Review: Steam Torpedo

Steam Torpedo review

Imagine if WWI never ended. Imagine if allegiances shifted and everyone started using chemical weapons that changed the face of the world. Imagine if things were so bad the only means of long distance transportation left was by submarine. Now, imagine if your submarine was being hunted by the enemy in the murky depths. This is the world of Steam Torpedo : First Contact.

Published by IELLO Games in 2011 Steam torpedo has players controlling submarines and hunting each other in the ocean depths. It’s almost a euro game in ameritrash clothing.

For the TL;DR version click here.

What’s in the box?

Specs on the box

  • 2 players
  • Ages 13+
  • 40min

The box contains 20 tiles which are used to build the pair of submarines. Each tile will represent a different room with different abilities. There are 5 crew tokens per player, 4 regular crewmen and the captain. A pair of submarines “standees” to represent the subs in the ocean, the rules booklet and a fist full of double sided oxygen/damage tokens.

Steam Torpedo review
Everything packs away neatly into the small box.

Theme

Steam Torpedo is set in an alternative WWI setting. The British decided to use chemical weapons and it did not disperse as planned and drifted into France wreaking havoc. Shocked by what happened some countries swopped sides but everyone took it as a sign to unleash hell on Earth.

Fast forward a few years and clouds of toxic gas make surface travel highly dangerous so submarines have become the norm. There are some rather interesting inventions. Two of my favourites are Radio Controlled Sharks and Crates of Corrosive Starfish.

I like war settings. I especially like WWI and WWII. Combined with a bit of steampunk, for me, this is great. It’s got enough info to make it interesting and I hope that they produce more games in this universe.

Gameplay

With so few components setup is easy. For your first game it’s recommended that you use the 2 submarine layouts provided in the rule book as a tutorial. After that you should randomize the submarines, preferably using a drafting mechanic for the tiles.

Once your sub is laid out, with the Control Centre in the centre, you place an oxygen token on each space that has the appropriate symbol in the upper left corner. The 5 crew tokens are all placed in their respective control rooms.

The tiles that make up the subs form a 2×5 grid. The 5 columns of the grid are used to define the playing area between the players. Each of the columns represents a Sea Zone in which the ships can manoeuvre, and the outer grids are the extreme ends of the playing area. So there is no need for a board. Then the subs are place next to each other directly between the players in the centre zone.

Steam Torpedo review
Ready to go, both ships starting in the same sector.

At the start of your turn you remove 1 oxygen counter from your sub. This represents the crew using up the available oxygen; it’s always 1 even if you lose some crew members. If you have no oxygen to remove then your crew will slowly suffocate in the cold, dark depths i.e you lose.

Next up, if you had any exhausted crew from the previous turn you flip them back up. In the first round this will not happen.

Then you begin your activation. Each crew member can either move to a room adjacent to their current room or they can activate their current room. Whichever you chose to do they are flipped over and exhausted for the round.

The Captain has a special rule; he gets a free move either before or after he is exhausted. That means that he can use and room and then move or move and use a room or move twice in the same turn.

It’s important to note that in the first round of the game no rooms may be activated, otherwise the first player will gain a huge advantage. Also activating a room has an extra caveat, after a crewman has activated a room he is immediately moved 1 room back towards the Control Room. This helps to prevent spamming a particular action and also allows you to move your crew backwards to man defensive rooms.

The different types of rooms allow for different functions. Green rooms provide armour, but in order to absorb any damage they need to be manned. That means they need to have at least 1 crew member in them. Yellow rooms are engine rooms, having them manned will allow movement.

Each engine room that is crewed allows you to move your sub, or your opponents, 1 sector. Don’t think of it as moving for your opponent think of it as adjusting your subs movement to allow your opponent to move past you.

Here you can see that one ship has moved2 secrots in front of the other.
Here you can see that one ship has moved 2 sectors in front of the other.

Movement can happen at any time during your actions. So you could move while your crew are manning then engines and then move the crew into rooms with weapons to open fire on your opponent. Alternatively you can activate some rooms; then move and then you can finish the remainder of your activations.

This freedom of movement helps with the different weapons that you can bring to bear. Each weapon can fire in different directions and target different sections of the enemy sub. They are also effective at different ranges. So you need to play carefully to strike where your opponent lacks enough armour to fully protect himself.

Damage resolution is very simple. Each weapon has a damage rating. Subtract the total armour of the manned armour rooms in the targeted sections of the sub and then the remainder is the amount of damage that you deal. The defender gets to assign the damage to a room of his choice. The damage is not split but assigned to a single room at a time. If the damage is excessive then he can chose to absorb all of the damage into a single point of damage on the control room. If the control room is destroyed then the entire sub is lost!

Any rooms that lose all of their structure points i.e. receive full damage; are flooded and lost. Flip the tile over and the room cannot be used for the remainder of the game. Any crew in the room are lost to the depths…

Steam Torpedo review
Big Martha deals a massive 3 damage at a short range of 1. This room is also an armour room.

There are 3 ways to lose in this game. Losing the control room, running out of oxygen or losing all of your crew. The way to win is simple. Make your opponent lose.

Conclusion

Steam Torpedo is an interesting little game. It’s almost chess like, in order to play well you need to not only assess all of your options but all of your opponent’s options. Players tend to go quiet while they are thinking, and that’s not unlike an old submarine running silent while stalking their enemy.

There is no chance in this game. Every action that you take will either lead you to victory or to your doom.

Building your own submarine adds a very interesting layer of strategy to the game. You need to have enough defence and offence, but the more powerful rooms tend to have less oxygen. Finding the right balance is almost a mini game in and of itself.

The rooms add a lot of flavour to the game too. Experimental weapons, boarding tubes, crates of corrosive starfish? Some rooms are reactive so you can activate them in your opponents turn; others can double their damage if you can activate them twice in the same turn, allowing you to overwhelm your opponent with sheer volume of damage.

Steam Torpedo review
This missile room has taken damage, making it stronger. On top of that it has a range of 2 and can fire fore and aft.

The game really does scream for more ships tiles, and luckily there is already an expansion available. So the variety and replay ability does increase quite a bit.

Can I play this at a braai?

Yes, with ease. I just don’t have 2 person braais very often 😉 There are times when it’s just my wife and I but she did not like the theme of the Steam torpedo and so did not really take to it.

Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for the review copy of Steam Torpedo

 

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