A Review of The Captain Is Dead

the-captain-is-deadLet’s just put it out there. Things are bad. They’re really bad.

That means you need to take that game night swagger and stuff it, because you alone, or up to seven of your friends are about to enter a world of hurt (and likely death) as you desperately attempt to stave off the relentless hemorrhaging of a starship under alien attack.

Oh, and one more thing. Spoiler alert! The Captain Is Dead! Here’s another spoiler alert: You and all your buddies are likely dead, too.

 

Theme Heavy, Mechanic Light (In a Good Way)

skillsDesigned by J.T. at The Game Crafter, The Captain Is Dead is a sci-fi themed, cooperative, frantic, and satisfying kick in the ass. In fact, it’s thematic nirvana. You not only get to be the crew member of a starship, your actions during your turn are intuitive and often best suited to your expertise.

As Janitor, that means you’re not stuck cleaning the latrine. In fact, it’s probably time you step up, considering all your teammates are probably scattered and dying throughout the ship.

Gameplay in The Captain Is Dead is all about Actions and Skills.

Each player controls a crew member (or more if you’re soloing or awesome) that has a set number of Actions and Skills printed on the crew member’s card. These skills can include any combination of Command, Engineering, Science and Tactical icons.

skill-cards

A hand of randomly distributed Skill cards serves to round out each player’s arsenal of possibilities. What you end up with is an interesting assortment of characters with diverse skill sets that must work together to repair the ship’s Jump Core (scaled based on how difficult you want the game to be) and “jump” to safety (and victory)!

 

Chaos Engine

An Alert Deck unleashes every kind of interstellar hell upon the ship and crew, and this deck progresses from yellow “easy” Alerts, to orange “middling” Alerts, to red “holy shit we are so dead” Alerts.

Calamities include everything from enemy ships, system failures, alien boarding parties, and the outright destruction of the entire ship. Don’t worry, this colossal failure card will only show up when you’re just about to win. I tease; or am I?

Aside from this gut-wrenching “Game Over” card, each Alert can be overcome by spending Actions and Skills on your turn. And you will most definitely want to fix most of what’s broken, because all the locations around the ship — when they are functioning — serve a unique purpose and provide important benefits.

Here are a few of these locations and benefits:

  • Comm System — Allows you to give or take a skill to or from another player at another location.
  • Teleporter — Teleports any player to any location.
  • External Scanners — The top two Alerts are face-up so you know what’s coming.
  • Torpedo Tube — Prevents an Alert from being drawn or destroys a hostile alien ship.

locations

 

Let’s Do This

tactical-officerAs you move about the ship, The Captain Is Dead is about optimizing the entire crew each turn, sending people to locations where they will be most useful, restocking hands of Skill cards, activating and using undamaged locations, repairing broken systems and shields, destroying enemy ships and slowly but surely repairing the Jump Core.

With so many possibilities and so much at stake, The Captain Is Dead is intrinsically a social game. Talk to your friends, tell them what to do, encourage them, complain, listen, and then do something else.

Ultimately, each player makes a choice, and if the janitor wants to take actions to live out his fantasies of being an Admiral, by all means let him spend his turn drawing Battle Plan cards while the torpedo tubes are offline and friends are dying just outside the War Room. Doing so may prove to be a colossal waste of time, tragically funny, or it may just save the day.

 

Final Thoughts

jump-core The Captain Is Dead is a difficult game to win. It requires perseverance, intelligence and the ability to laugh in the face of rapidly deteriorating odds. It’s the Arkham Horror of sci-fi games.

Even at the “normal” setting, where just four Jump Core repairs are needed to win, the odds are stacked against you. I believe that most groups will find the “novice” or embarrassingly named “coward” setting to be the most realistic starting point, unless my game group is just so horribly inept or unlucky that I’m inadvertently skewing my perspective based on how we’ve tackled this game to date, e.g., we have never won.

As for the “hardcore” and “insane” settings, I’m frankly at a loss for words. Wait, I have a few, “Are you *&#*ing kidding me?”

There’s no satisfaction like working together as a team to overcome enormous odds. Win or lose, true collaboration and camaraderie is the salve that makes a game such as The Captain Is Dead an enjoyable challenge. The motivation to make it through a gauntlet of terrifying failures, and the hope that we will one day prevail, is what keeps us coming back for more.

Also, there’s no apparent end to the seemingly infinite replayability within The Captain Is Dead. With Alert cards coming out at different times, the unique mix of crew members, and the medley of players with their good/bad decisions, you’ll always be finding new and exciting ways to lose.

In the end, when your ship is overrun with aliens, when your shields are at 10%, it’s that dead look in your friends’ eyes that provides solace.

Let’s just face it; misery loves company.

(You can purchase The Captain Is Dead at The Game Crafter.)

Mark Watney in The Martian: In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option:  I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.

the-captain-is-dead-game-bo

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