Captain Sonar is one of my favourite games. I love team games and the idea of sailing around in a submarine and trying to blow up the enemy’s submarine really appeals.
It’s very light-hearted though (and pretty frantic!), with crew activities having little to do with actual submarines. So when I heard about UBOOT (pronounced U-Boat), a gritty, realistic take on submarine warfare using an app, I was more than intrigued!
It was on Kickstarter last year and I backed it immediately. It arrived a couple of weeks ago, but much to everyone’s dismay, the app wasn’t ready yet! So we waited and waited, until finally the Android version became available last weekend (the iOS version still isn’t available at the time of writing, but hopefully that will be fixed soon).
I set it up and played it solo as soon as I could. Then I played it some more. Then I played it with my son. Then I played it at my weekly game night. I’ve played it every chance I could get. And you know which game I want to play more than any other right now? UBOOT. Let me tell you why…
I never tend to enjoy reading rulebooks, but knowing that I couldn’t play it immediately, I really savoured the UBOOT rulebook. It was full of World War II facts and did a great job of setting the scene. I learnt a lot about the nature of submarine warfare during that time!
The first thing that strikes you is that there’s a lot to the game. Once you’ve mastered the basic rules for controlling the vessel, there’s a full tactical guide that you really need to read to stand a chance at taking down the British ships.
The game plays best with four players: each player takes on a different role (Captain, First Officer, Engineer and Navigator) with their own abilities and rules. And each role plays very differently.
As a German U-Boat team, you set off on a mission (it’s scenario-based), but you’re generally attempting to sink as many British ships as you can. Each player controls four crew members, and moving your crew members to the right stations at the right time is critical to success.
The ‘board’ is a 3D cardboard model of a submarine and you’re literally moving your crew miniatures around when required. It has great table presence!
It’s a real-time game and the app provides your interface with the world around you. If you look through the periscope, the app shows you what you can see, like a computer game.
When you change course or dive, you inform the app. If the enemy spots you as a result of your actions, sirens go off and you need to react quickly! The app also informs you when systems break down and need repair or when you take damage from attacks.
It really is like playing a submarine computer game against a set of AI ships, except that you’re playing a boardgame with your friends at the same time. I’ve never played anything like it!
It’s very immersive. Every time you change speed or fire torpedoes, the app shouts at you in German! Each role is so involved, that it’s very difficult for anyone to alpha-game it. An unfortunate consequence of this is that it has a steep learning curve.
It took me 3 or 4 games before I even managed to fire at an enemy ship, never mind sink one. I died a lot. I ran aground once. I strayed into a minefield on another occasion. You really want one person (who should play the Captain) who knows what they’re doing before you play with a group.
When it comes together, it’s exhilarating though. When you’re tracking an enemy ship, staying just out of range of detection and then you close in for the kill and launch a barrage of torpedoes, it’s super tense! It can take 30 seconds for torpedoes to reach their target and everyone just sits and stares at the app watching the countdown to impact, praying that the torpedoes will hit (torpedoes can malfunction or be subject to countermeasures if they’re detected).
The introductory mission gives you 20 hours to accomplish your goal, but you can speed up time when travelling to your target co-ordinates for instance, which works really well. As soon as anything happens, the clock returns to real time.
There’s so much more I could say about the game: from preparing meals to shooting down aircraft with the 20mm deck gun; from managing morale to calculating correct intercept angles; from decoding messages from HQ with the Enigma machine to correctly identifying enemy vessels from their silhouette.
The game is very detailed and this certainly won’t appeal to everyone. The navigator needs a good understanding of angles and bearings for instance or you’ll never manage to sail in the right direction.
However, the main thing I want to convey to you is the feeling you get from playing it. You really feel like your operating a U-boat. With the right group, UBOOT is the most thematic and the most immersive boardgame I’ve ever played! The theme might be controversial, but they’ve implemented it extremely well.
Does it appeal to you? Have you had a chance to try it yet? If you’re even slightly interested, I highly recommend giving UBOOT a go.