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Subject: Eric's Solitaire Review: Silent War rss

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Eric Lai
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Silent War

Introduction

Once in awhile I encounter a game that totally dumbfounds me with its sheer enormous scope, and Silent War from Compass games is certainly one of those games. The research, design and play-testing that must has gone into creating this behemoth must have been intense. Silent War is a simulation of the submarine warfare in the Pacific in WWII, its an odd mix of strategic & operational level with an abstracted tactical combat sequence. Its not as much a monster in size but in time needed to complete the full campaign.

Commentary

This game tries to encompass the whole of the submarine war in the Pacific to fairly minute tactical detail. The first thing you'll notice when you punch the counters is the hundreds of Submarine counters that represent all the submarines that participated in the campaign against Japan! The counters are very beautiful and sturdy. The map's artwork is quite nice as well. The aim of the game is to sink Japanese ships, the scoring system used is the amount of Tonnage sunk with minimal submarine losses. So you are constantly on the look out for fat easy mercantile targets, but the occasional carrier is a nice too.

Without rehashing all the rules I will quickly summarize the game flow quickly.

Each turn starts a war event phase, in which you check if a random historical event occurs, examples: these may result in US Sub bases closing down such as those in the Philippines after the Japanese evasion and others opening up. They may commit some of your forces to deal with history event such as the Battle of Midway. The events gives the game some historical flavor mostly, but sometimes can tax your logistical skills to respond to the changing situation.

Then comes a torpedo replacement phase where you see if your torpedo development and captaining experience will result in improved torpedos. Historically the initial US torpedos had a major design flaw that made them miss their target despite good aim.

Then the Ultra Phase where you determine which section of the Pacific have Ultra (code breaking) information. This will result in that area being more active with Japanese shipping and your submarines will have an easier time finding juicy targets.

Then there is a maintenance segment where you gain reinforcements, retire old vessels, repair ships and prep them for sea readiness.



Then comes the nitty gritty of the game: The patrol segment. There is where you assign your subs to move out of their bases to where you want them to go, during transit of your sub through areas, you randomly determine if a transit event occurs (most of which is bad) and once you safely reach your patrol area, you then do a search roll, which simulates your sub's search for targets, barring a random bad search event you will often find a convoy and you ready yourself for battle. The size of the convoy is determined by the phase of the war (there is more shipping during late war than at the war's beginning for example.) and the area the sub is patrolling, not surprising patrolling in the Sea of Japan at the heights of the Japanese expansion is rather dangerous!

The actual composition of the convoy is determined randomly via a chit pull mechanism. You take Japanese ships randomly from one of 4 cups of ships as defined via a table (which reflect the level of Japanese shipping activity in the area). Each cup bears a different combination of Japanese ships; for example, one cup has small easy but mostly light tonnage ships whilst on the other end of spectrum, another cup hold most of the Japanese task force including many dangerous sub hunting destroyers but also fatter better defended targets.

Battle takes place on a battle board where you take the chits you pulled and place them in the four columns, each representing the 4 cups you took the chits from. So you know the possible combination of each column and you then assign your submarines to one column depending the amount of risk you want to take. (in the beginning you only have one submarine in any one battle, but later in the war the US develops and copies German Wolfpack tactics and you can hunt in packs of subs.).

Depending on your submarine's radar/sighting ability you reveal a certain number of the hidden Japanese chits. These are your targets and these targets can fire back if you attack. You then draw a random targeting computer chit which basically is an abstracted randomize fortune of war chit and place these next to the revealed chits you want to fire upon. This chit basically gives you a bonus or a negative modifier to your actual torpedo strike. In essence, you'll target those with a good bonus for a more likely successful strike. Then you fire your torpedoes with dice and see if you hit. The enemy gets a shot at you and depending on the revealed enemy composition, the likelihood of getting sunk or damage or just being spotted changes. You have the option to flee or reveal more Japanese in a second round of combat prior to firing, before committing to battle.

Then you start again on your next turn and there will be around 240 of these turns if you want to play the full campaign! This will take the average hardcore gaming a good 1-3 months to finish!

