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Posted on Apr 27, 2023 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“By the end of the war, they remained the only force that did not submit to British dominance at sea.” British historian Peter Smith, Schnell Boats: Scourge of the English Channel – Board Game Review

“By the end of the war, they remained the only force that did not submit to British dominance at sea.” British historian Peter Smith, Schnell Boats: Scourge of the English Channel – Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Schnell Boats: Scourge of the English Channel Publisher: Compass Games  Designer:  Joe Carter  Price $69.00  

Passed Inspection:   Nice looking components,  game weaves a strong and immersive narrative, one mission can be played in 1 to 2 hours, tons of replayability, great value for the price, can be played solo or cooperatively, fun and realistic at the same time

Failed Basic: needs some rules clarifications, Table Booklets need an index, one more editorial pass may have corrected some issues

“As S-100 Swordfish and her two remaining S Boats advance towards the approach to the Isle of Wight, the sea state degenerates to level 5 waves. The Griffon flashes its deck lights to tell us that she lost her radio antenna to a huge wave. We flash back and order her to maintain her formation. I will remember to ask the supply officers to please stock up on these antennas. When we lost our antenna during the last mission, we had to wait for 18 days to get a replacement. Those were 18 lost patrol days that we shall never get back.


As we approach the Isle of Wight, the sea state drops back to 4. Our 1st Warrant Officer Schroder gets my attention and indicates a light in the distance shining through the falling snow. We change our formation and heard towards the light – boats 2 and 3 stay in perfect formation. The light winks off but still we close to investigate. Our radio man tries to tune in to find any British chatter. He picks up the chatter from two destroyers! We now can see the British ships – there are two medium cargo vessels, one small cargo ship, a small tanker and two destroyers- one in the front of the convoy and one taking up the rear. Our boats speed up for a high speed torpedo attack and then we will break off. We will launch all our torpedoes and then use our speed to retreat to safety.

Our boat will fire two torpedoes at the destroyer and two at the medium cargo ship. The Hipper fires two at a medium cargo ship and two at the tanker. The Griffin will fire two at the rear destroyer and two at the tanker. Deck guns will not be used in order to not disclose our positions more than we have to. We firewall the engines and attack! Torpedoes away then our boats turn hard to starboard and run for the safety of the sea.

The front destroyer is hit by both of Swordfish’s torpedoes and it erupts in flames and explosions. Steam erupts as it begins to nose down in to the water. She’s going down! The other two of Swordfish’s torpedoes hit the first medium merchant ship – one fails to explode but the second blows the middle out of the merchant ship whose flames join the fires burning from the 1st destroyer.

Hipper’s first torpedo runs just to the stern of the second merchant man but her second torpedo hits the merchant ship and explodes. The merchant ship catches fire but doesn’t sink.  Hipper’s third and fourth torpedo hit the tanker and she begins to take on water. Oil spills out of her and begins to set the sea ablaze around her. Griffin’s two torpedoes miss the tanker – they run around 30 feet past her.

Of Griffin’s two torpedoes aimed at the rear destroyer, the first one misses and the second one hits the destroyer and the British ship shudders and begins to slow down.

The sounds of klaxons ring out from the British ships and we can hear the sounds of secondary explosions over the roar of our S Boats’ engines.  Radio Operator Meier reports that the rear British destroyer is requesting aid and reports suffering serious damage. It also reports one destroyer and one merchant ship sunk with a second merchant ship and a tanker heavily damaged.

Our crew lets out a cheer for a job well done and we head back towards base at cruising speed.” from the log of mission 11 of the S Boat Swordfish,  December 21st, 1943  as played by the author

Schnell Boats: Scourge of the English Channel is a new game design by Joe Carter who also designed the World War 2 naval games – Devil Boats: PT Boats in the Solomons and Dog Boats: Battle of the Narrow Seas as well as the Vietnam naval game River Rats: PBRs and PCFs in VietNam.  Schnell Boats focuses on the actions of the German Kriegsmarine’s fast attack boats operating in the English Channel from June, 1943 to June, 1944.

Game Box

The game offers a strong solo gaming experience but can also be played as a multiplayer game and rules are included for linking two players who both own the game.

The game features beautiful components which include:

A 19 page rule book (the rules are actually covered in 12 pages but the other 7 pages are designer’s notes, charts, errata for Devil Boats, etc.)

