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Matt Steski
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Overview:

The Captain is Dead is a co-operative sci-fi board game from Joe Price and JT Smith, and published through The Game Crafter. TCiD takes 2-7 players and puts them in a scenario straight out of a Star Trek episode: the captain has been killed, the ship damaged and hostile aliens are boarding. The crew's only hope is to repair the ship's jump core and escape.

Each player is assigned a role such as Chief Engineer or Security Officer with their own unique ability. On their turn, players move around the ship repairing systems, gathering skill cards and fighting hostile aliens. Every turn, a new "alert" is drawn, revealing another catastrophe - anything from a boarding party to a direct hit on the shields. If the ship takes a hit while shields are down or aliens overrun the ship, the mission is over.

Complexity-wise, I would say the game is about on par with Pandemic and a bit more complex than Forbidden Desert. As such, it makes a great introductory game but is still interesting and challenging enough for more experienced gamers. The game also comes with additional "advanced" alerts that can be added in for increased difficulty.

Components:

TCiD comes with a board, 3 decks of progressively harder alerts (Yellow/Orange/Red), a deck of "Battle Plans", a deck of Skill/Tool cards, cards to mark status of various ship systems, some role cards, plastic torpedo markers and some wooden markers for tracking shield level and jump core progress. It also comes with either plastic sticker pawns or wooden pawns in some Kickstarter versions. (I'm not sure if the wooden pawns are available for retail today.) In my version I opted for the plastic sticker pawns, as they depict the characters/aliens and match the visual style of the rest of the game.



The board is well laid out, and conveniently color coded to show which systems match up with which rooms. It has spaces for where each component will be set out during play, and in my opinion does a great job of informing players without becoming overwhelming.

The art style is wonderful and distinctive - I particularly enjoy the "propaganda poster" feel of the box cover.

Quality-wise, the components are alright. Because TCiD is published through The Game Crafter, the components are generic and don't stand up to the quality of those produced for larger publishers. This is, of course, a necessity of the system and not much can be done. Still, they are functional and you shouldn't have any issues playing the game.

Score: 6.5/10

Gameplay:

At the beginning of the game, each player will select a role card for their chosen color of pawn. There are a plethora of roles available, each with their own special abilities, number of actions and maximum hand size. Some roles have an "action discount" - for example the Tactical Officer needs to spend 2 less Tactical cards when performing an action. This gives each character a unique feeling, and every one has something to contribute to the team.



Once the players have selected, they are placed in their colored starting areas and a number of Alerts drawn, pummeling the hapless ship and setting up the scenario.

On their turn, a player gets a number of actions (typically 4). These can include moving, passing cards to other players, shooting alien boarders and activating/repairing ship systems.

Typically, systems can only be activated if you are in their room, and that room is free of hostile aliens. Some ship systems require the player to discard skill cards, for example repairing the Shields costs 2 actions and 2 Tactical cards. However, as the ship becomes damaged, systems can go offline (requiring cards and actions to repair) or even destroyed (requiring a massive investment to reinstall).

Some systems, like the External Scanners, provide a constant passive benefit (in this case, allowing you to see the upcoming Alert cards). Even the Skill deck is tied to a system, if the Computer Core goes offline, you can't draw any cards! This forces you to make some tough decisions during the game - with only so many cards and actions to spend, what systems should you prioritize? Repairing the jump core (the victory condition) also requires a massive Skill card investment, so players must be careful not to get bogged down in repairing systems without progressing.



At the end of their turn, the next Alert is put into play. Most of these are one-shot events that might knock out a system or injure a player. However, some of them are persistent effects like alien ships (which increase damage done to the shields) or anomalies (that alter the rules to the detriment of players). These persistent effects require the expenditure of the ship's limited torpedo armament or massive numbers of Science cards to clear, but allowing them to stack up will result in a swift defeat!



Taken together, these result in what I think are the two main strengths of TCiD:

1) Simplicity, with choice: The number of actions that a player can take is relatively low. (They all fit on the back of one reference card). New board gamers should be able to grasp what they can do easily, even if what they should do is a murkier question. The number of choices you have is significant - but they all boil down to different applications of the same core set of actions.
2) A mounting sense of doom: You never have enough time, enough actions, enough cards to do everything you want. There's a thousand different fires and if you're lucky, you'll get to put out two of them. I think TCiD does a better job than some other co-ops in conveying your deteriorating situation. As systems go down, you lose abilities and actions you previously had, and this adds to the sense of pressure.

