We all die in a jolly Submarine


Captain Sonar


Battleship for stress-resistent Crew


In the past, we didn’t have anything. “DKT“, „Mensch ärgere Dich nicht“, „Risiko“ – that was it, more or less. And for those even poorer in games than us, there was even only „Battleship“, played on chequered paper. If only the ships had moved! If there only would have been a bit more dynamics in play!! And if we could have played that with a few more additional players!!! And as to flair, if would have been lovely we could have imagined that we were all in the same boat!!!! What a miracle: Decades later, all those wishes have come true! Finally, crews of two submarines – each one comprising for crew men - face each other across the table, separated by a long and high screen, stalking each other and sneaking around each other and creating problems for each with water mines, torpedoes, search drones and sonar devices. 


In each of the two crews you need to fill four very different positions that demand very different handling: The Captain charts the heading oft the submarine; with an (erasable) marker he draws -starting from the freely selected starting position of the submarine – horizontal or vertical lines on his tableau - a sea chart -, on which there are already depicted islands in varying numbers, and various ocean areas, again in varying acreage. In addition to charting the submarine’s heading, the captain must announce it loud and clear, so that not only his teammates are informed of the current heading, but also the opposing Radio Operator, who may and must listen in to chart the heading of the opposition’s submarine on his own tableau and thus keep track of the submarine position. As he does not know the starting position of the opposing submarine, the Radio Operator uses a transparent foil, which he can relocate over his own chart at his discretion and as necessary. The longer the journey continues the better you can predict the currently possible end position, as a submarine cannot land at or cross islands and cannot cross the previously taken heading (similar to the “Worms” game for mobile phones).


Based on this information and additional information available from activating search drones and sonars, the supposed current position of the enemy becomes gradually clearer and clearer. It might be time to launch a torpedo, provided that we are not in target range ourselves! The First Officer is tasked with the “unlocking“ of various scanning and weapons functions; his rank and title somewhat mask the fact that his task is rather a monotone one and maybe even a little bit stupid: After each movement of the team’s submarine, he needs to mark a case; for instance, after “three steps” and therefore after three markings made, he can ready a torpedo for launching. This is, in a n analogous procedure, also done for the placing of mines as well as the deployment of search drones or sonars. These devices force the opposition to reveal certain information about their current location. Maybe you could imagine this as a transformation of movement energy into the energizing of internal mechanical processes.


So, basically, it is good, when a team’s submarine moves a lot, because this allows to activate more functions or multiple activation of functions. However, on one hand, this movement provides the opposition and their Radio Operator with valuable information, and, on the other hand the submarine does not remain undamaged during lots of movement, but continues to collide with coral reefs or to bump into fish that are too big and thus keeps suffering slight damages. At the beginning, those damages do not have any too dramatic consequences; but if you ignore these damages for too long, you not only lose various functions of your submarine, but can, at some point, even suffer the equivalent of an external hit. This is the moment, when the function of the Engineer becomes important. He must also, in analogy to the First Officer, mark something on his board for each movement step, albeit with having even less scope for his decisions than the First Officer. However, the Engineer has a stronger communicative task – be must give tips to the Captain for a safe heading. Some of those small deficiencies and damages can self-repair due to clever maneuvering, which is something that is not really logical or comprehensible, but works well as regards to game mechanics. So, for instance, after any combination of movement steps, once to the East and three times to the North, one of four segments of the submarine did self-repair. Of course, your Engineer should give those hints as secretly as possible, because the opposing Radio Operator will try to use what he can to locate your submarine.


At the same time, the Captain needs to garner advice from his own Radio Operator about the heading that might be useful or sensible to chart. On top of this, the Captain needs information from his First Officer, which weapons and search functions are currently available; this often needs an additional contacting of the Engineer. And all this is happening in – very stressful – real-time, which means, that both submarines move independently from each other. If one crew is pondering the next move for too long, the other submarine might be quick and already outside the porthole and sends a goodbye greeting with a final torpedo. Only for use or resolving of the technical equipment, this fast flow of the game is interrupted with a “Stop”.


