Marine-Brettspiele und speziell solche, die sich Unterseebooten widmen, hatten schon immer eine kleine aber sehr feine und vor allem immens treue Anhängerschaft. Es sieht so aus, als hätte diese verschworene Fan-Gemeinde demnächst wieder Grund zu jubeln.
Aus den Tiefen der Ozeane wird im Herbst 2015 das Brettspiel „They Come Unseen“ auftauchen. Spätestens dann wird sich weisen, ob dessen Spielmechanismen das halten, was sie bisher versprechen. Die berufliche Laufbahn des Spieleautors Andrew Benford qualifiziert ihn jedenfalls in höchstem Maße dazu, eine U-Boot-Simulation allererster Güte hinzubekommen.
Diese Laufbahn ist so ungewöhnlich, dass ich die Eckpunkte seines Lebenslaufes dem danach folgenden Interview voranstelle. Andrew Benford schloss 1971 seine Ausbildung am Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth ab, um mehr als zwei Jahrzehnte lang als Offizier Dienst an Bord von konventionellen und atomar betriebenen Unterseebooten zu versehen. Im Jahr 1980 folgte der Abschluss des Submarine Commanding Officers Qualifying Course. Ehe Andrew Benford am Ende des Kalten Krieges im Jahr 1993 aus dem aktiven Militärdienst ausschied, war er stellvertretender Kommandant der HMS Revenge, eines von insgesamt vier mit Polaris-Mittelstreckenraketen ausgerüsteten strategischen Atom-U-Booten der Resolution-Klasse. Ich bedanke mich an dieser Stelle sehr herzlich bei Royal Navy Commander Andrew Benford dafür, dass er sich die Zeit für dieses Exklusiv-Interview genommen hat.
spieletest: It is not uncommon for people who have to report on an interesting career or life that they write autobiographical books. What brought you to the decision to design a game board instead of sharing your experiences by writing an autobiography or a novel?
A. Benford: Well, “They Come Unseen” did not come about from any desire to share my experiences. It is simply that I have always liked board games and I just wanted to make my own to play with friends. When I started the process in 1974 (yes it has been that long!) it seemed a good idea to base the game on something about which I was knowledgeable and a theme that would appeal to other people. So it all began in the early years of my submarine career with the development continuing to the end … and beyond! As for writing a book, I have never felt that I had a book in me to write and the matter of secrecy for military matters is always going to be a problem!
spieletest: Some authors never read books to avoid being influenced by other authors. Is this your access too as a game designer? Or did you read up on mechanics of other (naval) board games before you have started the development of “They Come Unseen”?
A. Benford: I did not need to avoid the influence of other authors because it really was not an issue when the initial idea for the game came to me in 1974. The mainstream games around then were titles such as “Monopoly”, “Risk”, and “Cluedo” and these were all really just dice driven. From the outset I knew that the one mechanic I did not want to include in the game was any element of luck derived from the rolling of dice; a case of too much childhood frustration when thwarted in my plans for glory by a dice roll that lay between success and failure! So the luck element in They Come Unseen is minimized apart from, as I like to describe it, the luck that players make for themselves as a result of their decisions. So, for example, if a Soviet player achieves contact on a NATO submarine and follows this up with a successful attack, that is really great if he or she decided to search in a particular area having really thought about where the submarine could be on the deep board by using their knowledge of the games parameters and of a submarines previous confirmed or suspected position; that player has created that moment of success - OK, with an element of luck but it is very different to basing actions on a random guess. One recent influence has been Matt Leacocks "Forbidden Desert"; it was following a game of this that I decided to devise and include a weather related mechanic for “They Come Unseen” that would affect the surface sea state and the presence and depth of a thermocline (thermal layer).
spieletest: Do you play board games at all? What board game mechanisms do (or would) you personally prefer as a consumer?