Overall, The Captain is Dead is a great time. The number of role options, extra alerts and the challenging nature of the game should keep you coming back for more. Fair warning though - it is very susceptible to the "alpha gamer" problem, so if your group struggles with that, then make sure you keep an eye out.

Score: 7/10

Theme:

The Captain is Dead is very thematic and draws heavily from sci-fi tropes, particularly those of Star Trek. Moving a red-shirted figure through Engineering while listening to people shout "Shields down to 30%! External sensors are offline!" made me feel like I was transported to the set of Star Trek: Voyager.

TCiD pulls you into the story that it tells, and rather interestingly it does so without the use of flavor text. Where does your ship come from? Why are the aliens attacking you? How did the captain die? The game doesn't answer any of these questions for you, but instead drops you right into the middle of the action and lets you fill in the blanks. I honestly think this was a great choice - the cast and setting are so familiar that you'll have no trouble coming up with a backstory of your own, and in the process, become more attached to this crew and your ship.

There are little touches everywhere that show you how much Smith and Price love this genre and the stories it tells, from a Battle Plan called "Grow the Beard" that increases a character's Command abilities, to the rather interesting hat the Counselor sports.

And of course, there's my favorite character - the Hologram. The Hologram can't interact physically with his surroundings, meaning he is unaffected and cannot affect hostile aliens, and doesn't get injured when his location is hurt. However, when certain systems are knocked offline, he is trapped in the ship's Computer Core. (It's up to you whether to play him as more of an EMH or Arnold Rimmer)

One of my favorite criteria to judge a board game on is "does this game tell a story," and with TCiD, the answer is unambiguously yes.

Score: 9/10

Final Opinion:

I think TCiD deserves a spot in many collections, and if you were discounting it because it was a Kickstarter game from a relative unknown, you should take another look. This game is probably my favorite Kickstarter release from 2014 and has easily earned a spot on my shelf.

TCiD has a lot of wonderful attributes that make it a good fit for many groups - it has a large player cap (2-7), and is easy to learn, thematic and relatable. It makes a great gateway game for those who like sci-fi, but is also challenging and fun enough for experienced groups. Also, there's an expansion on the way, so I would expect this game to get even better in the future!

Pros:
- Lots of replay value
- Excellent gateway game
- Very thematic

Cons:
- Potential for "alpha gamer" syndrome
- Components are a bit weak

Final Score: 7.5/10
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Jo Bartok
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Thanks for pros and cons. Sadly due to no traitors, and as far as I remember the KS project description, no hidden information, neither time constraints or dexterity constraints (AFAIR) - the mechanics allowing in game education and leading, controlling and sharing jobs... somehow kills it for me.

I'd hesitate to blind buy it now but thanks to this review I'd for sure give it a try!
 
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Craig Somerton
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Nice review - well done.

I know the production qualities don't match the top-notch publishing companies, but I love the design, look and feel of the board. Thematically consistent for all the roles and available actions, and functionally it has a place for every component. From a usability perspective I feel it is designed incredibly well.

I know some people love the idea of traitors or hidden roles/information and a way to avoid the 'alpha gamer' situation. But for me, the game is highly thematic, delivers pressure and multiple options in spades - more than enough to forgive it. As a pure thematic co-op, it I found it to be well delivered and above all creates a compelling narrative through the roles and game-play.

I suspect the expansions may add some additional function and flavour and I'm quite looking forward to them.
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JT Smith
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Thank you for the review. I wish it went a bit further though and described what you didn't like about the component quality. That way we could work on improving it.
 
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Jens Alfke
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I have no complaints about component quality. I definitely prefer the 3D meeples to the flat stand-up ones, but I was happy to pay a few bucks to upgrade to them.
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Peter Elsenheimer
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I love the title of your post.
 
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Neil Sorenson
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rizendefrag wrote:
Thank you for the review. I wish it went a bit further though and described what you didn't like about the component quality. That way we could work on improving it.


I hate to speak for somebody else (but that sure won't stop me from doing it!) but I imagine that the only legit complaint could be the card quality. The stock seems decent enough but I was seeing flaking and chipping along the edges of cards from a brand new copy of the game.

And not a "component issue" but a small annoyance is the occasionally poor choice of color text which can fade into a background color when there isn't enough contrast (dark blue on black, white on bright yellow, etc.).
 
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