So tonight at Geek Club we had a bit of a boardgame session, the main event being the fantastic game Captain Sonar, reviewed excellently here
In fact, it was watching that review that made me immediately buy the game, and having now played it, I do not regret that decision one bit. Ok, so my week of practising my Scottish Russian accent may have been in vain, as once in the thick of the action all thoughts of movie quotes were lost, but what fantastic fun this game was!
For those who haven't watched the review, I'll summarise briefly. Four per team is the ideal number, each crewman plays a role. The captain drives the boat and makes all the important decisions. The first officer preps the weapons (this is the easiest job) the engineer has to decide which bits of the ship to break as operating losses and the radio operator has to listen to the enemy and figure out where they are based on where they have gone. You can play with less, combining the captain and first officer, or captain first officer and engineer. If one person has to play all four roles, you NEED to play the more relaxed turn by turn version of the game. Oh yes, I neglected to mention that, this game is played in real time. If you have a good team who can head north, load the torpedo, manage a reactor leak and report back that all is set to continue quickly, the captain can steam on ahead... you could be four or five moves in while the enemy is still lurking and figuring out if they want to arm a torpedo or prep a mine, while their poor radio operator is frantically trying to keep track of where you are.
The downside of playing this at a public club is including everyone, including people I would not have chosen to play (hell, HADN'T chosen to play based on my original team plans, but I had several dropouts and not enough replacements, and then on the night ended up with one extra. So we had some shuffling around and played things a few times, but one player in particular on my team was... not exactly strong. He was radio operator to my captain in the first game. After about two moves he was trying to make guesses where they were... buddy, they could still be pretty much anywhere, show patience. Then when they had travelled a fair distance, he had no idea where they were. He wiped his sheet and started again several times. We somehow won that first game, because I'd developed a hunch on where they were (quite a distance from where my radio operator thought they were) and I triggered a nearby mine - the damage confirmed it. From then, I was doing my own captaining and keeping track of where they went too on my one map (combining the jobs that were never supposed to be combined) and managed to chase them down for a kill. I was very proud. However, in the second game, things did not go as well. I'd moved to be radio operator, wanting a new challenge. I failed miserably, as last turns radio operator had taken my captains seat, and was now asking me what to do each turn. I missed so many moves by our opponents because I was again doing two jobs that shouldn't be combined. However after that we moved him to the first officers chair and while he still made errors (clearing torpedo tubes we hadn't fired etc) the damage was mitigated there.
Some crew member stresses aside... this is a fantastic game. It is fast paced, and even if you lose you can usually get some satisfaction if you feel you were close - being able to pinpoint exactly where the enemy is after they kill you is rewarding. I was particularly pleased with the last game, where I had lost track of the enemy (although I thought I had him cold) and told my captain to detonate a mine - it would do one damage to us as we were close, but it should be a game winning direct hit on him. It wasn't. He was nowhere near. However I later managed to figure out where they were for a direct hit and we won the game - I felt I had redeemed myself suitably.
With the full crew being eight players I can see this being a struggle, but it should be easy to play with six - the first officer is fairly limited in activity and will often find himself in a position where everything is charged and ready but the various systems have been knocked offline by the engineer so he's just a passenger until they can fix something and then they can use some systems so he can start recharging them. So rolling his role into the captains jobs is an obvious step, so I'd say this game will still be great with six, and will still be fun with four. At two you'd have to do the turn by turn version, and while this could be an interesting tactical challenge, I'm not sure it will have the same intensity. But hopefully I shall test that theory at some point soon.