Radio Review #54 – SOS Titanic



(2013 – Ludonaute)


“We treat mishaps like sinking ships….and I know that I don’t want to be out to drift….”


French game designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, while creating noteworthy works on their own, have become renowned for their game design collaborations, including the Mr. Jack series, Dice Town, Cyclades, and Cleopatra. Consistently, Cathala and Maublanc have always been able to find a rich balance between a game’s theme and its included mechanics. With their newest release, SOS Titanic, the pair have delved into the cooperative genre, casting players in the role of crew members aboard the sinking Titanic.

It’s just before midnight. Passengers are settling down for the night aboard the RMS Titanic, the largest luxury liner to sail the North Atlantic. Just days before, a mix of European immigrants looking to start a new life in America, along with the wealthy and famous departed from the United Kingdom, full of adventure and excitement. Tonight however, begins a nightmare. SOS Titanic retells the infamous tale of the sinking Titanic, and the tragic attempt to load passengers into the limited number of lifeboats. The mechanics found in the game touch on similar elements found in Patience, or as it’s more commonly known, Solitaire. While Solitaire is played by oneself, the designers behind SOS Titanic have implemented materials to provide for a game that can support up to 5 players.






– Titanic Booklet



– Crew Members cards



– 1st Class Passenger cards (two sets, each numbered 1-13)



– 2nd Class Passenger cards (two sets, each numbered 1-17)



– Action cards






A booklet is included with the game as a reference to the various phases of the sinking of the Titanic. There are 10 phases in total, beginning with the ship’s initial impact with the iceberg, and ending when the ship has completely sunk beneath the frigid North Atlantic waters. At the beginning of the game, the book is laid out in the central play area, beginning on the first page (referenced by the number “10” in the top left corner).



There are two types of passengers on the ship. The 1st class passengers (purple) consists of the rich and wealthy, numbered from 1 to 13. Thematically, the numbering of the passengers coincide with their priority order in regards to being rescued from the ship. The lower the number of the card, the higher the priority, starting with the lifeboats themselves, then the children, next the women, and finally the men and crew members. The 2nd class passengers (yellow) are made up of the various immigrants, and are ordered in a similar way to the 1st class passengers, except that they include numbers 1 to 17. Both classes of passengers include two sets of cards, therefore there will be a total of 4 lifeboats available (2 purple and 2 yellow). At the beginning of the game, all of the passenger cards are shuffled together to create the passenger deck. Then cards from this deck are placed out in columns, in the following way:


– Below the 1st section of the ship, 3 cards are placed face down, with the 4th card played face up.

– At the 2nd section of the ship, 5 cards are placed face down, with the 6th card played face up.

– At the 3rd section of the ship, 7 cards are placed face down, with the 8th card played face up.

– Finally, at the 4th section of the ship, 9 cards are placed face down, with the 10th card played face up.




The last two sections of the ship are left empty for now. Passengers will eventually flee to these sections of the ship as it continues to sink. The remaining passenger cards are left in the passenger deck. These cards will be drawn by players during the game.




Each player will take the role of one of the notable crew members aboard the Titanic. Some of the crew members are limited to the number of players in the game, as referenced on the top right portion of the card. For instance, wireless operator Jack Phillips shows two icons on the top right section of his role card, meaning that he can be used in any game that has at least two players. He would not be available as a crew member role to a player in a solo game. All crew member cards that can be used in the game are shuffled, and one is dealt to each player. These roles will give players unique special abilities that only they will be able to perform during the game. Jack Phillips special ability is that when he would play an action card, he can instead choose to play another player’s action card as opposed to his own.




There is also a deck of action cards that players will be able to use during the game for additional abilities. These cards are shuffled together to make up the action deck. Each crew member card references the number of action cards the owning player will be allowed to draw at the beginning of the game. This is listed on the top left corner of the crew member card. Taking a look again at wireless operator, Jack Phillips. We can see that he begins the game with 1 action card. The player will draw this card from the action card deck and place it near his crew member card. After the passenger cards have been set, the crew members dealt, and their action cards received, SOS Titanic is ready to play. The play area after setup should look something like this:








As mentioned before, SOS Titanic can play anywhere from 1 to 5 players. In multiplayer sessions of the game, a player is to complete his entire turn before moving clockwise to the next player. Players will attempt to coordinate and organize the rescue of passengers onto the various lifeboats. Even in the climactic disaster that was the sinking of the Titanic, passengers refuse to share sections of the ship, as well as lifeboats with those of a different class. Therefore, 1st class passengers will only get into lifeboats with other 1st class passengers, leaving the 2nd class passengers to fend for their own separate lifeboats. High society can be a peculiar, if not ugly critter.



