Think you can handle being the captain of your very own starship? Time to find out! In this new game from publisher CGE, players will take command of their own garden trowel-shaped starship that will have you thinking about Trekking across space.
Starship Captains is a worker placement(ish) and resource management(ish) board game that will have you trying to earn points over the game’s four rounds. This light euro game plays from 1-4 players and takes about an hour or so to play.
Each player in Starship Captains gets their own ship and crew to command. Each crewman will be focused in one of three areas (movement, shooting, or research) or be a lowly cadet who’s only good at repairing your ship.
On a player’s turn, they can take one of three actions: Activate a room, Complete a mission, or Pass.
There are 4 basic rooms on the ship:
- Red: Move your ship up to two spaces on the board.
- Yellow: Kill a pirate on a route adjacent to your planet. You take a damage but also gain a reward.
- Blue: Take a tech card from the display. These upgrade your ship and provide bonuses and/or special powers.
- Grey: Repair damage from your ship. This is the only room that a Cadet can use and also can be activated by any color crew member.
To complete a mission, you have to be the first player on that planet. You’ll then need to spend a crew member for each line of the mission. If the crew member’s color also matches the color line, you gain the bonus from said line. Afterward, the mission goes into your score pile.
Regardless of if you complete a mission or active a room, any crew members used get slid into the end of your queue and are not available until they make it back to your ready room in a future round. After that, the next player takes their turn.
Turns go by in this manner until everyone passes. At the end of the round, you slide all but 3 figures forward in your queue to the ready room. At the start of rounds 2-4, players will earn a new crew member or a free medal (medals are used to upgrade cadets to crewmen, and crewmen to commanders).
At the end of the fourth round, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins.
When a friend asked me what Starship Captains was about, I had to think for a minute. Despite having played it half a dozen times already, it’s a hard game to pin down. You are moving your ship around the map, completing missions, and earning VPs. It’s not quite pick up and deliver, but moving around the map to planets with missions is one of the most important aspects of the game. It’s also not quite worker placement, as you use your crew to activate rooms, but they just go to the end of the queue afterward. They don’t even spend any time in the spot, they just hop to the end of the line. It’s not like you are competing with other players for the same placement spots. The workers here are more of a resource than a traditional worker placement figure.
That being said, playing Starship Captains was still enjoyable. There is something oddly satisfying about sliding your crew out of your queue at the end of the round. CGE did an excellent job with the production values of the game where everything just works well. That being said, as cool as the queue was, I didn’t feel like it was all that important to the game. I usually just took the actions I needed and didn’t worry about their place in line. I’d imagine a shrewd gamer could take their actions in a specific order to make sure they get the crew they wanted next round, but I never had an issue finding a use for a crew member.
And that’s one of the interesting things about Starship Captains. There is always something to do. From moving around the board, to completing missions, to upgrading your ship, I always wanted more crew to use. I did like the upgrade system that lets you spend medals to convert your cadets into crew members. This gave you some flexibility to get the right color at the right time. And once you upgrade them to commanders, they gain you double the bonus when taking actions.
One of the weird things about Starship Captains is its playtime. The game plays over 4 rounds, and at first, that felt too short. I felt like I wasn’t getting enough time with my ship. But as I thought about it more, I realized that the playtime is pretty on point. The actions you’ll be doing are pretty much the same each round, so while a 5th round would have given you more time to earn points, you are still doing same thing in round 4 that you were doing in round 1. There isn’t really any kind of engine building here. So I think the game would have gotten repetitive if there were more rounds. At 45-60 minutes, the play time felt about right.
I also want to say Starship Captains is a game where there are many paths to victory, but I’m not actually sure that’s true. While there are a lot of different ways to score points: reputation tracks, killing pirates, tech cards, most of those points are going to be fairly minimal compared to what you get from a mission card. Altogether, you might get 10 or so points from all three reputation tracks combined, whereas 2 of your missions can easily exceed that. If you want to get the most points, missions are easily the way to do it.
Finally, I did like the variety in the tech cards. There are a lot of ways to gain bonuses and break the rules with them. However, I think that some are just better than others. It’s hard to take a situational card like being able to upgrade your cadets to yellow for free (which you could use, at most, 3 times during the game), vs. a card that lets you jump to any planet when you move. Also, there are only 3 end-game scoring tech cards, which don’t scale at player counts. So in a 3-4p game, it’s possible they will all be claimed by 2 (or even 1 if players aren’t paying attention) players.
Starship Captains is a good game that I have enjoyed each of my plays. That being said, I’m just not sure how much staying power it has. The core gameplay loop is to move around the board and complete missions. Most everything else you’ll be doing is secondary to that. However, the game is still enjoyable and easy to get to the table. While it does have a bit of setup, the rules explanation is fairly quick and downtime is pretty minimal. Despite having quite a few things you can do on a turn, I’ve never really seen someone have AP issues with Starship Captains. It’s a fun sci-fi euro that is solidly multiplayer solitaire. If that’s your jam, it’s worth checking out.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A well-produced game with a fun theme, but it’s hard to pin down what it excels at.
• Tech cards don’t feel quite balanced
• Might get a bit stale after repeated plays