Originally Posted at http://gameswithtwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/fun-with-u-boats-su...
Submarines: interesting ships. They submerge underwater for weeks and months at a time--it's crazy. Not to mention, tight quarters, sharing space,and having to walk sideways to get to and fro; not the life for me, that is for sure. Subs have been the subject of many a books and movies like Crimson Tide, Hunt for Red October, U-571, and K-19 just to name a few. Some were more memorable than others, however, they all have that common theme that ties them together. Will they sink? Will they survive? Will this submarine becoming a watery graveyard? Every 10 years or so Hollywood makes us wonder.
Board games are not much different. Subs are not always a theme that people drive to but warfare is-- especially two-player war games. There is a whole genre based off of it, however, most of those games are too complex for me. Something simpler is needed. Something like, Memoir 44 is more my speed, but there are no Naval scenarios for that game yet. Until that happens there is a game that can help you get your Naval fix without breaking out Battleship. Subtilla, by Matt Worden Games and produced through The Game Crafter, is a 2 player naval battle game. It plays in about 20-30 minutes and uses actions point allowance, dice rolling, and area control mechanics. The goal of Subtilla is to be the first player to either destroy all of his opponents boats, or to have both of his opponents base spaces occupied at the end of said opponents turn.
Each player is given five boats and one submarine. They must maneuver their boats and sub to defend their base while trying to successfully raid their opponents.The game is played on a grid of circles, that work similar to that of a hexagonal-grid map. There is an island in the middle of the map with each base on either side of the island. The players boats start on opposite sides of the board, at the edge of the map (think Chess setup with only one row of units). On a player's turn, he will go through three phases: Torpedos, Boats, and Submarine. During the Torpedo phase, any torpedoes that were launched on the previous turn, that are still on the board propel themselves forward until they strike an enemy boat, hit an island or go off the map. After the torpedoes have been launched, if they hit an enemy boat, it triggers an attacking round where each player rolls one six-sided dice and then consults the damage chart on the board. This will be the same chart that is consulted for all attacks in the game. It's as simple as whoever rolls higher wins. If the attacker rolls higher, he does damage to the opponent. If the defender rolls higher, nothing happens, unless he rolls a six. Then, damage is done to the opponent. Ties are considered a win for the defender and nothing happens. After the torpedos have been resolved, the boat phase begins. Players can take 2 actions with each of their boats. Either rotating them, moving them forward, repairing them (each boat can take 3 damage before it is removed from the game), or attacking an enemy boat or sub. Finally, players can move their sub. They have three actions with their sub. They can move in the same manner as the boats and can restore their power (they have power instead of damage, if this ever gets to zero and they are hit, the enemy can move the sub to any location on the board. Subs can also launch torpedoes and submerge themselves. When submerged, markers are placed on the board to show possible locations of the submarine. Play continues in this fashion until one of the end conditions is met (taking both base spaces or destroying all the enemy boats).
Subtilla is currently only available via The Game Crafter. This is a site used to make promos and independent versions of board games. Because of this, the component quality of this game is not going to be on par with some of the other games that are currently available. Taking that into consideration, Subtilla does have some good components and some that are not so good. The submarines boats are great. I also love that the dice are the two colors used in the game. The plastic markers used for hits and to show the sub being submerged are less appealing, and I didn't care too much for the graphic design. I felt there was a lot of wasted space on the board that could have been used better. Either more quick references for movement and turn sequence, or a larger map would help out the design. With a bigger map you could have the option to play a smaller version or a larger version of the game. The colors and fonts chosen were not the best either. I don't know if this is a cost issue, with using more colors, but a brighter color scheme would be great for drawing in players. The price is good for this being an independently published game; $30 MSRP. That all being said, The game pieces are functional and they do what they need to. You are not going to get Fantasy Flight components in a Game Crafter game, and that's fine, but it's important to know that before you get something that you were not expecting.
Subtilla does what it sets out to do well. It sets out to be a short naval skirmish, not a massive battle or deep strategy game. It's a tactical game where maneuvering your boats and submarines into the right position is key. There is some luck with the dice resolving your actions, however, the player with the better tactics is usually going to come out on top. That being said, Subtilla is not without it's problems. First, the rotating of boats action. This was very difficult to keep straight. We would reach for one boat and in the process knock another piece and we would have no idea what direction it was facing. I understand this was put in so that boats would not fly across the map using two movement actions each turn, but if you minimized it to one movement action they would creep across the board. So, to balance this, the rotation of the boats was to be added. I get that is makes logical sense, but on the board it just did not work. My second gripe is that the game does not have a good story arc. You are doing the same thing that you did on turn one that you do on the last turn. The only difference is that you are closer to your opponents. It had that wash rinse repeat feel to it.
Subtilla does hit the mark on being a simplistic tactical game though. It's not overly complicated and it is easy to learn and play. I still have not decided if this is a strength or weakness of the game. It does make it accessible, but at what cost? Has the game play been too streamlined, and now the game is not as good as it could be? To be honest, I am not sure. Subtilla has the potential to be a solid game, maybe even a great game, but I do not think it is there yet. It needs to be polished up a little. I really want that Memoir 44 experience in the water. If it played more like Memoir, you could have these small Naval skirmishes or have massive Naval assaults. Either way a little variety would go a long way.
How Is It with Two?
Since this is a 2-player-only game, the game plays excellent with two. It's quick and easy to learn, so it's a great weeknight game, or a good filler, as your waiting for the rest of your crew to show up. As with most two-player-only games I can't see it being played with more players, unless you made it more like Memoir and had a massive overlord-style battle going down, which would just be awesome.
Overall, Subtilla is a light naval battle game, that does not thrill me. I would play it again if asked, but it's not one that I will be grabbing from the game closet first. I could see this one working as a good father-son game or young kids playing together. Those who enjoy submarines and Naval history may also find this one interesting, especially if you are wanting something more strategic than a Battleship, but you don't want to be looking through the phone book of rules of a all out war game. Subtilla has potential. Some tweaks here and there and this one could be well on it's way.