Captain Sonar Board Game with Upgrade One Expansion

By: Illusion

The beginning of this review is referring to the base game “Captain Sonar”, to read about the expansion – “Upgrade One” – please scroll down.

Captain: Johnson! Enemy contact on our North, 2 clicks…Fire the torpedoes!

Engineer: The name is Watson Sir…

Captain: What?! Where is Johnson?!

Engineer: Uhh…there is no Johnson Sir…just me…Watson…

Captain: Well, who is going to fire the torpedoes?? You do it, I don’t care! Just fire those torpedoes!

Engineer: Uhh…this is the submarine ride at an amusement park Sir… We don’t have torpedoes…and you’re scaring the guests…

Captain: Oh yeah…

Captain Sonar is a 2-8 player cooperative, submarine battling game by Matagot games, makers of the popular games “Scythe” and “Kemet”. Players will form two teams and each take on important roles on the crew of a submarine, trying to blow each other up!

I can boldly say that Captain Sonar is unlike any game you’ve ever played before. Yes, the theme probably reminds you of your childhood and playing Battleship, except this isn’t boring! And your opponent won’t cheat by moving their ships after you should have hit them. We all did that at some point though, right?

Captain Sonar uses a real-time battling system to let you have an exhilarating, stressful, submarine battle experience. Real-time battling means that you and the opposing team won’t actually take turns during the game, but will play simultaneously.

As probably seems obvious, this is a game of complete team work and fluidity. Each member of the team needs to do their job, and needs to communicate with the rest of the team. If one team member slacks, it can mean catastrophic results for your sub and crew.

Captain Sonar is best played with 8 players, but can be played with as little as 2. With 4-7 players, players can still play in real time battle mode, but some players will take on more than one role. With less players, 2-3, players convert to turn based mode. The base set includes multiple maps, giving variety to the playing field. I particularly like the ice field which only allows the submarines to surface in a few spots between the ice.

How to play

The table is set up with a giant divider separating the two teams. Each player chooses a role. The options are Captain, First Mate Radio Operator, and Engineer. Each role has unique mechanics and objectives. After roles are chosen and role specific boards are handed to each player (with a dry erase marker) the Captains put their fists up and say “DIVE!”, indicating the start of absolutely brilliant mayhem.

Ill briefly describe the different roles players can take on:

The Captain

The Captain has a board showing the playing field, similar to Battleship, but including islands. The Captain chooses where to start the submarine, and is responsible for moving the submarine by loudly proclaiming “North”, or whichever direction he wants to head. The Captain is also responsible for using all weapons systems and recon systems.

The Radio Operator

The Radio Operator has a board identical to the Captain, but also has a clear dry erase board placed on top of his map. The Radio Operator is responsible for listening to the enemy Captain proclaiming their movements, to mark those movements down, and to decipher where the enemy sub is by moving the clear board over the map until the movements fit perfectly around the islands and such. The Radio Operator is responsible for telling the Captain where the enemy sub is. This should be done quietly of course.

The First Mate

The First Mate is responsible for loading all weapon and recon systems, making sure they are ready for when the Captain needs them. He does this by filling up gauges one at a time, being able to fill up one mark on a gauge every time the Captain moves. If the Captain stops, no more systems can become activated. The First Mate also keeps track of damage dealt to the sub.

The Engineer

The Engineer is responsible for fixing weapon and recon systems as they deteriorate over the course of battle. This is really a very intricate and brilliant system. Each time the sub moves, the Engineer must choose one of a wide variety of symbols to cross off, meaning that system has broken. Different symbols can only be crossed off when the Captain decides to move a specific direction. The Engineer does have something to help him out though, and that is a series of circuits connecting different symbols. If the Engineer can cross out an entire circuit, he can clear all of those symbols and those systems start working again. This leaves it up to the Engineer to communicate with the Captain to go certain directions to fix the systems. The submarine can also take damage if the Engineer can’t clear enough symbols.

The Engineer can also clear all gauges by convincing the Captain to surface the submarine. Surfacing the submarine gives the enemy team a chance to catch up to you though, so its important to do it in a reasonable place.

Lets look at some of the Highlights and Lowlights of the game


Completely Unique Mechanics: I think Captain Sonar gets an A+ for unique mechanics and creative thinking. I have never played a game like this before, and I love that. Each players role feels well thought out, with fun and engaging mechanics. I think this game wins in a huge way when it comes to being unique.

Theme: The theme is spot on! This game makes me never want to get on a submarine! During each game, I can feel the tightness in my chest that comes from wanting to do my job correctly and not let down my team. There is palpable tension in the room as soon as the Captains say “Dive” to when the last missile is fired. This game is not for the faint of heart.


Best with full 8 players: Although the game still plays well with less players, it really is important to have a full 8 players if you want to have the complete experience. I do want to stress though, that 2 player mode is actually way more fun than I anticipated. Even when playing turn based, the game was still fun, and there was still some tension. 8 players is absolutely still preferred though.

Captain Sonar Upgrade One

This first expansion brings more customization to the game by the way of new maps and weapons systems!

Some fun variations of maps include a map with strong sea currents affecting the sub at certain spots on the map. Another allows you to recharge certain weapon systems if you take the sub to certain points on the map. Each of these makes the game more challenging and gives the Captain different options when moving.

The new weapon systems are really what make this expansion cool. The Kaos Polarizing Mine is a personal favorite. After dropping it in the water, the Captain can trigger the mine, sending a shock wave in all directions and hitting any sub the wave comes in contact with. Cool!

The only thing I’m not particularly fond of regarding the expansion is the poor quality of the box. It seems they expect me to add the contents to the original game box, which is not possible.

The expansion is worth a buy if you really find your group enjoying the game.

Final Thoughts

I love this game. It has been a while since a game has taken a theme and brought it to life like Captain Sonar has. During the game you will feel like you are on a submarine and your job is critical to your team’s success.

If you can frequently get large groups of friends and family together, and like a game that’s tense and really pushes the players to work together, this is a game you need to add to your collection as soon as possible. You will play it over and over again, and each time you will have a unique and enjoyable experience. The base set includes many different maps with different scenarios that will give you new ways to experience sub battle.

If you and your gaming group like things to be more on the relaxed side, or if you have friends or family that don’t like stress and competition, this game is not for you. I literally had two different friends turn to me after our first few games and say “This game stresses me out, I don’t want to play it anymore”. Luckily I have other friends that enjoy the game. I think it is important to know what your friends are looking for out of their gaming experience before you make this purchase. If you want the game and are worried about the reaction, you can always try turn based mode, which is less stressful and still really fun.

As for me, I say the more stressful the better. Bring it on!

If you enjoy Captain Sonar, be sure to check out “Upgrade One”. If you don’t have 8 people to play, also try checking out “Sonar”, the new 2-4 player family version of Captain Sonar coming out soon!

Play on boys and girls.

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