Subtilla Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 2 players
  • About 30 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Two admirals face each other for dominance of the sea

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

The vast ocean rolls and swells from horizon to horizon. Navigating these waters are ships of war and they are on the hunt. Somewhere just out of sight is the enemy. Once they are spotted, torpedoes and guns are loaded; made ready to fire when ordered. As the ships approach, the admirals of the fleet know that skill and skill alone will win the day.

Subtilla is comprised of 1 game board, 2 Submarines (1 yellow, 1 black), 10 Boats (5 yellow, 5 black), 10 Torpedoes (5 yellow, 5 black), 20 Stealth Markers (10 yellow, 10 black), 2 Battle Dice (six-sided, 1 yellow, 1 black), and 20 Hit Tokens (10 yellow, 10 black).  all the pieces are made of thick plastic and very durable.

Charting the Seas

To set up the game, place the game board in the middle of the playing area with the players sitting opposite of each other behind the Subtilla game title on the game board. Each player is given 1 Submarine and 5 Boats, all of the same color and matching the color of the “Base” closest to them (yellow or black). The game board shows where the Submarine and Boats are placed and in which direction they should be facing (nice touch).

After placing the Boats and Submarines, each player is given 10 Stealth Markers, 10 Hit Tokens, and 1 Battle Die that matches their fleet’s color. Lastly, each player takes 5 Torpedoes of their matching fleet color and places them, standing upright, in the Power box located to the player’s immediate right on the board.

Game set up, with Boats and Submarines set (1) and Torpedoes (2) at the ready!

You are now ready to play!

Setting Sail

Players will take turns and complete 3 steps per turn in the following order.

  1. Move All Torpedoes
  2. Take Boat Actions (optional)
  3. Take Submarine Actions (optional)

Move All Torpedoes

  • All Torpedoes in the water travel a straight line until they hit an enemy Boat or Submarine, go off the board, hit an enemy Torpedo, or run into the middle island
  • If the Torpedoes hits an enemy Boat or Submarine that is not hidden, roll for damage
  • If a Torpedo hits an enemy Torpedo, both are removed and placed on their sides in the owning player’s Power boxes
  • Torpedoes pass through friendly ships (owned by the player) and all Stealth Markers

Boat Actions

  • All Boats get 2 actions, but the number of actions taken (if any) are determined by their owning player
  • For 1 action each, a Boat can move, rotate, attack, or repair
  • A Boat can move and/or rotate for 1 Action
  • Boat movement is 1 space to any unoccupied space – if the space has a Stealth Marker or a Torpedo, they are immediately returned to their owning player
  • Boat rotation is a shift in the Boat’s front facing  position, either to the next space to its immediate left or right
  • Attack the opponent’s Boat or revealed Submarine in any adjacent space, regardless of facing
  • If a Boat is located on a Base space, it can Repair a single Hit Token

Submarine Actions

  • The Submarine gets 3 actions, but the number of actions taken (if any) are determined by their owning player
  • For 1 action each, a Submarine can move forward or backwards 1 space (without turning), change it’s facing, launch a Torpedo, Hide, Stealth Move, Reveal, or Recharge
  • Movement for a submarine is one space forward or back, and like the Boats the Submarine can choose to shift it’s facing by 1 space or not
  • Lauch a Torpedo while not hidden – launched Torpedoes are taken from the player’s Power box and only if available – note that Torpedoes move at the beginning of the player’s turn and not when launched
  • Hiding a Submarine is only possible if the Submarine is currently visible  – hidden Submarines are removed from the board and placed in the “Hidden” box – two Stealth Markers are then placed, one on each space, where the Submarine was located
  • Stealth Movement uses the Stealth Markers which are placed in an adjacent space next to already placed Stealth Markers that are not occupied
  • Revealed Submarines can be placed in any location where two Stealth Markers are currently located
  • Recharging a Torpedo can be done either at the surface or below it

A Word on Stealth

The Stealth Markers represent the areas on the board where the Submarine might be located. An opponent’s Boat and Submarine can move onto or through this space without restrictions and so can the owning player. However, once this is done, regardless of game piece color, the Stealth Marker is removed. If a Stealth Marker is orphaned (not adjacent to another Stealth Marker), it is also removed. If all the Stealth Markers are removed and the Submarine is still hidden, the owning player’s opponent immediately places 2 Stealth Markers anywhere on the board onto two adjacent free spaces.

FIRE!

Combat is determined by each player rolling their six-sided die. The results of the roll are looked up using the Attack Results table. The results for the same roll are different depending on if the attack was initiated using a Boat or a Torpedo.

When a Boat takes damage, the player places one or more Hit Tokens under that game piece. Boat pieces simply place the Hit Tokens directly under it. Once a Boat takes 3 or more damage, it is removed from the game. The Submarine is a different story, and oddly enough, can never be destroyed. Instead of using Hit Tokens, the number of available (standing upright) Torpedoes represents the Submarine’s power. For every hit a Submarine takes, its power is reduced by 1 and any upright Torpedoes are placed on their side. If a Submarine is ever reduced to a power level of zero (all Torpedoes on their side), the opponent (not the owner of the Submarine) immediately gets to place the Submarine piece anywhere on the game board in a legal space.

Torpedo Away!

Boats can fire at each other, presumably using cannons. This gives the Boat the ability to attack any adjacent target. The Submarine does not have this luxury and must use Torpedoes. Torpedoes are more powerful and less dangerous (there is no chance of backfire), but each Torpedo launched reduces the Submarine’s power. This makes Torpedoes a powerful weapon, but also exposes the player by reducing the strength of their Submarine.

