Jan 022014
 

In SOS Titanic from Ludonaute and Game Salute, players take a role of one of the lucky crew of the Titanic. And we all know what happened to that lucky ship – it sank. Your objective is to work together in order to get as many of the passengers off the ship as you can and into lifeboats. However, your time is limited and mistakes will only speed up the process causing the night to progress faster and for the ship to approach its inevitable end. More compartments will be flooded and decks will be lost making it harder to find, organize and rescue passengers. Strategically you will move passengers into place in order to get them off the ship and keep in mind, this is a very VERY class conscious society and even when lives are on the line, certain protocols must be recognized and the first class passengers will not mix with the other classes.

Basics:

  • Designer: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc
  • Players: 1-5
  • Game Length: 30 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Category: Card Game
  • Mechanic:Co-operative Play

How do I play?

In SOS Titanic, there are two classes aboard ship. First class passengers are represented by purple cards and second class passengers are represented by yellow cards. As with a game of solitaire, each passenger in each of the class “suits” is assigned a number (two sets of 1-17 for second class and two sets of 1-13 for first class). The “1” card in each of the sets is the “ace” and represents lifeboats. So four lifeboats and 56 passengers to get loaded onto them. Seems simple and easy but as in a game of solitaire the suit and number of the card (the class and the order of the passenger) matters.

SOS Titanic gameSet-Up: Each player gets dealt one random crew member card. They will then be dealt a certain amount of action cards (from 0-4) depending upon the crew member. Crew members also differ in the number of passengers they are able to draw from the deck in order to set up a passenger rescue (Captain Edward John Smith, for example, may draw 1-5 passenger cards). Each crew member also has a special ability they can use during or instead of their standard turn (The Captain can, instead of taking a standard turn, take all the player’s action cards and redistribute them among the players is his special ability).

Once everyone has their crew member and the appropriate action cards, deal out passengers to each of the first four “decks” of the ship (4 cards, 6 cards, 8 cards and 10 cards to decks 1-4 respectively). The passenger cards are placed face-down and the top card in the stack is revealed. Two later decks remain open and can be filled with the highest number card in each deck (17 for the yellow cards and 13 for the blue cards). Then stack the Action Cards and the remaining Passenger Cards next to the booklet opened to page 10.

IMG_1628

At the start of the flip-book, the first page will mark the point of impact with Mr. Iceberg. As the players take their turns and attempt to rescue passengers, any failed attempts to assign passengers to a row will result in a page being turned and, consequently, more compartments flooded with water at the end of their turn. Say, for example, the captain decides to pull three cards from the passenger deck and can’t find a place for them. Each card is then discarded and the next page is turned. If each compartment in a deck is completely filled with water then the entire row of passengers is shuffled into the next free deck. In the panic all your carefully arranged passengers are mixed together and you need to begin again. It is frustrating work indeed! As you get less space to place passengers the lines get longer and you have less room to move.

Your time is limited and you need to get started so each player takes the following actions during their turn.

  1. Players may move passengers around the lines
  2. Then they must play an action card
  3. OR draw from the passenger deck.

First move the established passenger lines. Similar to a game of solitaire, players move cards on top of other cards of the same color and one higher number in order to produce numerically consecutive lines of passengers. Entire stacks of cards can be moved around this way. During their turn a player can move as many of the cards around as they can or wish. If there are no possible or desired moves then the active player then either plays an action card or sets up a passenger’s rescue by drawing a number of cards from the passenger deck (according to the ability of the crew member).

SOS Titanic cardsPlaying an action card. The active player takes an Action Card in their possession and applies its effect. But be careful! The only way to get more Action Cards is to mess up when…

You set up a passengers’ rescue. If the active player chooses to do this instead of playing an Action Card then they draw from the Passenger Deck a number of cards equal to a number within the range appropriate to the crew member. They may be able to draw between 1 and 5 cards. They draw an amount within that range at once and then look at them. If one or more passengers are eligible to join a line then only one of those cards is played. The rest are discarded. If no passengers drawn are eligible then they are all discarded and a page is turned in the flip-book. When this happens, the player gets compensated with one Action Card.

The game continues in this fashion until the last page is flipped or all the passengers are rescued. If the passenger deck is exhausted then the discard pile is shuffled and drawn from. When this happens, a page is flipped in the booklet.

How do I win?

As with most fully cooperative games, you either all win or you all lose (and there is a case to be made that really no-one wins with the Titanic since most of the crew end up going down with the ship). Similar to Hanabi, the game is scored by the highest number represented in each of the four passenger life boats.  The highest numbered passenger in each lifeboat is then added to the page number of the booklet. In addition, if all the passengers are rescued then the number of consecutive cards marked with an anchor in each class (purple and yellow) are also scored. The original crew of the Titanic would have scored 19 (according to the percentage rescued) and you should do better than that. I’ll be honest, the scoring left a bit to be desired.

What did you think?

IMG_1629Components (Nice): So, lets start with the fancy little spiral book which serves as your game board. It is fantastic and I love how it provides a nice backdrop to the whole game. It represents the sinking ship surprisingly well and adds to the energy of the game when the pages flip and in a mad panic the passengers run to the next un-flooded deck. Even as a solo game, this mechanic adds a nice amount of tenseness to the game. I would like to see more games make use of something similar. I think it also kept the cost of the game down to around $25 bucks…but that is conjecture on my part.

