Well, a week after I received my shipping and tracking notification, U-Boot finally arrived. Typically, it had made its way across mainland Europe from Poland without a hitch, only to hit a delay as soon as it arrived in the UK!
It’s always with a little trepidation that I open up a crowd funded game for the first time; always wondering if I’m going to be one of the few who either have pieces missing, or damaged, especially when it’s evident that something heavy has landed, corner-on, on to the packaging.
Before I open up the box, what is U-Boot?
Designed by Iron Wolf Studio – Artur Salwarowski and Bartosz Pluta – and published by Phalanx, U-Boot is billed as a ‘Real-Time, App-Driven, Tabletop Submarine Simulator,’ and over 8,000 people pledged in excess of £680,000 to bring the project to life on Kickstarter. That was back in February 2018.
The game is for 1-4 players, playing co-operatively, 60+ minutes game time, and for ages 14+. Players take on the role of Captain, First Officer, Navigator, and Chief Engineer, aboard a WWII German U boat.
Each role comes with its own responsibilities – the navigator for example, not only steers the submarine by plotting courses and depths, but is also responsible for the strategic and tactical maps, as well as feeding the crew! There are shift changes to consider, along with the morale and fatigue of the crew – they really have tried to push the boundaries when it comes to realism.
Talking of realism, it is the app that provides the world into which you will sail, providing an environment that includes enemy shipping, minefields, attack from the air, and much, much more. Combined, the whole game sounds very promising, and it had me hooked from the very start, as I dreamt of re-living the events from the old Das Boot TV series.
Just before I take the lid of, I want to state that, once I have decide to buy a game, or place a pledge on a crowd funded one, I try to avoid reading or watching anything about the game. I like to go into it with an open mind, especially if I’m going to review it; I also like to experience everything fresh – I try not to read any cards until they are drawn in game – for me, this gives the best experience. Anyway, let’s progress with the unboxing and see what delights lie ahead…
Opening the outer packaging, which is a nice box advertising the game on every side, I can see that the impact that it took has creased the actual game box; hopefully the damage is purely cosmetic, but I was disappointed that there was nothing, other than some small foam corner pieces, protecting the game box. I would have liked it to have been properly foam packaged, or at least bubble-wrapped.
Lifting out the main box, I find underneath a smaller box labelled up as the ‘All-in Resin Pack,’ which was something I added to my pledge – we’ll come back to this later. There is also the giant latex playing mat, which comes as part of the pledge level, but it will be available to purchase once the game goes to retail. Underneath these, which were held in place by two small foam inserts, I come across a sticker sheet that bears a whole load of emblems, though they can’t be individually peeled off and will require cutting. If I recall correctly, these are to add to the conning tower to give it a bit of personalisation!
That’s everything out of the main packaging; let’s take a closer look at them individually, starting with the core box.
Lifting off the lid I get my first surprise, and its not a good one – there is no insert whatsoever in the box, the contents are all loose; the cards aren’t even cellophane wrapped, so they’re free to spread around the box as they please, and have done so!
On top of everything are two hefty books – a rulebook and a tactical guide.
The rulebook comes in at 51 pages, and skimming through there’s a lot of writing to take in, though it is punctuated with plenty of illustrated examples. The book is really well produced having a nice feel to it, and the font used is a good size and easy on the eye. The pictures are colourful, and many have a short explanation underneath explaining what they represent.
At first glance it seems to be a well thought out book of rules, going through the usual introduction and component list, and then on to a glossary of U-Boat terms. We then get an overview and game set-up, with the core rules following that, and finally, there is a section covering the rules for each individual officer.
There is far too much contained within the rulebook to go into here, but I did read the odd paragraph as I skimmed through, and found it to be well written and easy to understand – there’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re going to be playing this solo – you’ll have to get to grips with the roles and responsibilities of each and every officer, no mean feat by the looks of it!
The other book is the tactical guide and is a much lighter read coming in at only 19 pages! This is a nice inclusion, as straight away you feel like the game really is going to be the simulation they’ve billed it as.
