Board GamesReviews

Starship Captains Review

Starship Captains Book Cover Starship Captains
Worker Placement
Czech Games Edition
2022
Peter B. Hoffgaard
Mergen Erdenebayar, Jiří Mikovec, Radim Pech, Jakub Politzer, František Sedláček
1-4

Starship Captains wears its sci-fi inspiration proudly and features smart choices in both its gameplay and component design, and delivers a fun, tight worker placement experience.

Starship Captains, from designer Peter Hoffgaard and published by Czech Games Edition, has players taking on the rank of Captain as they pilot their less-than-brand-new starships around the galaxy, looking to prove themselves to the fleet admirals by undertaking missions, battling pirates, forging alliances, and gathering precious alien artifacts.  Featuring a really cool worker placement mechanic and absolutely rife with loving homages to the…shall we say ‘trek across the stars’ that inspired it, does Starship Captains boldly go anywhere worthwhile, or does it just sorta anti-matter?  Well, check our our review and find out!

Starship Captains is, at its (warp) core, a worker placement game, as the stalwart crew of your starship are the ones who move your ship about the map, research new technology, battle space pirates, and repair your ship when it inevitably gets dinged up from the aforementioned space pirates (actually, your ship starts pretty dinged up, come to think of it).  Each of your crew is represented by a miniature standee, with ensigns color-coded to their particular specialization, with red ones as bridge crew who excel at moving the ship, blue science officers who are great at research, and the yellow ones are in security and fight pirates.

Jess
Jess
You also get cadets who have no specialization, and you can even bring on Androids who can basically do anything!
Andrew
Andrew
Anything except understand the true meaning of love, maybe.
Jess
Jess
…Ok, what’s that about?

Each turn, you will either assign one of your active crew to a room in your ship (letting you do all those actions we mentioned) or completing a mission card at your current planet.  Each mission card is worth a certain number of points, and also depicts multiple lines that correlate to both positive and negative effects.  Captains can complete missions (thereby scoring them) by assigning the appropriate number of crew members to the mission card.  Any crew member, including your inept cadets) can be assigned to any line, but if the crew you assign matches the color of the line (or is one of those universally-capable androids), then you can optionally take advantage of the effects of that line, which could result in all kinds of bonuses…and sometimes penalties.

Mission cards are the surest way to earn points, as well as resources and progress along the three faction tracks you’re competing to curry favor with.  But completing missions generally saps multiple ready crew at once, which means you’ve got less available to you for other operations since your ready room doesn’t refill except between rounds.  You’ll want to plan carefully how and when you invest your crew.

That careful planning is actually the coolest part of Starship Captains, because as crew are assigned to rooms and missions, they will go into the queue, a space-conga line of potential productivity that builds up as you take your turns.  At the beginning of each round, you’ll shift your crew forward in the queue, filing them into the ready room on your ship until only 3 are left waiting.  So the order in which you assign your crew is really important to consider, because that’s the order they’ll fill in the queue and therefor the order that they’ll become available for you to use on subsequent rounds.

Andrew
Andrew
I absolutely love this part of Starship Captains, because it makes the worker placement puzzle even more interesting. You can more or less control exactly what crew will show up next, but only if you’ve thought a few turns ahead, and that’s awesome!
Jess
Jess
Heck yeah! And it’s not just about completing missions – most of the rooms on your ship need a crew member of the appropriate color to be activated, so you’ll need to be thinking about what options you’re giving yourself each time you send a crew member to the back of the queue.

Beyond warping all over the map and completing missions, you will use your crew to develop new tech and fight the pirates you find along the way.

Researching tech will provide you with a plethora of bonuses, as well as new abilities that let you take otherwise-impossible actions and open up new tactics and strategies.  Technology like Stealth Paint, Universal Translators, and Wormhole Generators provide unique advantages to the players who develop them, so every captain will be looking for the technological edge on the competition.

