13 September 2023
In Starship Captains, you assume command of a—mostly—functional star ship, jetting around the galaxy solving diplomatic crises, fighting pirates and occasionally indulging in shady deals to further your interests. You do this by assigning ensigns of varying colours to different actions – red for movement, yellow for combat, and blue for research. As the game goes on, you’ll recruit new crew members, promote existing ones and acquire droids for away missions, whilst upgrading your ship and earning those all-important medals.
How does Starship Captains Look?
The production of Starship Captains is a rare thing: lavish, without bloat, each component contributing to the game. The cardboard standees for your ships really pop, and the tricolour crew members you use for actions – plus the grey cadets – come in multiple sculpts, human and alien. They’re easy to pick up and assign to actions and it’s simple to see how many of each colour you have at a glance. Your dual-layered player board has a queue which your crew members wait in, niches for hold cargo, and even a spot where your chosen mission card slots in, allowing you to place crew next to the appropriately-coloured symbol on the card.
The central board looks great too – every time I’ve played in public, people have stopped to admire it and ask what we’re playing. Likewise, the bespoke art on each mission card – which would otherwise just be a title and some icons – does a huge amount to convey the flavour of what you’re supposed to be doing. Sure, the influence tracks are a little drab (a shame, since they’re where quite a lot of your points get scored) but that’s a minor gripe, only noticeable because the rest of the art design is fantastic.
What do you do in Starship Captains?
The central game loop involves assigning a crew member to an action, then performing that action. Either you’ll be grabbing a tech card from the tableau of upgrades; which might give you extra hold capacity, allow you to jump between locations, or give you some kind of end game scoring bonus; or you’ll be moving your ship from one system to another to claim one of the mission cards, or you might shoot down some pirates to earn bonuses.
There are moments of compelling, puzzly squeeze as you try to figure out if you can wring an extra move out of your crew, grab a useful tech card, or perhaps promote an ensign to give you a double action. Sometimes other players snap up a mission you have assembled to perfect crew for, or grab the piece of tech that was going to synergise perfectly with your turn.
Should you play Starship Captains?
Starship Captains has clearly had a lot of love put into its production. It’s disappointing, then, that the overall experience doesn’t quite hang together.
There’s no real arc or escalation in Starship Captains. The missions you do on your first turn are no more challenging or rewarding than the ones you’ll be doing at the end of the game. There’s nothing to work up to, no growing complexity – the tech upgrades are handy but don’t unlock new possibilities, just slightly better efficiency.
Similarly, completing missions – the core of the game – is just about travelling to the location with the card and assigning the appropriate crew. There’s no thematically-appropriate tension, or challenge, and closing a galactic rift feels mechanically identical to organising a team picnic. It quickly starts to feel samey, and once you add all the admin you’re expected to do to distribute new missions and refresh the pirate tokens, it can become a bit of a chore.
I’ve experienced a range of responses to this game, from uncomplicated enjoyment to hard bounces. I landed somewhere in the middle, finding it flawed but pleasant enough, though at no point did I feel – despite the many missions and upgrades – like there was more to discover that I’d missed. Some play groups might get a kick out of this, but even if you love the theme, it’s definitely try-before-you-buy.
Play it? YES
What game is like Starship Captains?
XIA: LEGENDS OF A DRIFT SYSTEM
If you enjoy pootling round the galaxy getting into scrapes, Xia: Legends of a Drift System looks like a grittier, more grown-up version of Starship Captains but is actually somehow sillier, relying as it does on multiple dice rolls and offering the possibility to photon torpedo your opponents in the stern. Still, if you enjoyed its pick-up, deliver and occasionally blast to smithereens gameplay Starship Captains offers something in the same quadrant.
Designer: Peter B Hoffgaard
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Time: 120 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Double-sided main board
- Central tech board
- 4 Ship boards
- 4 Double-sided tech slot boards
- 4 Ship boards
- 3 Double-sided faction tracks
- 50 Tech cards
- 12 Omega tech cards
- 2 Station cards
- 50 Mission cards
- 11 Event cards
- 54 Ensign figures (18 red, 18 blue, 18 yellow)
- 12 Cadet figures
- 8 Android figures
- 20 Promotion rings
- 4 Ship figures
- 32 Damage tokens
- 30 Pirate tokens
- 27 Artifact tokens
- 18 Medal tokens
- 16 Triangle tiles
- Start player marker
- Score pad
- 3 Faction trophy tokens
- 12 Faction markers
- 6 Passenger cards
- 7 Action cards
- 3 Solo event cards
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