Inside there’s some historical background, how to plot a course, dealing with minefields, Wolf packs, air patrols; basically, a wealth of valuable information vital for the officers of the watch. The main section of the book goes through how to play as each role, the nuances of each officers responsibilities – I especially like the examples it gives in the Navigators section, on how to manoeuvre for best advantage, excellent.
Just glancing through these book has really got me fired up to play this game; I like the depth (no pun intended) it goes into, I just hope the game play follows this through and creates an atmosphere of intense pressure, one which I would imagine those submariners were all to familiar with.
Next out of the box comes a selection of paper sheets. There is the strategic map – a double-sided map with the North Sea on one side and the Atlantic on the other. There are six copies of this, and personally I will laminate them, but they are free to download from the website.
There is an Enigma code sheet comprising of 4 pages, and again this shows how far they’ve gone to make this a simulation – it’s part of the First Officers responsibilities to decode the Enigma machine.
There are two copies of the identification sheets, and this one is really intriguing, as it not only gives a silhouette of enemy shipping from side on, but also at differing angles to your bow. I imagine it is going to be pretty easy to miss-identify something when playing in real time!
Finally, there are two copies of the Captains log, used to record notes, and for recording the games progress when you’re carrying out a campaign – a sort of ‘save game’ – these can also be downloaded from the website.
All of the above are on nice thick paper and have a few additions, such as German writing and stamps, which gives an atmospheric feel to it all.
Next up are four player aids, one for each officer. These are gloss finished card and roughly A4 size. Each has a setup diagram for a particular officer, which sounds useful, as you don’t have to wait for the rulebook to be passed around; overleaf there is also a summary of orders that effect that particular officer. Glancing through and they appear to be pretty comprehensive – I like the section entitled, ‘Always remember to,’ which gives a breakdown of important rules to remember for that specific officer.
A sealed container holds all the plastic miniatures and tokens, and it’s a good job, as the submarine components are quite fragile, especially the 20mm gun, which was already bent out of shape. The two guns and conning tower are okay; they have some detailing, enough to make them look good when painted, but have a lot of sprue scars that will have to be removed first.
The next bag I open up from the container has some delightful, if very small, models of ships. These are used on the Navigators tactical map to represent the U-boat and the enemy shipping. At the size they are they look great, though I can imagine the smallest of them, at 5mm long, will easily be lost at sea, or at least down the back of a chair!
There are two plastic saluting soldier order tokens, which again are okay. They’re a good size to be handled as well as be obvious on the Captains player board.
Last, but not least, there are the sailor miniatures. There are four sailors for each officer, and every one of them is in a different pose, which was a result of the Kickstarter stretch goals. They appear on first sight to be very fragile, but when you get them out of the bag you realise that they are fairly robust, though I wouldn’t want to drop the rulebook on any of them! They are small, probably around 15mm, as they have to be able to fit on the boat, and the level of detail is on the light side, but then it isn’t a miniatures game so they’re more than acceptable.
The fact they are all individually posed is great plus, as they’ll make the game look fantastic when it’s in play, adding to the overall atmosphere portrayed by the other components.
Taking out the individual player boards, which are all gatefold, it becomes evident that this game is going to take up a fair amount of table space – but boy, it will be worth it, these are great!
They’re all nice, thick card, but it’s the artwork and graphics that make them stand out. It’s the little things, the ones that matter not one jot to the game play, such as the folded German newspaper, or the photo tucked under some binoculars, which bring the boards to life.
Picking out the crew tiles next, and again the artwork is very atmospheric. Each side of the tile represents a watch’s crew, and the skills they have are in a different order to the reverse side – this means that you’ll have to mobilize (move them around the boat) the crew to get them where they’re most needed whenever the watch is changed.
Time to gather up the cards and sort them into their respective decks, during which I find these…
…Which are evidently how the cards were held together in the first place, but with the lack of an insert, it’s just not good enough!
There are several decks of cards, and each has quite a distinctive back, so there is no chance of getting the decks mixed up. I really like the artwork on the backs of the morale, event, and Captain’s cards, and taking a flick through all the decks I can see that they are clear and easy to interpret, which is a necessity when playing real-time.
