Today’s post is a preview of two games I demoed at Gen Con. I didn’t play them enough to warrant full reviews, but I can at least give you some general thoughts as they were two of my favorites I saw there. We’ll start with
Captain Sonar is a game by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, published by Matagot. The game is for 2-8 players (though eight players is probably the best number, and I can’t imagine how this would work with two). Players are divided into two teams that are operating submarines with the mission of finding the other and destroying them. Each player has a distinct role on the team, and the team must function as a whole in order to succeed.
This game comes with two sets 12 roles sheets, each double-sided – one side is for turn-by-turn mode, and the other is for real-time mode. On each team, here’s one sheet for the Engineer, one for the First Mate, five for the Captain, and five for the Radio Operator. Additionally, there are two transparent sheets for the Radio Operator, 8 dry erase markers, and two large screens that divide the teams. And I do mean large.
On each team, assign the roles of Captain, First Mate, Engineer, and Radio Operator. These are divided evenly if you have teams of four, but the Captain doubles as the First Mate on teams of three, and does everything but the Radio Operator on teams of two. You’ll also choose whether you’re going to play turn-by-turn (alternating turns) or real-time (nobody waits for the other team).
So let’s take a look at what each team member does.
THE CAPTAIN: You’re the Captain, you’re in charge of a steering. You have the map that matches the current scenario (there are five in the box). To move the ship, announce which direction you’re heading (North, West, East, or South), and then use your marker to indicate that on the map. You cannot pass through an island, nor can you pass through a line you’ve already drawn (no crossing your own path). Before moving, you need your First Mate and Engineer to tell you they are ready by saying “OK”.
THE RADIO OPERATOR: You’re the Radio Operator, which means your job is to listen. Not to your team, but rather to the opposing captain. Each time he announces a move, mark it on your transparency, which is positioned over your copy of the map the Captains have. You can move the transparency around to try to deduce where the other sub is.
THE FIRST MATE: As the First Mate, you are in charge of charging the various systems on board your submarine. Each time the Captain moves the sub, you mark one space on one of the six gauges on your sheet. When a gauge is fully charged, let your Captain know that the system is now available for use. Once used, the gauge empties and needs to be recharged. The six systems are:
- Torpedo: Once charged, the Captain can fire the torpedo up to four spaces away, announcing the coordinate of its explosion. If the enemy sub is hit directly, it takes two points of damage. If it was adjacent to the point of impact, it takes one point of damage. If it was more than one space away from impact, nothing happens. A torpedo CAN damage you, so be careful.
- Mines: The Captain can drop a mine in a space adjacent to his sub. At any point, the Captain can then trigger the mine by announcing its coordinates. Damage works the same as with the torpedo – two points for a direct hit, one point for indirect, loss of the mine for a miss. A mine CAN damage you.
- Drone: Launching a drone allows you to name a sector. The enemy Captain must tell you if his sub is in that sector.
- Sonar: When you activate Sonar, the enemy Captain must give you two pieces of information – row, column, or sector. One of these pieces of information must be true, and the other must be a lie. Additionally, both pieces of information must be of different types – no saying that you’re in sectors 4 and 9.
- Silence: The Captain can activate silence, then make four moves without announcing out loud. He still indicates to his team where they are going.
- Scenario: Some of the scenarios use this gauge, others don’t.
THE ENGINEER: You have to keep track of the breakdowns, and yell at the Captain for breaking your ship. Each time the Captain moves the sub, you must mark off one symbol in the section corresponding to that direction. Each symbol corresponds to systems on the ship that will not be operational until the breakdowns are repaired. There are two ways to repair breakdowns. The first way is to complete a circuit – four connected symbols. If they are all crossed off, the damage repairs and the Engineer erases their marks. The other way to repair them is by surfacing. To do this, the Captain announces which sector they are surfacing in. Then each team member must draw a circle around part of the sub on the Engineer board, staying within the white lines. Once this has been approved by the enemy Engineer, you can erase all breakdowns and the Captain can erase all route lines he has drawn before diving.
Two warnings. If an entire section of your board gets completely marked off because the Captain went in one direction too often, your sub takes one damage, but then you can erase all breakdowns from your board. Also, if all of the radiation symbols on the bottom row get marked off, you take a damage, but then may erase all breakdowns again.
The game continues until one team has inflicted four points of damage on their opponents. They win.
I got to play a demo of Captain Sonar at Gen Con. It was technically only half a game – we only played to two damage points – but it was still a tremendous amount of fun. I was the Radio Operator, and it was pretty tough. I mean, we’re at Gen Con with 60,000 people in attendance. It was tough to hear the other Captain. And I clearly missed some things because I was sure I had him pinned down at one point and was completely wrong. But I was able to nail him down in the end – I was pretty sure I knew where he was, and when the Engineer asked him to go south and he said that he couldn’t, I had him just north of an island. So while they surfaced to fix their breakdowns, we snuck up and torpedoed them out of the water. High fives all around.
With the arrival of Captain Sonar, there is no reason to ever play Battleship EVER AGAIN. There is actual deduction, not just random shots. There is team play, there is depth, there is theme, and there is fun. Sure, Battleship is easier to learn and find, but it’s also dumb. Captain Sonar is a great game, and I’m really glad I got to play it. I look forward to trying it again sometime.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a game by David Somerville and Patrick Leder that was published by Leder Games. The game is for 1-5 players, and takes around 75 minutes to play. On the surface, it’s simply a basic dungeon crawl. However, you very quickly learn that every side of the story is going to get a chance to shine here. Even the Cave.
