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.