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Subject: A review of Star Trek: Fleet Captains? Make it so. rss

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Stephen Mould
United Kingdom
Sheffield
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Cards on the table. I’m a trek fanboy. Have been since I was a kid. Watching next gen on a Wednesday night at six was the highlight of my week as a ten year old. Re-watching everything in recent years has reminded me how much I love all the series, even Voyager, even Enterprise for pete’s sake. I will argue to the death for the honour of “Let This be Your Last Battlefield”. I have, occasionally, practised my pronunciation of k’Plah in the mirror. I have a card in my wallet declaring me to be James T. Kirk, licensed to pilot a starship. I’m a fanboy.


I think you probably have to be a fanboy to consider buying Star Trek: Fleet Captains. In the UK the RRP is £74.99. That’s about $100. For this you get a whole bunch of plastic spacecraft, which are pretty good looking things (though why there’s no Enterprise D, I do not know), a huge stack of pretty junky, though nicely designed cards and some wafer thin hexes that make up the board. Even as a fanboy, I wasn’t interested in paying RRP for this. Even for those ships...


So when I saw it a bit cheaper (not that much...have I mentioned i’m a fanboy?) I pounced. Then I pounced on the Star Trek: Fleet Captains – Romulan Empire expansion. Then I pounced on my game group, a mix of Trek Fans and Trek agnostics. Well, I say that, but when I got the box out and showed them the models, agnosticism went out of the window. People began downloading Trek soundboard apps to their phone, the soundtrack to the Motion Picture played as we did and people started looking up English to Klingon translation apps.


She cannae take much more, cqp'n, it's simply too much geek

So, 3 paragraphs in and I’ve not said anything about the gameplay. The thing is, as a game, this is sort of wonky. Don’t get me wrong, everything works fine. The different factions play in a sufficiently thematic manner (Federation and Klingon in the base game, Romulan and Dominion available as expansions), combat is quick, simple and entertaining, there are multiple ways to win (sort of) and the game is brimming with thematic touches. But no one is going to accuse Fleet Captains gameplay of originality. The most interesting thing it does is the ability to readjust individual ships power usage through the use of the clix system, though as this is an adaption of a pre-existing system, it hardly counts as an original mechanic in my book.


It too often falls back on the ‘draw a card and see what happens’ school of thematic design. Deciding on a strategy for the game? Have a look at your hand of faction appropriate mission cards. Exploring a new sector of space? Roll a dice to see if you draw an encounter card. Having a battle? Have a look at you hand of action cards to see if you’ve got anything to help. And this is OK. It’s fine. It’s just not particularly inspiring.


This lack of inspiration in design continues through the game. As I mentioned, combat is simple and quick but this is because it’s the classic roll a die, add a modifier (maybe a card) and see who wins. The mission cards you draw are an entertaining/irritating mix of the simple and the impossibly tough, rewarding you with what appears to be an entirely random number of victory points that seem to have no relation to the difficulty of the task, a difficulty that is also massively affected by the board state. I said the Factions are appropriately themed but unfortunately this leads to problems. The Romulan expansion adds a new mission type to the mix, Espionage, which is SO unbalanced that it makes the Romulans the booby prize when handing out factions. I don’t have the Star Trek: Fleet Captains – Dominion expansion, but I understand that this adds some kind of infection mechanic, where if the Dominion player explores a tile and it turns out to have a particular symbol on, bad stuff happens to them. Unfortunately, Wizkids seem to have decided to make the back of these tiles noticeably different to the other tiles in the game, so avoiding infection must be as difficult as finding the only Klingon at a Ferengi convention.


The rulebook is bad, which is a big problem as this is a game that has a lot of bitty little rules that pop-up to bother you and, occasionally interrupt the flow of the game as you check how attacking an outpost works, or how to scan for a cloaked ship. However, the core rules all revolve around a ‘systems test’ mechanic, that basically involves rolling a dice and adding the appropriate systems current value (based on how much power you’re diverting to it) which is very straightforward and simple once you get it. Set-up is a pain, especially in a six-player game where there is no example to follow and you have to base your tile arrangement on the somewhat vague written directions. The personal deck you use to boost combat and do various other things in the game is built from a selection of 10 mini-decks you choose from at the start of the game, which is a neat idea but ends up being a drag, especially in your first couple of games, as no one really has any clue what a good choice might be. And, to be honest, we still just choose the decks with our favourite characters in them.