1.) Moving Passengers – The first action a player can take on his turn, is to maneuver and coordinate the various Passengers into and from the various sections (columns) of the ship. If you are familiar with Solitaire, you’ll know that the only cards that can be moved in this way are the face up cards at the bottom of each column. Passenger cards can be moved and placed on top of other cards, as long as they meet all of the following rules:


– Passenger cards must be placed so that they fall in numerical descending order from top to bottom.

– 1st class and 2nd class passengers can not both be present at the same section of the ship (can not be present in the same column).

– All face up cards of a column can be moved to add onto another column, as long as both of the previous rules still apply after placement.

– Players can move passengers to a new, unused part of the ship, as long as the top card in the column is the highest available passenger card for that class in the game (the #13 passenger for 1st class, and the #17 passenger for 2nd class).

– A lifeboat card (#1 card in each class) can be moved from a ship’s column to the side of the central play area. Passenger cards can then be placed on top of the lifeboat card as long as they are placed in increasing numerical order (2, 3, 4, 5, etc) and also meet the class color of the lifeboat.



For instance, it is the beginning of Player A’s turn. The four current columns show a 2nd class lifeboat, a #4 1st class passenger, a #17 2nd class passenger, and a #8 2nd class passenger.



Player A begins by moving the #17 2nd class passenger to an open column, thus the next card of the previous column is revealed to be a #2 2nd class passenger.



He then places the lifeboat to the side of the board, thus revealing a #6 1st class passenger.



The #2 2nd class passenger can then be placed onto the 2nd class lifeboat. At this point, a #10 1st class passenger is revealed. Player A can no longer make any movements amongst the remaining passengers, as there are no more legal ways to move them.


Moving passengers on a player’s turn is completely optional, though a player can perform this action as many times as they wish, as long as they correspond with the placement rules. As the Titanic sinks from left to right, it is important to focus on the left side of the ship more than the right at the beginning of the game. As I’ll cover later, when certain sections of the ship start to sink, it can really hamper your rescue efforts as people run to pile into the remaining sections of the ship. While moving passengers is an optional action that a player can take at the beginning of his turn, players must take one of the next two available actions before their turn ends; either playing a special action, or adding new passengers from the below decks.



2.) Playing Special Actions – If a player chooses, he can play one of his available special action cards. These cards can provide ways to manipulate the passenger draw deck, alter a ship’s column, or filter through the Action card deck itself, amongst various other special actions. If the player chooses to resolve an Action card on his turn, that card is discarded and the player’s turn is over. He will not be allowed to add new passengers from the below decks. Let’s take a look at some of the special Actions cards available to players during the game.



Collapsible Boat


When a player uses the Collapsible Boat, he will place the card on the far right side of the ship, thus creating an additional section where players can place passengers. The player that placed the card is immediately allowed to move one column of face up passengers to this new section. Unlike the normal rules for starting a new column, any numbered passenger card can be placed to start the column for the Collapsible Boat section.


Player B has played the Collapsible Boat as a special action. After placing the boat, he chooses to move the 2nd class passengers in the leftmost column (#’s 3-6) to this new section. This would then free up the leftmost column and the next face down card would be flipped up, thus revealing a #11 1st class passenger.





Get Ready!


When a player uses the Get Ready! action card, he is allowed to draw the top 5 cards off of the passenger deck, look at them, then return them back into the deck as they see fit. This can include placing some at the bottom of the deck, spreading them throughout the deck, etc. This can be very powerful when attempting to add new passengers from the below decks, as we’ll discuss in bit.



Save Time


Players will be required to discard some of the passenger cards when attempting to add new passengers from the below decks. Thematically, you can view this as the crew members not allowing a rush of passengers to the top deck at one time, trying to reduce the level of panic and an attempt at order. After players are left with an empty draw pile (and full discard pile), the ship will begin taking more water. When a player uses the Save Time action card, he card take all of the passenger cards in the discard pile, and reshuffle them back into the draw deck, thus prolonging the time between the ship taking more water.



3.) Add New Passengers from the Decks Below – As the Titanic sinks, passengers flee the decks below and make their way to the main deck. These passengers are located in the passenger draw deck and consists of all the remaining passenger cards that were left over after the initial setup of the game. Players will need to get these passengers onto the main deck in order to be able to rescue them later. Players can attempt to perform this action as opposed to playing a special Action card.


When a player chooses to do so, he will draw any number of cards from the passenger deck, as long as they fall in range of the numbers listed on his crew member’s card. So for instance, a player controlling 2nd Officer, Charles Lightoller would be allowed to draw between 1 and 5 passenger cards when taking this action. Players must not look at the cards until they have drawn the number of cards they chose. After doing so, they will look at the cards and must choose one of the cards to place onto one of the columns, following normal placement rules. All the other passenger cards are then placed into a discard pile. If the player is unable to legally place any of the drawn passengers onto a section of a ship, all of the cards are discarded and a new portion of the ship will sink, by flipping the booklet to the next page. The player is then allowed to draw a new Action card, but only if he was not able to place any passengers.


