Captain Sonar review

07 December 2016
DSC_3885-59013.jpg Captain Sonar's engineer board
Climb aboard as TTG dives into the frantic co-op party game

Captain Sonar is a thematically rich co-op party game that sees two to eight players (fewer than eight means multiple jobs assigned to individual players) take on the roles of crewmates on a submarine dueling against their rivals in an identical vessel, with the teams separated on opposite sides of a table by beautifully illustrated game screens.

Each player is given a specific function, including the captain overseeing the sub’s movement and actions – including firing weapons and deploying abilities – the first mate, who tracks the charging of said abilities and any damage the vessel has taken; the engineer, in charge of keeping systems running; and the radio operator, who listens out for the enemy sub’s movements and marks them on a transparent sheet placed over their map in an effort to track it down. 

The mix of individual responsibilities means that each player needs to keep their shipmates informed of what’s happening on their dry-wipe role sheet. For example, each direction the captain chooses to move results in a particular system breaking down in the engineer’s panels, meaning the engineer should inform the captain if a panel has been almost filled in order to avoid damage. Meanwhile, the first mate decides which ability gauge fills another section with each movement action, from offensive armaments such as mines and torpedoes to sonar and drone detection tech and the stealthy silence skill.

In the game’s real-time mode – which really is the best way to play  – this all happens simultaneously, with the captain shouting out directions to inform his crew of what to mark on their sheet and waiting for their vocal feedback before being able to move again. This results in frenzied scribbling of markers on mats and a lot of yelling (mostly in a good way) as the opposing sides attempt to manoeuvre and arm their ship fastest.

Although the roles are varied, players are likely to clamber over each other to be the captain and radio operator, who easily have the most dynamic duties – with the others relegated to more passive, repetitive tasks.

Helping to break up this potential monotony are various mini-games involved in keeping the submarine running. If the engineer fails to manage the failure of systems effectively (tactically breaking down all of the systems on a linked circuit self-repairs all of the modules) or the captain ends up piloting the ship into a dead end (crossing your own route is not allowed), the submarine can surface to reset the route and repair all systems. In the real-time mode, this requires the whole team to take it in turns drawing around separate sections of the sub on the engineer’s sheet without straying outside the line and writing their initials, costing valuable time – a tense situation intensified by the need to announce the sub’s current sector on the map to the enemy team before surfacing. It’s an amusing way to heighten the drama and create a potentially game-changing situation by relying on the team’s co-ordination.

One mechanic introduced through the abilities is social deception; the sonar forces the enemy captain to reveal two pieces of information about their location – one of which can be false. This contrasts with the drone, which takes longer to charge but forces the rival sub to truthfully reveal its current sector. There’s a Battleship-like aspect to the torpedoes and mines, which cause double damage on a direct hit and take one hit point by exploding within a space of the rival sub – hinting at their possible position. The location of laid mines is secret and they can be triggered remotely, leading to the potential for surprise (and massively satisfying) traps after drawing in the enemy by surfacing.

Five different scenarios and map layouts are included in the box. The environments are diversified by a selection of obstacles and special rules, from impassable islands to frozen seas that can cause damage to surfacing subs unless they find a hole in the ice and pre-existing mines triggered by a special ability. The maps span nine sectors marked with grid dots to allow the captains and radio operators to easily mark their movement – this is dropped down to four sectors with fewer points in the slower turn-based mode, which suits more tactical play or smaller groups.

Despite the humble contents of its box – a load of marker pens and laminated sheets – Captain Sonar is a lightweight blast and the ideal thing to bring out at a party. All aboard!

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The straightforward mechanics may not be deep enough for everyone, and those tasked with the roles of engineer and first mate may be put off by their potentially monotonous tasks, but with the right group and when all the elements come together Captain Sonar is a direct hit to the funny bone.

Buy your copy here.

Publisher: Matagot

Price: £34.99

Genre: Co-op party

Players: 2-8

Time: 45 minutes

Age: 14+


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