‘Sonar’ board game review
By Ed Appleby, Senior Columnist
The thing about board games is that they have a lot of turns. Players wait for other players to act, and in complex games this can lead to people bogging down the game by over-analyzing. What if there was a game where everyone was frantically acting at the same time towards the same goal? What if that game wasn’t pushed forward by a timer, but rather another team working in real time to destroy you? I’m glad you asked.
Sonar (2017) is a team game for two to eight people designed by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier and published by Matagot. In the game, players form two teams—each the crew of their respective submarines—and are assigned roles; in the two-player version, each player takes on all roles for their sub. Each team gets a grid map in order to track their location and record clues as to where the other submarine might be. The goal of the game is to locate the other ship and cause enough damage to destroy it.
In the original game there are two roles—Captain and Radio Operator—with the roles of First Mate and Engineer being added through expansions. The Captain decides what actions to take and what heading to travel, the First Mate allocates energy in order to get systems online, the Engineer mitigates damage to the ship, and the Radio Operator listens to the other team and tries to locate the other sub. Each crew member has their own game board, and communication among the crew is vital.
Damage can be caused to the ship by overloading the engines or taking hits from the other crew’s weapons. The engines overload by traveling too long in one direction and can be repaired by changing the ship’s direction based on Engineering’s recommendation or by surfacing, but doing so reveals to the other team where your ship is on the map.
With so many moving parts and specific rules for each specific crew, the game can feel daunting. But once play begins, everything begins to move at a rapid pace. This is one of the few games where I find the suggested play time to be pretty accurate, and you may spend more time reviewing the rules than playing the game.
Full disclosure: I played the game with eight players and it was amazing. The action is fast-paced and everyone on the crew has an equally important role to play. I would definitely recommend this with the full expansion and a big group of players who like to shout at each other.