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Starship Captains Board Game Review


WBG Score: 8.5

Player Count: 1-4

You’ll like this if you like: Explorers of the North Sea, Star Trek films or shows, 51st State.

Published by: Czech Games Edition

Designed by: Peter B. Hoffgaard


Starship Captains was one of the most popular games at Essen Spiel 2022. It ranked 8th on the 'hot-list' on BGG's preview. I was very keen to get this one to the table for myself to see what all the hype was about. The cover art intrigued me. This is not a children's game, as much as the cover may suggest otherwise. It instantly drew me into the lore of the game with the obvious science-fiction nods. But what kind of game is this? Let's beam it to the table and see how it plays.

Set-Up


I won't go through everything here, it's best to just follow the rule book which is excellent and very clear. The main part is to lay out all the components, give each player a ship mini and board, and two of each workers, called ensign's, plus one cadet. Place one of each worker into the ready room on your ship board and the others into the waiting line. Then give each player one medal, seven damage tokens, a tech board, and five promotion rings. Then place one triangle token on each space on the main board, then replace each triangle with the appropriate card. Either a mission card, station tile, or leave as a numbered tile. More of that later. Placing the triangle in this way allows for a variable set-up each game. Next, place one cadet and medal per player and the home station triangle into the subsequent rounds set up spaces at the top of the board, ready for mid round set-up. Then, finally, each player places their ship mini into the central starting home base and the game can begin.


Initial set-up can take a while as you need to make the ship minis, and fold down and stick together the double sided ship boards. But it's all very simple and won't take long, and then it is done for ever. And who doesn't like a bit of arts and crafts in space?

How to Play


Playing Starship Captains is very simple. On your turn, you can do one of two things. Either, activate a room in your ship. Or complete a mission on the planet your ship is currently at.


On your ship you have access to four rooms. Each one is coloured and can only be activated by the matching ensign. (Which means flag by the way. One flown on a ship to symbolise the vessels nationality. I had to google it too). So, for example, if you want to fly your ship one or two spaces on the board, you simply move one of your red ensigns out of your ready room on your ship, tap the red sign for the room you are activating, move the ensign to the back of the crew path leading back into the ready room, and move your ship. That's your turn done. It all just takes a brief moment.


The other three options when using rooms and crew are to fight a pirate with a yellow ensign, research a new technology with a blue ensign, or repair some damage on your ship with either of your ensigns or a cadet.

Fighting a pirate can only be done if you are on a planet next to a pirate token. These are placed on the board during set up, but many more come during the game. You take one damage every time you fight one, but then instantly gain the benefit on the pirate token. This will either br to gain one android which acts as a wild ensign, or to collect one random artifact and one medal.


The medals are used to either promote your ensigns to Commanders, which doubles their efficiency. To train a cadet to become any ensign. Or, finally to exchange any ensign with any other ensign. The artefacts can be used in matching pairs to have extra turns. They all come showing two mains room colours. If you get a matching pair you can discard those two artifacts to enact that colours room, just as an ensign would. The pirate token you defeated is then flipped and placed into your cargo hold for end game points. There are some tech cards which can increase the value of the defeated Pirates.


The third main room allows you to research new technologies. This gives you the chance to pick one of the eight tech cards laid out during start up to add to your tech board. These cards will give you end-game scoring options, benefits that can be used during the game, or additional rooms that can be used with the matching ensign just like the main starting rooms. When placed on the tech board, if you match icons that are on the edges of the card with a card already there, like the wrench and medal symbols below, or on the board itself, you will also gain additional benefits. Such as additional movement for your ship, one medal, or the opportunity to remove one damage token. This begins the main part of why this game is fun, the combo's! More on that soon.

The final option available to you when you activate a room is to repair one damage from your ship. Although you have now learned how additional rooms can be added to your ship as you play the game.


So, that's rooms. What about missions? Well, if you are on a planet with a mission card, instead of activating a room, you can complete this mission. You do this by moving the card from the board, and placing it into the slot beside your transporter on your ship board. You must then move one, two, or three ensigns, cadets, or androids to your transporter bay, depending on how many lines on the mission card there are. If the crew member matches the colour of the line, you will gain that benefit. If it doesn't you can still complete the mission but you cannot get the reward. Sometimes, this works in your advantage, as not all of the benefits are good. For example, you may get damage from completing them. But you'll still get the points if you fulfill the crew requirements, even if the colour doesn't match. The crew will then go to the back of your queue, they are exhausted for this round, and you will flip over the card and keep it by your board. They will be used for end game scoring, based on the number on the bottom right. This is the main way to score big in this game, but it uses a lot of crew.

There are some planets with space stations orbiting them, which allow the first player there each round to gain a benefit. Such as gaining a new android, or an artefact and one repair action. When done, the token is moved to the top of the board to be replaced at the start of the new round.