Player B controls 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller, and thus is allowed to draw up to 5 passenger cards when attempting to add passengers from the decks below. He chooses to draw 3 cards and receives a #11 2nd class passenger, a #6 1st class passenger, and a #7 1st class passenger. Because none of these passengers can legally be placed on any of the available sections of the ship, they are placed into a discard pile, and the player has failed the action. Because of failing, the ship begins to sink again.








The sections of the ship (various columns) each contain a certain number of blue circles located on the booklet above where the columns are located. These represent sections of the ship that have not yet taken on water. Once all of the blue circles have disappeared from the column, that section is considered, fully flooded. Passengers will stay at a particular section as long as it is not fully flooded. However, once flooded, the passengers will flee to the next adjacent section of the ship. The Titanic can take on water in one of two ways; either by not being able to place passengers when attempting to add passengers from the decks below, or by not being able to draw any more cards from the passenger deck (this would occur when all passenger cards are in the discard pile).

Each time one of these two events occur, the booklet is flipped to the next page. When doing so, you’ll notice that one of the blue circles is now filled with the sea’s water, thus representing that the section has begun to flood. When all circles of a particular column would have been filled, that column disappears, and passengers can no longer be present at that section of the ship.


For instance, players are currently on page 8 of the booklet. The far left column has one more blue circle, therefore it has taken on water, but has not yet been fully flooded. Player A needs to draw new passenger cards from the passenger deck, but they are all in the discard pile, therefore ship takes on more water, and the booklet is flipped to page 7. The far left section of the ship has sunk (no more blue circles above that column) and passengers will then flee to the adjacent section to the right.



When passengers flee to a new section of the ship, all the passenger cards from the fully flooded section are combined with all the passenger cards from the adjacent section. They are then shuffled together to make up a new column of passengers, with the only face up passenger being at the bottom of the column. Having passengers flee to a new section of the ship can cause a lot of chaos and confusion, thus making it harder to organize and ferry people into the lifeboats in a timely manner.


Taking a look at the above example, since the far left section of the ship has fully flooded, all of the passengers from the that section of the ship are added to the 5 passenger cards of the column to the right of them. Even though the players have already started a chain of 3 passenger cards in that column, they would need to shuffle all of the cards together to make up a new column of passengers. This would negate the previous work they did, and would basically be starting the column over. Only now with a lot more passengers to deal with.




End-Game Conditions:


Eventually, the ship will fully sink, as passengers run out of sections to flee to. Unless players were miraculously able to save everyone off of the ship, there will be some passengers that meet their end in the icy North Atlantic waters. Players will score points according to the passengers they were able to save by use of the lifeboats. Players will add up these three different sets of points to get their total:


– The highest passenger value in each lifeboat.

– The number on the page of the booklet where the game ended (if players failed to save everyone, this number would be “0”.)

– The largest consecutive set of passenger cards that have an anchor icon on them, amongst all of the 1st class passengers. (This is only applied to the total score if players were able to save everyone).

– The largest consecutive set of passenger cards that have an anchor icon on them, amongst all of the 2nd class passengers. (Again, this is only applied to the total score if players were able to save everyone).




For instance, the set of players were not able to save everyone before ending the game. They were however able to save a full set of 1st class passengers on one lifeboat, a full set of 2nd class passengers on another lifeboat, and six 1st class passengers on the third lifeboat. Therefore, the players would have scored a total of 36 points (13 + 17 + 6).






With SOS Titanic, designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc have been able to take the simple mechanics of Solitaire and incorporate an intuitive theme, along with an interesting cooperative element. As each page turns, the Titanic begins its downward descent. Players really get a sense of panic and stress as they hustle to gather as many passengers on the lifeboats before the next section sinks, and passengers merge with the adjacent sections of passengers. As the game moves along, less and less time is given between these flooding sections, and players begin to understand that not being able to rescue everyone is inevitable. It’s quite a clever way of merging mechanics and theme together.

It should be noted that the game is designed in a way in which a majority of session will probably end with passengers still aboard the ship when it sinks. Thematically, this works and doesn’t necessarily cause players to lose the game, as points are still calculated and a score given depending on how successful players were at filling their lifeboats. However, for some players (mainly those that feel the need for 100% accomplishment), this could be a bit discouraging. It’s not something that should affect the enjoyment of the game, but it is worth mentioning it for those people, nonetheless.

SOS Titanic is rare in that is scales extremely well as both a solo and cooperative game. Solo players will have more direct decision-making between the two mandatory actions each turn, while cooperative players will be able to strategically plan out their actions to help compliment each of their crewmember’s unique talents. The game does a good job of balancing the difficulty level between solo and cooperative plays, and is challenging in both settings. Within SOS Titanic, players will find a greatly enhanced solitaire-style game for solo players, as well as a unique cooperative experience for multiple players.



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