So, if it’s all so mediocre, why bother writing a review? Well, there have been a lot of Trek games released this year, with the 50th anniversary of the show and I wanted to highlight an earlier game which, despite the above, I really, really enjoy.


Allow me to explain.


In the first game I played of this, with my wife, she was the Federation and I was the Klingons. The Federation’s dedication to science and exploration had given them an early advantage, as the cowardly humans spread their disgusting message of peace and tolerance throughout the sector. Fortunately, the mighty Klingon empire was simply biding its time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. In a couple of turns the shape of the game had changed and the pitiful Federation fleet had been reduced to a single ship, the hated Enterprise, which was surrounded and facing death at the hands of the mighty empires warships. Of course, if Kirk made it back to earth the Federation would win the game, but his chances were laughable.


Suddenly, in a brilliant maneuver, the Enterprise destroyed one of the ships attacking it, broke free of the battle and fled across the sector, birds of prey in hot pursuit, to score the final victory point needed to win the game.


In the first team game we played, myself and my partner were the Romulans, sharing a disputed border with the federation. Early in the game, the brutal and cowardly Federation destroyed an innocent science vessel, carrying out research on the edge of their space. A response force of cloaked ships was immediately sent in reaction to this provocation and the Federation fleet retreated into an area of space which disrupted cloaking technology, hoping to trap the Romulan ships in a straight fight which the Federation, with their ships armed with stolen technology, hoped would favour them. But the whole Romulan fleet was made up of sensor blips, projected by the actual Romulan fleet to distract the Federation as we continued on our mission of discovery. Victory was in our grasp!


Which was when the Klingons struck. Ignored on the other side of the sector, they had slowly been completing missions until bringing down their entire fleet of somewhat underpowered birds of prey on an unsuspecting Romulan science vessel, destroying it in short order and in the process scoring the final point they needed to win the game.


Every game is bursting with incident, with story. Winning is, of course, fun, but it’s the kind of game where another player’s dramatic victory is almost as entertaining as your own. Fleet Captains tells a great story and this trumps any mediocrity in mechanics or components that might, in a more serious game, place it firmly on the trade pile. The mechanics add just enough flavour to the factions to let the players fill out the blanks and role-play their side. The random nature of things, though occasionally annoying, produces a good amount of incident and dramatic reversals.


For me, the game is best played in teams. Being able to discuss, plot and scheme with an ally is good fun, and because you are in charge of half the ships each, as well as your own deck of cards and missions, it doesn’t feel like one player is telling the other what to do (for us. If you have an Alpha Gamer in your group you might want to consider that before teaming them up with the quiet, not so confident guy). A six player game is a lot of fun and my favourite way to play, though will take a whole games night. I really love team games and this is a great one.


I do tend towards Eurogames, and have often found the kind of things I criticise fleet Captains for intensely annoying in other thematic games, but for some reason I give this game hand wave on a lot of this stuff. I’m not sure what it is.


Now, I’m off to send the Defiant, Voyager and Enterprise to attack that Klingon settlement.


Engage.


Positives


Big geek factor, with a whole box full of plastic Star Trek ships. Quick and simple in-game mechanics that don’t get in the way of what this does the best, which is to create an entertaining story. One of a small number of games that has a good team variant. Does a good job of creating incident and excitement. Brings out the inner role player of anyone who watched a fair amount of Star Trek growing up.


Negatives


Some iffy components, with fairly low quality card stock, both in the cards and the board tiles. A fairly bad rulebook and a slightly wonky set of rules that leads to a lot of edge cases and an occasional lack of clarity. Will require a fair amount of on-the-spot group decisions on rules. Has a good dollop of randomness that can, often, feel unfair. Whether this is a problem will depend on how much your group is willing to buy into the spirit of the thing. I would say that, for a competitive, strategy focussed group, this might be a big box of irritation.

