The Captain is Dead – First Play
“Scanners are offline, an unknown hostile ship is powering lasers, and The Captain is Dead!”
It’s every crewman’s worst nightmare. Things are bad, but if you don’t do something quickly the entire crew will perish in any number of unfortunate ways. This is the premise of The Captain is Dead: A co-operative game for 2 to 7 players who take on the role of specialist crew on-board an intergalactic Starship. They must do all they can to reduce the threats around them and get the Jump Core back online so they can escape their fate.
Designed by JT Smith and Joe Price, and published by Alderac Entertainment Group, this game is a nod to the classic Sci-fi space exploration shows like Star Trek and Lost in Space, where men, women and aliens in brightly coloured uniforms perform key roles which include Engineer, Science Officer, Command and Diplomat, and must use their skills to keep the ships systems in good working order and fight any hostile aliens that attempt to board their ship.
In our first game, four of us played vital roles, such as Admiral, whose main function was to enact Battle Plans, which gave us extra skills or helped balance the board in our favour in some way. We also had the Chief Engineer who was very good at repairing systems. The Medical Officer kept us from being injured and dealt with any anomalies that came our way, and finally, The Crewman helped us as a jack of all trades - his shtick being that if he got injured, he died, but came back as another crewman on the bridge (a nod to the ‘Red Shirt’ theory that their life expectancy is quite low).
The skill system was quite interesting. Each player started with a hand of skill cards. When using a skill, a player may be required to discard these cards from their hand to complete a task, especially the more difficult ones, although certain characters come with discounts on certain skills. For example, The Admiral, the character I was playing, had a Command discount of 2. This meant that I would have only had to spend one Command Skill card to perform and Override action (usually 3 Command).
Ship systems remaining active for as long as possible seemed key to a successful strategy and once we had the External Scanners online, we were able to see threats to the ship before they hit us. As the game goes on the threats increase in severity, so managing these seemed to be vital in the endgame.
Anomalies are threats that remain in play until they are overcome, usually by spending Science Skill cards, and Enemy ships, which usually have a negative effect on Shields, may be blown up by using the Torpedo Tube. Mastering a balance of keeping systems online, as well as the shields can be tricky, and frustrating if you’re unable to do all that you want to do during your turn, but that is all part of the fun.
The colourful game board and characters are reminiscent of the golden age of science fiction. The transparent but colourful standees have a retro comic look reminiscent of Flash Gordon or The Forbidden Planet, and the cards look like menus from the computers in Star Trek.
In our first game we did surprisingly well, and managed to complete the objective without too much difficulty. I think we had a good balance of characters though, and we may have struggled without an engineer or medical officer. It was a lot of fun though, and it took approximately 90 minutes to play. I could see that if we meandered or struggled to get the requisite skill cards, we might have run into the more difficult threats, which might have had us beat. The game also has the facility to make it harder by increasing the number of repair stages to complete the Jump Core, and reducing the ships shields at the start of the game. I think there is some replayability in this game, as there are loads of characters to choose from, and its short play time mean it’s a nice game to end a night of gaming on. It weighs in at around the £45 RRP mark, but the quality is definitely there. I might have liked the counters to have been uniquely shaped meeples, rather than plastic standees, but that’s always a customization option for the hobbyist amongst you. All in all, I recommend The Captain is Dead for its theme and its relative ease of play, but if you like games a bit more challenging, I’d advise upping the difficulty level for more experienced players of co-operative style games. 7/10 SM