Calvin Reviews They Come Unseen: Hunt submarines and evade sonar in this Cold War board game

by Calvin Wong

One of Osprey Game's original launches was this title by Commander Andy Benford who used to run submarines for the British Royal Navy during the Cold War. It's a terrific game that's come in under the radar and I'm here to tell you why you should play it.

Benford has had this design for over 40 years, making his own copy out of metal and playing with his fellow Navy friends - while the cardboard version isn't quite so hardcore, it still provides its players with a legitimately terrifying experience.

                               Enough tension to boil over its Arctic Setting

Playable as a duel or in teams, They Come Unseen challenges the NATO players to glide their submarines through the waters of the Bering Sea, evading Soviet destroyers, and drop off their onboard commandos to take out enemy bases. Each base destroyed lowers the amount of fuel and ammunition available to the Soviets, which is good, because they will absolutely be storming at you with their depth charges primed and one hundred percent ready to torpedo your chances of completing your mission.

The Soviet players have a pair of destroyers armed with the largest sonar detectors of all time, which they will use to hunt down the NATO subs. A convoy of supply ships can refuel and rearm the attack vessels, keeping them in the fight as they sweep the waters for pesky subs.

Did I mention the submarines can't attack? They're not technically at war. Oh and that they need to resurface to charge their (very limited) batteries? 


Sonar, so good. The NATO player(s) are huddling behind their screen, silently counting spaces under their breath, checking their battery meters, and swearing. The Soviet players are counting spaces on the board, wondering where the bastards could possibly be, he's already moved 17 squares without surfacing, he's GOT to be somewh OH MY GOD DID I JUST HIT A MINE?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME. HOW DID YOU GET A MINE ALL THE WAY OUT THEREAAAGHHAHSDAS

Aside brief bursts of 'are you KIDDING me,' the game mostly lives in toe-curling tension. Evading a destroyer's sonar watch because it glided to a stop directly on top of you. Nailing a submarine with a direct hit from a depth charge, only to realize he was a distraction from the other submarine blowing up your fuel refinery. Running full pelt from a destroyer and running out of batteries, slowly floating to the surface with no control at all, praying he doesn't have enough fuel to come and ram you.

                            A game built on inches illustrates the universe                of difference between seventeen squares and eighteen

They Come Unseen is a history nerd's dream, coming with weather rules, different movement rules for the different convoy ships, a book of submarine history and tactics. It's fairly accessible to seasoned board gamers too, although bookmarking the FAQ helps.

But most of all it provides an hour+ of complete and unyielding tension, laid on like a storm. Any respite in its pressure front is only a prelude to thunder. Highly recommended.

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33 months ago

That game looks so intense. I want to watch some gameplay of it first, but I really like high tension like that

32 months ago

here's an overview by 2 of my buddies, duncan and eric

32 months ago

Here is a link to the companion website I created to support the game: The website will give you an idea of what gameplay is all about as well as giving background to the design process and links to reviews … and more! 

Andy Benford (Designer: They Come Unseen)

32 months ago

Wow thanks! I appreciate that! Looks like a great game!

32 months ago

Sweet thanks!

Owner32 months ago

That's gotta be the one of the coolest background stories behind a board game. Also awesome that it came into fruition.

32 months ago

If you’re interested in more of the background story to THEY COME UNSEEN, two years ago I posted a designer diary on BGG:

I hope you find it interesting.

[I also have a companion website for the game:]

Andy Benford [Designer: THEY COME UNSEEN]

32 months ago

Massively underscores the importance of diversity in the hobby too. when more people of all stripes to do games, we get better games!

32 months ago

The game may be really good, I don't know, because I got so tired of dealing with the rulebook I gave up. It's too bad a solid design can't be paired with someone who can write rules.

Moderator Level 133 months ago

I desperately want to play this. I got to review UBOOT before/during its Kickstarter (unfortunately had to pass it on afterward) and loved it so much. With a similar theme, I think I'd really like this one. I love games with good tension.

32 months ago

this one is different in the sense that it's not co-op. I love the idea of UBOOT and get so close to buying it every time...

33 months ago

Good write up, I heard about this years ago, but understood it as a training exercise. Even tried to do a P&P but never materialized. This looks interesting.

32 months ago

Sorry what do you mean by training exercise?

Moderator Level 133 months ago

This game sounds so fun. 

33 months ago

Can confirm.

Moderator Level 133 months ago

You prefer it in teams or 1v1?

32 months ago

I haven't tried teams, it would be a little more casual in teams I think since you don't have to keep so many things in your head.

Moderator Level 132 months ago

That makes sense.

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They Come Unseen