Silent War – Boardgame Review
Silent War. Compass Games. Designed by Brien Miller. $75.00 U.S.
Silent War does a good job of depicting the tension of submarine command during wartime.
Passed Inspection: Solid components and strong replay value make this an excellent game.
Failed Basic: Rules of Play need a bit of clarification and require careful re-reading for clear understanding.
Few boardgames have dealt with submarine warfare, and fewer still have been set in the Pacific Theater of World War Two. Compass Games’ excellent solitaire title Silent War brings the uncertainty and risk of mid-twentieth-century sub warfare to a tabletop near you. Players can command a single, United States sub (in the Patrol scenarios) or can coordinate the entire U. S. Pacific Submarine Fleet scattered across the ocean to harass Axis shipping and keep tabs on Japanese fleet movements.
Set up requires a fair amount of time: No less than four opaque containers are needed for random chit draws, representing the shipping available in any given area. The cups are skewed to offer four different levels of traffic, from heavy (larger cargo ships and, correspondingly, more and larger Imperial Japanese Navy escorts) to light (smaller cargo ships and only a few military vessels). Charts are provided to customize the mix in each container for each scenario.
Each turn represents a week of real time. Patrol missions, pitting the player against the historical records of a few actual sub commanders, tend to last only a few turns covering several weeks, whereas the campaign games run hundreds of turns, simulating the length of the war from the first days of 1942 to the beginning of August 1945.
The player rolls dice and compares the result, along with the region the sub is in, on a chart to see if contact is made with any ships. Contact usually results in a choice of ships to target, but the number of potential targets is limited by the sub’s Tactical Rating. To target a ship, the player flips over its counter to reveal what type of ship it is and how much tonnage it carries. The player then draws TDC (Target Data Computer) chits randomly and places them face down on the display sheet next to the ships under consideration. The TDC chit values range from -3 to +3, and simulate the accuracy of the sub’s tactical information about a given target. The player decides which ships to attack, allocates a portion of the sub’s Attack Value to each, and then attempts to sink one or more of the targets. Many ships have anti-submarine measures at their disposal, so—as in real life—sub commanders must be cautious, even when on the attack.
To attack, the player rolls a ten-sided die. A low number, which varies from one situation to the next, indicates a hit, and a second roll determines damage. After firing on an enemy ship, the player must roll to see if the sub has been spotted. A spot means the anti-sub attack may commence with a +1 bonus. Similarly, a die roll determines if the sub is hit, and if so, how much damage it sustained.
Silent War does a good job of depicting the tension of submarine command during wartime: the possibility of a lucky depth charge hit from even a small freighter cannot be lightly dismissed. A player commanding a damaged ship sometimes has to decide whether or not to return to base for repairs; other times, the damage charts dictate a mandatory return for refit, and a truly unlucky skipper may go down with his vessel.
If I have any complaint about Silent War, it’s that the rules could use a bit of clarification for greater ease of play and simpler on-the-fly reference. Still, being a solitaire title is an advantage in itself: no heartbreaking searches to find an opponent; no arguments over rules interpretations; and no jockeying schedules to fit in a longer game. That being said, Silent War does provide optional rules for two-player action, though the design dictates that both players be U.S. sub skippers, playing in alternating turns and trying to outdo each other in ships and tonnage sent to the bottom.
The play is straightforward, though a bit complicated. This is an excellent simulation with high-quality production values that will satisfy armchair admirals for years with its accurate simulation of U.S. submarine warfare in the Pacific Theater.
I was personally gratified to see that the U.S.S. Cobia, a ship I have toured, is one of the subs available for deployment in the campaign game. The Cobia is moored at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and is one of the few World-War Two vintage subs available to tour. While the Cobia was not built in the Manitowoc shipyards, it is the same class of sub—the Gato Class—built there during the war. For more information about the Cobia and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, visit http://www.wisconsinmaritime.org/sub.htm.
For more information on this or any of Compass Games’ titles, check out their website at http://www.compassgames.com/products.htm#soon.
Bill Bodden has worked in the hobby game industry for over twenty-three years, including stints in the retail, distribution and publishing sectors. His humorous, short fiction was nominated for an Origins Award in 2003. He currently serves as sales manager for Green Ronin Publishing and is a part-time freelance writer. A complete goober for miniatures, he paints them on rare occasions when he has spare time. Bill lives in Wisconsin with his wife, their four cats, and a whole lot of games, books and miniatures.