Review of The Captain is Dead — Part I. The Unboxing and First Impressions

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I remember when The Captain is Dead was on Kickstarter back in 2014! It was a cooperative board game in a space setting.  It was also a game that used the Games Crafter for fulfillment! Most Kickstarter games use China for fulfillment (as it’s soooo much cheaper), but here was a Kickstarter that was successful using a much lower threshold printing service! It looked cool! I wanted to pick it up! ………. and it was $50. Ooph. Don’t get me wrong: it looked cool, but $50 seemed a bit much for a game I didn’t know much about. I kept thinking I wanted a copy of this game … maybe I’d ask for it for Christmas …

Well, time came and went and I forgot about this game. In the meantime, apparently AEG picked up the game and had it printed! I picked it up fairly recently  for $39 from FunAgain! And it had with a much better aesthetic and much better pieces than the original!

Components

The components are pretty good.

The cards look good, but they aren’t linen-coated.  The rulebook is fairly picture-heavy and looks good (but we’ll talk about the actual contents below).  The board looks really nice: a lot of the locations are shiny:

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It’s kind of hard to see from the picture, but certain spots look “shiny”, almost like they are stickers on the board.  I was worried that would be too distracting when I was playing, but it wasn’t.  It just looks shiny.

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The markers are kind of interesting: they remind me of Shrinky-Dinks from when I was a kid! (Does anyone remember Shrinky Dinks?  They were clear plastic sheets you’d draw on.  The sheets would “cook” in the stove (seriously) and shrink and harden significantly!  But I digress…).

The components look really cool, but it’s a little hard to distinguish some of the characters.  All the aliens (the bottom 12 from the picture above) are easy to distinguish, but the characters that players use are somewhat hard to distinguish.  Part of it is the art style: it’s kinda cool, blocky style, but sometimes gets in the way.

I was slightly annoyed that I had to figure out which marker went with which base:

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There are no directions in the box for how to put together the markers!  You just have to intuit this out!  It wasn’t hard, but it was kind of annoying.  Who on earth would make markers so hard to put together?

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Oh.  Right. I did the same thing for CO-OP.  Curse you, irony!  Moving on …

Once I got all the pieces together, I have to say, they look pretty cool!

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They look very spacey and very thematic.  After being annoyed at punching everything out, I have to say, I like how this looks.

Star Trek: Let’s Not Get Sued!

The Captain is Dead is NOTHING like Star Trek, except for the billions and billions of similarities.  Seriously, one of the reasons I wanted to get this game is because it looks like you could kind of play the crew of the Enterprise: it’s a cooperative game in a Star Trek universe.  And it is Star Trek: you know it, I know it, we all know it. Shields? Transporters?  C’mon.

One gripe I have it with the color scheme.  In the game, you have different colored cards representing COMMAND (blue) and SCIENCE (green)and ENGINEERING (orange) and some other types (TACTICAL (red).)

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Does anyone else think there might have been some better colors to choose?  Ahem.

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Seriously, I feel like this is a major missed opportunity.  When I think of command, I think of Kirk’s gold uniform!  When I think of Engineering, I think of Scottie’s red uniform and Science/Spock in blue.  I know it’s a minor quibble, but it really could have evoked the theme a little bit more.  Of course, if you like Star Trek: The Next Generation, the colors are a little better:

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This is a little closer: gold is ENGINEERING (good match), the bridge and TACTICAL is red (but COMMAND is still blue) and MEDICAL is green.

So, I guess the maker’s of The Captain Is Dead were ST:TNG fans more than the original series.

How Many Players?

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Um, how many players?  Can I play 1 player?  I looked on the box and in the front of the rulebook and had trouble finding any indication of player count.  It’s not obvious on the box.  But you gotta look hard:

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On the back of the box in little, teeny letters is the player count.   I think this is the ONLY place in the entire game where it lists the player count.   I think this really should have gone in the Rulebook, and  we start our battle with the rulebook.

Oh, the Rulebook!

The rules are inconsistent and have some extraneous sentences.  It tries to be funny (and I laughed), but I’d rather they were a little bit more coherent.   The way it explains “pick a character card and marker” is convoluted.  For a while, I thought they meant “choose one at random and then take more”.  The rules ramble for a paragraph when one sentence would do: pick a character card and take it’s appropriate standee.  That’s all they had to say.

They also list a lot of special abilities of location, but they don’t really give any more information than is on the card for that location.  I can understand being terse on the text of a card (where space is limited), but if there are any intricate details, the rulebook is the place to explain that away and it doesn’t.  For example: The Internal Sensors.  Um, how do the cards at the Internal Sensors refresh?  Am I allowed to take any card there?  Or just the last? Can I spend an action to refresh?  Do I have to wait until the last one is chosen and then they get automatically refreshed?  So many questions AND THIS IS IMPORTANT!  Getting these cards is critical to winning the game!  So, I just made a choice and moved forward.   I plan to consult the FAQ (I assume there is one somewhere) tonight.

The rulebook was enough to get me going.  I was able to get a game underway.  But I’ll be honest, I expected a much better rulebook.  This game has gone from Kickstarter to being picked up by AEG!  It’s had plenty of evolve and get better.  I still felt like I was reading the Kickstarter rules.

Solo Rules: What SHOULD I Do?

There is a section in the back that talks about how to play solo. (So, shouldn’t the player count on the back of the box been 1-7 instead of 2-7? But, I digress)  The rules say that you should play 3-4 characters as a solo player.  3-4?????!?!?!?!  I have never played this game before!  Each character has special powers, and I already have a lot of reading for all the locations in the game.  There is too much context switching (at least for a novice and first-time player) to run 3-4 characters effectively.

