By Mark Rivera from Boardgames in Blighty
Designers – Mike Elliott, Bryan Kinsella, and Ethan Pasternack
Thanks to our sponsors, Rules of Play in Cardiff for providing a copy of this game
I love Star Trek. Always have, always will, I guess. I’m not too fanatical as to have a Star Trek crew shirt or know every character’s name and go to Comicon to meet the actors and such but I do love Star Trek. On the other hand, I’ve never really been into the stuff produced by Wizkids as they’ve always seemed to produce collectible toys and such for kids who like that kind of thing and the the Heroclix base of their models has never appealed to me. So, excited as I was to hear about Star Trek Fleet Captains, I was, to be very honest, very concerned that it was Wizkids that were the publishers. Yes, they produce very nice models but could they produce a good game rather than the IMHO simplistic nonsense of their Heroclix lines? Let’s see…
Well first of all, the whole thing comes in a pretty big, sturdy box. The models have their own hard plastic tray with a firm moulded space for each, but what’s this??? 2 of the models are broken!!!! Colour me not happy and not impressed. Low and behold, I wasn’t alone. Loads of complaints about this are found on Boardgamegeek.com. To Wizkids‘ credit though, they replaced them, no questions asked, and rather quickly.
There are lots of cards (Missions, Encounters, Command, Starship Diplay) as well as a stack of 50 Location hexagons which make up the actual game board. The immediate thing you notice is that Wizkids severely scrimped on the cardstock quality. Considering that this is a pretty expensive game ($65, £58 listed on BGG), this is unforgivable in my opinion. The cards are very very thin, almost paper-thin actually, and won’t stand up to too many plays. They need to be sleeved for sure but it is very disappointing and was a bad decision by Wizkids, plain and simple. I can only assume that this was either a cost decision to keep the price within reach, or a space decision to fit in the box. So Wizkids let me down in 2 fundamental ways before I even played the game.
The rules come in a nice sized and well-illustrated booklet. They are reasonably clear with all the information you need but it has no cross-referencing and no index which would have really helped as there are lots of things to remember and I had to spend time searching around. Dear Wizkids, instead of just writing “see this or that rule…” at least give me a page number will ya! Having said that, the back page has a list of all the main steps and actions and after a few turns, this is pretty much all you need as the rules themselves are relatively easy to understand.
It all looks very nice though… see here…
The artwork or graphics really, is effective and very thematic which is a good thing. the licensed images are there so it all looks the part so Trek fans should be happy. The models look pretty fantastic although unpainted and provide a nice variety of Federation and Klingon ships. Very nice indeed. The “clix” bases are ok but some were tough to turn to show the changing values of each ship. This was another complaint on BGG. In fact, they should have done away with the clix bases altogether as the numbers are hard to read. They could have increased the size of the ship cards and used chits to mark the current values and it would have worked better. You also get a bunch of information chits covering various aspects of the game as well as 2 fairly small and unremarkable dice. Again, for the money, special, nicer dice would have been better for the game.
As mentioned above, the rules could have been more user friendly with easier navigation but overall, they are pretty solid and make sense with a number of nice touches to add to the theme. After a few turns, there was less need to refer to the rules but every once in a while, we had something we needed to clarify.
The Game process is as follows:
Your mission is to earn victory points which are earned by completing missions, surviving encounters, or building starbases. It is suggested that you start with 10 to match a basic starting value for your fleet of 10. With larger fleet games you can set higher targets. 10 was plenty for me to be honest. After you set out a 5×5 grid of location tiles face down as they are revealed when searched, each player starts with a fleet worth up to 10 points and a set of mission cards totalling up to the value of your fleet. Also, the Mission cards will be a combination of Science, Influence and Combat Missions. The Command decks for each side also is made up of a number od sub-decks and you then choose 4 each. A nice mixture of decks which lean towards combat, or exploration or diplomacy so you choose how you want to play your strategy. Very interesting, very cool and again makes for a different game experience every time you play.
