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Starship Captains review — Trar Stek the board game

Sandbox games are a genre I’ve never hit it off with- I’ve had enough jobs that amounted to running around and doing various tasks that when that’s the entirety of a game, it feels like work to me. It certainly doesn’t help that the vast majority of the ones I’ve played feel like everyone is kept in their corner telling their own stories until the end, when whatever scoring mechanic decides whose story is best. I had high hopes that Starship Captains, with its totally-not-Star-Trek theme and actual game mechanics would be an exception, and for the first couple solo plays it was. Until I played it multiplayer, and it proved to be about as enjoyable as the first season of Picard.

On its face, Starship Captains is a resource management game of deciding how best to utilize your crew. Flying from planet to planet to complete missions is much more compelling when the red cadet you use is going to go on cooldown, at least until the next round. Just like in Trek, a fair amount of the action occurs off-planet, too: yellow cadets fight pirates to clear travel lanes and grant bonuses, blues research tech to grant better efficiency or scoring opportunities, and gray ensigns can do basic repairs. Everything has its own micro-efficiency to pursue on top of the crew management puzzle: tech cards have icons on their sides that provide bonus actions or resources if you match them up appropriately, and you can spend medals to promote your crew (dropping a ring on a cadet to make it a commander is unreasonably satisfying). Ultimately, the greatest efficiency and most rewarding tactile action is completing a mission by slotting the card into the notch on the side of your ship and using appropriately colored crew to get its rewards.

 

At least it was when I was playing solo, before playing multiplayer opened my eyes to the strange middle ground this game exists in and soured me on it altogether. You see, while the solo mode pits you against an AI ship that runs off a deck, the deck makes it inherently random, but the actions it performs are predictable and ultimately easily manipulated after a couple rounds of experience. Its effect on the dynamic tech and mission markets is minimal and predictable. In multiplayer, on the other hand, the other players can easily completely reset both multiple times a round in a 4 player game. I know this sounds like a quibble at first blush, but it’s the core of my issues with Starship Captains. Since you’ve only got the 4 rounds, the action economy is very tight, and the queue system combined with the preponderance of efficiencies make players feel pressured to plan ahead to cash in. However, the board is in a constant state of turmoil that makes that impossible. In any other game, the answer would be to keep yourself open and minimize how randomness affects your game plan, but the absurd swings between the best and worst techs and being able to cash in on the best mission rewards means that you can’t really avoid it. Doing missions is still the most efficient means of obtaining points even if you don’t have the appropriate crew readied, so you’ve got to just take your lumps and trudge on. In a standard Ameritrash-style sandbox, the game is long enough that the randomness spikes statistically balance out, but Starship Captains is so short that the gap between getting high and low rolling missions and techs can and will be the difference between first and last place.

 

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.

65

Alright

Starship Captains

Review Guidelines

The real problem with this box is that it sets off trying to have some appeal to everyone, and winds up in a no man's land where it doesn't actually satisfy anyone. It's unquestionably best solo, but has enough stuff tacked on for its multiplayer that setup and tear down is a burden for a solo game. You've got the mechanics, limited actions, and thin semi-generic theme of a lighter Euro, but the randomness and leaning into the theme of an American design from twenty years ago. Starship Captains is a game undergoing an identity crisis. It's fine and inoffensive, but ultimately forgettable and as a result, doesn't really have an audience to find.

Nick Dubs

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