U-Boot is described as an app-driven board game, but it is more of an immersive experience. Playing U-Boot is a tense real-time cooperative game where players take on the roles of a submarine crew during WWII.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
You can buy all the Nautical Tabletop Month products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
Setting up U-Boot, just like the game itself is an all-in experience. It takes up some space on the tabletop, with each player having a number of components, spread around a huge 3D submarine centerpiece. It all looks extremely impressive and really helps set the scene for the game.
The game requires an app to play and is available for free on Windows, Mac, iPhone, and Android. The app shows updates to the printed rules and notifies if a new rulebook is available. The rulebooks and all of the consumable components like the Captain’s Log sheets are available for free on the U-Boot website, so your players can read up on the rules before joining you at the table, and they will need to. Before playing, each player needs to read and understand the rules and section for the job they’re going to be doing. It’s not a pickup and play game and everyone reading the rulebook will improve the experience immeasurably. Trying to run the game whilst explaining the rules really complicates it.
There are 4 missions including the first training mission in the app, which can be played as single missions or as part of a linked campaign. Each position can also be set at an individual difficulty, so an experienced captain can play on hard with the rest of the crew playing on easy. The game can also be played with any number of players between 1 and 4, with players controlling additional roles, but the real enjoyment of the game is the cooperative nature of it, and taking on additional roles drastically reduces your focus.
Each U-Boot role has an entirely different task.
- The captain issues orders to the crew, with overall responsibility for the ship along with tracking morale and carrying out torpedo attacks.
- The first officer is the ship’s deputy commander and is responsible for using the app in game. They also control the 88mm deck gun and man the helm.
- The navigator plots and advises routes along with acquiring firing solutions and looking after the crew’s food, along with manning the anti-aircraft gun.
- The chief engineer is responsible for the engines, along with controlling the sub’s depth and any repairs.
Players will spend a majority of the game managing the activations of their individual crew sections. Each role has 8 crew members, split between 2 watches. On each watch, players can activate their crew members 3 times, more than that means diminishing morale on the ship. It’s each player's responsibility to carry out their role. Other players can help out, but crew members have specializations, and carrying out actions without the specializations uses more activations.
The game is played in real-time but can be forwarded on the app, so you don’t need to actually wait 4 hours while your sub transits to the mission location, unless you really do want an immersive experience. It does mean things escalate quickly and requires immediate action when they do. This has an incredible effect on the theme of the game, and the cooperative nature means poor teamwork can quickly end your mission in failure. U-Boot is a sandbox game, with maps being open, so while you can do nothing with your game it's usually not the case and it has some incredible moments. Hitting a target or evading an enemy hunter are incredible experiences, offering real talking points and a genuine sense of team achievement.
U-Boot is full of extremely thematic components and mechanics that really aid in immersion. A tactical map is kept up to date by the navigator, keeping track of yours and enemy movements whilst working out firing solutions with the attack disk and the chief engineer has a literal puzzle to piece together in case of a hull breach. All the components gathered around the central 3d submarine reinforce the theme.
U-Boot is one of the most thematic games I’ve ever played. Moving well beyond board-game into an immersive experience. Each mission will take a while and the knowledge that each player needs means that this will need planning and preparation. It’s also best played with 4 players but is entirely playable with less if required. It can be saved during the game, but as it’s all about the immersion, it’s best played in one go. So if you’re looking for a pick-up and play game, then this might not be for you. If you’re looking for something bordering on an RPG or escape room, then you will love U-Boot. It’s also entirely app-driven, so if you’re not keen on apps in board games, then you will have issues with this. Each role is also very thematic in its tasks, but they aren’t all necessarily equally exciting. Some groups naturally have players that fill these roles and RPG groups may find they slip naturally into them, but if you predominately board game, you might not have thought about it before.
The Bottom Line
U-Boot requires preparation, dedication, and time, but it rewards it. All players need to know the rules and their roles and be in for the duration, but what you'll get in return is one of the most immersive and thematic experiences ever. Submarine and nautical enthusiasts will get the most out of this, but anyone wanting realism and teamwork will find it extremely enjoyable. All of the components are thematically great and work very well for the product as a whole. Not all the roles are equal in terms of excitement, but some players will naturally gravitate towards the support roles and others the command tasks. If you don't want a huge in-depth game or have to use an app, then this is not for you. But if you want a truly unique nautical experience and favor realism then prepare to deep dive, because U-Boot is incredible.
Get This Game If:
- You want an immersive experience.
- You want a submarine simulator.
- You want a game that rewards teamwork.
Avoid This Game If:
- You want a pick-up and play game.
- You want a quick game.
- You don't want to use an app.
The copy of U-Boot used to produce this review was provided by Phalanx Games.