Defeating pirates makes the space lanes safer to travel, which is especially important since they constantly attack passing ships and there are even periodic ‘pirate uprisings’ which will repopulate even safe routes with pirates.  Pirate attacks (among other sources of damage) can punch holes in your ship, damaging cargo and occupying technology slots, and damage on your ship at the end of the game will count against you.  But defeating pirates has its perks, in the form of alien artifacts or even rescued Androids that will temporarily join your crew!

Jess
Jess
The Androids join your ready room and can be used on the current round. They count as every ensign type, but once these handy visitors help with one thing, they leave your ship instead of joining the queue to come back on a later round.
Andrew
Andrew
See, this is why you can’t rely on those metallic, heartless machines. I’ve always said that.
Jess
Jess
Ok, 1, I’ve literally never heard you say anything remotely like that, and 2, why do you suddenly hate androids? They’re handy!
Andrew
Andrew
…it makes me sad they won’t join my crew. I JUST WANT TO HAVE ROBOT FRIENDS, OK?

Making friends is another important aspect of Starship Captains – there are 3 factions which you can work towards impressing as you zip around the galaxy.  The Cooperative, the Ni’an, and the Tincan faction (their word, not mine, ok?) will each give benefits and points to players who increase their standing with them, and each time you play Starship Captains you will randomize the events that can trigger the first time a player manages to lap their way around one of the influence tracks.

Among the other rewards for various deeds (points, androids, artifacts, influence, etc.), each captain can also accrue medals.  These can be spent to promote cadets to ensigns, trading their gray, unimpressive miniature for one color-coded ensign of your choice.  But medals can also be spent to promote an ensign to the rank of commander, which is awesome!  Commanders can work twice as hard as ensigns (for double the effect), or can even command other ensigns of their specialty to zip out of the queue and into the ready room, giving you more flexibility and control over your available actions.

Starship Captains ends after a scant 4 rounds, so just as you finally manage to get a decently-sized crew and all the holes in your ship patched up, you’ll be counting up points to see who the best captain in the sector is.  The winner, in the spirit of the Cooperative to which all players belong, is encouraged to congratulate their fellow, less-accomplished captain on jobs well-done, and each player can even look up what humorous epilog their score has earned them.

Andrew
Andrew
So that’s Starship Captains, and I have to say, I really like this one.
Jess
Jess
Me too! It does so many things right and has so many slick little design decisions going for it, it’s hard not to have a great time with it every time it hits the table.

First of all, it must be said that the material design and presentation of Starship Captains is absolutely excellent.  CGE hit it out of the park with this one, featuring big, colorful art, fantastic dual-layered player boards, and a lot of smart design choices besides.  It’s little things like android mini bases being physically too large to fit into the queue to stop you from accidentally adding them to it, or the fact that promotion rings are limited and therefor rest in specific slots on your ship before you socket them onto the promoted ensign miniature.  There is a simple, clever countdown system that shows players where new mission cards will appear and track when pirate uprisings will occur, and even the damage tokens you gather as you get it physically take up space on your player boards, forcing you to remove them before you can use the rooms they occupy.

And while our major criticism of Starship Captains (aside from the fact I can’t go live with the androids) is that it’s too short, dragging it out might not serve the overall experience.  The puzzle of how best to use your limited crew, and how to do so in a way that will set you up for success on subsequent rounds, only gets more complex as your crew grows, your tech improves, and you get a couple of crew promotions under your belt.  As cool as it would be to have a fifth or even a sixth turn to take advantage of your fully-repaired, teched-out ship and highly experienced crew, things might slow down too much, damaging one of the aspects of Starship Captains that makes it a lot of fun to engage.

As it is, Starship Captains does an excellent job of presenting its clever gameplay in a tight, well-designed package and we definitely recommend checking it out!

One thought on “Starship Captains Review

  • My buddy and I played a 2P game of it last night and came away so satisfied. It was a total blast for both of us…and it’s hard to find games we both love (easy to find ones we both like, but love is a different story). The only negative for us (really me) was the AP possibilities. It reminds me of Everdell in that you only have so few workers and really have to make your early moves count.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.