Conclusion


Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a game for Star Trek fans, who are boardgamers, rather than boardgamers who quite like a bit of Star Trek. The ruleset is just too wonky to attract people who spend all their free time playing intricately designed boxes of clockwork to get behind, if they can’t get behind the theme. However, for those that can, Fleet Captains delights are in it’s ability to generate experience and story. In another game, a situation in which a player who is completely outmatched can avoid a fight for 3 turns in a row by playing cards that say some variation of ‘The fight doesn’t happen’ would make me very irritated. When this happened in our last game of Fleet Captains, we were all commenting on how wily Captain Kirk was being, hiding in that nebula to avoid that giant bird of prey that was hunting him. This is not a game I want to play every game night, but it is a game i’m always excited to get to the table after a few months away.
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Jo Bartok
Germany
Zwingenberg
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Interaction leads to Immersion.
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Immersion leads to Fun.
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So what do you think about Ascendancy?
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Arthur Rutyna
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I've played recently. Agreed, if you're a fan of the show prepare for a fun ride. May not be balanced, but it does tell an awesome story. I will always remember the time I lost the game, because I didn't want to sacrifice Scotty.
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Brad Miller
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ionas wrote:
So what do you think about Ascendancy?


It's a long, Trek themed, 4x game. The factions are thematic, in terms of their special cards, and the warp/exploration mechanic feels right and is pretty slick. But, it is long, depends on two against one to rein in the leader, etc.

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Stephen Mould
United Kingdom
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ionas wrote:
So what do you think about Ascendancy?


Annoyingly I haven't managed to play it yet. It looks cool though, merging 2 of my favourite things: Trek and long 4X games.
 
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Barry Miller
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That's a very well-written and smart review! I enjoyed it.

Though,
Stevemould wrote:
But no one is going to accuse Fleet Captains gameplay of originality. ... As I mentioned, combat is simple and quick but this is because it’s the classic roll a die, add a modifier (maybe a card) and see who wins.

Keep in mind that this game was designed over half a decade ago! When I first played it in 2012 I was happy with the mechanics, though I can definitely see where you're coming from if coming to this game new, nowadays.

I also like the "Pre-game" game. While you noted that building your play deck could be a lackluster experience depending on one's familiarity with the game, there are a few aids in the files library that do a good job of breaking down the make-up of each sub deck. I also enjoyed the fleet building aspect - even if it is a little random. I like how the players have total control over the scale of the game... once the VP total is decided upon (which BTW, is of total free will by the players), then that establishes how everything else in the game scales. I found that to be original!

Anyway, great job on the review!

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Paul Paella
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Have the rules been clarified with a FAQ or by publisher answered questions? I ask because I bought and played this game when it was first released and we felt the ruleook was severely lacking and we haven't played since, but we would like to get it out again, but only if the rules have been ironed out.
 
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Stephen Mould
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Ghorro wrote:
Have the rules been clarified with a FAQ or by publisher answered questions? I ask because I bought and played this game when it was first released and we felt the ruleook was severely lacking and we haven't played since, but we would like to get it out again, but only if the rules have been ironed out.


I spent a lot of time on here trying to parse the rules. I think there is an official FAQ, though I remember not finding it hugely useful, the BGG community was more helpful.

I think the rulebook's main problem is that it makes everything sound a lot more complex than it actually is. Almost everything in the game is 'roll a dice, add a stat', even when things get complicated. It was most frustrating during setup, but once you've got that down once it's pretty straightforward.
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Barry Miller
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There is an Official FAQ! It's in the Files Library. But it's old. Wizkids published it in 2011, after the first wave of questions flooded the forums. Thusly it covers the "meatier" questions/topics.
So anyone who's new to ST:FC will still find the FAQ very useful!

It's all the finer questions that have been raised since 2012 - after extensive gameplay - that are not addressed in an official FAQ. That's of course because Wizkids has not bothered to update the FAQ in the past four or five years.

Though I think that the community here has done a good job of tackling most of the questions raised since the FAQ was published, and IMHO, provide "officialesque" answers! The questions have trickled down to the point where I think most have been asked. So before you post a question, use the forum's advanced search function to look for your question first! It's likely been asked before!

Also, a tip for using the Advanced Search... be sure to select the "Rules Forum" as your search forum, otherwise you'll struggle weeding through all the non-pertinent results. And also, to reduce repeated results, type a space then, "-re" after your search term. Doing so will return only the OPs that contain your request. This will dramatically cut down all those aggravating repeated replies! And if that doesn't work, then try the same search term, but without the "-re", to open up the results to include all the replies inside a thread (Sometimes a thread takes a branch where your answer may be hiding).

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