Table books for the S-100 Boat and the experimental Project 5 hydrofoil T Boat.

Mounted Strategic Map Board

Crewmen Placement Boards for both the S-100 and the Project 5 Boats.

Combat Boards for Good Weather, Foggy Weather, Poor Weather and Bad Weather

Various Damage Logs Dry Erase Sheets for your boats, enemy warships, enemy merchant ships and tankers, and enemy aircraft plus two dry erase markers

Crewman Log Sheets

Campaign Log Sheets

Double Sided Counters

Dice (4 ten sided, one each 20 sided, 6 sided and 4 sided)

The box is stuffed with so much goodness!  The designer has thoughtfully included pads of log sheets so that the game is playable right out of the box – no need to make copies of logs to write on!


As the components above indicated, not only do you get the S-100 Boats but also the experimental Project 5B “Tragflugelboot” which was a jet powered hydrofoil T Boat.  If you play a squadron of that type of boat, you will see why this very  advanced craft never made it to widespread production – the waters of the Channel were simply too rough to run a hydrofoil on for most of the year.

S100 S Boat
T Boat Layout

So what is an S Boat?  Schnell Boats were very fast, light attack boats which could achieve a speed of around 43 knots and were armed with machine guns, cannons and torpedoes. They had a crew ranging from 24 to 30 sailors

Per the website Top War:

“Schnellbots”, which were supposed to fight on the enemy’s coastal communications, were under the jurisdiction of the headquarters of the naval groups, which included the TKA flotilla. The main task was to deliver strikes in the dark at the superior enemy forces. Since night operations are based on surprise, speed was not a priority.

German designers were able to create excellent warships in the form of “Schnellbots”. The refusal in TKA projects from the requirement to achieve high speed made it possible to equip boats with diesel engines, as a result of which the threat of accidental fires has sharply decreased. Resistance to combat damage was achieved due to the large displacement. The boats were tenacious – they could withstand the hit of several 100-mm shells, the sliding ram of the destroyer and even a mine explosion. An example of this is the story of the S-105, which on March 15, 1942 came to the base on its own, having received about 80 holes from bullets, shrapnel and small-caliber shells.

The hull design was also very reliable: a forecastle with built-in torpedo tubes improved seaworthiness, which made it possible to use torpedoes in waves of up to 4-5 points.

Germany’s torpedo boats were among the best in their class. And therefore, according to the British historian Peter Smith, “by the end of the war, they remained the only force that did not submit to British dominance at sea.”

The British called these fast attack boats “E Boats” which stood for “Enemy Boats”.

S Boat in Action

In this game, you control a squadron of four S Boats.  In order to begin play, you pick the type of boat you want to control (either S Boats or T Boats) and then roll on a handy chart giving crew names to each of your main crew members.  Some crew such as deckhands, represent the head deck hand and the men under his control.

The S Boat under your direct control is represented in exquisite detail with both the deck and the internals of the boat represented.  You stock the boat with torpedoes, fire extinguishers and position the crew in their respective stations.  The other three boats under your command are represented more abstractly.

Each vehicle unit in the game represents one boat, ship or aircraft.  There is an S Boat squadron counter which represents all of your S Boats and is used to move on the strategic map board.  Each person counter represents one person and all the other crew under his direct command.

Each turn on the strategic board represents one hour and each turn on the tactical combat boards represents from 1 to 5 minutes.  An average 8 to 10 hour patrol mission can be played in 60 minutes or less.

T Boat and Tables for T Boats

The key to the game is the Tables Book.  The game includes one S-100 Table Book and  one special Table Book for the experimental hydrofoil T Boat.  This game uses the tables to generate the immersive narrative of each mission much the same way that Target for Today and Target for Tonight do.  The tables are organized in a logical way that guides you through the turn sequence without undue difficulty.  That being said, I would have loved to have seen an index listing all the tables for slightly easier reference when a rule is covered in the table and not in the rule book.  Several times I scoured the rule book for how to handle something in the game, mine laying missions come to mind, but was unable to find the exact table that explains the issue. (Mine laying is covered under Table E-1-A “Special Missions”).

A typical mission starts with the player rolling to determine how many days have passed since the last mission (unless this is your first mission, of course).  Then the player rolls to see the weather and wave/sea state.  The weather and sea state effects how far the crew can see during the mission and influences which Combat Board is used for ship or aircraft encounters.

