By Dan Moren
November 30, 2018 8:33 PM PT
A thing we like: Captain Sonar
My favorite board games require some element of cooperation—I generally prefer to be working with people rather than against them. But one thing I don’t encounter as much is a game that requires both cooperation and competition. That rare mix is on display in Captain Sonar, a submarine-themed board game published by Asmodee.
In Captain Sonar, you have two teams of between one and four (it’s best played, in my experience, with teams of three or four), manning rival submarines that are attempting to track down the other and blow them up. Think of it a bit like Battleship—the game, not the movie—meets The Hunt for Red October—the movie and the game). Each member of your team takes on a role: captain, radio operator, first mate, or engineer. As you maneuver your submarine, each role has their own job: the captain sets the course, the engineer is responsible for managing damage to your sub and keeping things running, the first mate powers up your systems, and the radio operator is keeping tabs on the enemy ship, trying to figure out where they are.
The setup of Captain Sonar is particularly delightful. The two teams sit across a partition from each other. Each station gets their own laminated “control panel” sheet and a dry erase marker, with which they mark or erase progress. The radio operator gets an additional plastic overlay so they can try to track the opponent’s course while trying to figure out where on the map the enemy ship is. The components are well designed, and there aren’t a lot of small pieces to misplace, which is always a bonus.
Mechanics of the game are relatively simple, though they do rely on good communication both between members of a team as well as between the two teams themselves; in my experience, it’s easy to lose track of whose turn it is. (There is both a turn-based method as well as a more chaotic “real-time” style which we haven’t been brave enough to try yet.) The game is definitely tense, but there’s nothing that quite matches the satisfaction of your well-oiled team locating the enemy sub and getting a direct torpedo hit.
I’ve gotten a few games of Captain Sonar in, and they’ve been a lot of fun—especially with the full four-person teams, though three-on-three is perfectly doable (the engineer/first mate roles combine well, and arguably work better together than separately). All in all, it’s one of my favorite games of the past year, and I highly recommend it to people who like board games with competitive and cooperative elements. To wrap it up: DIVE DIVE DIVE.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]