I decided impulsively that I needed to buy a copy of Captain Sonar one night after a tipsy Christmas Party. I had finished learning Baseball Highlights 2045 and played my first game of that but was looking for something that would provide a little more player interaction. “Want to play Captain Sonar?” Patrick asked. “That real-time Battleship game? Sure,” I chimed back.
My first game was as the first mate, working alongside a mine-happy captain whose goal was to blow the other team out of the water without ever engaging in direct combat. Since that night, I’ve told many people about this game, as it just works well in so many different groups. I’ve pitched this game to more hardcore gamers looking for a game with some deep strategy as well as those looking to have a fun night with several glasses of wine. Part of the appeal of this game to me is its ability to unite many different types of players in one box.
Captain Sonar is a real-time team based Battleship successor. Each team is broken into four roles to be played by four different people (in a perfect world, though it can be played with fewer). These roles each have their own tasks to further the collective objective of taking out the opposing submarine.
Captain – The Captain is really the backbone of the ship. She is the one who has to take in the contributions of all the other roles and make decisions based on four people’s worth of work. She makes the primary decisions regarding the direction the sub will travel, is the one who operates the sub’s weapons, and communicates with each of the other roles as needed.
First Mate – The First Mate is the Captain’s backup. Logistically, she charges the sub’s systems and tracks any damage received. Despite a simpler role, in my experience the First Mate serves as an advisor as well (as much as one can advise in a real-time game like Captain Sonar). This is the role to remove if playing with six players.
Engineer – The Engineer’s role is a little more complicated than the First Mate’s. The Engineer keeps track of broken systems on the submarine as the team travels. What this means for gameplay is that each time the submarine travels, the Engineer will take a system offline. When certain systems are all offline together, they automatically repair and can be used again. The Engineer needs to have a solid understanding of the Captain’s strategy in order to determine which system to take offline.
Radio Operator – The Radio Operator is the role that makes this game exciting. The RO listens to the other team’s discussions and plots their path on her map. Her goal is to pay attention to every exchange that the other team has and do everything she can to determine where the other ship might be located.
The way the four roles come together is where the spirit of this game lives. It forces fast paced interactions and offers something to everyone, whether you’re new to gaming or have been playing games every week for years. The only negative that stands out to me as far as gameplay goes is the sheer chaos that this game can be. For your first game or two, it is likely that someone will miss one aspect of one rule, and no one will be able to notice and tell them since they have their own job to do. This happens more and more in your second and third game, as you switch roles for the first time and move into a different role, only really knowing the rules through the lens of your previous role. This doesn’t suffer from the issues that Vast and similar games face: you don’t need to teach 8 games to play Captain Sonar. There are enough similarities that you can generally get away with one relatively quick teaching session, but more experienced players will drastically increase the teaching speed.
So should you buy Captain Sonar?
That entirely depends on the type of collection you have and what you are looking for in new games. This game plays with eight players. The box says 2-8, but I can’t imagine an instance where I would set this on the table for less than six players. There are just more interesting games to play when the real-time element has been removed. If you don’t find groups of 6-8 at your home frequently, or don’t have the space to accommodate such a group, I would recommend that you convince a close friend to buy this game.
I was so excited for this when I got it, and it still took me several months to finally get it to the table. However, if you don’t currently have any games that accommodate a group of this size, Captain Sonar is a great way to start building up that part of your collection. If you’re on the fence about this one, try to see if a game café has it available to play. If it does, you might be able to just play it there and avoid the purchase altogether.
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