With our u-boats reaching the shores of Australia, campaign fulfilment is almost complete. It has been a long time in the making, but the shipping operation is finally coming to a close. And, while on the one hand it is a moment of celebration, then on the other hand it is a good time to look back on the mistakes we have made in the course of the project and learn from them, so that we can give you a better experience next time.
Our biggest production mishap was the lack of a disposable component tray that would keep all the unpunched components in place during shipping. This oversight resulted in a large number of complaints (the project had a ⅓ higher complaint rate than our previous projects) and, consequently, reduced your unboxing satisfaction. The reason behind this issue was not related to savings, however, but to an omission. As our top priority was making sure that all the components would fit into the game box after the hull assembly, we totally forgot about holding them in place in transit. Therefore, while you can store all the pieces in the box with no problem, then some copies that went through the hands of the most brutal couriers had their cards scattered and counters unpunched - sometimes with damage sustained in the process. Luckily, most of the games arrived in top condition, but this is a lesson learned nonetheless… From now on, we will include a transport tray in every game we publish, even if it ends up in the trash the moment the game is unboxed.
The second most widely commented issue was the card protector size. We chose protectors that fit the cards rather tightly, because in our previous campaign - Hannibal & Hamilcar - some backers complained that the protectors provided were loose. Therefore, when approving protector size before sending the cards to the printer, we chose a closely matching size. For plenty of backers it wasn’t an issue at all, but many of you who prefer wider protectors were not happy that we chose the ones we did. Once again, lessons learned - we should probably refrain from offering card protectors in our future campaigns and let backers decide for themselves on this matter.
Another problem that we experienced was the shipping delay. Although we promised to deliver the games by the end of 2018, the whole process lasted until June 2019, so 1-6 months late. This happened due to both internal and external reasons. The internal ones were connected with delays in design, development, and production of the game. The external ones were unexpected delays caused by our shipping partners. For example, the Port of New York and New Jersey dispatch delays forced us to change the whole US shipping plan and cost us plenty of money, as well as an additional month. The lesson that we have learned here is to plan development and production even more cautiously, accommodating longer timeframes in anticipation of unforeseeable circumstances. From now on, we will estimate even longer lead times than reasonably expected, as both game dev and shipping will inevitably fall behind - it is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘how much’.
Another item on our list would have to be communication. We decided to pursue a no-spam policy, keeping our updates short and rare. We tried not to bore you to death with the same information over and over again, but we may have overdone it, as there was a substantial number of backers who complained about the lack of information. We believe we have learned the lesson. From now on, we will take additional care to highlight the most important information in every update. We will also attempt to make more frequent updates, especially when it comes to shipping.
Apart from production and logistics-related issues, we have also learned a few major lessons in software development, and the first of them was ‘things always take much longer than planned’. And we mean MUCH longer. The first time we really felt it was when we had to completely re-scale the game’s world after the KS campaign. For those of you who might not know, U-Boot was quite a different game before the KS. It was constantly running in compressed time, which not only allowed us to streamline certain combat situations, but also to have much longer missions in the game. But the public was not fond of it and requested a genuine real-time game in the course of the KS. As a result, we had to rebuild the app from the ground up and recalculate 90% of the values that related to time and space. Unfortunately, not only did it take much longer than planned and put the whole development six months behind schedule, but it also dramatically changed the rhythm and the pace of the game, forcing us to redesign certain core mechanics, such as the Captain’s activation rules. You can only imagine what kind of crazy time we went through, working around the clock on rebalancing and re-scaling the whole game, while adapting missions to the new system and rooting out bugs at the same time.
And the worst thing about it was that it all snowballed on us very late in the development process. Initially, rebuilding the game world size didn’t seem like much, but once more issues piled up, we eventually got stuck between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, we didn’t want to release a half-baked product, but on the other hand we knew we could not delay the release any further. The delay in shipping bought us a little bit of time, but at some point we had no choice but to give it a go: although rebalancing was still being done and certain functionalities were far from ready, we understood that further delays would have caused more harm than good.
And so, the ‘early access’ version of the app was released. It got off to a rocky start, but luckily we were quickly able to pinpoint and fix the most serious issues that we did not manage to tackle earlier. It has to be stressed, however, that we wouldn’t have been able to make it without the tremendous help from the community. Especially on BGG, where a number of incredibly active supporters were willing to share their time and expertise to help us make the game better for everybody. We will never forget that and we cannot thank you enough for your continued support and generosity. It was hard work, it was a tough time, but we have collectively managed to make U-Boot the game it is today. And we believe we will continue to do so for as long as there are people who are willing to play it.
