“Space, the final frontier … these are the voyages of the starship Schmenterprise … it’s four-round mission … to complete (more discrete) missions … to stop the ship from falling apart … and maybe upgrade it … to boldly try to get on the good side of the people who are already here.”
So begins your first entry in your log as the newly-minted Fleet captain for The Cooperative. Your ship has seen better days, but you can fix the rusty spots and add new tech. There’s Fleet HQ and an android species and even pirates to try to make “friends” with (not that it will stop the pirates from attacking you). And there’s a whole galaxy of missions out there, like harvesting roddenberries, repairing the repair station, and dealing with a pesky omnipotent being. And you couldn’t do it without your noble crew, even the ones in red.
Starship Captains is somewhere in tone between Star Trek: The Next Generation and Lower Decks – you’re the captain, but your ship sure isn’t the flagship of the Fleet, and your crew does not start the game filled with overachieving Lieutenant Commanders. Mechanically, you’ve got a few things going on. The basic actions and the basic crew (cadets) come in three colors (red, yellow, blue). Red cadets can use the helm action to move the ship to another location, probably to complete a mission. Yellow cadets can use the weapons action to shoot down pirates. Blue cadets can use the science action to add new tech to your ship. There’s also a grey action (repair the ship) that can be taken by any crewmember, and a some crew (grey cadets) who can’t take a color-coded action. Which crew are available to take action rotates from turn to turn. Crew in the ready room can be assigned. At the end of the turn crew who were assigned go off duty and are slotted into a semicircular path on the player board (which is shaped like a starship). At the end of the round, crew leave this queue until only three are left off duty, and the rest are ready for the next turn.
Missions are accomplished by sending crew down to a planet. Each mission card has slots on the left for crew and grants victory points. In addition, each of those slots has a color, and if the assigned crew matches that color there’s an extra bonus. Android crew can only do missions and go away after one assignment, but they count as matching any color on a mission slot.
Shooting down pirates means gaining artifacts, medals, and androids. Artifacts are each two colors; two artifacts can be discarded to take the action of the color the two share in common. Medals are used to train or promote crew. One medal upgrades an ensign to a cadet (or changes the color on a cadet), while three medals promotes a cadet to a commander. Commanders can take two actions, double the rewards on a mission line, or pull an off-duty crew member back into the ready room. Shooting down pirates also means those pirates aren’t there to damage the ship when it moves later, and can be worth end-game victory points.
Adding technology has two effects. First, each tech card does its own thing – it might be a new action that crew members can take, an enhancement to an existing action, or end-game victory points. Second, the tech card and the slots on the tech board onto which the tech card is being placed have icons around the edges. When a newly-placed tech card makes a pair with one or more of those edge icons, the player gets a bonus. For example, if Empty Slot 1 has a repair icon on the right edge and the player puts a card in Empty Slot 2 that has a repair icon on the left edge, the player gets to repair one damage.
Damage can be assigned to the ship or the tech row (they also start the game damaged). Damage to the ship prevents the storage slots on the ship (for artifacts and pirate trophies) from being used. Damage to a slot on the tech track prevents a card from being placed there. You will not be surprised to learn that the repair action removes damage.
A final element of the game is faction tracks, represented by space stations for the Fleet, the androids, and the pirates. Various things in the game will increase rating with a faction. This grants the player bonuses, but in addition the first time that any player gets a high enough rating with a faction a ‘faction event’ will occur that has a permanent effect on the game.
At the end of the game, points are awarded for missions, faction tracks, techs, commanders, and an array of leftovers (androids, pirates, artifacts, medals, etc.). Points are lost for any damage. Most points wins and gets a humorous epilogue (e.g., score 34 points and you return home only to meet yourself leaving on the expedition, because you messed up the timeline, while at 47 points your future self shows up and begs you to get to Wolf 359 on the double).
All told, I would recommend Starship Captains for the Star Trek fan who’s looking for a light-hearted, medium-weight game. The tone and humor are great, the mechanics have some distinctive elements, and it was fun running around the galaxy maximizing the timing and efficiency of your actions. The components are also a highlight of Starship Captains. I like that they didn’t just use all of the same mold for each of the crew members. So you don’t have something like all of your helm officers are this human male sculpt, all of your weapons officers are this one alien sculpt, and then all of your science team is a particular human female sculpt. Instead each sculpt appears in all of the colors, which required CGE to go the extra step of ensuring that all of the sculpts had the exact same weight so that the packaging process worked properly. The ships are also nifty, both the player boards and the movers, which you have to put together from cardboard punchouts. Combined with the stylistic art and graphic design it makes for an extra zing of flavor to spice up the game.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn commissions from affiliate links in this article.