They Come Unseen review by Osprey Games

They Come Unseen by Osprey Games is an interesting idea. The question is does it work and does it work well?

It is themed on the cold war where players split into 2 teams, one team NATO, trying to sneak their submarines into the Soviet bases to land sabotage parties and blow the bases and any supplies there up. If you have not guessed, the other team is USSR. They control 2 destroyers and 3 logistics ships to try and have to sink those pesky subs before they blow up four of the Soviet bases.

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When I received this game I was pleasantly surprised by the production quality of the game. Why do I say this? Osprey Publishing are relative newcomers to publishing board games and although there wasn’t large amounts of stuff in the box, there was a number of punchboards, game boards, 6 cubes and some rather pretty looking transparent sonar pieces among other things. With the exception of the punchboard for the fuel/missile counters, everything was excellent quality. The excepted punchboard wasn’t the greatest using thin card and the print misaligned from the cut of the counters. Not a big deal for me, but I know that there are people that this will be an issue for, so it is worth mentioning. Also included was a tiny deck of 6 cards detailing the 6 different bases. These were again excellent and I loved the artwork. So much so I used my finest of card sleeves for them and if you have read my articles in the past you will know that I don’t usually bother sleeving my cards in games. If you haven’t read any, then you know now!

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What is in the box? This is what is in the box.

It is advertised that it plays from 2-5 players in 80-180 mins. Each time I have played this it has been with new players and the game time has been around the 3 hour mark. There is no time restriction on the game so it all depends on the boldness/caution of the NATO player! It is a hidden movement game where the NATO team moves on a hidden board that is a smaller replica of the main board where the Russian team conduct their operations. There are a number of hidden movement games like Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Letters from Whitechapel and the pick of the crop, Garibaldi. Those are all one versus the rest. This is not like that. This is an entire hidden team, although that is a maximum of 2 players.

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These are 2 of the 6 lovely cards.  Love this artwork.

On each turn the NATO team move first on their hidden board simultaneously then the Soviet team move on the main board. The NATO players have a board for each of the 2 subs that keeps track of battery power and the depth of the sub for when it ventures into water 450 and 650 feet deep. Battery power is how the subs move about and moving one square takes up one unit of battery. They can move a maximum of 14 spaces, but only 6 in shallow waters. Submarines only have 20 batteries and the board is huge! Where do you get more batteries? Now this is the neat part of the game. To recharge the batteries the submarines need to ‘Snort’ where they surface and move in a straight line for 2 more spaces before they can move under the surface an up to an additional 3 spaces afterwards. This is marked on the main board so the Soviets can see what is going on and have a good idea where the sub is that has just surfaced. This will gain the submarine 10 extra battery points. This is one of the keys to the game as I found that as the NATO player I was snorting about every other turn. I soon found Destroyers swarming around me like sharks when I did. The aim is to get your sub into the bases to blow them up causing negative effects on the Soviet player. However one extra hindrance is that you have to blow up a certain 4 bases, you can’t just pick and choose any 4 bases. At the start of the game you will pick 4 of the 6 cards. These are the 4 bases you have to blow up. You can’t touch the other 2 bases. In one game the Soviet player sussed out one of the bases we were heading for and parked his destroyer close to it waiting to blow me out of the water. I did get a pasting but survived this onslaught, just. Each sub has the ability to lay one strip of in shallow water during the game and this can damage destroyers or destroy logistic ships if they are hit.

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The hidden NATO board. You can see the 4 bases we need to hit and where we are. The Soviets don’t have a clue.

The NATO player then executes their turn. This movement is also simultaneous with the 5 different ships they get to play with. Also the 2 destroyers have their own individual game boards has their fuel and missile silos tracked. So during the game the destroyers need to get to bases to pick up fuel that does not last that long, they can also resupply at sea via one of the logistics ships (only one logistic ship has this ability) but co-ordination between the destroyer and ship needs to be spot on for this to happen. During their turn the Soviet player moves, searches with sonar for submarine. If any contact is made then the player has the opportunity to depth charge the submarine, but only has 6 shots per salvo and has to allocate a depth for them to go off at so has to try to guess (or figure out, mind you there may only be one option if the sub is in shallow water). After shots are fired the Soviet player again has the option to move and leave sonar in place at the end of their turn, so if at any point during the NATO players movement they go through the sonar areas the Soviet player is told about certain contacts, although they can’t shoot until they find them again on their turn. One thing of note is that the sonar does not pick up the line that is directly behind or in front of or even underneath your ship. This is one way those irritating subs can sneak by your most closely guarded areas.