A. Benford: Yes I like board games but I do not play as often as I would like. A few years ago I stumbled on the Days of Wonder range of games and this discovery then lead me to the genre of cooperative games. From these experiences I would say that my preference now is for cooperative games both for the enjoyment of working as a team but also because I find it easier to introduce casual gamers to more complex games if they are cooperative in nature.
spieletest: How long has the path taken from idea to realization?
A. Benford: Well, as you now know the game was born in 1974 and so strictly speaking the path from the initial idea to the game appearing on a retailers shelf will be 41 years! In 1974 I was the navigating officer of the diesel-electric submarine HMS Grampus; one evening at home I remember seeing an item on TV about a chap who had invented a board game that was going to be published and I remember thinking “I can do that” … and so it started. The original version of “They Come Unseen” was called, rather unimaginatively, “Submarine” and had a fictional setting with a slightly simpler board but the same general mechanics that would eventually grow into “They Come Unseen”. I took this early version to sea in several submarines and it was always received well, but then again it was a captive audience! Over the years, and particularly in retirement, I have found the time to develop and play-test the game further with friends to the point that we are at now.
spieletest: Designing board games: Is this just your hobby or have you ever been thinking about reaching a wider audience?
A. Benford: It has only been a bit of hobby but in the back of my mind I have always wondered if “They Come Unseen” had any commercial merit. In the 70s and 80s internet access to any sort of internet was non-existent (I did not get my first internet capable PC until sometime in the 90s) and the avenues that one could explore to get a board game to a publisher were very limited … or at least that is how it seemed to me and I did not really have the time to pursue it. So a combination of the free time that retirement makes available and the wonders of access and research that the internet provides, has allowed me to investigate whether or not anyone would be interested in publishing my game. I should say that it also needed the catalyst of meeting a friend last year, who had invented an item of medical equipment, that spurred me on to try to get my invention to the marketplace as well.
spieletest: Was it difficult to gain a publisher for your idea?
A. Benford: Well, in this regard I have been extremely fortunate … but they do say that you can make your own luck. I found my publisher, Osprey Publishing (Osprey Games), at the first attempt, and they have done a fantastic job bringing my prototype game to life, but it was all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. In January 2014, retired and with the internet at my finger tips, I did a search for “Game conventions” and discovered the UK Games Expo (UKGE) is held in Birmingham (just a 2 hour drive from home) at the end of May each year. So I made it my goal to take “They Come Unseen” to the UKGE 2014 and I spent the next 5 months getting the final version play-tested and ready. The game was played in the Play-Test Zone at UKGE where I was given the business card for Duncan Molloy, Games Developer at Osprey Games. I duly contacted Duncan and he asked me to send over my rule book for him to view before going along to demonstrate the game. At this point it all nearly went wrong because my (then) 42-page rule book proved to be a stumbling block and Duncan gently turned my game down without asking for a demonstration. Fortunately, however, he clearly kept “They Come Unseen” in mind and after a couple of weeks (during which I had been working hard to reduce the size of my rule book for other potential publishers) he contacted me to invite me over to the Osprey offices to demonstrate the game; the meeting went well and I left my precious prototype with them for further assessment. Three months later I received the great news that “They Come Unseen” was to be published (you will be pleased to hear that since then Duncan has reduced the rule book to a manageable size!). So, as I say, it was all a matter of good timing: good timing to meet a friend who had an invention that gave me the impetus to see if my game (invention) had commercial value; good timing to have retired when I did and to have had the opportunity to develop my game further and to carry out further play-testing; good timing to visit the UKGE in the year that Osprey Publishing, a company at the forefront of military and historical publishing, was present and planning to launch a range of strategy board games under the Osprey Games banner. Had I missed any one of these time points we might not be having this conversation!
spieletest: How much „real aspects“ can be expected in “They Come Unseen”? How many compromises you have to make in creating a board game dealing with the issue of submarine?
