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Subject: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game *Revisited* rss

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Casey Trimble
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Edit: If you want to see my revised review of the general gameplay, see both this post and my latest reply. Cheers!


Warning: Before reading, especially if you own this game or play it regularly, ask yourself, "Do I want this game to be reduced to a race to say a handful of words, or do I want to continue to enjoy it without a game-breaking algorithm?" What I believe I've found is a strategy that, by using logical statements and a bit of a clever Radio Operator trick, completely ruins this game. I actually haven't tested it, because once I do it will literally ruin the game for my group, not to mention my friend who owns it. I genuinely don't want to do that. That being said, if you want to continue, heeeere we go.

For my 15ish-person tabletop crew, games that seat upwards of 6 or 7 people always get a serious look, especially when they sport some cool mechanics or cooperative play. Captain Sonar immediately rang both of these bells for us, and we were not disappointed. Sonar demands focus and communication, and it puts stress on you and your team in all of the right ways. Are you on your enemies' trail, or are they about to cook your goose?

I loved this game so much that I stayed up all night thinking about it. There were two key aspects that I was stuck on.

1.) How do you optimize your movements to reduce engineering complications, while simultaneously not giving your position away?

2.) How do you find the enemy as quickly as possible, irrespective of how much they move?

Well, to my dismay, there are two very easy answers to those questions, and that's what breaks this game. Let's start with movement, as it's simpler.

You'll notice on the Engineer's board that the ship has a very regular pattern. For North, South, and West, there are three failure points that all lie on the same "auto repair" line. The last failure point on each line is located on the East bloque. So if I move N, N, N, E, I can be sure that when I hit the last move (provided my engineer is x-ing out the nodes on the orange auto-repair line) I will not have any systems down. The same thing works for SSSE, and this means that you can stack 3N-E and 3S-E segments to create neat, compact squares. As it turns out, these are also easy to put almost anywhere on most maps, and you can use them to get tons of movements without even thinking about engineer problems or the other team's radio operator.

My team actually figured that part out right before the second game, and it drove the other team's radio operator absolutely bonkers (Sorry, E! You were too damn good, we had to neutralize you). Watching her try to cope with our speed and ambiguous position was deeply satisfying to watch. In any case, that much information won't ruin the game. If you really want to ruin it, I guess you can continue reading.

The thing that totally ruins this game is ironically the namesake action, sonar. When you call for a sonar, the opposing team's captain must give you two pieces of information about their location (row, column, or quadrant), with one of them being true and one a lie. Now, that seems like "nice" information, but if we use logic, we can derive a whole lot about their location from just that-- enough to rule out almost every point on the board as their location. We'll show that by using sonar 2 or 3 times, we can fire a torpedo with relative certainty of a hit (after some maneuvering).

For starters, my radio operator will not be drawing a line following your ship as you call out directions. They will start with a grid of points, laid neatly over the map. You'll see why.

If you tell me your ship is in row 1, column A, what you are really telling me is, "I am at least in one of these areas." Using their grid, my radio operator could then erase every point on the board that isn't in that selection, and I would know for certain that you aren't in any of the points they erased. This is a property of the logical "OR" statement. If you must be in one OR the other, then you can't be anywhere where neither of those are true.

So with one sonar reading, we've narrowed your location down to a row and a column, or a row and a quadrant, etc. You're not in great shape. Keep in mind, using my optimized movement patterns, I can do this in seconds. Then comes the matter of tracking you when you move after that first reading. This part is what makes the radio operator's grid approach so powerful.

If we've narrowed your position down to a bunch of points, and you move, it would be a pain in the tuckus to draw little arrows from each of those points in the direction you moved. So instead of doing that, my radio operator does something clever: they just move the sheet. This automatically moves every point to where it would be if you moved, say, North from there.

Furthermore, when my radio operator does this, some of the points will move off of the board or onto an island. We know for certain that you can't do that, so we erase those points, further narrowing down where you're at.

Now, once we've narrowed you down to just a few spaces (and keep in mind, we're barely a minute into the game here, if that) we can use torpedoes to "check" to see which of those precious few possible spots you're in. If it's a miss, we narrow down the possibilities even further. Rest assured: you will be hit, very quickly. If you've followed this, you can see how this turns Captain Sonar into a very mechanical, almost computer-analog game.

The worst part is, if it works, this strategy has absolutely no countermeasure... or at least, none that doesn't turn the game into something that probably wasn't intended by the makers.

Again, for reasons that I explained, I have not been able to test this strategy. I really enjoy this game, and I want people to continue to enjoy it. If you do decide to brave the process and try it out, let me know below! Maybe this game turns into a different beast altogether when both teams are aware of these strategies, and who knows? It might be fun!