During every turn you may do the following in any order you prefer:
- Move each ship in your fleet – subject to the movement allowance for the ship and the cost to travel across each location
- Make one power adjustment with each ship in your fleet – You have a choice of capabilities to choose from depending where you want to place your emphasis, be it speed, combat, shields or sensors for exploration and scanning
- Take 3 Actions – see below
- Play command cards – these are drawn from your 4 sub-decks which have been shuffled. Each has benefits in different areas but none are the answer to every situation so you need to play them thoughtfully to best effect.
- Cycle a Mission card – you can discard an incomplete Mission card and replace it with another. Some Missions will be tougher to achieve
- Discard 1 command card and pull another.
Actions – Each turn you can take 3 from the following
- – Cloaking Actions – this is handled very well and can really help the Klingon player mostly as they have more ships with a cloaking capability
- – Combat Actions- Combat is pretty much a dice fest where you compare totals rolled including modifiers from command cards. If you hit an enemy ship they can go to yellow alert and then red alert and then BOOM! It is simple and works very well to give the flavour of battle without complications.
- – Influence Actions – very helpful in establishing colonies and building star bases which are used for repairs.
- – Reinforcement Actions – when you lose ships, you can bring on some help
- – Repair Actions – either at star bases or at your home base
- – Scan Actions – you can scan locations before entering and sailing into a nasty surprise, as well as scan enemy ships
- – Transporter Actions – you may be called upon to transport people or cargo
- – Systems tests – these are used to achieve a number of things
There is a lot here and may seem overwhelming but after a few turns, it all works well and you will find yourself referring to the rulebook less and less thankfully. It is all integrated very well, it makes sense and is relatively easy to deal with. This is a well designed system which could have used some good cross-referencing in the rules and an index. When you do find the topics you need, they are written pretty well, and are clear and pretty easy to understand. After a couple of turns and of course a couple of games, the game will play pretty fast. Best of all, you don’t really feel like you are playing a system, but an adventure which to me is the best part of the design. A great job designing this game.
Did it work for me?
The really frustrating thing for me here is that Star Trek Fleet Captains could have achieved the heights of greatness. I could easily have seen it achieving legendary 10 out of 10 status which I rarely award and it certainly had the potential to do so but Wizkidz failed to realise the potential and make it reality. And I put it down either to sloppiness or poor decision making as regards the production by the Wizkids, not the design itself which is pretty darn good.
As a game, it works very well. The mechanics flow and there are a good selection of choices to be made. Your strategy will be determined as to which missions are pulled and how you approach them. The turns move along quickly as you become familiar with the system. Its not just a combat game but includes exploration, diplomacy and so many aspects of the Star Trek stories that will keep m interested to replay this game again and again. The key characters are there, other than Benjamin Cisco and Deep Space Nine (big whoopsie on that one guys…). The theme isn’t just pasted on and is completely integral to the gameplay which I think is just brilliant. I felt like I was experiencing a Star Trek adventure and it was darn fun indeed. Its hard to imagine a better Star Trek experience in a board game. I LOVE playing it. I love the variety of missions and events, the changing game board, the easy but effective combat, the cool cloaking rules, away teams, TRIBBLES… All of it really… Fantastic effort to bring in many many of the aspects of StarTrek into a playable game system.
The production, from the broken models, to the card-stock, to the clix base system is just not good enough. If you take on an iconic theme such as Star Trek, the production needs to match the brilliance of the game play. Am I being harsh here? Maybe, but there are high expectations here and that’s the risk you take with an iconic franchise. The game design was failed by aspects of the production. It slightly feels like the models and clix system were paramount which led to some unbalanced production decisions. Wizkids should have done better.
Damn it Jim! I LOVE Star Trek Fleet Captains but why couldn’t they get the production right????!!! This is currently and most likely to end up being, my choice for my game of the year in any case. But it could have been even better!
So, due to this great frustration, I can only give Star Trek Fleet Captains an 8 out of 10 where I so wanted to give it a 10.
Boardgames in Blighty rating: 8 out of 10
With adult support this could be a fun family experience.
For more information go to – http://wizkidsgames.com/startrek/star-trek-fleet-captains/