Review – Starship Captains

Kirk, Picard, or Reynolds?

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Designer Peter B. Hoffgaard

Artist Mergen Erdenebayar & others

Publisher Czech Games Edition

Category Space Exploration

Length 45-120 mins

Release Date 2022

Player Count 1-4

In Starship Captains you and up to 3 other players have recently been promoted to the rank of Captain in the intergalactic Cooperative (Starship Federation). Soon you will be traversing the stars with your slightly used starship, completing missions, fighting pirates, and trying to show everyone that you’re the best new captain there is in the galaxy! So is the game a fun trip to the final frontier, or more of a Kobayashi Maru? Read on for the review!

Review

Before talking about the game in earnest, I just want to stress my often-repeated position of not engaging in the practice of breaking the seal on a game right before playing. Starship Captains is not a difficult game to explain, but there are a lot of options that each player can engage in each turn. But the real problem with opening it 5 minutes before game time will be not only punching out 7 different types of tokens, but you actually have to assemble the ship boards and tokens the first time you play. This might be annoying for some, but it results in the ships having recessed spots to hold your cargo and crew, which is a big plus. I don’t know why they couldn’t have just made molds for the ship figures, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Bottom line, don’t be that host that gets this out the 1st time as everyone’s sitting down. You’ll spend the night learning and setting up instead of playing. 

Setup for 2 players. At the top, the three faction boards, at the bottom, the tech board.

Starship Captains puts you in the lead chair for a starship that has been around the block a few times, even if you haven’t. This is represented by damage tokens that take up spots in your cargo and tech areas, which can’t be filled by useful things until that damage is fixed. Here to help you are your crew, represented by Red (Helm), Yellow (Weapons), and Blue (Science) ensigns, and 1 grey cadet. Cadets can be upgraded to any color ensign with 1 medal, and ensigns can be changed colors with 1 medal or upgraded to commanders with 3 medals. Commanders are powerful crew members because they can either take 2 turns or command a subordinate of the same color to report to the ready room. 

On their turn, each captain can either use a crew member to activate a room or complete a mission. While that sounds really easy, the order in which you complete your actions and who you get to do them is what makes the difference in Starship Captains. Sending the right person to do the right job is imperative to winning the game, and it should be noted that anyone with Action Paralysis may bring the game to a screeching halt on their turn if they aren’t prepared. Also as you play you will have the chance to collect artifacts and android crew members. A pair of artifacts with a matching half each can activate that color room, and androids can go on missions like a wild color or in any mission that requires an android.  Once a crew member is used on a room or mission, they slide into the back of the queue. At the start of a new round, Captains get to slide all but the last three crew into the ready room. This is very satisfying in the 4th round when you have 10 crew members.

Missions are the lifeblood of a good captain, and should be their primary focus. In order to go on a mission, players will have to start their turn on a planet with a mission, then take the mission and slot it in the purple tab by the ship’s transporter. Captains then can assign crew from the ready room, and should match the crew color with each line of the mission if they want those rewards. After they collect the rewards for each line, they flip the card face-down in their area, and reveal a new mission somewhere else. To do this, you take the highest orange numbered triangle still showing, and flip it face-down on your spot. Then take a new mission card and put it in the newly open space. There should never be a yellow ( ! ) spot showing on the board. This mechanism keeps the missions popping up all over the board, and keeps things random each game. Once all of the orange numbered triangles are flipped over, a Pirate Uprising happens. This sounds intimidating, but only results in at most one more pirate token being placed per orange numbered location (5-6 depending on number of players). You can’t place a pirate on a route where there already is one of that same color, so near the end of the game with 4 players only 1 or 2 got placed. It got real crowded in my sky that game.

After 4 rounds captains count up their points based on everything they did in the game, losing one point for each damage they still have. One of my absolute favorite things is that each score 21-75 has a different epilogue for you to read, each one a humorous sendoff to your legacy. If you score 0-20 you get the epilogue, “You dock at Home Station with a grinding noise that ruptures the airlock. Fortunately no one was waiting at the gate to greet you.” Ouch. There are also some small changes if you want to play solo – basically an event deck for the AI player Captain Shadow, and you take on a passenger who changes some of the setup and endgame scoring. 

In the end I enjoyed my time playing Starship Captains, and besides the obvious Star Trek references and homages, it played a lot like Firefly: The Game but streamlined. Which isn’t bad. Fans of Kirk and Picard or Space Exploration games will find a lot to enjoy, but this isn’t a full 4x game. While you can fight the pirates, there is almost no player interaction other than taking a tech or mission before someone else gets it. It makes sense thematically (why would captains from the same fleet attack each other) but I do wish there were more chances for player interaction, like in Moonrakers. That being said, fans of the genre should definitely give it a look.

A review copy was supplied by the publisher. 

The Bottom Line

Fans of Kirk and Picard or Space Exploration games will find a lot to enjoy - just don't expect a lot of combat.

 

7

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Author: Andrew Borck

Christian/Husband/Dad/Gamer/Writer/Master Builder. Jesus saves and Han shot first.