When you run out of crew, or if you ever decide you want to, you can pass. When all players have passed, the round ends. You will slide all your exhausted crew forward back into your bay leaving just three behind. This is how you get new crew for the next round, but also is the most satisfying part of the game. Check it out. I often do this over and over, just for fun. You will too!

You will then distribute the 'new stuff' you set out for each round to all players. In round two you will get one extra medal, and before round three and four, one extra cadet. At this point, you will also refresh any space stations that were used by moving the token back down to that statsions card. Then move the first player token to the next player and begin the next round. The game runs for four rounds, and the player with the most points at the end is the winner. There is a line of text at the back of the book for each score from one to 75, that describes your score in a more story driven way. They are hilarious and well worth enjoying as a group at the end.


As you fight the pirates, the opportunity to do this again will diminish. You only start with a few on the board, and you can only fight them once. However, as you complete missions, there is a very clever mechanic whereby the new missions are added to the board, and the countdown to the pirate uprising develops. Let me talk you through it.

When you complete a mission, you take that mission card from the board. You will then take the highest number triangle token that is still face up and move that to the place you took the mission card from and flip it over. You will then add a new mission card onto the place you took this triangle token from.


This does two very clever things. First, it shows all players where the next mission card will appear. They will always be placed onto the space of the current highest face up triangle token. Secondly, you all know when new pirates will come. The count down is there for all to see. As when you flip the final 'one' triangle, this is when the pirate uprising begins, and more pirate tokens appear. You must flip all the triangles back to being face up and place a pirate token on each one. Then move the pirate out onto its corresponding space, (matching the colour of the pirates exhaust and the trails from that planet) so long as there isn't already a pirate there.

Is it Fun?


Playing Starship Captains is a lot of fun. For me, it is all about the combos. Maximising the efficiency of your turns by getting extra crew, actions, or bonuses. The combos, when you get them, are so satisfying. This is how you will start to score well in the game. I went from scoring 20's and 30's in my first three games, to getting 40's, then 50's and 60's in later games. I was doing the same thing, just being more efficient. Getting tech cards early helped, and choosing the right ones so that they worked with my engine as well as possible.


But will you enjoy this? Well, there are three main things to consider if you are thinking about buying this game.


1. The potential down time for any player after passing if other players have multiple turns left.

2. The simplicity of gameplay as perceived from the box art.

3. Your thoughts on the sci-fi world this game is set within and how this works for a board game.


Well, don't just take my word for it, let's hear from designer Peter B. Hoffgaard himself.


It is for sure inspired by Star Trek. I grew up watching TNG in the 90s and loved the bright outlook on the future of humankind. It could have worked as licensed game, but I always wanted the freedom to make references to other sci-fi shows and movies, and the freedom to control how much humour we want to add in the game. Also I wanted to have fun doing some fun and silly world building.


I know the cover of the box might not scream medium weight euro game. But I really want to challenge that all euros should look beige and brown, and not all sci-fi games have to be dark, black and filled with horror. I wanted an art style that's fun and visually appealing even to non-gamers. Also I would personally love it if more games would look like that.


If you [complete] a lot of missions in a round where [other] players do very few. First off, the core way you can get points is by doing missions, so yes this is something you need to do if you want to win the game. What I think makes it interesting is that the same crew you need to do missions is the same you need to move your ship, battle pirates and get tech. So it's all about though choices. If you only do missions and ignore tech and pirates I would argue you would loose to a player that knows the game.


About the wait time. There can be some wait time if you're very aggressive with missions, or if some player is very good at extending their turn with bonus actions and androids (and none of the other players do that). But I actually don't mind it seeing what other players do, and if you play with players of equal level this wait time will be very minimal. It's normally just a matter of a few extra actions for one player.

Well, there you have it! Thanks Peter, well put, and I would agree with all of that.


Starship Captains is definitely a game that grows with repeat plays. It's not that you have to play it over and over to understand it, or enjoy it. But you will, like any game, get better with repeat plays. And getting better in this game means you can utilise more combinations. And combinations are fun! Incredibly satisfying, and generally mean you will score better. You may get this from play one, but I would wager it would take a couple of plays at least. It took me five, but I do play most games quite quickly. Maybe I just need to pause and think more!


I would recommend this game to anyone who is looking for a mid-weight game to play with their friends of family, in under an hour, that offers a brighter and more colourful art style than the usual euro game. Starship Captains is very simple and my son (9) instantly took to this, beating me on the first two games by a long way! He enjoyed the options available to him, despite the simple ruleset. I think this is the perfect game to sit down with your children with, if you are looking to take them to their next step of gaming. It could be the perfect gateway game too for friends new to the hobby. And, of course, it goes outwith saying, this is perfect for any fan of Star Trek.


I want to keep getting better and better at this game. I've taken great satisfaction from developing my understanding of the best strategies. And after multiple plays, I'm left with a strong desire to keep playing, to try and improve my scores, and to trial out new strategies. All in the search of those juciy combos! Starship Captains is a simple but addictive game that will be a firm favourite in our house for many years to come.

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