Monday, November 09, 2015

Game: Captain, My Captain

The Captain is Dead by Joe Price and J T Smith, published by The Game Crafter.

So how about, after all this political crud, we do a real GAME review in this space?

Here's the story: I have a Monday night gaming group. About 4-8 of us gather at a friend's place. For a long time we were playtesting D&D Next/5th Edition in the Barrowmaze setting, run by Steve Winter (and he wants to talk about that, it's his purview). On completing that, we shifted over to a Monday Night Boardgame night, and play stuff from the old to the new. Here's one of the new ones.

The Captain is Dead is set aboard a rather ... familiar-seeming starship, and bad things have happened. The jump engines are down. Various random systems have failed. Aliens are boarding. Oh, and worst of all, the Captain, the man who always can figure a way out of these messes, is dead, and the players have to figure out how to survive without him.

The players control characters who are also ... rather familiar. The Science Officer. The Chief Engineer. The Medical Officer. The Transporter Chief. Not to mention The Hologram, The Ensign, the Counselor, and the red-shirted Crew Man (who never gets wounded, but is always killed immediately, and replaced with another identical Red Shirt, making him immortal). All of them have special strengths, and the purpose of the game is to pool those resources, in the face of rapidly decaying infrastructure and enemy ships to get the Jump Core back online and warp out.

I'm not a fan of co-operative board games, often because they are not always that co-operative. In Betrayal at the House on the Hill, for example, you're all exploring the haunted house until someone becomes the Big Bad, so everything you've done up to that point is pretty much setting up the board for someone's sudden but inevitable betrayal. The Captain is Dead keeps everyone co-operative from beginning to end, and crafts several mechanisms that ratchets up the tension while encouraging player co-operation. Each turn becomes a group discussion of actions, reactions, and planning as they group strives to get the Jump Core back online. Our gang has played it twice now, and each time was a near thing for survival.

The game mechanics have a lot going for it. The character roles are color co-ordinated, so you can either have a Weapons Officer (who is good at using the torpedoes) or a Soldier (who is good at taking on invading aliens) but not both. Each role has a base number of abilities that it adds to its actions, plus a additional ability that both helps out the team and adds to that character. Bad things happen as a result of the deck, which is litterally stacked against you. The easy disasters (Weapons Array is out, Aliens board) are in the early going, but if you get deep into the deck, you encounter starship extinction-level events that would wipe you out on a good day.

I remember our starship - You wore red, the aliens wore black
(Photo by Anne Trent)
The board itself is very simple, consisting of starship positions and hallways. You can transport between the positions easily, unless the transporter is on the fritz (of course), in which case it has to be repaired. Oh, and sometimes the doors all lock. Oh, and if aliens show up in your area, you become wounded and can only move one space until you get the medical bay. Oh, and there can be random space anomalies that mean that you can't do anything if you're alone, or can't do anything is anyone is with you (and in some cases, both effects can be at work).

The art on the board and the cards is colorful and iconic, and the style is Starfleet via the Communist side of the Spanish Civil War. The increasing deadliness of the event cards mean that the clock is ticking, and every small victory (negating a card, solving an anomaly, getting a tool) is one more step towards you eventual goal, and feels right and rewarding. It is a co-operative game that rewards co-operation and planning, so that every turn is a group discussion on how to navigate the most recent disaster that has been thrown into your path.

A lot of fun. Highly recommended. The game was originally kickstarted, but can be purchased at The Game Crafter.

More later