This is one of those games that will divide wargamers. Some will find the experience dry because it may sometime seem like the game is more a simulation of the results (its very statistically accurate) rather than the simulation of the conflicts themselves. There is surprising little strategic decisions to be made, since the major events of the war and fleet replacements has been hardwired to the game. Operationally there are the decision where to send ships & how to respond to events and the sub repair priority. Most oddly, its the tactical combat that takes the majority of your time as you micro manage your individual sub's hunting successes. So throughout much of the game you feel more like the individual sub's captains rather than the overall fleet commander. The problem with this is that each sub's life span is quite fleeting, many subs will be decommissioned or sunk or retired during the course of the game and its hard to get attach to individual subs emotionally because of this (not to mention that there are so many subs in the game, you often forget individual submarines.) There in lies the game's weak spots.

Fortunately for many players, they will find the experience quite intense. I think the length of the game is both an advantage and a disadvantage. If you take the game in smaller chunks, (there are smaller shorter campaign scenarios or play the full campaign in spurts) its actually quite an immersive experience (no pun intended, or I would've said submersive) and you will find that you can relate to each individual sub during its life span. But as the game goes on fatigue will set in and it takes a dedicated player to keep going, it takes awhile to see the final rewards but rewards there are! Having played the full campaign twice, I can attest that the game builds up to a crescendo as the war intensifies in later years and like a RPG, your subs get more and more deadly. And like a RPG, it plays similarly, with a slow beginning but once you get to higher levels it gets much better.

One piece of advice if you decide to give this game a go: Buy it and then Play it on VASSAL. After awhile the chit draw mechanism will grow tiring and on VASSAL this part of the game is much improved and much speedier. You will play more game and draw less chits!

Conclusion:

Admittedly its not a game suitable for everyone, I think after reading this review you find yourself interested still, you probably won't regret buying it. The game's premise and scale is immense and the designer has created many clever and unique game mechanic to implement the action. The game will take a long time to finish and be ready to have a table dedicated to it for a month or two, unless you play it on VASSAL. Have no doubt, its a monster game without the monster footprint. I really enjoyed my time with this game with the IJN expansion. The expansion truth be told is really not necessary but does add more historical accuracy with named Japanese ships.

I will give this game a 7 out of 10, an excellent submarine game on a scale never tried before with many unique mechanics.

+7 for the designers managing to distill such a huge topic into a readily playable game and still managing to maintain a statistically accurate simulation. And a few points for the great production quality of the components. The rules are sound with few errata.

-3 the game is not for everyone and will need a patient player indeed to gain the full benefits from playing. In the end this should be a war "GAME" and I think games should be well paced and I have to say that the game's slow pace will detract it from a wider audience.

A geeklist of my other Solitaire Reviews
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Steve Herron
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Quote:
I piece of advice if you decide to give this game a go: Play it on VASSAL. After awhile the chit draw mechanism will grow tiring and on VASSAL this part of the game is much improved and much speedier. You will play more game and draw less chits!


Also it will help in preserving the counters. I played the early war campaign game and many of the cup counters like the targetting ones became worn. I think they could all most could have used charts except I guess they figured it would have meant more rolling of a die. I may try it on VASSAL next time. When I played I went after the 1-0 junks a lot, so I could get my numbers up. I set my game up using counter clips. Very good job Eric!
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Eric Lai
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You are right, in the early/mid games the number of ships sunk is important statistic to improve your torpedoes! Boy those early torpedoes suck eggs big time.
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Jon Kolman
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Nice review! Thanks for making it.
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Mathew Schemenaur
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Nice review. I like solo games, but this one didn't click for me. I ended up trading it.
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Eric Lai
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Thanks Mathew, definitely not a game for everyone, and definitely a love-hate thing, I can see people (like yourself) trading this one away!
 
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Matt Hiske
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The time to play this is a turnoff even though it is interesting. I have U-Boats pre-ordered and I hope this hits the sweet spot for me. Thanks for the review.
 
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Luke Hughes
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Thanks Eric! DO you plan to review Steel Wolves? That is supposed to have more strategic decision making.

I also am opting for now for U-Boat Leader from DVG as a lighter option.
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Justus Pendleton
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Garfink wrote:
One piece of advice if you decide to give this game a go: Buy it and then Play it on VASSAL.


It sounds like you are saying it is a bit of a failure as a boardgame, if you're recommending that people play it as a computer game. I guess I kinda feel like if I'm going to be forced to play it on VASSAL to make it half enjoyable, why not go that extra step and automate the other stupid tasks a human has to do?

When a boardgame is so complicated that it should be played a computer game, why do you think they creators didn't just make it a computer game? Lack of skill? (After all, programming a game is a very different skill set.) Inertia ("we're a boardgame company")? Something else?

