Captain Sonar is a real-time anxiety attack simulator set thousands of leagues under the sea in a submarine. Published by Matagot, this game is very unique in its design. The basic premise is that 2 teams of up to 4 players, are aboard their own submarine (which you get to name). Tasked with destroying an enemy submarine piloted by another team. Doing so with teamwork, communication, and fast thinking.
Games last anywhere from 15 minutes to 45, it's all dependant on players. It is playable with 2-8 players depending on how you want to play it.
This game is playable in several configurations depending on the number of players on each team. I'm going to cover what I think is the most enjoyable, 2 Teams of 4 players.
So, this game is a bit more complicated than our last review. Within the teams of 4, each player picks a certain role on the submarine. These roles are either Captain, First Mate, Engineer, and Radio Operator. Each player will have a card at their station, along with a board pen, which they use to track and complete the tasks they need to operate the sub successfully. Let's break down each role.
The captain's card looks like this.
The position of Captain is challenging, due to needing to listen to all your team and make rapid decisions based on the information they give you. The rules specific to your role, are that you must announce your directions of travel clearly, and in the format of 'Move North'. This is to limit confusion for the radio operators. You cannot cross over your own path (kind of like the phone game snake). However, you can erase all your previous path by surfacing, which you also need to decide.
The First Mate's card looks like this.
Let's use this time to have a look at each of the systems you might be charging. They're divided into 3 systems, Red/Weapons, Green/Locating, Yellow/Misc.
Torpedo and mines are your weapons. Once charged you can shoot a torpedo over a range of 4 grid dots at a target announced by the captain. It deals 2 damage if the enemy was on that exact grid, and 1 damage if they were in a dot adjacent to the target one.
Mines deal the same damage; however, you drop them on whatever grid you are on when you use them. However! All you do is announce that you've dropped one, not where. So, they can be handy later if your enemy has lost track of them.
Drones and sonar are how you locate the enemy sub. Launching a drone involves your captain asking if the sub is in one of the bigger numbered sections of the map ,1-9. The enemy captain then must truthfully respond.
Sonar is again used by the captain, however this time the enemy captain gives you two pieces of info regarding their locations, but one of them is false.
Silent running and scenario make up the last two systems. Silent running let's you move 4 grid dots in a straight line, unannounced, making it crucial for escaping the enemy.
Scenario is for a specific advanced map, littered with mines, which either team can sue at any time if this system is charged.
The Engineer's card looks like this.
The engineer's job is what makes Captain Sonar a game. With each move that the captain makes, they must 'break' a system in the corresponding box with the direction moved by the captain.
Certain systems are linked over multiple boxes, if you break every system in one of those chains, the problem clears, and they become fixed. So, it's in your best interest to communicate what directions would be beneficial ahead of time to your captain (you can see how this might become stressful right?).
There are also systems not linked by chains, if you choose to break one of these they are broken indefinitely until you surface, at which point all systems are fixed. There are also radioactive symbols pertaining to the sub's core. These are scattered over all direction boxes, and if you accidentally break them all, the ship takes 1 hit point of damage. You also cause the ship to take 1 hit point of damage, if you break all the systems in one direction box.
As the engineer you are the crux of how quickly and successfully the sub can manoeuvre and operate, and you need to be on point with the info you give out to the first mate. As well as being the only person on the ship who can directly hurt the sub itself, you can see why the pressure is so high.
The Radio Operator's card looks like this.
Since the subs can't move through land masses, and are obviously bound to the edges of the map, this becomes easier as the game goes on.
Since there are only so many places where your snake-like drawing will fit right? Wrong.
Remember any time the enemy team surface, their captain will clear their previous path, and be able to go over previous coordinates. You must also communicate with captain about where you think the enemy sub is so he can accurately fire torpedoes.
The rub in Captain Sonar is two-fold. You've heard me mention surfacing a few times so far, let's delve into what that means. Surfacing allows the captain to clear his path travelled, allowing him more movement options. It also allows the engineer and first mate to clear their cards and start a fresh with nothing broken or charged.
To surface, the captain shouts 'surface!' the entire team downs pens, and proceeds to one at a time, draw around the picture of the sub on the engineer's card. You must do this one at a time, and you can't go outside the lines. Once completed, you show this to the enemy engineer and they must confirm than no one messed up the line drawing.
What are the enemy team doing whilst this happens? LITERALLY ANYTHING!! You guys have downed tools, and are literally sitting ducks, and the enemy team can carry on business as usual. Meanwhile your poor radio operator has to go full savant and remember all the moves taken by the enemy captain without being able to write them down, and draw in his part of the sub. Then play catch up once you guys can dive again.
The best part about Captain Sonar, is that everything I have mentioned, happens ALL AT ONCE! Your movement and lethality are only limited by the skill and communication of your team. As you can imagine, when you have a bead on the enemy and score a direct hit and are keen to go for the jugular, it gets rowdy. Not a time you want to hear that the torpedoes are broken, just as the enemy are firing up silent running.
This makes for knife edge tension and amazingly addictive satisfaction when you pull it together and coordinate well. It also makes for hilarious conflict when things go pear shaped.
I love Captain Sonar, it really sold board games as a whole for me, just by being SO unique. Having come from a world of video games, I never really thought you could get similar tension levels in a game medium that wasn't electronic. I was very happily wrong. It seemed thoroughly enjoyed by everyone who came down, and we played 6-7 games of it.
Is new person friendly, however gets very stressful. Probably not recommended for people brand new to board games, however if keen to sink or swim they should have at it.