Under the Sea – Captain Sonar Review

Under the sea, under the sea, Darling it’s better…..no it’s not, the Engines are exploding our Sonar isn’t up and…. OH MY GOD THE ENEMY HAS LAUNCHED A TORPEDO!
Such is the way with the latest release from Matagot Editions the team game Captain Sonar which is basically Battleships turned up to 11. All the way up.
Captain Sonar is a deceptively simple box filled hiding a tense, hilarious and incredibly fun team experience. With just some thick cardboard screens, some dry wipe sheets depicting different stations and a bunch of dry erase pens you and up to 7 friends will man submarines and attempt to blow each other out of the water. Ready to sign up? Let’s see what role you are best suited for:
Captain: In front of you is a map made up of 4 or more sectors and rows and columns, much like in Battleship. You will tell the rest of you team which direction you are heading in. You will mark you direction on the map. When you want you can launch torpedos, mines, sonar, drones and run silent. Simple right.

Captain and Radio operator Station
Radio Operator: You have a map just like the Captain, but you also have an acetate sheet to put over it. You are going to listen to the other Captain give directions to his sub and draw the path they are taking. Move that path around the map underneath and work out where the other team is. Easy peasy.
First Mate: As the Captain’s right hand you will be getting the ship’s systems ready for use. As the sub moves you can prepare whatever system you want, coordinate with the Captain to make sure it is the right one at the right time. Nice and relaxed.

Weapons, Detection and Run Silent. The scenario one is only used in certain maps.
Engineer: As Engineer you are going to be attending to the various systems on the ship and trying to make sure the systems the First Mate is preparing are ready when the Captain wants them and the Radio Operator let’s you know you are in position. Yes you can pretend to be Scotty.

Engineering Station. Orange, yellow and grey circuits visible. 
The 4 stations from top to bottom: Radio Operator, Captain, First Mate and Engineer

The various systems that the First Mate activates and the Engineer tries to make ready are where the mechanics of the game really lie. Two weapons systems, mines and torpedos, two detection systems, sonar and drone and a ‘get out of dodge’ system called Silent Running.

The first two do damage much as you would expect though you can plant multiple mines then activate them later. The detection systems are really smart. Drone allows you to ask which Sector the other team is in and they must answer truthfully. The Sonar forces the other team to give you two bits of information: column, row or sector. However, one is true and the other is false. Yes you can use both systems to really narrow things down but making sure both are up and ready at the same time is pretty hard. The last system, Silent Running, allows you to move up to 4 spaces in a direction without announcing the move, essential for getting away at the last moment.

The Engineer meanwhile is crossing out a circle in the sector of their control panel that relates to the direction the Captain has just announced. Too much movement in one direction and the section gets wiped but the ship takes a damage. You also have circuits of systems meaning that if you can move in just the right way the ship will self heal without taking any damage.

So that sounds all pretty simple doesn’t it. Positively relaxed. The first go through you even play it at a fairly relaxed pace, each captain taking it turn about to give an order, wait for their Engineer and First Mate to give the OK then passing to the other team. Easy.
However, the full game is played in real time. Now where you were taking your time to coordinate all the parts of the ship in a dignified and orderly manner the following is happening:
Captain: WEST
Engineer: Ok! No! Your other west. She Cannae take it Captain! 
First Mate: Ok! Sonar ready!
Captain: STOP! Activate Sonar!
Engineer: You just broke the Sonar!
Captain: Oh (expletive deleted)
Opposing Radio Operator: Did he say East?
And so on. Realtime is where the game really shines as both teams frantically try and track down the opposition on a variety of different maps. The first map you play on is full of Islands making tracking down the opposition a little easier. However the Bravo map is much more open and it is on this one where we had our most intense games. Moving as fast as we could, each team was working out where the others were, surfacing to repair damage as quick as they could, I won’t spoil how that works, and lining up all the systems for the killing blow.
Captain Sonar finds a place in my collection and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for an amazing team game.  It is a tense, funny and engaging experience with some beautifully subtle design elements making it really shine and I look forward to the recently announced expansion coming later this year!

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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