent War is highly successful in masking the underlying fact that an submarine’s attack upon a convoy is actually a statistical compilation of a week’s activities of that submarine. As such, players don’t see the one to two day convoy chases as the whole of the week is subsumed into one single engagement. However, some abstraction may have been unnecessary or even errantly unwarranted; Silent War’s use of four column convoy form, which was more an abstraction of A-B-C-D war mix than a model of a convoy was perhaps an abstraction too far.

The second set of comments that we followed closely were the discussions about whether it presented the player with enough decisions or not. As one can sense from the above, through abstraction we indeed subsumed some decisions into the mechanics, and fairly, a well reasoned group of players maintained that they wanted such decisions back into their hands. The problem of course, is balancing additional detail with expanded play options. Detail + options = mechanical activities = more time spent prior to getting a bang for the buck.

Nonetheless, we took such comments into account when we turned to the matter of designing Steel Wolves. The result being that, between the differences induced by the German experience as outlined above, and the comments we compiled from Silent War, we decided early on to ---for better or worse--- take this game away from its current level of abstraction towards a more detailed model- and in doing so, adding in a series of elements that significantly expands the issues the player must sort through in order to play. Keep in mind, Silent War had five countersheets between submarines and surface ships, one of which held all the merchant and Japanese units: Steel Wolves has twelve (12) and takes 3 alone to accommodate all the merchants and naval units involved. Even IJN, the new expansion pack for Silent War presents the entirety of the Japanese Navy only using two sheets! So coupled with answering the call for more play capability (options + decisions) overlaid on a game that has 240% more playing pieces, and twice the mechanical sub systems, and you will indeed get what has been said is so wanted: more of it in your hands- a whole lot more.

The most obvious change that players will see will be the combat displays. These now portray actual convoy/task force arrangements, and the detailed contact tables delineating actual convoy types encountered by where they were encountered. The beauty here is that the underlying system hasn’t changed (and in fact can probably be back fitted into Silent War). Nonetheless players will indeed note a significant increase in both decisions to be made and in the details needed to support making those decisions.

In general, while we were mostly successful at keeping this reduction in abstraction from increasing the complexity of any one system within the game, it does add detail which ultimately increases the game’s activities. And while much of this is due to the above considerations, we were also very aware that this campaign is very familiar to a lot of people, and thus we opted to incorporate detail such as specific convoy types so that players can find HX, SC’s and other types of convoys in the right places at the right times and this matches much of what we received as player’s wish lists for Steel Wolves.

But truly, all this added detail comes with the age old warning, “be careful of what you wish for.” More decisions mean more decision points. Every decision point means at least two branches, and generally one or more branching choices suggests that there is a gradient of information that has to be assessed in a cross-referential way in order to “make the decision.” This pretty much quadrupled the amount of development effort stretching this project from the projected two and a half years out to five. It has dramatically increased the information layer in the game and forced the game to get bigger and as a result, the game has added more maintenance activity in order to support the added layer of detail. Now, some will surely not like this while others will ravishingly revel in it. In the end, we opted to follow this path because, in our view, this campaign requires it in order to provide the player with the experience of the circumstances facing BdU from 1939 to 1943.

So, yes, we have listened to all the comments, both here on BGG, on Consimworld, and in the many reviews written about Silent War. In turn, we do acknowledge that some areas could have been better in Silent War and we have indeed incorporated them into Steel Wolves; just remember, given the increase in the historical baseline of activities, all of this creates a true monster in every meaning of that word. But we promise that Silent War players will drift fairly easily into Steel Wolves, that the number of Submarines to start is low making entry easier, and that we not only have retained the story telling aspect of the game, but it is vastly enhanced by the ultimate tenseness of the game as you try to challenge England-- for the very survival of both nations rested upon the outcome.

We thank all those who have commented, positive or negative, on Silent War throughout the preceding five years, and for the insights the now five-thousand plus players have provided for it has allowed us to craft this next game in ways we are confident will be better for all.
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Iain Martin
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Cyberboard / Vassal
How automated are the Cyberboard / Vassal modules?

One still has to "manage" everything manually correct?

I can see the appeal in terms of space and organization, not having to have the map is a safe place (non-existent in my home with two small kids) but I think this simulation begs to have a company like Matrix make a fully programmed PC/Mac version that took care of all the record keeping and selection pools, etc, automatically.

I own this game, have read the rules, want to play. Very interested in the Cyberboard / Vassal files.

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Not much automation at all as far as moving boats around the board. But! The best feature is the drawing IJN ships from the cups. If you know a little about programming (very little, like me ) Vassal you can scan your tables into jpgs and add them as a pop up chart for easy reference.
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aku_djinn wrote:
How automated are the Cyberboard / Vassal modules?


I tried both cyberboard and vassal, and would strongly recommend the vassal module. I've played without any PC support (just using all the material from the box and playing 'by hand') and I've also played with the vassal module, and I won't be going back to the box anymore given how much time and convenience vassal saves.

Most of the automation in the vassal module is in terms of 'returning pieces to the correct cups' (effectively packing up after each confrontation) and 'automatically moving your subs between base and map', which saves some time. There are also a lot of keyboard shortcuts and 'right-click menus' to make all this easier.

By and large though you still have to move all your subs around individually as they patrol/transit move. The great thing is you can 'pack away' so easily at any time. Simply save mid-turn, walk away, and return whenever you want.
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Ryan Powers
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aku_djinn wrote:


I own this game, have read the rules, want to play. Very interested in the Cyberboard / Vassal files.



The best part of the VASSAL module is not having to worry about revealing too much of a counter while figuring out which side is which.

OK, that's the second best thing. The first best is being able to play during the more boring meetings on my laptop.
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Very good review, an easy to learn game, but with great flavour. And sure, not for all players.
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aku_djinn wrote:
I can see the appeal in terms of space and organization, not having to have the map is a safe place (non-existent in my home with two small kids) but I think this simulation begs to have a company like Matrix make a fully programmed PC/Mac version that took care of all the record keeping and selection pools, etc, automatically.


Matrix already publishes a game of the entire Pacific War, of which the submarine component is more detailed (in the sense that it generates actual Japanese traffic based on the progress of the war and tracks all sorts of minutiae) than this game. I'm not sure the demand exists as I suspect computer gamers who would like Silent War are, by and large, already playing War in the Pacific: Admiral's Edition. (Although, oddly, the submarine war is so fiddly that it's the one major component of WitP:AE you can let the computer run for you.) "So it's a simpler version of WitP:AE focusing on just the subs and without multiplayer" would be the response, I'm afraid.

Frankly, I think if you automated Silent War too much, its true nature as an actuarial exercise would become apparent. I mean, do you want each turn to resolve itself and just give you the results? It is the illusion of something happening beyond achievement of a statistical result that makes it an appealing way for some people (like me) to spend many hours manipulating counters, either on the physical board or a computer screen. Notice that Steel Wolves moves the game more into sub simulator territory by converting the abstracted (and in my opinion very poorly so) attack procedure into a convoy attack game.

I say all this as a fan, by the way.
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