What are the biggest impediments that keep it from being playable/fun as a boardgame? You mention the chitdraws. Are there other mechanics and subsystems that also maybe should have been streamlined/abstracted/dropped?
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Eric Lai
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hoostus wrote:
Garfink wrote:
One piece of advice if you decide to give this game a go: Buy it and then Play it on VASSAL.


It sounds like you are saying it is a bit of a failure as a boardgame, if you're recommending that people play it as a computer game. I guess I kinda feel like if I'm going to be forced to play it on VASSAL to make it half enjoyable, why not go that extra step and automate the other stupid tasks a human has to do?

When a boardgame is so complicated that it should be played a computer game, why do you think they creators didn't just make it a computer game? Lack of skill? (After all, programming a game is a very different skill set.) Inertia ("we're a boardgame company")? Something else?

What are the biggest impediments that keep it from being playable/fun as a boardgame? You mention the chitdraws. Are there other mechanics and subsystems that also maybe should have been streamlined/abstracted/dropped?


It is as I've described it, the VASSAL module has two advantages; Automate the Chit Draws much quicker than you can and recovery of the gaming space. Don't let this deter you if the other aspect of the game interests you, neither of these points are really big deals and if you have the space, than the latter isn't a problem. It plays well as a boardgame and the counter art is beautiful. None of the other mechanics nor subsystems have any "wrong" with them, they seem all necessary to implement the game premise. No doubt that the game was intentionally designed at this scale, personal opinion not-withstanding.
 
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Eric Lai
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lhughes41 wrote:
Thanks Eric! DO you plan to review Steel Wolves? That is supposed to have more strategic decision making.

I also am opting for now for U-Boat Leader from DVG as a lighter option.


U-Boat Leader sounds like a totally different animal, I am also interested to see how well the Leader series translates to submarine missions.

As for Steel Wolves: The German Submarine Campaign Against Allied Shipping – Vol 1, I will be doing a review as soon as I am finish with my current game... its a similarly LONG game, so standby there.

I am also curious what the "Vol.1" mean that the end of the title... implies there is a Vol.2....

 
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Erin Sparks
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I like having the board spread out in front of me and physically moving the pieces but the chit draws for combat take a long time (and I sometimes put them back in the wrong cup, etc.). I enjoyed the game but only played a few nights and only got a month or so into the game. I plan on making my own utility for automating the combat portion because I do think the game is fun apart from the endless chit-drawing for combat (many of those chits aren't even used). I did feel a thrill finally getting a hit with those early-war torpedoes! It just needs to move along a bit better.
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Eric Lai
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rockhpi wrote:
I like having the board spread out in front of me and physically moving the pieces but the chit draws for combat take a long time (and I sometimes put them back in the wrong cup, etc.). I enjoyed the game but only played a few nights and only got a month or so into the game. I plan on making my own utility for automating the combat portion because I do think the game is fun apart from the endless chit-drawing for combat (many of those chits aren't even used). I did feel a thrill finally getting a hit with those early-war torpedoes! It just needs to move along a bit better.


An alternative to the chit draw would be good, but it will have to be an elaborate method to keep the odds the same (given how statistically accurate the game is suppose to be.)
 
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John Caccioppoli
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I am in the process of playing the campaign game of Silent War'.
I played part of a shorter scenario to learn the rule.
Though the rules are fairly simple to master I find the game is very 'die roll' heavy.
I understand that most solitaire games require lots of die rolls as the player is controlling both sides. Usually this is balance by an exciting game with lots of choices to be made by the player.
In silent war this is not so. It is true that the player decides what 'op-area' to patrol, (unless specified in a 'War Event'), but this does not make any strategic difference in the game. Some provide more opportunity to find targets than other areas, but there is no other benefit or consequence to this choice.
Also the choice as to what targets to attack are based on a random chit draw; transit events, counterattacks, tdc markers, convoy mix, spotted marker removal, war event, war level, torpedo improvement and more are all just chit draws or die rolls.
I thought that I would be deciding op areas to patrol based on how they will affect the prosecution of the 'war'.
The most realistic decision to make is whether or not to re-attack the convoy and to 'RTB' a sub to base due to damage marker/markers.
Just to make things interesting I am keeping a log on each submarine that enters play. At least now I can tell which sub and which Skipper is doing the best.
Still, all-in-all I am not sure how much longer I will be playing this game.

JOHN
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