Captain Sonar Review
on Aug 17, 2016
Captain Sonar is the reason you hear eight grown adults shouting a hundred feet across the convention floor. The Captain methodically barking “Head NORTH. Head EAST. Head EAST!” Their First Mate and Engineer repeating “CONFIRMED!” in unison. The lone Radio Man scribbling little marks on a transparent sheet while cupping their ear and honing in on the opposing Captain’s voice.
But to the uninitiated it’s sheer chaos. A cluster of individuals in manic crescendo as if you’re witnessing a family reunion or group therapy session.
These two teams of four crew members are hunting each other aboard deadly submarines serving corporate overlords in the near future. In reality they’re really sitting opposite each other separated by a huge screen and writing furiously with dry erase markers. But you’ll get lost in that fictional space as the atmosphere and fervor takes hold. It sucks you in and pulls you to the ocean floor.
You see, this is a rare breed. While there are plenty of entertaining party games that can capture the attention of a large assembly of gamers, this one grabs you by the throat and shoves you into the torpedo tube.
This game is all about intensity. It offers a turn based mode for learning your position on board the U.S.S. Saucy, but you don’t want that. Experiencing Captain Sonar is all about real-time. You want people screaming, arms being thrown up in disgust, and team mates breaking each other’s hands with high-fives. When you putting it all back in the box your voice better be gone or you’re doing it wrong.
The magic here is accomplished via team play with defined roles aboard each sub. There’s a lot of similarities to Space Cadets: Dice Duel but the actions are more direct and strategic, lacking random results. The biggest twist is that instead of marking position on a communal board, each team is working on their own personal map displays and separated by that thematic wall. The metaphor ties into the secrecy of action. It bolsters the “it’s us versus them and they’re the ones that are going to be sucking salt water” attitude.
The most vital role is Captain. You’re calling out your sub’s movement by naming a heading and quickly drawing a dash on your personal map. You can’t proceed to move again until the First Mate and Engineer confirm the move and perform their own obligations. The Captain has to juggle all of this while absorbing information on the enemy’s position via the Radio Man. Much of the time your team’s fate will tie directly to your decisions and composure as you need to muster all of your capabilities and funnel it into execution.
As First Mate your job is probably the simplest. You’ll still want to down some aspirin and take a shot of Jager though as the going gets rough. Your responsibility is to ready systems so the Captain can use them. Every time your sub moves one distance you can mark off a box towards powering up a single ability. Eventually they become active and you inform the Captain as communication is key.
While Torpedoes and Mines are fun toys, Sonar is the most noteworthy. Like every other system, play momentarily stops so you can perform the action. The opposing Captain offers two pieces of information with one being true and the other false. This data consists of grid coordinates and sectors on the map, allowing you to narrow down the enemy’s position. The pressure is heavy as you can feel the net tighten and suspense rise with the tide.
One huge issue with smoothly executing these vital functions is damage that the Engineer works to continually clear. With every single move the Captain barks you must mark a system damage on your Engineer sheet. If your sub heads north, you check off a position in the north box, east then the east box and so on. There’s a surprising degree of strategy in which actual systems you choose to damage as it renders them temporarily useless to the Captain. If you check off Sonar damage then you’re running blind. Weapons and your torpedo bays are closed. Damage is bad.
You clear damage by marking off positions that are linked via colored circuits. It’s a puzzle of sorts as you have to quickly adjust in real-time to the boss’ orders and keep everything running in tip top shape or you’re sunk (hardy-har). Informing the Captain on which directions to head so you can properly utilize those circuits to remove damage is key.
Eventually though you’ll have to surface to knock off all the rust and that’s when it gets most interesting. When you surface you yell out your sector to the opposing team while each member of your crew takes turns attempting to trace an outline on a small diagram of a submarine on your Engineer’s sheet. If anyone traces outside the white line you collectively berate them and groan as you must start over. Your heart beats like a thunderous drum and your hand shakes as the opponent draws ever near -“SOUTH! SOUTH!”
Everyone wants to be the Radio Man. They’re given a map identical to the Captain’s and a transparent sheet. The sole duty? Listen intently to the enemy Captain and trace their route on the clear plastic, continually adjusting its position overlaying the underlying map. If you miss the enemy’s orders or get distracted you’re screwed. Oh lord, is this fun.
Captain Sonar is utterly fantastic. It’s one knock is that it plays best with eight although it’s passable with six. There’s a surprising amount of skill involved and when everything lines up and you score a direct hit on the enemy you will shoot out of your chair and fall over your teammates in celebration. It’s like scoring the game winning goal in sudden death overtime and it’s the best gaming experience I’ve had this year.