At the same time, we would like to apologize to all the Apple device users who had to wait considerably longer for the app than the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the Appstore approval process can take time, and we were especially unlucky, because we got turned down a number of times without being given clear-cut guidelines of what we were supposed to amend. On top of that, the whole process took crazy amounts of time, but given the game’s theme and nature, we understood that it had to be scrutinized very thoroughly. Thankfully, the app has been available on all the promised platforms for quite a while now, but we have definitely learned a lesson here.
The last software-related issue that caused us substantial trouble was the save functionality. Due to the different pace of the game before the campaign, we envisioned much longer missions, spanning across several weeks, with a couple of save points allowing you to record your progress (just as we promised during the campaign). However, as the nature of the game had changed radically and the pace of the whole experience slowed down a lot, we realised that our mission design would need to be completely reworked too! As a result, we had no choice but to break the missions up into smaller chunks, and turn the save points into boundaries between the shorter missions that you have in the game now.
With tons of additional work cropping up, lots of bugs to get rid of and the deadlines approaching, at some point it became clear that sacrifices had to be made. We could either keep the full-blown save game feature, but at the cost of leaving gameplay unpolished, OR put our main focus on the gameplay at the cost of delivering game save in a simplified form. As you might presume, we went for the latter, because there was already a possibility of saving the game between missions - exactly where the save points were originally intended!
Upon consulting the case with the IT team, it seemed like it was the only option to go for. There was still a lot of work left on the core game elements, and as gameplay has always been our top priority, it felt like the right thing to do. And, even though it was definitely the lesser evil, it later backfired on us, because the extent of app stability issues proved to be bigger than estimated, especially on the older and less reliable devices. Therefore, while the vast majority of our backers did not perceive that as a problem, then again some were disappointed with that aspect of the game, and some even went as far as calling us dishonest, implying that the lack of in-game save was a purposeful omission and an attempt to lie our way out of campaign promises. And while we think we did not deserve such accusations, then the fact remains that sacrifices had to be made.
However, we also made that decision because we knew we could make amends in the near future.And it is with great pleasure that we can announce that we will be introducing an upgraded game save feature in our nearest update! The cost and lead time of this functionality has already been estimated and implementation will begin as soon as the design is ready. What we can already tell you is that the improved game save feature will be based on checkpoints and will be implemented specifically for each mission, so that their key moments and general pacing can be taken into account. We will keep you posted on all the developments in this field, so please stay tuned for more information.
Regardless of the good news, we would like to say that we are very sorry for all of the project’s shortcomings and that we will do our best to amend them. Our customer service is working around the clock to send out all the missing or broken pieces, and the game dev team are constantly looking into ways to improve your gameplay experience. It has been an incredibly demanding project, and although some of the challenges have taken us by surprise, we nevertheless believe that it is a success. We have managed to publish a unique game, introducing an all-new genre into the realm of board gaming. We have manufactured 22.000 copies of this game in 8 different languages in a single, joint production. We have developed the most complex supporting app in the history of boardgaming. We have managed to immerse our players in a real WW2 submarine warfare experience. We have made our mistakes and learned our lessons. We have been through fire and brimstone, but we believe it was worth it. It was an experience that we will always remember, just as we hope you will remember our game. We are incredibly happy that we have managed to bring this project to a conclusion, and we thank you for giving us such an opportunity.
Still, our work is far from over. As promised, we will be here to support the game, in both its physical and digital aspect. We are currently working on a reprint, and to that end, we have prepared an updated version of the rulebook. You can download it here:
If you have any remarks, please mark them directly on the files, using the Dropbox tools. Thank you!
We hope to keep this campaign page alive, announcing every major update: both rules and app-related. Please keep your subscription to this project page, and it might so happen that one day we will announce an expansion for U-BOOT... If you want to keep this project alive, please share your feedback in your social media channels, at gaming groups, and at BoardGameGeek.com (please rate the game there!).
And, speaking of our next projects...
As you may know, we have spent our first weekend of June presenting our latest and future games at UK Games Expo 2019 fair in Birmingham. We met many of you there - thank you for stopping at our booth! For all who wasn’t there, here is a nice OnTableTop video preview, where Jaro is presenting U-BOOT and our other projects: Europe Divided, Nanty Narking and Race to Moscow:
David Thompson’s and Chris Marling’s Europe Divided is currently on Kickstarter - you can find it here. It is a card-driven strategy game on the post-Cold War European geopolitics, that starts where Twilight Struggle ends, and brings you a tense, 2-player gaming experience in just 60-90 minutes. It’s a skill game as ruthless as nowadays diplomacy. Highly recommended for all serious gamers!
Right, that was a really long update, but I guess a project of this magnitude deserved it. Again, please accept our sincere thanks for your commitment and support. Without you, it would have never happened.
Iron Wolf Studio and PHALANX
PS. If you want to stay in the loop, please join our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/phalanxclub/