Let me set the scene: you’re on a space ship, and as you might have guessed from the title of the game, the Captain is dead. If that’s not bad enough, the main engines are broken (I personally suspect these two events might be connected, that Captain never stopped meddling) and there’s some annoyed looking aliens lingering very nearby. There’s only one thing to do: get that jump core back online and clear off before they manage to break everything and everyone.
So you pick a character from the 18 (yes, eighteen) available, each one having various actions available and contain their own strengths and weaknesses which will crop up as the game presses on. Before anything else happens, several yellow alerts occur which knock out some of the key systems around the ship. As such you’ll start without some of the cool tech that the ship had to offer, such as external scanners which would help you see which alerts are coming up next, or the comms system which allows you to transfer skills between players. Thes ealerts keep coming too, eventually turning into the fairly nasty orange alerts and then the slightly more concerning red alerts which signal the fact you haven’t got much time left – run out of alert cards and it’s game over man, game over.
And so begins the game-long problem of what to focus on. Maybe you’d be better off fixing some of the main systems to help you out a bit, but all the time you’re doing that you’re ignoring the main objective of getting that engine back online. But fixing that engine is far more difficult with your other systems popping all over the place taking away important abilities. And when a system fails, you don’t just lose an ability – you also gain a problem. It’s not a nice thing to happen.
Either way teamwork is the way forward. Try and go it alone like some kind of Space-Rambo and you’re only going to get everyone thumped by aliens, and nobody needs that. Instead you need to control what’s going on, try to keep a lid on the chaos that’s unfolding around you and keep those aliens away from your ship. They’ll be boarding at various points, and while they can be dealt with by spending some action points to zap them, if the game wants an alien to board and they’re all enjoying your hospitality already, that’s another losing condition. You don’t want them hanging around that’s for sure.
There’s several other things going on while this is all kicking off too. You’ve got torpedos to fire at enemy ships if needs be, you’ve got your shields to keep an eye on which will end the game with a loss if they run out, you’ve got research to carry out which will help you to get rid of anomolies that crop up from the alerts deck. You’ve got equipment you can pick up which give you some special actions you can use a couple of times, and engineering cards that will help you fix the engine and fulfil the main route to winning. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, especially after a first game to figure out what’s going on and get to grips with the rules, and that’s a good thing when things start getting more frantic and the panic starts setting in. This is a difficult game to win, but while we only tried it with three players it worked well and we enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t a walk in the park. There’s a very easily changed difficulty setting that alters how knackered your main engine actually is, and as such you can easily tweak it to suit the kind of people you’ve got in your group.
The one thing I really can’t make my mind up about are the character components. They’re pretty cool in terms of the art style, sporting a fairly old fashioned cartoony look, but the actual components themselves aren’t amazing quality and could at times be a little difficult to recognise quickly on the board. They’re quite flimsy too and I’m not convinced of how well they’ll last if this ends up being a game you play a lot. But despite that The Captain is Dead is still a really enjoyable game of chaos and destruction, it’s a game that demands teamwork to stand even a chance of winning, has some nice ieas in terms of your situation getting worse as the game progresses, and is easy enough to learn that teaching new players shouldn’t be too much of a mission. You won’t get any joy out of this with less than 3 players, but anything from that player count upwards should give you a very solid experience.