I’ll be honest, this SOLO mode feels really tacked on. So, I kind of made up my own rules just to get through a game.  I played one character, that’s right kids, one.  All I had to do to get this to work was (a) up the hand limit  (b) don’t do the first 5 “bad news” cards.   I basically made the game easier.  That’s it!  And I was able to get through a game and learn the rules.  Why couldn’t they have done this?  I feel like the SOLO mode was tacked on, and I really don’t think it would have taken much to make it so one player could play. I get “later on”, when you know the game playing 3-4 characters.  But, as an intro player, they needed some rules for a solo player working one character.  At this point, I need to issue a mandatory reminder of Saunders’ Law.

So, can my Janitor saved the ship?

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I thought it would be funny to have the Janitor play solo. Can the Janitor save the ship? It turns out, he’s a good character to play by himself.

Thoughts on Gameplay

My lone Janitor saved the ship! He repaired the Warp Code (pardon me), the Jump Core with Windex and was able to save the ship!

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I was very worried after the missteps (with the component punchout, the poor rulebook, and the poorly-done solo mode) that I had gone too far down the well.   I was a little cranky when I started the game.

But, you know what?  I had fun!  My Janitor cruised around the ship killing aliens, launching torpedoes, fixing the Jump Core, doing research to get the Epinephrine Ventilation, and getting some Battle Plans.  I tried to do a little bit of everything to get a sense of the game.

In the end, it was fun.  My first playthrough was a success and I had fun.  I think others will enjoy this.  Other people will have a much more positive experience than I did because they won’t have to suffer through the rulebook!  I will teach them!  (That’s a different torture). I really expected the game to be a little more refined and polished, especially after AEG picked it up, but it’s still fun.

We’ll see what happens in Season 2: The Wrath of Continuing!  Watch the skies for Part II of this review!

 

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Part II: Review of Zephyr

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If you recall, I did a preliminary review of the cooperative steampunk game Zephy:Winds of Change about a month ago.   Since then, I’ve had a chance to play Zephyr a lot more, both with friends and by myself.  What do I think?

Building The Deck Of Your Ship!

So,  this is kind of a deckbuilding game!  You are building your ship by buying new systems with scrap (the currency of the game) and slowing adding these systems to your ship throughout the game.  But what that means is that you are adding new cards to your deck of actions.  On your turn, you draw cards and can perform some of those actions.  The more cards you have, the more options you have.  (A lame joke here is that you add cards to build the deck of your ship, so it’s a deckbuilding game!)

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This game has a neat mechanic (no pun intended, as a lot of the characters in the game are mechanics) where the number of cards you can actually play is based on the number of crew you have (+1 for the implicit captain).  So, in the picture above, I can play three action cards: One for the imperial, one for the rogue, and one for the captain (implicit position).

This is further complicated by some constraints.  The first: you can only draw “a certain number of cards per turn”.  This depends on the ship you have (and usually, the number of upgraded systems you have).  Early in the game, you can only draw 2 or 3 cards.  Later, hopefully, you can draw a lot more.

The reason you want a lot of cards per turn is that each crew can only do certain things.  In the example above, the rogue can only do “evade” type actions, and the imperial can only do “attack” type actions. The captain, who know his ship, can do any type of action.

So,  that’s a twist on deckbuilding: only certain cards can be played by certain player types.  That’s new and interesting!

But, there is NO CULLING mechanism to get rid of weaker cards.  All you can really do is augment (add to) your action deck by buying new systems!  It appears that the only way to get rid of an action is to lose a battle, and (maybe) lose an action  card.  But it’s random!  So you have NO control over this.   After playing a few times, it’s not the end of the world that there is no culling mechanism.  But it feels like it should be there.

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Thoughts

In general, do I like this game?  Yes.  Is it a good game?  Yes.  Is it a very good game?  The components are very good and push it that direction.  Is it a great game? Probably not.

At the end of the day, it is a little too random to be a great game.  I roll for scrap, I roll for systems from a commander, I roll for rewards rolls, I roll for attack, I roll for critical hits.   So, I could be limping along because of bad rolls and my friend soars completely upgraded.   It’s mitigated by the fact that this is a cooperative game, but it’s still hard to sit back and watch your friends smear the enemies while you can barely do anything. I don’t feel like I can do a lot of planning because I just get what the dice give me.

I was also hoping for a little more exploration: the first few times just felt like attack-slogs, where every single turn was combat combat combat.   We started doing a lot more salvage runs, and that gave the game a lot more variety (the salvage runs draw cards from a deck).   It reminded me of the encounters in Arkham Horror a little: some great flavor text and some interesting and thematic situation.  Really!  The salvage deck kind of salvaged (yuk yuk yuk) the game for me by making it feel just a little bit more of an exploration game.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun game!  But it really is a lot about attacking and defending airships, while building an action deck.

I wish there was more exploring; I wish there was more planning for building your ship.  I think building your ship is the FUNNEST part of the game, and it feels just a little too random.

If you just want a fun “fly around a shoot bad guys together” game with amazing components, this really is a very good game.   The randomness may turn you off,  but if you accept that, this game can be a lot of fun.  (To be fair, this is MUCH LESS random than “Tales of Arabian Nights”)

I give it a 6.9 out of 10.   It would get a 7 if it were just a little less random.