In the game, you will be playing one of five characters – the Knight, the Goblins, the Dragon, the Cave, or the Thief. Each character (or group if you’re the Goblins) has their own set of components:
- The Knight has a board, 3 bomb tokens, 7 hero cubes, 10 sidequest cards, a Knight piece, and 2 Health & Grit markers.
- The Goblins have a board, 12 Goblin discs, 4 strength discs, 2 monster tokens, 10 war tokens, 10 monster cards, 10 secrets cards, 3 Goblin tribe pieces, and a rage token.
- The Dragon has a board, a shriek token, a flamewall token, a Dragon die, 18 power cards, 2 Dragon pieces, 14 sloth cubes, an Eaten Goblins marker, a health marker, and 3 Dragon gem tokens.
- The Cave has a board, 45 Cave tiles, 36 omen tokens, a draw bag, 9 crystal tokens, 12 treasure tokens, 3 rockslide tokens, 10 event tokens, 15 event cards, 7 treasure cards, and a Cave reference card.
- The Thief has a board, 3 stat tokens, an action die, 6 vault tokens, 5 action cubes, a thief piece, and a loot drop token.
Additionally, there are 8 terrain tiles, 5 role variant tiles, and 25 difficulty variant cards. To begin the game, the Entrance tile is in the center of the table, and you surround that with four other tiles, all face down (the backs show different goblin tribe symbols). Each players takes a different role, and sits in the order listed above. With fewer than five players, there are different possible role combos listed in the rules.
So let’s take a look at which role does what.
THE KNIGHT: The Knight wins by killing the Dragon. On your turn, you first pick up any Hero cubes you placed on the previous turn. You start the game with two, and you can allocate them at any time to boost up any of your statistics – movement, perception, or strength. After picking up your cubes, you can move and act. Move a number of spaces equal to your movement. On each tile, you can do an action, each of which costs you an encounter (the total number of these you can do is determined by your perception). Actions include revealing and resolving a face down tile (which could trigger an event or ambush or even reveal a treasure); attacking Goblins; attacking the Dragon; attacking the Thief; smashing Crystals (which is how you win if there’s no Dragon in your game); or collecting a Treasure. Doing different actions gains you Grit, which in turn gets you more Hero cubes as you reach certain points on the Grit track. Of course, bad things lose Grit, which could cause you to lose collected Hero cubes if it dips low enough.
THE GOBLINS: The Goblins win by killing the Knight, or the Dragon if there is no Knight. There are three Goblin tribes – Fangs, Eye, and Bones. On your turn, you will first choose a War card that will populate your three tribes with Goblin discs. You will also draw monsters and assign them to your tribes. You’ll draw some Secrets cards, which can be played at any time during your turn. Finally, you’ll perform actions. Each tribe can perform one action. This could be to move, attack, plunder, explore, reveal a tribe on the board, hide, or do a special action. You can also smash gems, which is how you win if there’s no Dragon or Knight.
THE DRAGON: The Dragon has been asleep for a century, and now needs to wake and escape. The Dragon starts his first turn by putting the dragon piece on the same spot as the Knight (or on the Entrance if there is no Knight). On his turn, the dragon can first move and use powers (which require you to discard power cards with matching symbols). As you go, you are trying to remove sloth tokens from your Greed (collect treasure), Hunger (eat Goblins), and Pride (reveal Event tiles) tracks, and move them to your Wakefulness track. If your Wakefulness hits 11, the Dragon awakens. The Dragon must then surface by moving to a crystal tile, then moving to the entrance to win.
THE CAVE: The Cave has a goal to expand, then collapse and destroy five Crystal tiles. As other players explore the Cave, the Cave player has the responsibility to place tiles. On your turn, you first draw omen tokens. You then shape the Cave by placing a tile, dark side up, adjacent to other tiles. After this, you place a treasure token. So it’s basically board maintenance until all Cave tiles have been placed. At that point, it’s time to collapse. Here, you’ll remove three tiles per turn, starting with tiles that only touch one other tile. If you remove five crystal tiles, the Cave collapses, everyone in it dies, and you win.
THE THIEF: The Thief only wants to steal 6 Treasure tokens or Dragon Gems in order to win. You’ll start each turn by assigning stat tokens to you Movement, Stealth, and Thievery, then gain action cubes based on your Thievery stat. After that, you move (spending Movement) and do actions (spending action cubes). Possible actions include looting a tile, climbing through walls, crossing impassable terrain, stealing treasure from other players on your tile, opening vaults, attacking your opponents, or hiding loot. When you are killed (WHEN), you drop everything you’ve picked up and respawn at the entrance. You can go back and pick up what you dropped. You will be able to upgrade yourself so you can become more efficient.
There’s lots of little rules in the game, but that’s the general gist – there are five different games being played at once in a shared universe, and I think that’s brilliant. I got to play a round of demo at Gen Con, and I think it was one of the most unique things I saw while there. Cry Havoc is an asymmetrical game that got more buzz, but while the factions are different with different goals, they all basically doing the same thing. This is completely asymmetrical in that you can’t just do what the others are doing because their actions are not what you are able to do. But you still have to understand how the others work so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing. This is definitely a game that you really need to sink your teeth into in order to really get it, and I think it will be worth the effort.
So there you go. Two great games out of Gen Con that I really want to play some more. Thanks for reading!