“HEAD NORTH!” yells the Captain, quickly marking up her personal map.
“ROGER!” respond the First Mate and Engineer in unison.
“They’re here! Right THERE!” blurts the Radio Operator, scrawling a haphazard X on the Captain’s sheet.
The Captain turns to her left, pleading with the First Mate, “Are torpedoes ready?!” He begins nodding emphatically before the Engineer cuts him off, “WAIT, Weapons systems are damaged. We need to move East to repair.”
Breaking the cacophony is the leader of the enemy submarine, their team sitting opposite and peering over the large shield physically separating the combatants: “FIRE!”
Everyone stops, freezing in place like Neo preparing to dance around streaking lead. “We’re launching a torpedo at M-9”, the rival boss gives a thousand yard stare, the entire table in hushed silence awaiting the result.
Her shoulders slump and she tosses her marker disgustingly at the table; “direct hit.”
The scrubs that call themselves the crew of the U.S.S. Pikachu leap from their seats, slamming high fives and pumping fists.
This is Captain Sonar. It’s strategy and frantic action coalescing into bouts of triumph and pain. It’s celebration juxtaposed with disappointment. It’s tense and it’s ultimately emotional.
The game is team based battleship with communication being your chief asset. Each group of four players coordinates in real-time, managing their role on the ship effectively in a simulator comparable to the PC game Artemis. The magic of this new release resides in that team-work aspect funneled through the stress of real-time. Each sub cuts through the water as fast as they can coordinate orders. You feel the pressure as the enemy hones in on your position. Your blood pressure rises with the tide–as does the enjoyment.
Each team possesses a crew member whose sole job is to intently listen to the enemy captain’s orders: Radio Operator. You’ll cup your ear with your hand and try to block out the background noise as you’re scribbling on a transparent sheet. While mimicking the enemy’s directions, you’re shifting the clear surface and adjusting its position atop the map, trying to deduce where they could possibly be.
This stream of communication and deduction must come together just right for it all to pay off. The Captain is maneuvering and making key decisions upon when to trigger systems, the First Mate must be properly readying the tools to be used, the Engineer is managing damage as the ship threatens to break apart with each stroke of propulsion, and finally the Radio Operator must hone in on the enemy. It sounds exhausting, and it certainly can be. This is a stressful game that leaves you simultaneously drained and jacked up on adrenaline.
Captain Sonar is so damn rewarding that its lows end up propelling the highs endlessly. Work gives way to amazing success and it’s all accomplished via teamwork. Early in the process of learning the game, everyone is sort of flailing about, maneuvering in stilted actions and feeling out the parameters of the design. You fire off torpedoes into the ether and drop mines at the bottom of a barren sea, but then it starts to click. You’re slicing through surf and connecting with that golden direct hit. Precisely nailing the enemy sub is such a thrill that it may be the single most triumphant moment of any game. It makes you feel like a god.
That’s the type of game I want to play until I can’t clutch that dry erase marker in my blistered hands anymore. Father Time will do his thing and all of the sudden you’ll realize you spent the entire night playing a silly game and yelling at each other. I wish I was playing this silly game and losing my voice right now.
Have you played Captain Sonar? Do you enjoy real-time games? Let us know in the comments below!
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel
Image credit: Asmodee North America