In the dark days of the Second World War, Winston Churchill founds the Special Operations Executive with the mission: “Set Europe ablaze”. In this game by Thibaud de la Touanne, published by Triton Noir, you take control of a small commando team bent on sabotaging strategic sites, kidnapping enemy officers, rescuing prisoners, and otherwise tweaking the nose of the Axis powers. V-Sabotage (formerly V-Commandos, but it’s the same game and components are compatible) is a cooperative stealth shooter, suitable for from one to four players. A short game lasts about half an hour; longer games can take up to 90 minutes.
There are many games with elements of both stealth and shooting, but most of them make the shooting rather more important. V-Sabotage is an exception: the best missions are the ones in which nobody is shot at all, and the enemy doesn’t even know you were there (until their prized battleship blows up at the dock).
How To Play
For a quick game, choose one of the 26 terrain cards, which will give you a player count from 1 to 4 and a single objective. For a longer game, choose one of the nine operations (for 3-4 players): each one chains several terrains in a row, or in parallel. For example, in Shooting Star, four of you start by moving together through the City; then you split the team, and two of you interrogate an enemy officer in the Hotel de Luxe while the other two prevent the Bridges from being sabotaged; and finally you all fort up in the Church while waiting for reinforcements. Each Operation has its own terrain layout and its own special rules; it also has a date and location for historical context, and in case you want to play a longer campaign.
The terrain card in play shows how to lay out the geomorphic tiles to make the map you’ll be playing on. (It doesn’t matter which specific tiles you use where, as long as they’re the right size.) It also tells you what the immediate objectives are, and how they’re guarded.
Next, each player chooses a commando from among Medic, Officer, Sapper, Sniper and Scout. (There’s no hidden information, so it’s not hard to play multiple commandos once you know the game.) Each card is double-sided, allowing you to choose from two sets of standard weapons, equipment, and special power (such as the Officer being able to lead an assault, giving everyone an extra attack). You take two double-sided counters for your commando, and switch between them to show their status: hidden, visible, in enemy uniform, or in critical condition and about to be captured.
Like many cooperative games, each turn in V-Sabotage sees the players taking their actions, followed by an enemy phase. But some of the artificial constraints of other games are missing: players can choose the order in which they’ll act each turn, and most commandos can save an action to be used later. You’ll want to work your way closer to the goal, taking out enemies with silenced weapons or in close combat, while not letting them cry out and alert the others. Each turn you draw an event card, which produces some unusual condition (e.g. someone can spend one of their three actions to pull a fuse and make all indoor tiles dark, therefore easier to hide in), and usually indicates which way the enemy will be patrolling at the end of the turn. But if a commando becomes visible, the enemy homes in on them instead! Each hit you take removes one of your commando’s actions, and when they have none left they’re out of the fight. They can be healed using a first aid kit, but sometimes you’ll need to leave someone behind.
Each turn is a puzzle: how can we move around, stay stealthy, but still do what we came for? Sometimes you’ll have to risk being spotted, but be aware: any plan that relies on you rolling a Stealth Check, with a one in three chance of being spotted by each enemy soldier who might see you, is probably not a good plan. Many objectives are in large tiles, which have so little cover that you’ll automatically become visible when you enter them: so can you achieve the objective and then get away to hide somewhere safer in the same turn? Maybe another player can kill a machine gunner first, take their weapon, and hose down the area to leave your path clear. Can you get someone else to silence the alarm, so that you don’t drown in enemy reinforcements? But the alarm has its own guard…
Combat and stealth rely on dice rolling, but this isn’t a heavily luck-based game: instead, you spend your time setting things up so that when you do have to make a die roll all the modifiers are in your favour and if it still goes wrong you have a backup plan.
Some elements are the same in every game: you will always enter the terrain through a “trap door” token (though this might represent a parachute landing or some other way of getting in). Each terrain card has a goal, whether that’s blowing up a coastal defence gun, disarming the explosives on a bridge so that advancing Allied troops can cross it, or stealing radar components for the boffins back home to analyse. To “win” the terrain, you need to complete that goal and get at least one commando out alive. Each terrain also has several enemy entrances, each of which will add one soldier per turn to the map; if you ever need to add an enemy and there are none left in the bag, you’ve been overrun and the game is over.
This is a cooperative game with no information hidden between players. That means that it’s easy to play solo, with no changes needed to the rules. But by the same token, if you have a player who likes to take over the table and tell other players how they should conduct their turns, the game will do nothing to hinder them.
Masses Of Cardboard
Many games of this sort would use miniatures, and there is an optional miniatures pack available, but V-Sabotage out of the box works with cardboard tokens instead: tokens for your commandos and the enemy, tokens for dropped equipment that you can salvage, tokens for alarms and mission targets and doors. The same heavy cardboard, which is wearing well in the copy I’ve owned since 2018, is used for the tiles that make up the big map board. This makes the game hugely flexible, though it can be a bit fiddly when a room gets crowded, and it’s less impressive on the table than it might be.
You also get cards for your commandos (to track their state of health, current equipment and special powers), cards for terrains and operations, and more cards for events. There’s a set of dice, though standard six-siders will be fine if you need more. You’ll also need a couple of bags for randomly drawing enemy reinforcements and dropped equipment.
The 24-page rulebook and 4-page training book do a reasonable job of laying out what you need to know, but they are translated from French (French copies are included in the box) and sometimes the phrasing isn’t completely clear.
We Shall Not Fail Or Falter; We Shall Not Weaken Or Tire
V-Sabotage is not an exact simulation. You could adapt the mechanics to other settings (and Triton Noir has now delivered an Assassin’s Creed boardgame using the same core rules). But in spite of the ease of play it feels thematic: a quick dash while the enemy’s distracted, a doorway blocked to delay reinforcements, a heroic sacrifice to win the day. There’s plenty of replayability even before considering the expansions (Résistance, Secret Weapons and Ghost), which add more terrains, operations, commandos, equipment, and special enemies.