Thursday, January 13, 2011

Steeling Myself For Steel Wolves

For long term readers of this blog, you may remember that I gave a month-by-month account of an ongoing Silent War game I played some years ago. I started right after Pearl Harbor, and got pretty close to getting through more than a year of the game (I think, it's been a while). In the end, while it was fun (and pretty fast using VASSAL) I felt like the game was more of an accounting exercise toward the end. Once the torpedos got up to snuff and I started having a huge number of subs floating around, the fun kind of oozed out of the game.

So here I am, years later, looking into the maw that is Steel Wolves, Compass' Battle of the Atlantic followup that covers the war through 1943, and I'm thinking that I am out of my mind to even consider playing this game.

For one thing, the designers decided that they were a little *too* abstract in Silent War. It was that decision to flesh out a few elements of the original design that pushed Steel Wolves out by years as they deepened the way that targets/escorts/task forces were determined as well as in how combat played out. The game is still design-for-effect (you aren't actually going after a specific convoy but rather an abstraction of a week of a patrol, as in Silent War) but now there are up to 14 (yes, 14) potential war mix cups. I can't even imagine trying to keep all of that straight using the physical game. There are four different types of combat displays. There are enough tables that it takes the map and an additional four sheets to hold them in all of their Skittles-inspired colored glory. There are political effects driving your policy.

And, of course, there are eight countersheets of subs. Eight. Six are the Germans, and just the Germans. You look at this and think that they did nothing but build subs in their shipyards. And you'd be right.

The map is bigger, at least in terms of detail, with differentiations between the east and west Atlantic, a Southern map with 2MP transit lines. And there are at least 12 different player aid cards. They go on and on and on. Three off-map sub base sheets (Vichy, Spanish, and German).

This thing is a true monster, but accessible and doable, assuming you have the patience and can leave it set up for a long enough time.

Here's the crazy part - I'm ready to start this thing right now. I've got the target ship counters and markers all punched and clipped, same for the initial 1939 subs. It's fairly manageable at this level, with "only" ten war mix cups. I may well change my iPad software project to cover the war mix for this game. I will probably end up transferring it to VASSAL at some point, but I'd like to give the module a few months to mature and get the kinks worked out - too many issues with modules that needed bug fixes that "broke" either the game in progress or didn't take older saves. Better with this beast to let it mature a bit, then transfer the game there.

Besides, who doesn't love a bit of masochism when it comes to wargaming? I'm sure that five minutes into my first screwup with putting the wrong ships back into the wrong cups I'll shoot myself in the head and then start over (actually, not quite that bad - half of the cups have preset ships and so at worst I'll be able to simply redo the five random cups, at least at the start).

Yet there is something about this game that draws me in. It's a literary narrative on a truly grand scale, the story of what must be the bravest soldiers in any war. Yeah, they snuck up on ships and sunk them. In claustrophobic tubes of metal that could move at a few miles an hour when submerged for months at a time in one of the most inhospitable parts of the entire planet, especially in the Barents Sea once the Russians got into the war. Anyone who has watched the full version of Das Boot, the three or four hour one (or six, I can't remember) and sat enthralled through the whole thing will look at this game and think that maybe, just maybe, they might be able to get through the full war.

This one is going to take two poster frames and two "saved game" slots in my game room, at least until VASSAL gets a stable module. This one is, perhaps more than anything else, going to kill my Project ETO concept before I even get started. This one is, more than anything else I've played thus far, going to become a lifestyle choice.

I am out of my freakin' mind.

Periscope up, baby.

As always, I will keep you posted.

1 comment:

Marc Cote said...

Be interested in hearing your progress on this one. Naval warfare gaming is my preference.