If, at one point,, operation come to a near standstill, because the Captain has „painted in“ nearly everything on his chart if the various small damages of the submarine have reached a dangerous total, there is always the option of surfacing: This allows, for one thing, the Captain to select „Tabula rasa“, that is, clear all former headings, and, for another, the submarine is repaired – simulated game-wise by an again rather hectic but very witty alternating line-drawing on the board of the Engineer. However, there is no „Stop“ at this point in the game, so that a surfacing too near to the opposing submarine can result in „Repairs successful repairs, crew unfortunately dead“, in case the opposition might have an inkling of the location where the opponent might surface. On top of this, the Captain must even give one more hint about his own current surfacing location.


The hectic game play caused by those mechanisms can unfortunately cause various mistakes in the game, which not only cannot be cleared up in retrospect, but also impair the concept, interfere with it and can even destroy it – the game really needs strict and concentration from all players! Despite the fact, that normally the combination of board game and electronic does not work out very well, this game would be suitable for an adaptation to eight tablets for “outside” control by an electronic “Super-Ego”. In any case, at the end of the game – triggered by four damage points, caused by torpedoes, mines or due to risky or bad navigation -  there is often extreme, euphoric pleasure for one team and sad frustration fort he other side. The game does not necessarily need eight players – in my opinion, „Captain Sonar“ is played best with six players in the real-time mode, because the rather boring functions of the two First Officers can be handled by either the Captain or the Engineer; on the other hand, in a game of eight, there is more fun and noise and communication. In a game of four players, it is best if each player handles two roles, which is feasible, but only in the Round mode of the game – in this mode, the individual turns are resolved alternately and without time pressure; in this mode, the flair resembles more that of a kind of “Secret Chess” or “Stratego”.


In games with players new to the game, it is a disadvantage that the rules not only need to be explained again, but must be completely understood by the beginners, as already one mistake by the newcomer can ruin the game completely. So, to prevent this, one might have, with such newcomers, to play at least one trial game in the round mode, before all can finally „the real thing“ – and those trial games might be a bit boring for veterans of the game. In addition to the two completely different ways to play, there is variety also from five different game boards or sea charts. Furthermore, there are plans, that is, cards, already available for “New York”, “Chicago” and “Foxtrott”; and a first expansion has already been announced by Matagot, too. A stand-alone, seemingly more simplified game is meant to be published in the near future, for two to four players only.


Harald Schatzl


Players: 4-8

Age: 10+

Time: 30+

Designer: Pegasus Spiele 2017


Genre: Deductive real-time game

Users: With friends

Users: For experts

Special: Many players

Version: de

Rules: cn de en es fr it nl

In-game text: no



Inventive, fancy, nearly unique game

Roles are strongly asymmetrical

Lacks good overviews

Best with always the same group of six players

Unplayable in case of negligent or cheating players

Risk of a strenuous and frustrating experience

Recommended by Kennerspiel des Jahres


Compares to:

Space Alert


Other editions:

Matagot (en es fr nl), Pendragon (it), Broadway Toys (cn)


My rating: 6


Harald Schatzl:

„Captain Sonar“ is an extremely thrilling, communicative, very tactical/deductive position, combat and role-playing game, that can also be used as a very special party game. Casual or inexperienced gamers can be introduced to the game by using the round mode or by taking on the less demanding roles of First Officer or Engineer; in all other aspects, all players need complete knowledge of the rules and need to adhere to the rules very strictly to make possible a fantastic common game experience.


Chance (pink): 1

Tactic (turquoise): 3

Strategy (blue): 1

Creativity (dark blue): 0

Knowledge (yellow): 0

Memory (orange): 1

Communication (red): 3

Interaction (brown): 2

Dexterity (green): 0

Action (dark green): 1