After several sessions, we have now played through the careers of two American submarine captains. We both started in April 1942 and then went all the way to the end of World War 2.
It never ceases to surprise me, but this game is completely different from the one covering the German U-boats. They fight a lot more planes and can easily end the game while pulling out of the Bay of Biscay. (The Pacific, in contrast, is just so huge there’s not as much chance of running into them.) Mainly the Japanese just have a much harder time killing the American subs. The large, target-rich convoys and wolf-packs of the Atlantic aren’t here, either. Japanese freighters tend to be smaller, fewer in number, and harder to stumble across. This completely changes the kinds of choices you tend to make.
The Americans have two extremes in technology that will also feel entirely different from the German boats. Early in the war, American torpedoes are duds four times out of six. You’re doing good if you come back having killed just one freighter! At the end of the war, Americans gain NAC Jammers and Mark 27 “Cutie” torpedoes. The former have a one-in-three chance of getting an escort off your trail and the latter can kill an escort that is attempting to hunt you down. (!!)
The new toys are nice, but in the four patrols that we ran during that phase of the game they never did work out. The numbers just wouldn’t come up for the NACs and (in my case) I never got my Mark 18’s out of the way. Now that I mention it, how you arrange your three varieties of torpedoes is neither trivial not obvious.
The sparseness of the targets combined with how much the admiralty hate it when captains come back from a patrol without killing anything means that it’s much harder to just pass on the warship encounters. But wow, those things are dangerous: they are harder to hit and more likely to detect you. That combination makes more likely that you’ll take the risk to swap things over to nighttime and/or risk being detected before you even make a shot by moving in close. If your naval career comes to an abrupt end, this is probably going to be the cause, but it’s still pretty difficult for even these guys to finish off a sub. (The Japanese are that bad, really.)
The Navy Cross for sinking five ships during a single patrol is within reach of most captains. The bonus for night surface attacks is nice, but the lack of convoys and the sparsity of encounters mean that you’re not liable to get a lot of use out of it. The Medal of Honor is going to be much harder to gain– seven ships on each of three different patrols is kind of epic, but maybe you’ll have a better chance of picking it up if are stationed out of Pearl Harbor instead of Australia.
After spending a lot of time with this game, there’s still more to do with it. I still want to kill an escort with a Mark 18, I want to play a game where it makes sense to upgrade my sub, and I really want to kill a capital ship. I’d like to have a better feel for when to go to close range and when to put torpedoes on an escort. I’d like to see more of the random events come into play (we only saw one in each of our games.) And the variable escort quality rules look like they’d add quite a bit to the game, especially when the NACs come out.
My feeling after playing this one as the the German themed The Hunters is the better game. But Silent Victory‘s improved game components and additional chrome make really hard to decide which to get out. If you have’t played either, these are easily among the best solitaire games on the market. But it’s so fun when played competitively, you may not end up playing alone!