Athena’s Big Board Game Blowout occurs on the first Sunday of the month. This past Sunday I decided to give a fellow staff member, Chris Turner, a hand in demonstrating a game that has just been released, Captain Sonar. What followed was perhaps the most entertaining and craziest 3 hours I have ever had inside the walls of Athena Games, but what exactly is Captain Sonar?
Captain Sonar is a Real Time Deduction and Warfare game for 2 to 8 players, created by Roberto Fraga, and Yohan Lemonnier. The box clearly states that the game is best played with the maximum 8 players, admittedly I can see that being an awkward number to fill.
The 8 players divide into teams of 4 and select which colour submarine they will be playing, yellow or blue. Within that team of 4, the players decide who will take on what role in the submarine, there are four roles available: The Captain, The First Mate, The Engineer, and the Radio Operator. Across the three games played, the First Mate was the only role I did not get to play.
Each person then receives a screen that is appropriate to their role and a marker pen. The screens are specially laminated so you can easily draw on and wipe off ink as you need to, and you WILL be wiping the ink off your board a lot.
The key to Captain Sonar is teamwork. You must work together and coordinate if you want an opportunity to win. After setting up this massive screen that divides the two teams so they cannot see the other teams various boards. Both Captains, and Radio Operators have the same map of the play area in front of them and the game begins with the captains deciding where the ship begins, thankfully for ease of reference the board has grid coordinates so you can easily refer to where the ship starts. Your goal is simple, destroy the enemy submarine. Yeah, sound’s VERY simple right?
It is not simple. The enemy sub’s location is unknown to you, and to make matters worse both submarines may move. Starting from the sub’s starting point the captains state loudly and clearly “Dive!” and battle commences, everyone springs into action. The Captain declares a heading, such as “Head North” or “Head East” and the ship moves in the appropriate direction, the Engineer and First Mate then leap into action in response to the Captains order. The Captain may declare any direction as a heading, however he cannot cross his own path, a bit like the game snake. This is something the captain has to consider when manoeuvring his vessel around the islands.
The Radio Operator
Like the captain, Radio Operators has a map of the area. However their job is to listen to the enemy captain, and as such track the route of the enemy vessel using the transparent board over the map. The route information is vital in uncovering where the enemy ship MIGHT be located. That is the key thing, you may never ever know exactly where the enemy ship is, but you can use the information in front of you to make an educated guess. Plus the submarine has several radar based abilities to help narrow down the search. More on those next.
The First Mate
The First mate has a series of gauges in front of him, and every time the ship moves he may fill one segment in any one gauge of his choice. When a gauge is full, the captain may activate that particular ability. Such as fire a torpedo, drop a mine, release drones to scan for the enemy, and a variety of other options. After filling in a segment he answers to the captain “Okay!”
Torpedoes at the ready!
The First Mate is constantly charging up the various abilities that the submarine may perform. First and foremost, weapon systems, indicated by a red symbol. Only the Captain may activate a weapon system.
Torpedoes can be fired up to 4 spaces away from you and follow the same movement that the submarine does. Upon detonation it does damage to the space it hits and all adjacent spaces. A direct hit on a target does 2 damage while getting caught in the surrounding explosion is an indirect hit and deals 1 damage. If a sub takes 4 damage, it is destroyed and the opposing team has won.
Mines are deployed right next to your submarine and stay in the space where they are dropped. These mines only explode when they are remotely activated by the submarine that dropped them. A mine may be detonated at any time and does the same damage as a torpedo; 1 damage for an indirect hit, and 2 for a direct hit.
Song of the Sea
Your radar systems are indicated by the green symbol and have two abilities in its category; Sonar, and Drone.
A drone can be activated by either the Captain, or the First Mate. Once activated all play stops between both teams and the enemy captain is asked which zone his sub currently in. He cannot lie about this, and the response assists the Radio Operator in narrowing down the location of where the enemy submarine is.
The second ability is Sonar, again this can be activated by the Captain, or the First Mate. If declared, the enemy captain must freely, and state clearly two pieces of information. He can say what number line his vessel is on, what letter column his sub is on, or the zone his sub is in. One piece of info must be true, and one must be a lie. For example if I was in L3, zone 3, I can say to my enemy. “I am on column L, zone 9.” How the enemy interpret that is up to them.
So if the enemy can also scan your location, and their Radio Operator is trying to detect your location; what do you do? Silence. Silence is activated by captain shouting “Silence!” He then, in secret, points to a direction that corresponds with the compass directions. He does this so the engineer can see what heading they are going on and deactivate systems accordingly, but so that the enemy cannot see which direction he chose.
The Captain can move the submarine up to 4 spaces in that direction. The enemy does not know which direction you have gone in, or how far you have gone.
