The Starship Captains board game is an unashamedly Star Trek-themed euro game for one-to-four players which takes about one-to-two hours to play. The box lists it for ages 12-plus, but proper junior gamers a little younger than that should be able to play. It’s an action selection and contract fulfillment game that has a clever worker system at its heart. And while you can argue the theme could be anything, it has been very nicely implemented here. Which is no less than we’ve come to expect from publisher Czech Games Edition (CGE).
Related: Essen Spiel 2022: Reviews incoming
In the box, you’ll find the main game board and 12 smaller boards, 140+ cards, around 100 plastic pieces, 150+ cardboard tokens, and a scorepad. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around $45 delivered in the UK. This offers tremendous value, considering the solid (if unremarkable) quality of the components and the fact they pretty much fill the Ticket-to-Ride-sized box. CGE’s games tend to offer good value for money and Starship Captains is no exception.
Teaching the Starship Captains board game
Starship Captains has a good rulebook that makes the game simple to explain. Also, while the central mechanism feels fresh, euro gamers will have seen most of the mechanisms on show before. Players have three main types/colours of workers (helm, weapons, and science), alongside cadets (who do repairs) and androids (wild, but can only be used to complete missions). At the start of a round, all but three of your workers are moved from your worker queue to the Ready Room. Players take turns using a worker until all players have passed. Rinse and repeat for four rounds and the player with the most points wins.
Workers are used for doing actions or completing missions. The main board has 14 locations (16 with four players), six to seven of which will always have a Mission Card. To complete a mission, a player goes to a location and commits the required amount of workers (one to three). All Mission Cards give victory points, while each colour-matched worker will give a bonus benefit. Three other map locations give resources to the first player to use them each round. While remaining spaces get Mission Cards as others locations are completed, meaning the board remains fluid throughout.
Worker actions and rotation
The basic actions are move (helm), fight (weapons), repair (anyone, including cadets), and take tech (science). You can move up to two locations along the board’s routes, taking a damage marker if you pass through a Pirate. Defeating a Pirate gives you one damage marker, but also some rewards. Repair removes a damage marker. Science lets you take a tech card, which will either give an in or end-game benefit or a new room your crew can use. Damage markers block a slot for either a tech card or a reward token.
When you use a worker, it moves to your worker queue. This gives you a certain amount of planning potential (depending on the order you use workers), while there are several ways to take workers out of sequence. Certain rewards allow you to promote workers, either from cadet to a job of your choice or promote a worker to be a Commander. Commanders get to do two actions, or give the second action to another worker by moving them from the queue to your Ready Room, extending your round. You can also gain rewards and bonuses from the game’s three factions, while rewards give actions, promotions, or end-game points.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I’ll declare here that I’m a friend of the designer, Peter Hoffgaard. But I’ve been a journalist long enough that I’m comfortable saying this doesn’t cloud my judgment. It surprised me how few genuine pick-up-and-deliver/order fulfilment-style euros we get, and this is a really nice take on that mechanism. The worker queue doesn’t have quite as much puzzle aspect as it might’ve done. However, the game flows smoothly. And, especially early on, it is a lot of fun trying to put an effective engine into place.
- The thinker: I quite enjoyed the Starship Captains board game. But just when it feels like it should go to the next level, it ends. It is a much lighter experience than I anticipated, especially with the early tech decisions suggesting a deeper experience. It does feel like the best player wins each game, and that different strategies can lead to victory. But overall it is too light for me to commit to repeated plays.
- The trasher: for a game with spaceships, battles, and a worker type that specifically fights, there is practically no interaction in Starship Captains. There can be a race to grab tech or get to a mission location first but beyond that, nothing. A fun little game though, but not really one I’d pick on game night.
- The dabbler: I love map movement euro games and this one has lots of pluses! It’s colorful and looks great on the table, while the artwork oozes humour. Especially if you’re a sci-fi nut who will get all the little naming references on the cards. The puzzle elements of getting the right worker at the right time tax the brain but not too much. While your tech choices can really make each game different. This one was a big hit for me!
Some argue the Starship Captains buard game lacks originality, leaving some experienced gamers a little flat. I can sympathise, as I feel not enough was made of the novel worker rotation mechanism. Where it should’ve been the driver of the game, it has less of an impact than it should. Everything seems too easy to mitigate, as you can usually get things achieved regardless of which workers are available. This takes the edge off for seasoned gamers, but on the flip side makes it nicely approachable for gateway and less experienced gamers.
This flows into another potential stumbling block: length versus complexity and game arc. In a game that can last two hours, it can feel as if the game’s important engine-building decisions are all made early on. You then run things for a short time, before it all ends rather abruptly. The arc feels a little off, as if another round and some way of the game throwing a few bigger spanners into the works would’ve made it a little more satisfying. But again, conversely, this simplicity and sense of achievement when you get things going well is a boon for more casual gamers.
Finally, it is understandable some have found the slightly dry euro experience too detached from the cartoony world the box, cards, and rulebook portray. It was a similar thing with CGE’s Dungeon Lords and Pets games, which put a cartoony sheen on two deep and thinky euro games. Here it feels less of an issue, but players shouldn’t come in thinking they’ll get laughs aplenty. This is not Galaxy Trucker, but once you’re all down with the rules it is a light and airy experience, if not a laugh-out-loud one.
Conclusion: Starship Captains board game
Starship Captains is a really well-designed and produced light-ish euro game, especially for fans of order fulfillment/pick-up-and-deliver-style mechanisms. While the puzzle aspects can see a good player rack up some serious points, showing it has more depth than some give it credit for. There’s a reasonable amount of variety in the box, although an expansion would certainly be welcomed. So, while not one for heavy gamers, I’ll certainly be keeping it in my collection.