What is it? Team vs team submarine hunting
The deets: 2-8 players (but really 8), 60mins
Designer: Roberto Fraga, Yohan Lemonnier
This genre was pioneered by Space Cadets: Dice Duels, a starship v. starship game that I absolutely love, but is definitely pretty challenging to find a group to play. There’s a definite learning curve to Dice Duels, and it always feels a bit tedious to explain all the rules to everyone. But it’s just so much fun!
Captain Sonar takes this idea of two large teams with players filling completely unique roles and evolves it, streamlines it, and turns it into something wonderful and exciting and hopefully, more accessible.
The game is a submarine hunt: each team is sailing around a section of the sea, trying to avoid crashing into islands while trying to locate the other submarine. Movement is hidden, and each team must use clues, deduction, and a few tools at their disposal to locate the enemy.
There are four roles: captain, radio operator, first mate, and engineer.
The captain decides where to move the submarine. With each action, he or she calls out the direction of movement, and marks the movement down on the map with a dry-erase marker. The captain can also decide to fire weapons or use other special submarine powers.
The radio operator has to listen to the opposing team. They use their own marker to track the movement of the other team as it’s called out, but they have a transparent overlay so they can move the path around the map to track down where it fits.
The First Mate is responsible for charging up the various systems. Each time the sub moves, they can mark of one space on their board; when something is full up, it can be used. There are torpedoes to be fired, mines to be dropped, drones to be launched, sonar to be… um… sonified? I dunno, and a super secret silent mode to try and escape the enemy. Torpedos and mines damage the enemy; drones and sonar help narrow down their location; silence lets you move quickly in a straight line to avoid detection.
Finally, each time the sub moves the Engineer has to deal one damage to the sub. Each direction of movement has a specific subsection of systems that must be damaged. Remember those torpedoes and drones from earlier? If even one of those icons takes a hit, the whole system goes down. Do you really want to damage the weapons systems? Maybe we’ll get it repaired, or maybe we’ll be stuck without weapons! On the other hand, the only other option is a set of icons that will damage your entire ship.
The primary way of repairing is by surfacing – but that gives your opponents a chance to really nail you. I’m not sure the specific penalties for the real-time mode, but in turn-based it gives your opponents three actions before you can move again. Not good.
There are different scenarios that provide different goals, maps, and challenges. Oh yeah, and you can play real time or turned based – which is great for teaching the game in a less-hectic environment.
I absolutely loved Captain Sonar. The biggest challenge will be finding groups of 8 – you can play with fewer, but that requires doubling up on roles which isn’t ideal. It’ll always be best with 8. But whatever. The team dynamic was brilliant, the rules are so simple, and yet it is quite challenging and thrilling as you hunt and are hunted at the same time. It’s far less chaotic than Dice Duels, while still providing that tense, exciting team-based feel.
I also happened to learn that Andrew has quite the aggressive streak, loading up on torpedoes like a maniac. We pretty much used our torpedos as locator beacons to trap our opponents and blow them to bits.
I’m a great captain, by the way.