Game: Captain Sonar
Recommended Ages: 14 years or older
Average Game Time: 45 minutes
My first experience as a submarine captain was a stressful one. My first mate was frantically readying different systems, my engineer was scrambling to fix the breakdowns of our sub, and the radio operator was updating me where they thought the enemy submarine was, with guesses that often conflicted with each other. One thing is for sure, though: Captain Sonar is one of the best team-based games I’ve played in quite a while.
In Captain Sonar, two teams of up to four players each command a submarine in real time (rather than turn-by-turn), and the first team to sink the enemy sub wins. There are four roles on each team: the Captain, the First Mate, the Engineer, and the Radio Operator. The Captain activates different systems such as torpedoes and sonar, and they also announce their sub’s movements aloud. The First Mate fills up six different gauges as the sub moves so that the different systems can be used. The Engineer chooses which systems break down as the sub moves, prioritizing different options. Finally, the Radio Operator listens as the other team’s Captain announces their submarine’s movements and attempts to figure out where on the map they are.
Each of the four roles–captain, first mate, engineer, and radio operator–of Captain Sonar have their own minigame, and all of these come together to form the full game experience.
The Captain needs to process information from their three crewmates and prioritize different options. They also activate different systems, which can damage the enemy submarine, track where it is, and cloak their sub for a brief period of time.
The First Mate needs to prioritize which systems need to be able to be activated first, as each move can only fill in one spot on one gauge. They also keep track of the ship’s measly four health points, getting steadily more stressed as they diminish.
The Engineer needs to prioritize which systems to break down (one thing breaks down each time the sub moves) both to keep them available and to work towards clearing other breakdowns.
The Radio Operator needs to pay close attention to the enemy Captain and draw their course on a transparency as they move, narrowing down their possible locations by seeing where the course lines up so that it avoids islands scattered across the map.
This game is very shiny and aesthetically consistent. Due to the fact that each player needs to write down information during a game, all materials are safe for dry erase, giving them a glossy look. The marker wipes off easily as long as you ensure to clean each sheet before cleaning up the game. The materials are sturdy and have a modern feel to them, fitting with the game’s theme. The game also comes with a two-piece table divider to block one team from seeing the other team’s materials.
Who Will Enjoy This?
If you enjoy games designed to be stressful
If you get a kick out of getting really invested in a game, this is one for you. The fact that there’s always something each player needs to be doing and that things are never going as well as anyone hoped makes a high-energy environment unavoidable, especially since the game is played in real-time.
If you enjoy figuring out different systems
This game has a lot of interwoven mechanics working in different ways to present the final experience. If you enjoy figuring out these puzzles, Captain Sonar gives you the chance to do so, with at least four playthroughs required to play all the different roles.
If you enjoy deduction and guesswork
A lot of Captain Sonar involves using the limited information you have to guess how things will go and where the enemy submarine is. The joy and excitement you get when you guess right are almost as good as the anticipation as you wait to find out.
My Reasons to Buy Captain Sonar
- Exciting – The tension and energy involved in this game are infectious, making sure that the stress levels and the volume of your voices steadily increase.
- Team-Based – When you win most games, you don’t often have anyone to celebrate with since everyone else is usually disappointed that they lost. In Captain Sonar, you bond with your team over your success or failure, feeling either like you barely missed out or you got through by the skin of your teeth.
- Replayable – Since the game has four roles, you need to play it at least four times just to see all that it has to offer, and far more to master them. The interaction with both your team and your opponents’ team makes sure that no two playthroughs are the same. Five different maps will also keep you and your playgroup coming back for more!
And One Reason to Not
- Prohibitive Player Count – While the box says it can be played with 2-8 players, you need at least 6 playing for it to really shine. When there are fewer than 8 players, different roles have to double up, making it difficult to keep on top of things. If you don’t often have six or more people playing games together, this may not be a worthwhile purchase.However, the 2-4 player family version, simply called SONAR, was released exclusively at Target this fall. If you are intrigued by this game but not able to get enough people together, it may be worth checking out.
If you appreciate the stressful environment in games, the hidden role game Resistance: Avalon is definitely up your alley.
If you like team-based games that can have large player counts, the word association game Codenames is for you.
If you like the idea of games played in real time, Escape: Curse of the Temple may deserve a look.
Or you can check out this video review by the team over at Shut Up and Sit Down: