In the Essen halls, amidst huge boxes filled with minis, the countless CCG booths, the big names all clamouring for your attention and your Euros, some companies play it cool. They know they make good games and all that’s needed is to show them off. It’s a Field of Dreams scenario – if you build it, they will come – except this time it’s all about the games. One such company is Ludonaute, who this year stepped up with two titles that have left many gamers quietly impressed. Lewis & Clark will be written about later – today, it’s all about SOS Titanic.
Initially, I wasn’t impressed with Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc’s collaboration based on rescuing as many passengers as possible from the doomed liner. It looked pretty enough, sure, and was well produced, but boiling everything down it just looked like another version of Patience. I can play that with a standard deck of cards, so why the hell would ask you lot to fork out more money on this? Well, gentle reader, the reason is this: SOS Titanic is really rather special.
Players each take a role of one of the ship’s crew on that fateful night in 1912. Your objective, of course, is to get as many of the passengers into lifeboats, saving them from the sinking ship and scoring your group a number of points. Being the Titanic, the passengers are split into two classes, with the posh people (who have purple backgrounds on their cards) numbered in two sets of 1-13 and the more populous second class folk comprising of two sets of cards going from 1-17. With class rules as they were at the time – watch Downton Abbey for a surprisingly accurate portrayal – the two classes shall never mix, meaning that your crew will struggle to get everyone off the boat alive.
(Minor aside: there were in fact three different classes aboard Titanic, the lowest being those in Steerage. However, the three groups were very much kept apart, and very few of those in the lower decks were actually made aware that the ship was sinking until it was too late. Most of the 1500+ lives lost were either passengers from Steerage or members of the crew. Anyway…)
The much needed lifeboats are all numbered 1, so with only four of them in the game effectively acting as our aces in the game of Patience, things will be tough. However, with each crew member having a specific ability and the presence of incredibly useful Action Cards, your task is made a little simpler. That’s not to say that SOS Titanic isn’t tough though… in the many games I’ve played, I have yet to manage getting everyone off in time.
“In time?”, you ask. Indeed, for the game is a slave to history, with play beginning at the moment the iceberg was struck and ending when she sank beneath the Atlantic. Represented by the included spiral bound book, you’ll slowly work your way through to Titanic’s inevitable demise as more and more compartments fill with water and with less space to work with, you’ll have fewer lines of cards to manipulate as play progresses. This turns out to be a surprisingly thematic part of the game, because as you draw cards from the passenger deck in a bid to add them to the lines (hopefully allowing you to move cards around that are already in play) each time the deck runs out the page must be turned. As these go by, the water sinks in and space becomes more limited.
Should a compartment fill entirely, the passengers within panic and flee to the next area. To represent this chaos all cards, both face up and face down, are taken from the two lines and shuffled together. All the hard work you have done to form a beautifully constructed and well ordered line is ruined thanks to the fleeing masses, so you start all over again as the pressure continues. This mechanism also prevents the often seen occurrence of getting locked out of a standard game of Patience, where you have no more legal moves at your disposal. Flipping a page or two ahead means that while the lines of cards must be shuffled, there’s at least an outside chance of the right one appearing.
Mercifully, the Action Cards will also allow you to bend the rules somewhat, diving into discard piles to pull out the right person at the right time, or re-order certain lines of passengers, but be warned – the flooding is inevitable, and the more players around the table, the less chance you’ll have to use your abilities and Actions.
Being a co-operative game, SOS Titanic works beautifully as a solo effort, but there’s something to be said for having a captain at your table to order their crew around. It’s a fantastic way to stop the issue of having an alpha player bossing others about – the captain just has to tell them to shut up! After all, the final decision goes to the one at the wheel… they’re going down with the ship, after all, much like the real Titanic crew who are shown in this game. And yes, while this game is an incredibly abstract take on a historical event, to see them all represented is a nice touch. It inspired me to dive into the history of what actually happened on April 14, 1912 and discover some of the stories from that tragic night.
To sum up, SOS Titanic has surprised me in the best way possible. I expected little from the game when I first opened it up, but find myself going back to it time and time again as I try and do better, to get more passengers onto their lifeboats and beat my previous score. The highest numbered passenger on each of your four lifeboats are added together to give you and your crew a final score, and with a current high of only 38 it would seem that there’s plenty of room for improvement in our house. It’s a light gaming experience but one that I will happily recommend, and I’d like to see the team at Ludonaute applauded for putting together something that manages to feel both familiar and new at the same time. Now, time for one more go…
SOS Titanic was first released at Essen 2013 by Ludonaute. Designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, between one and five players can attempt to save as many passengers as possible in games that take around thirty minutes. Copies of the game are available in the UK – Gameslore are selling it for £12.49 – and it will soon be available in the US. More information on the game is available from the Ludonaute site.