boop…. boop …. boop …. Torpedo away!
Captain Sonar is a Family level game of Filler length for 2 to 8 players¹.
The best bits of this game are the genuine sense of teamwork and tension in a good contest – the suspense of the hunt is real. You ARE a submariner hunting your opposing sub and you MUST find them (or die trying)!
The worst bit of Captain Sonar is that it can be easy to make a small mistake which leaves your team or your opposition frustrated. For example, if your team’s Radio Operator makes one single charting error, then you’re in serious trouble and probably won’t find the opposing boat – you’ve probably lost this game. Fortunately, you can play again in about 30 – 45 minutes :).
You start with a map. If you’re a novice, you start with a turn-by-turn map – and I urge you to play turn-by-turn a couple of times at least if you have any new players – or they just won’t have any fun. Once everyone is familiar with the game and the roles of Captain, Radio Operator, Engineer and First Mate, you can transition into real-time mode with its larger and more complex maps.
The Captain chooses a starting position and then clearly announces the moves around the map – “North”, “West” and so on. Islands must be avoided, and you cannot double back to cross your own track. The opposing Radio Operator is listening in and marks that course on a clear template above an identical map. As the course develops across several turns, the template can be slid around to assess the possible positions of the opposing sub.
Meanwhile, the First Mate is prioritising which systems will be needed. Are Torpedos ready when needed? Will silent running to avoid the enemy be needed? Is it time to surface to clear the buildup of malfunctions, which the Engineer has been battling to manage?
Real teamwork and co-ordination is needed to run a successful subhunt. If the Captain can take course suggestions from the Engineer, while still implementing the overall plan and staying out of that minefield, and the First Mate can plan which systems will be needed in 2, 3 or 5 turns from now, and the Radio Operator can, basically, not screw up, then . . . the other team still might get you first.
Torpedo running…. indirect hit! We’re still alive.
There are a range of strategies which you can employ – try laying a huge minefield over several turns, then detonating them to either damage the opponent, or (perhaps even more useful) to rule out certain spaces for their location. Or, try running silent early on to frustrate the other team’s tracking – there is more tactical depth to this game than may initially be obvious.
We have had less satisfactory experiences with this game when playing against opponents of greatly different experience, or when simple mistakes were made (for example, indirectly damaging yourself with your own mine, but failing to notice or declare it to the other team . . .oops). Some of these potential problems are inherent in any ‘hidden movement’ game, but they can detract from the game experience and may lead to awkward post-mortems. Again, please do take the time to learn and teach the game thoroughly (and turn-by-turn), if you want people to enjoy it.
We played 3 fabulous games in one night recently with non-gaming friends, and each game was a tight and tense affair, only decided 2 hunts to 1 (and 4 damage to 3 in the decider).
Captain Sonar is a thoroughly enjoyable team based game and I’m sure we will play it again – perhaps even real-time, when everyone gets more used to it. Playing with a background soundtrack of quiet sonar beeps from someone’s phone is highly recommended :).
The game comes with 5 different maps in the box, and includes some scenarios (which I hve not explored yet) and has expansion maps available. Also, changing roles amongst team members will help to keep the experience fresh – I can see us enjoying it with friends for many years to come.
BoardGameGeek rates this game as 2.13 out of 5 in weight, (at the time of publication of this review). That rating is a bit meaningless, given the type of game which it is – it’s not really comparable to, say, 7 Wonders which has a fairly similar BGG ‘weight’ ranking.
Captain Sonar is widely available – Board Game Master (who I have ordered from previously) has it for about $60. There are two expansions, also widely available.
These are, of course, our opinions only.
¹ I consider this a Family level game rather than a Party game, because it does have a bit of a learning curve for new players. Some roles in the submarine are easy (Captain, if the Engineer is experienced), some are slightly confusing (Engineer) and some are simple but brutally unforgiving of mistakes (Radio Operator). Also, while playable with 2 to 5, it’s hectic! 6 to 8 is ideal.