A. Benford: I think players will find both a strong theme and a strong sense of realism in “They Come Unseen” although it is not a simulation. In order to bring real aspects to the game, authentic terms and actions with roots set firmly within the context of naval warfare have been translated across to the boards and to the mechanics of “They Come Unseen” but without the constraint of exactness of process, scale or parameter; as you recognize by your question, there are always going to be compromises in a board game of this nature … anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is a complex business! As an example, translating the dynamism and variability of a 3D active sonar search to the rigid grid of a board game is not going to be straightforward but the mechanic is effective and representative and acknowledges that active sonar is not perfect. Anti-submarine warfare is fraught with difficulties and the search and attack mechanisms, along with the vessel movement mechanics and the storm mechanic, introduce these difficulties and with them the sort of tactical considerations and operational limitations and uncertainties that occur for destroyers while hunting and attacking an elusive foe and for submarines while avoiding detection and damage as they try to achieve their mission. The mechanics also have to provide the necessary balance for the game to work because it will then be a rewarding and enjoyable experience - which I hope you will find it is!
spieletest: Can you provide us a small insight into the game mechanics? What can we expect?
A. Benford: Yes of course. “They Come Unseen” is an asymmetric game as well as being semi-cooperative. Gameplay is effectively between two teams (the NATO submarines vs the Soviet surface forces) with these teams playing different roles and taking different actions. Within both teams there must be cooperation which will lead to shared success … or shared defeat! Firstly there is the movement mechanic for the main playing pieces (NATO submarines and the Soviet ASW destroyers): this is achieved by the players managing their relevant “power” source; in the case of the submarines this is their battery capacity (they are conventionally powered diesel-electric submarines) and for the destroyers, their embarked fuel load - you will note in photos of the game the very smart gauge panels that are used to track these power resources as well as the patrol depth for the submarines and weapon supplies for the destroyers. Move a certain distance and a players vessel uses a certain amount of its “power” source. The submarines of course move in three dimensions and can partially recharge their batteries in a “snorting* move” (*Schnorckel) at periscope depth (visible on the main board) and the destroyers can replenish fuel (and weapons) either in harbour or at sea; in the latter case by conducting a “Replenishment at Sea (RAS) move” with a Supply Ship. This replenishment can only take place if fuel and weapons are available in the right place (harbour or supply ship). The stocks of fuel and weapons can be regenerated at two reprocessing plants but can also be depleted as a result of submarine attacks on Soviet harbours. So, to have a chance of coming out on the winning side of "They Come Unseen", the protagonists need to manage their respective “power” sources effectively throughout the game and, of course, avoid being sunk! There are four types of vessel in the game, the main two as mentioned and then two Soviet container ships and a Soviet supply ship. These latter ships form the Logistic Fleet used to move fuel and weapons between Soviet harbours; they have enough fuel to last the whole game but, like the rest of the vessels, have a maximum possible move in any turn (submarines also have a reduced maximum move when operating in shallow water). Added to this, the movement of ships and the actions by both ships and submarines will be modified by the “Storm” mechanic, so players need to keep a careful eye on the current weather - and the weather forecast for future turns - in terms of the roughness of the sea and the presence or not of a thermal layer! For hunting and attacking the destroyers use active sonar templates and, if contact is gained, they conduct subsequent attacks deploying salvoes of ASW mortar bombs into the search areas and set to explode at declared depths. The submarine attack element involves the laying of mines and the deployment of special forces (I excluded a submarines primary weapon system - the torpedo - from the game at the outset because it would have required the use of dice). There is much more to the game than this but hopefully you now have an idea of what has gone into creating an evocative and thematic game which is tense and exciting and also great fun to play.
spieletest: Thank you so much for your time and your patience, Andy!
“They Come Unseen” wird auf der SPIEL 15 in Essen (8.-11.10.2015) präsentiert. Copyright aller Fotos: Osprey Publishing und Andrew Benford. Eine Verwendung der Fotos außerhalb dieser Website ohne Autorisierung durch die Eigentümer verletzt deren Urheberrecht.
Any use of photos outside of this website without the authorization of the owners (Osprey Publishing and Andrew Benford) violated their copyright.