Game-play (Fine): I was a bit taken aback when I first opened SOS Titanic up and saw that it was basically cooperative solitaire with Titanic artwork. My first thoughts were “Remember that annoying uncle or sibling who would peer over your shoulder and tell you where to place the Jack? Yeah, everyone is going to be that person in this game.” However, after my first few plays, I realized that it does work. And not only did it work, it is actually fun to plan together a strategy of stacking and moving the passengers and then picking through the deck in order to move/place/rescue new passengers.  The action cards added to the game nicely. It really opened up this game as an example of a cooperative board game that any person will be able to learn quickly and play immediately. It is the perfect opening act to other gateway games that may have unfamiliar mechanics or play too long (such as Pandemic) or be too fiddly for new players (Flash Point: Fire Rescue). The random choice of a crew member also provides an individual player ability but, honestly, they really don’t add that much to the game-play other than introducing the concept of variable player powers to players unfamiliar to the mechanism.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed playing this game solo. My prime directive of gaming is to have fun with other people so I don’t tend towards solo or even 2-player games. However, this was a solid game to play solo and it was really easy to fall into a few rounds of play (say, as easy as it is to play a couple of games of solitaire).

Also, I can’t reiterate enough how awesome it is when a game designer utilizes an older mechanic in a way that is fresh and new.

Theme (Surprising): While skeptical at first, the flip-book, adds a tactile element element of time through the turning of pages and creates a narrative feel which appeals to my inner librarian (i love books…). The game-play overall connects well with the premise of a sinking ship – especially the mad dash to an un-flooded deck after a deck sinks at the turn of a page. All this clicked for me – creating a tense experience for solo play and a nice feeling of “we are all in this together” for cooperative play. The art on the cards and flip-book are lovely. My only complaint is, again,  with the individual crew member abilities. While the Captain and the First Officer have abilities appropriate to their station, the rest seemed to be rather tacked on. But despite that flaw, each of the crew is an actual crew member and historically accurate. So there is that…

Bottom Line: While the decision space is small, the theme comes through nicely and the game is enjoyable to play for the entire range of players (1-5). Add to that simple game-play, a quick set-up and a familiar setting and SOS Titanic is the perfect game for emerging gamers interested in cooperative play but still testing the waters of more difficult and involved games. It is also one of the few solo experiences I really enjoyed and would play repeatedly. One tiny complaint is concerning the scoring. It is very similar to Hanabi in that you strive to top your last score and I really appreciated that they included the score of the original Titanic (19 passengers per 60) but I would have liked some tiered level of reference to determine how well we were doing over time – like including a rookie or hero level score.

Positives:

  • Quick set-up and easy to teach.
  • Familiar mechanics for non/emerging gamers.
  • Appropriate but not overwhelming amount of tension.
  • Actually fun to play solo.

Issues: 

  • Replay-ability. It seems that a good group of players will be able to solve this game quickly and then interest will flag.
  • Lack of tough decisions. This was where the intersection of mechanics and theme crashed. I expect hard decisions when determining who gets saved from a sinking ship.
  • Player Interaction: It can get routine and I think an added variant where certain crew members have hidden objectives would be an interesting twist.

Would you rather?

Would you  rather play SOS Titanic or Forbidden Island/Desert? The price points are similar and it was nice to see something in the entry-level cooperative game category that wasn’t from Matt Leacock so for the time being, I would take SOS Titanic but I don’r expect that to hold.

Would you rather pl… Hold it right there. I am not going to go through a litany of co-ops to find the one or two I prefer over SOS Titanic. That is just rude and it besmirches the memory of those people lost at sea on that fateful night. Listen, this game is basing its core mechanic on something as innocuous as Solitaire. SOLITAIRE for crimminy’s sake! And it works…it works well! The mechanic comes standard on every PC in existence. Nothing is more familiar to anyone than that game and as such it makes it perfect as a gateway game. Now, if it didn’t work well, then we would have issues. But, as it stands, it works wonderfully and in order for me to introduce this game to person completely unfamiliar to modern board games I have to ask only two questions…

  1. Have you ever played solitaire?
  2. Have you heard of the Titanic?

If the answer to one of those questions is yes, then the prerequisites are met. It isn’t perfect and it probably isn’t for some of the more experienced gamers out there but even they would have a few fun play-through’s.

About John Pappas

I'm John ~ a short, mustachioed Library Director of a small branch library outside of Philly. I'm a father, geek, librarian and zen practitioner. I wear glasses, play board games and tend to read pretty much anything that comes across my desk. I organize and host three gaming groups at my library ~ The Golden Gamers (65+), Tabletop Gaming at the Library, and a Game Design Guild. The name of this column "Roll for Fire" comes from my love of Flash Point: Fire Rescue [ and cooperative games in general] and the desire I have to watch it all burn down.

  One Response to “Solitaire at Sea: A Review of SOS Titanic”

  1. That wondelful!! Thank you for publish.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.