-Frideology
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Ben Kyo
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Yeah, I think it pretty much falls apart as soon as you have one team calling directions faster than the other team can keep up, and your idea for the radio operator is the last straw. I think the game needs a slow metronome or something else to regulate movement speed.
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Sean H
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
I feel like silent run/mines would mitigate this abit. It is a game that reqlwards an efficient crew tho
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Sean H
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
The other thing that the other team can do is make you play off your game, and occupy the east portion of the map once they notice you following lines.
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Jay M
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
All you have to do is not all allow the dots if it's made you too awesome to enjoy the game. It's a glorified party game anyway.

It's a pretty small board to start with, and you're supposed to find each other. It's not supposed to take forever to close in. You can accomplish much the same speed with the fuzzy logic of overlaying their path on the grid.

Accurate shots and mines are different altogether -- your technique is not a close-range technique.

And if someone actually closed on your position, I'm not sure you'd be able to pick NNNE and SSSE all the time -- you'd need to actually evade and position for a shot.
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Casey Trimble
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Yeah, I agree that as is, this isn't a bombproof strategy. For instance, in practice the key to making the movement algorithm work is using the Nuclear fail points as mixups to the trajectory, and using surfacing and rapid subsequent silencing to reset the path. We did test that much, and it proved to be sustainable.

A lot of these things are just speculation until it's tested. There's a good chance that this plan isn't actually viable, due to the things mentioned. And as also mentioned, this game certainly already rewards algorithmic play, so this hypothetical strategy just reflects that.
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Horatio Q
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
The NNNE tactic is standard, but there are only a few places on a more claustrophobic board where you could do that. It also can't go on indefinitely without resurfacing, and the more a team does it, the fewer positions they can be in.

The radio operator trick is clever, but you can't retrace the steps as you can when drawing a path, and I imagine erasing an entire line of dots as well as those on islands may introduce too much time pressure on the radio operator to do it accurately.

But the main point is that this is a symmetric game: if both teams know about these tactics then they can play against them in innovative ways. If that still doesn't work, then introduce a house rule on Sonar (by the way, this is logical XOR: they can't both be true).
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Martin T.
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Frideology wrote:
I've found a strategy that, by using logical statements and a bit of a clever Radio Operator trick, completely ruins this game.

[...]

I have not been able to test this strategy.

First you frightened me here for ruining a game I quite like but didn´t play as much as I wanted, yet.

But honestly: You might win a game or two just by bothering more than your opponents. That is the case with every game. If they want they can figure it out. What if they use the same strategy? What if their captain just thought as hard about a counter-strategy as you?

You´ll probably find out that your algorithm doesn´t work so smoothly on every map and a clever use of silent running can ruin your expectations. Also the radio operator has quite an easy job if he knows your first four moves before-hand.

Looking forward to your report after testing.
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Rogányi Antal
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
I am still waiting for the OP to say what broke the game? Everything he said is the intended part of the game! You arrow down where your enemy is, then shoot him out!

Every "clever" strategy he wrote about is used by everyone after 3 or 4 games.

Did you know that mines are really useful to narrow down further the position of the enemy?
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Patrik Severinsson
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Shouldn't this be in the Strategy section?
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clovis chan
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
really interesting way to mark positions! Look forward to you testing your strategies IRL.
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Incremental Cherusker
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Got the NNNE-SSSE thing down already. But the point-method surprised me. Clever thing indeed.

Would you create some pictures for illustration?

I guess if both teams own this method, the game will become something else entirely - I am not quite sure if "cracked and spoiled" is the only viable option for it's future though.
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Julien K
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
The point thing is clever indeed. But unless I miss-understood something, a single use of silence and you have to go back to the drawing board, having to re-draw the points and re-do a sonar, since you do not have the move history of your opponent. Not unfeasible, but certainly not easy. Also, if the opposing team also moves quickly, it seems easier to me to draw a single line rather than to have to clear several points. The risk of messing up seems higher to me.
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Sean H
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Re: Captain Sonar - A Broken Game (Warning: this might spoil the game)
Frideology wrote:
A lot of these things are just speculation until it's tested.


This is irresponsible posting if you dont have a significant pool sample of games to back up a bold accusation.
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Casey Trimble
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Re: Captain Sonar - A *Breakable* Game
I appreciate the points above! And, because I feel that you all have a point, I wanted to revisit this after a few more times playing the game and using the strategies I wrote about.

After playing them in practice, I had two main takeaways:

1.) Of course this doesn't work as cleanly as it sounded on paper.
2.) The strategies, or really the nature of the game that rewards these kinds of strategies, did ruin the game for our group.

I'll elaborate on both points. To the first point, I'd like to mention that while not explicitly prohibited, the dotting strategy did not work for the three people who tried it initially, although I'm positive that it can be picked up with practice. Will anyone practice? Well, with the second point in mind, I really hope not. Will it be game changing? Marginally.

