I have been on a party game thing of recently. I even made a video a short while ago exploring my favourite party games to date and promising that after I have done all my reviews I would relook at them and do another top 10… assuming doing so would have interesting changes to differentiate it from the original. At this stage, it is likely that I will not be making that video. While there are plenty of party games around few really offer anything new or interesting. I should admit that I am probably talking out of my bias here as someone who has struggled to enjoy party games on a regular basis. Last week I experienced Captain Sonar for the first time and was blown away by the experience. I know this game has been out for quite a while, and in fact, in my collection for quite a while. However, I finally got around to playing it after an embarrassingly long time and wished I had managed to do so sooner. I knew after playing it I would have to pen some words to either make sure others who have missed out give it a chance or players who have given it a go might dust off the box and give it another turn.
Captain Sonar is a clever deduction game designed by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier that utilises clever mechanics to develop its theme while ensuring everybody is engaged every step of the journey. Published by Matagot games, Captain Sonar is for 2-8 players and takes about 45-60 minutes. There are two ways to play this game, using turn-based actions or in real time. There are four main roles in Captain Sonar and in any game with fewer than 8 players people must do multiple jobs. The means that having eight people ideal and even recommended. The game really shines with two teams of four glaring each other down and then bursting into a flurry of activity. You may also play the game in two modes, turn based or real time. Turn-based is good for learning the game but its during real time you see the game perform and do what it should.
Each team will need to look after their engines, arm the boat, listen into the opposition, or provide the orders to navigate and deploy its weapons. Your mission is to hunt down the enemy sub and destroy them before they destroy you. The problem, though I would argue ingenious part, is that each action that is taken impacts the sub in some way. For instance, if I am the captain and I direct the boat to move North, the person arming the armaments will fill in a square on a necessary item, the engineer then notes which piece of the engine will take a hit. Unfortunately taking a hit in the engines might switch off the key feature being armed by the armaments. The only way to remove damage on the engines and reactivate vital systems is to complete a set of maneuvres. Unfortunately, the captain must also navigate islands, mines, and cannot go back over their path so far. Failure to clear damage may result in a permeant hit to your haul. The only other way to clear damage is to surface at which point you must all complete a task of outlining a section of the sub in pen and signing it off and having it checked by the opposition before submerging, oh, and you have to declare what sector your ship is in and provide the enemy key information to your whereabouts. The whole time this is going on your person at the comms is tracking every direction by your opponents and trying to work out on the map where the other sub is. If you believe you have their location you can try to deploy mines or shoot them with a torpedo. Two direct hits and they are sunk.
If this sounds like stimulation overload, it is. However, you are not doing all roles. The brilliance of Captain Sonar is the teamwork. You need to trust that each person is doing their job. Communication is key. If everyone is focussed on their task and communicating properly you can get that sub humming well. If not then prepare for a swim. Our team lost pretty convincingly each time yet this did nothing to detract from the fun we were having. Their miscommunications, the problem solving, the balancing of roles all made for a chaotic yet hilarious team game. Due to the nature of this game, I do not think it scales well and would only recommend trying fewer players when you have had a chance to get proficient with more than one roll.
Captain Sonar is one of the best party games I’ve played in a long time and if I was to do my top ten games video again I know there would have to be at least one change made to the list. It is hard to find games that capitalise on teamwork quite like this game. Should you find yourself with the opportunity to give Captain Sonar a try I can only recommend you dive right on in and launch your night with this game.
Oh Wait! There’s an Upgrade Kit? I’m npt going to hold off on this one!