As a radio operator, hearing the enemy captain declare silence can be frustrating. You must consider all the possible locations they could have moved to and eliminate them one by one.
Getting back to the roles, finally, there is the Engineer. The Engineer has a layout of the ship set before him along with 4 boxes that correspond to one of the four directions his Captain unfortunately decided to pick. When the captain declares a direction, he must cross out one of the circles in the corresponding box, this will either deactivate that systems, or if the engineer opted to take a risk, he can damage the reactor to keep all systems online.
Look in the west box, say the engineer decided to cross out the red circle that has a mine and torpedo symbol in it. That would mean the ship cannot fire a torpedo, or launch a mine, even if the gauges on the First Mate’s display are full. This can leave the submarine unable to attack, scan for the enemy, or even evade detection.
Join The Dots
There are four ways to get that system back online. First, some of the systems are linked to one another by coloured lines, this is a circuit and if the engineer can complete the circuit, all systems in that circuit are enabled and can be used. This method requires that the submarine only go in certain directions however, making them quite predictable and sometimes they may not be able to go in a direction they need to in order to reactivate systems.
The second way of enabling systems is to bite bullet and fill in all the systems in a single direction box, that will wipe that box completely, however the ship will sustain one damage. Take four total damage and you are destroyed, so it is a big risk to do so.
The third is a variation on the second, you cross out all of the radiation symbols, and thus cause the reactor to fail and the ship takes a damage. So very similar to the second option.
The Hard Part About Playing Chicken Is Knowing When To Flinch
The final method is perhaps the most risky. Yes I know, what can be more risky than taking a damage? How about the enemy being able to pinpoint where you are? You can surface the submarine. This essentially resets the game state; the captain wipes his board and can create a new course, and the engineer clears the entire board of disabled systems. So what is the downside? The captain must declare what zone the ship is surfacing in, this allows the enemy ship to better approximate the position of their target.
While the sub is surfaced, everyone on that sub must stop what they are doing and wait. Starting with the engineer, each crew member must trace inside the white outline of the ship, that you can see at the top of the engineers panel, and initial.
They then have the enemy engineer check that they’ve not gone over the lines, and if the rival engineer is satisfied he states “confirmed”. The engineer must then rub out everything on his board, as soon as that board is clear the captain may state “Dive!” and play resumes as normal.
Captain Sonar can be played in a turn based format, but because we are insane, all of us opted to jump right into real time. There are no turns, the only thing that restricts the captain from moving, is that he must hear an ‘Okay’ from both the engineer and the first mate before he may declare a new heading.
This led to a heart pounding chase of a game where Chris, playing the enemy captain kept chasing us all over the map. Meanwhile my first mate was easily able to keep all abilities charged up consistently so we could do anything at a moments notice.
Just Don’t Have The Power
My poor engineer, played by another fellow Athena staff member, Chris Ewles, was frantically doing his best Montgomery Scott impersonation, holding the submarine together. I recall a moment after going South multiple times, I heard him ‘advise’ me “Not to go South ever ever again.” Of course it would happen when the only other viable way was South.
Over the course of the game, we were deploying mines that we were able to detonate very close to our enemy causing them significant damage, all thanks to my radio operator being right on the ball to where their approximate location was.
The Hunted Becomes The Hunter
We were steaming ahead with almost no damage to speak of and with the enemy in trouble, yet in the last few minutes of the game, they found out where we were as well, and were moving with gusto to draw blood and finish this game for themselves.
A last minute torpedo shot, aimed by myself, with advice from my radio operator scored a direct hit on the enemy vessel and all four of us shouted as we lifted our hands in victory. It was a hard earned victory that we clawed for, there was nothing easy about it, yet we came out on top because we coordinated as a team.
Looking back, I think Chris could have coordinated better with his team. I was always asking my engineer what our best course was. This was to make sure we could get systems online for when we needed them. My first mate did a fantastic job of keeping all systems online and would prioritise whatever I asked of him. Meanwhile, my Radio Operator knew exactly when to speak up and give us the location of the enemy, keeping us updated.
Captain Sonar, has much more to it than what I have described. I’ve gone over the general roles of the game and the abilities at your disposal. However I’ve not even begun to discuss the tactics involved in the game. There is simply too much to cover in what was supposed to be a ‘brief’ overview of Captain Sonar.
Next week, in a follow up article, I will talk about my time playing as the Engineer, and the Radio Operator.
If you don’t have Captain Sonar in your collection, and you have a regular group of friends that you meet up with, you are selling yourself short. Get in your best nautical outfit, get down to Athena Games and purchase a copy for yourself right now.
Over 3 hours, of the Board Game Blowout, I played 3 games in total. I reserved a copy of the game immediately after it was over, and was shocked at the games cheap price point of £34.99. If I was asked to price up the game, it would have been priced higher, you get tremendous value for your money.