Strategic Board

Next the Nightly Mission Assignment table is referenced. 50 to 60% of the time, the squadron will head out on a mission or two and never encounter the enemy – these missions are handled abstractly and still count as a mission for crew experience purposes.  I absolutely love this aspect of the game.  All too often in games, you will always encounter the enemy and fight it out.  This amped up “game reality” makes for a fun but an unrealistic game.  Schnell Boats creates a way to have a realistic game without sacrificing the fun of playing the game.  It’s simply “genius”.

The player rolls to see what the patrol route will be as well as the type of mission for that evening.  Mission types include offensive patrols, mine laying or rescuing downed airmen.

The boats then leave their dock in Cherbourg.  The strategic board features zone to zone movement.  Each zone is color coded as to how dangerous the zone is for the Germans.  As your boats get closer to the UK, the danger from the RAF Coastal Command and the Royal Navy increases but your job is to look danger in the eye and shoot it with a torpedo, right?  An S-100 travels one zone per hour at cruising speed.  A boat with engine damage or a boat towing another S Boat will take 2 hours to traverse a zone.  In each zone the player rolls for sea state, random events and encounters with enemy ships or aircraft.

When you encounter the enemy, your S Boat is a very functional weapons platform able to throttle up to battle speed and still fire its machine guns, cannons and launch torpedoes even in very high waves. Ammo for machine guns and cannons is not tracked but each boat has 4 torpedoes unless they are outfitted with ocean mines.  Rolling to hit is based on the weather conditions, crew quality and range from the targets.  Damage is tracked on white erase sheets listing system, flooding and fire damage to all targets. I tend to speed in and fire my boats’ torpedoes from close range.  Unless there are warships present shooting back at me, I then use the deck guns to do as much damage as possible and then speed away before reinforcements arrive.  Also remember that ships on fire also tend to attract enemy aircraft.  The night is your friend as long as you strike fast and speed away.  If you get into a standing battle with British destroyers or cruisers, you’ll probably put your crew and boats at unnecessary risk and be reprimanded for it if you survive.

Attacking a Convoy in Bad Weather

Crew skills and commendations are tracked from mission to mission. In one mission, my boat was hit by a dangerous wave in rough seas and my lead deck hand washed into a torpedo mount and broke his head open.  He died on the spot and we had to use crews to take carry him to the boat’s doctor who secured the body to a bunk.  Our replacement lead deck hand was even greener than the guy who died and that crew quality can affect the other crewmen’s performance.  As you can read, the conflict isn’t just with the enemy, the Channel can be extremely dangerous and “man vs. nature” is a constant theme in Schnell Boats.

Dry Erase Damage Logs
Convoy Damage

The T Boats are faster, jet propelled, hydrofoil boats with a smaller crew and are armed with rockets and 30mm cannons.  As I stated before, they can’t be used in rough seas or in bad weather.  The rockets are a little less accurate than torpedoes as bad weather and rough seas affects their launching accuracy more than it does torpedoes.  I love that the game gives you the option to experiment with T Boats.  On one mission with a T Boat, we were returning to port after crippling a destroyer which tried to close on us when a Coastal Command Albacore tried to line us up for a bomb attack.  We firewalled the T Boats’ jet engines and the bombs missed us completely.

Attached by Coastal Command

Schnell Boats isn’t just a war game; it’s almost a role playing game and it this investment in your crew that brings the game to life.

There are rules for every conceivable situation in this well designed game; there are even rules for friendly fire situations.

The game does have a few barnacles on the hull though.  Aside for needing an index for the tables, one more edit may have caught some page reference discrepancies.

None-the-less, Schnell Boats: Scourge of the English Channel provides a compelling gaming experience.

Armchair General Rating:  92% (1% is bad, 100% is perfect)

Solitaire Rating: 5

(1 is not suitable, 5 is excellent solo play)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and has designed the solo system for Forsage Games’ Age of Dogfights.  Currently Rick is designing T34 Leader for DVG.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

1 Comment

  1. Great review and thanks very much. My first real mission is Minelaying and I’ve been trying to figure out where to find anything in the rules. Your review allowed me to locate it quickly and I penciled in a reference on the bottom of table A-3, p. 1 of the tables booklet.

    I’ve had the game awhile and am looking forward to beginning a real mission. My first two were no encounters.