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The two Soviet destroyers laying down their sonar. You can see the little green token where a submarine recently snorted.

The logistics ships shifts out the fuel and missiles to the different bases as if it is all left at one base, firstly you will have to keep going back to that base to resupply and not just the nearest base, secondly if that base is blown up then all the tokens on that base are out of the game. No fuel or missiles? That is not a winning combination.

The game is fairly straightforward to play, but the decisions are not. I found that 4 or 5 players is the sweet spot with this game. I found that it was hard with 3 to play NATO solo and was swiftly dispatched, I am not saying that it was a bad experience, it was tricky and preferred having a team mate rather than being on my own. Having team mates to whisper to and have different ideas is excellent! 4 players is a 2 v 2 with the Soviets jointly moving the logistic ships and the 5th player takes control of the logistic ships. Controlling the logistics ships does not sound like much fun, but it is and it is a challenge to make sure that all the bases are supplied and keeping a careful eye on the destroyers in case they need your assistance with a resupply at sea. I found the logistics ships not getting the attention they should in a 4 player game, but their importance should not be ignored. They need to get all that lovely fuel out to the different bases and the resupply at sea action is essential.

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The soviets executing a resupply at sea while right on top of where the NATO sub snorted, sonar is being deployed around the area, can’t let those pests get away.

The game was designed by a Navy Commander after 20 years of being in the Navy. The artwork is excellent. I love it! They Come Unseen oozes theme. As the NATO player you feel like you are dodging the Soviet destroyers and when you get depth charged you pray that they get the wrong depth or space when they launch them. As the Soviet player you are always scared about losing a base, especially base Echo, as it is your most important base. Trying to hunt down those pesky subs while at the same time laying sonar in strategic positions so that they can’t sneak past around your sonar. The game results have been about 50/50 so far, showing me that the game is balanced nicely although if you lose a sub before you have blown up one base you could be in a spot of bother and I wouldn’t fancy your chances.

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The boards that track damage to the destroyers, submarines and what cargo is being carried on the logistics ships

Also included in the game is a book about the history of the events that the game is based on and strategy hints as well. This is a very interesting read.

People who know me will know that one of my bugbears is downtime. I am sure you have guessed by now by the fact that I have not mentioned that there are downtime issues that there isn’t any. There is very little if any downtime.

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This is one of the player boards for the NATO player. 13 Batteries at 200 feet. Time for some damage I feel.

However, this game is not perfect, but let’s face it, not many are. The main negative about this game is the rulebook. The rules are a little vague at times and there were a number of questions I had after reading it a couple of times. I went hunting down a FAQ on boardgamegeek and I found one. The FAQ which was compiled by the designer was 10 pages. This cleared up pretty much everything, but that is a lot of FAQ’s. There is also restrictions on movement for different weather that hits different parts of the board and a reference sheet for this would be essential, likewise for the mines being activated. Again there is a very useful file on Boardgamegeek that has these limitations in a graphic form. This game is quite simple when it is explained to you, so don’t let the rulebook put you off.  It just makes it sound more complicated than it is.

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The Osprey Games booth at Essen. This was first thing when it was quiet. I couldn’t even see the booth later on in the day when all the people started turning up.

Was it the best game from Essen? No.

Was it one of the better games? Yes.

Will I pass this on or keep it? Definitely a keeper.

Better than other hidden movement games? Better than most. Probably on par with Garibaldi (which is excellent). Better than the others.

Where can I buy this? You can get it directly from the publisher who are based in the UK. They ship worldwide. The link is:

https://ospreypublishing.com/they-come-unseen

I have had a look around my local shops and they had it, so I expect that you may be able to find it at your local shop if you don’t want to wait for online orders.

Stewart Pilling
Stewart Pilling

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