The other team was aware of the strategies because I blabbed about this post (I crave attention, I don't care who knows). They had decent ways to make sure it wasn't effective. As things played out, neither of us were making hits. We went on for a very long time without any offensive luck during these games. It was very stressful. First in a good way, then in a frustrating way, and then in a way that made one of our regular players quit mid-game and walk out.

If I was to rewrite my statement of this review, I wouldn't say that algorithmic and efficient strategies break the game. It just makes it not fun for casual play if you happen to have a gradient of skill and sheer desire to play that hard. I could say this of many games, especially real-time games.

The aspect of this game that made it less fun for me was the same thing that makes me dislike competitive team videogames, which is that people feel it when they let the team down, and they feel it when they're let down by their teammates. So to tone my review down from apocalyptic proportions, I'd say that Captain Sonar plays like competitive Super Smash Brothers Melee. If you work very hard to play well, you will have fun with other people who work very hard to play well. The same thing goes if you have a group that wants to play casually. But mixing the two is not fun.

In short, I don't think this qualifies as broken in the sense that there's still a game to be played and enjoyed. That being said, several people in our group enjoy the game significantly less now, and my gut feeling was right: strategy and concerted self improvement made the game more stressful at the time than it was worth. That's just my take!

Again, thank you for your feedback, I enjoyed revisiting and reconsidering my initial thoughts!

-Frideology
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clovis chan
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Didn't really think much about it but I agree with you one big drawback is the real possibility of neither submarine hitting each other for 20 min (as an example). It just frustrates everyone.
 
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Jay M
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That's why it's better to use fuzzy logic and not a fool-proof algorithm. That "shape of the path overlayed on the islands" is tailor-made for human intuitive logic and hunch-following. The map is not complex enough to require an algorithm that assures closing -- look at their path, slide it around and empathize (as yourself "Where would i be if I were that captain?") Enjoy it. Take some more Sonars to test a hypothesis.

Unless you were rapidly closing as I have seen done on many Youtube playthroughs, I think you should consider that your brain's pattern spotting ability is the better way to go. And the good news is it doesn't rely upon the whole team doing a flawless job. (Radio guy does have to hear and plot correctly)
 
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Jukka-Pekka Tuominen
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Frideology wrote:
So with one sonar reading, we've narrowed your location down to a row and a column, or a row and a quadrant, etc. You're not in great shape. Keep in mind, using my optimized movement patterns, I can do this in seconds.
-Frideology


This is one of the things that I have problem with. It seems that you have house ruled the game to make it less fun. Or you are playing it in a way that I have never seen played before.

First of all when taking directions you cannot just yell headings. You have to say "HEAD NORTH/SOUTH/EAST/WEST". So instead of saying "NORTH, NORTH, NORTH, EAST" you would have to say "HEAD NORTH, HEAD NORTH, HEAD NORTH, HEAD EAST". And aside from that you also would have to listen to your first mate and engineer that they have got your directions. So in a game it should sound something like this: "HEAD NORTH-CHECH-CHECK, HEAD NORTH-CHECK-CHECK, HEAD NORTH-CHECK-CHECK, HEAD EAST-CHECK-CHECK".

While also the engineer probably would say at end that all the systems are functional. And I don't think you should be able to do this in seconds. This is a real time game for sure and speed is definitely a factor, but I don't think this is a game of who is the fastest speaker. So all the commands should be said in a clear and relatively slow pace.

The sonar operative's system seems quite interesting. While also you can see that it is also against the rules.
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Martin T.
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Frideology wrote:
(...) The aspect of this game that made it less fun for me was the same thing that makes me dislike competitive team videogames, which is that people feel it when they let the team down, and they feel it when they're let down by their teammates. So to tone my review down from apocalyptic proportions, I'd say that Captain Sonar plays like competitive Super Smash Brothers Melee. If you work very hard to play well, you will have fun with other people who work very hard to play well. The same thing goes if you have a group that wants to play casually. But mixing the two is not fun.(...)

Shut up & sit down talked about exactly this point in their latest podcast. When you have to have eight people for a very specific game like that you might end up with a player or two who are just not investetd that much than others. And this is the reason my copy of the game barely sees the table even though I have a gaming group of six regulars.
 
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Chris Feakes
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I tried out your system over the weekend in a few games. In the first game, using the move and sonar algorithm only, we won exceptionally quickly- the game was over in under 5 minutes thanks to the other crew being in range by the time we'd gotten 3 sonars off. In the second game our captain lost the plot slightly and so it ended up playing out more normally.

I think if everyone on a team is on board with your method then it will be effective the majority of the time, but it doesn't take many mistakes to ruin it.
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Francis Rivest
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I'm not sure if using grids for other things than what is mention in the rulebook (such as marking points and stuff you mention) is even allowed. If this seems like a major problem for ya, well since it ain't what's mentioned in the rulebook, I would say it ain't allowed.
 
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