The ‘feel’ of the cards is nice, they aren’t linen finish but I can’t see them being handled particularly so it won’t make much difference. They’re also not overly glossy, which is a plus when playing under bright lighting.
Some of the decks seem a little light in the number of cards they contain, which might make them a bit repetitive with constant play, but that’s speaking with no experience of having played the game yet.
The punchboards, of which there are seven, are very nicely done – even the waste is decorated with thematic graphics. They are all nice and thick and appear to be good quality. There is the Navigators attack disc, which needs assembling – basically, fixing the three discs in place with a small snap together connector. Take note of the size, as there is a lot of talk on BGG about getting this one mixed up with the ones that connect the Chief Engineer’s panel together – they are different sizes, and once clipped together have proved for some, to be impossible to unclip!
I like the Navigators protractor and ruler they remind me of the ones I had at school, which were made of wood!
There are a fair few tokens to pop out – activation, condition, med-kit, observation and many more, all of which are nice and clear and I can’t see any difficulty in recognising what they each represent.
And then there is the boat itself! It looks fab – dark and moody just like you’d expect a U-Boat to look, at least that’s how I imagine it! The boat is literally falling out of the punchboard, shouting at me to assemble it… now! But I manage to control myself and save that for later. It has been recommended that the assembly video is watched before putting it together, but I can’t see it being too much of a problem, not for a budding U-Boot Officer anyway!
Lastly out of the box comes a small bag of connectors, which are used for the assemblies mentioned above; A baggie containing lots more baggies; a small cloth token bag, nicely labelled Kriegsmarine, which contains a pencil that is strangely better packaged than the cards were, being sealed in its own plastic bag!
Overall the core box has some highly polished and atmospheric components, it’s just a pity they’ve been thrown into the box without any care or attention, and that’s inexcusable for a game of this price.
I do get the impression that a lot of time and effort has gone into the rest of the production though, and there are some well though out components. The 3D model of the boat will look superb when assembled. The tokens are user friendly being easily recognisable and a good size to grab hold of. The cards are good quality, and again easy to read; all of the boards are very thematic and atmospheric, but also appear to be well though out for ease of use. The plastic tokens and miniatures are okay, nothing special but do the job, though some may be a little on the fragile side. And the rulebook is well written, and I found it easy to follow with some excellent examples.
So, in the end I’m very pleased, and actually quite impressed by the production of the game, and it has made me really excited to play it, I only hope it plays as well as it looks, and I just may have to book a slot on the dining table, as my gaming table may not be big enough!
All-in Resin Pack
The resin pack upgrades the environmental and supply tokens included within the game, as well as adding some interior design features such as engines, periscope, galley, torpedo room, and communication and hydrophone stations.
The environmental figures represent toxic gas, lighting failure, water leak, electrical failure, and fire. It’s pretty obvious what they represent, and should look good on the boat. As a playing piece, just used as a representative token, they’re pretty nice and I’m more than happy with them.
The supply token upgrades I really like. Being resin they have a good level of detail that requires very little in the way of cleaning up for paint. Again they can be easily identified as to what they represent – light bulb, fire extinguisher, tauchretter (escape kit), water pump, wire, and toolboxes.
Both sets of token upgrades are a nice size and, as well as standing out, will be easy to pick up and move around the boat.
The interior pack will just add to the atmosphere of the game, it doesn’t do anything to effect gameplay. The detailing on the figures is pretty good – I especially like the panels in the communication/hydrophone stations, and they should look really good painted up. Again, being resin, the quality of them all is very good, with only a few slight blemishes.
Latex Playing mat
This is a very nice playing mat indeed – I love the cut-out image of the U-Boat, which captures the scene very nicely. The mat also features all of the specialisation icons showing where particular orders can be carried out, so it’s not all cosmetic.
It feels great, it looks great, and will only enhance the look of the game on the table.
I will add a picture of the playing mat as soon as I can take a decent one. The picture I did take wasn’t great, so I deleted it, but I’d already set the game up, and as you can see above, there’s not a lot of the mat on view!