Winning the War

Play continues until one player destroys all 5 of their opponent’s Boats or occupies both bases on the game board with their game pieces.

Game Variant

  • Pinch: Optionally, if an opponent’s Boat is surrounded by two Boats on opposing sides, the surrounded Boat is removed from the game

To learn more about the game and read the instructions in full (we only summarized them here), see the game’s official web site.

Prediction

Ah, battles at sea. Reminds me of my early days as a little geek playing Battleship, a game where players secretly placed their ships on a grid and then randomly called out Bingo numbers in attempt to send their opponent’s boats to the bottom of the ocean. My little geeks have played Battleship and enjoyed it and so do I.

Subtilla is nothing like Battleship.

Subtilla is much more complicated, open, and aggressive. The player’s do not hide behind their shields, but face each other in open combat. This makes the game all the more exciting, but also more frustrating. No one likes to feel picked on, after all. Combat games, even light skirmishes, can be a double-edge sword (see what I did there?) providing a lot of fun and challenge,  but a lot of disappointment, too.

How my little geeks will react to the game is dependent on two very important things. First, they must feel confident with the rules. When the game starts to take an ugly turn, a gamer can always fall back on their understanding of the rules to help them work through sticky points in their strategy and tactics. Second, they must not be rushed. If you go to fast, you are bound to make mistakes which can result in losing the game.

To address these two concerns, I made certain we played the game on a lazy Sunday and I introduced the game the evening before, explaining it to them, and getting them excited. I gave them time to play with the game pieces themselves, ask any questions they might have, and to get familiar with what the game was all about. The next day, we played it and they approached the game like it was no big deal with a high level of excitement.

On the day we played the game, I asked my little geeks what they thought of the Subtilla so far while I set it up for our first game.

“Awesome ship battle game!” ~ Liam (age 7)

“Look, Dad! Banana boats!” ~ Nyhus (age 4)

OK, the “banana boat” comment requires a brief explanation. The evening before, when I let my little geeks look and play with the game, they thought the yellow Boats were bananas. Putting fruit aside for the moment, both of my little geeks are excited to play the game. Let’s see if they enjoy it.

Final Word

Subtilla was a success, but not with both of my little geeks. My 4-year-old just didn’t connect with the game and grew bored. He told me he didn’t want to play anymore about 10 minutes into it. When I asked him why he didn’t, he just shrugged, gave me a hug, and said “sorry” over his shoulder as he went off to play with his robots. My 7-year-old, however, was greatly enjoying the game. He is a much more advanced game player than his brother and has more geek stamina as a result. He was able to play the game from start to finish like a champ. We played two games, with him winning one and me the other.

Game play wise, Subtilla looks light until you get halfway through it and there is little room to maneuver. A simple move-and-fire game switches gears into an aggressive area control experience at sea. This is because the Boats and Submarines essentially control area and line of sight, allowing the players to move their pieces defensively and offensively at the same time. The more of the board you control, the less options your opponent has. This is what ultimately let me win the game against my 7-year-old. I simply outmaneuvered him.

There is also an element of luck that will make even the greatest strategy a possible dud if you’re unlucky. This can be frustrating in all games, but Subtilla does a good job of balancing this out by taking into account rolls from both players and then determining the result using the Attack Results table. This also made the combat feel a lot less one-sided and meaningful. Instead of just waiting to get hit, the defending player had a chance to avoid it.

My 7-year-old liked Subtilla and the adults I played it with did, too. Well, most of the adults I played it with. The non-gamers were either intimidated or exasperated by the game. Clearly, Subtilla brings a bit too much “game” to the table for the non-gamer to really enjoy it. Just goes to prove you can’t make everyone happy, which is perfectly fine.

As for Battleship, Subtilla has replaced it, completely.

My little geek moves in for the kill!

Gamer Geeks, Subtilla is an easy to play and easy to learn 2-person combat game that requires enough strategy and tactics to makes it worth your time. The lightness of the game is perfect for a starter game in the evening when waiting for larger crowds or just a fun game to play because there is time and you want to scratch that gaming itch. What Subtilla  is not is complex, but it is streamlined to a point where you really need to think about your moves to outmaneuver your opponent. Failure to do so will send your fleet down to the ocean floor to rust. For such a short game, it packs a punch.

Parent Geeks, this is an excellent game for two players. It does a great job of providing a fun and challenging experience without being rules heavy or terribly demanding of the players. That’s not to say the game doesn’t require the player’s total attention and focus. There are a lot of pieces to move but the reduced game space makes it all manageable, combat is fast and fair, are there are enough options available to the player to make them feel empowered and keep them engaged. For your non-gamer friends, this just might be “the game” that gets them interested in seeking out more complex gaming experiences.

Child Geeks, there is a lot going on in this game, but you are never required to manage all of it at once. While you get to move all your pieces, it is optional. While you can engage in combat, it is optional. You can do what you want if you want to. The only concern you should ever have is making certain you leave yourself open to all the options. Do everything necessary to not put your game pieces in a corner or be a sitting duck. Take opportunities as they come and risk it all! If things go right, awesome! If not, learn from it and make your next move with confidence!

Indie game designer, Matt Worden, has once again created a game that is both simple and fun, challenging without being out of reach, and interesting enough to appeal to a wide group of ages and skills. His games “just work” and it is clear he spends a great deal of time and personal energy to make his games enjoyable. In my opinion, Mr. Worden represents what Indie games are all about – creative freedom and passion for the hobby. He doesn’t compromise and delivers quality game experience. If you are looking for a game that was clearly made with “fun” in mind, Subtilla is for you.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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