Updated: Oct 24, 2020
The Captain is Dead is one of my favourite co-operative games. I liked it so much I bought it twice: in its original Game Crafter edition and in the revised edition published by AEG. Players each control a crew member and the crew are struggling to fend off alien ships and intruders while repairing the cascade failure of the ship’s systems. There are scores of Star Trek games out there but The Captain is Dead (designed by J T Smith and Joe Price) comes closest than to evoking the feel of together working through an episode of the original TV series.
In the scenario for The Captain is Dead: Lockdown, the crew have managed to warp to safety in the original game but their safety was short lived. They were all captured and have been taken to an alien colony where they have been imprisoned in a holding cell in the infirmary. The players have to either unlock or hack into the alien systems before they can make use of them. Almost all of the Alerts (hazards revealed at the end of every player’s turn) result in more aliens appearing. If an alien appears in the same room as a crew member, that starship officer is taken back to the holding cell; some aliens will additionally dish out a crippling beating.
In the first Captain is Dead game, the critical timer was the ship’s Shields. These were constantly being knocked down and players had to concentrate sustained effort at boosting them. In Lockdown, the equivalent timer is the crew’s Concealment Level. This starts at 100% but drops by 10% every time an alarm is triggered. And there’s a lot that triggers those alarms. It’s much easier to hack an alien system than to bring it online but every hack triggers an alarm. Aliens can be killed as a standard action – and you will certainly need to kill aliens to have any chance of achieving a collective win – but an alarm is triggered for every alien that dies. And, of course, an alarm is triggered every time an alien catches a crew member at a location other than the infirmary/holding cell. This all means that you’re going to have to do a lot of fire-fighting to raise the Concealment Level and stop it falling to zero. When it’s at zero, the aliens won’t just be rounding up the starship officers they encounter, they will be killing them.
Yes. In Lockdown it may not just be the Captain that is dead. This is a game where players face the risk of elimination. That would be a big potential negative for a 90-minute game but the rules do allow for an eliminated player to re-enter the game as a different officer. The only thing that risks upsetting your enjoyment of this game is its susceptibility to an ‘alpha player’ who wants to commandeer all the other players' actions. Unfortunately, that’s an almost universal problem with fully co-operative games played with open information.
The Captain is Dead: Lockdown is designed by J T Smith and Jamie Vrbsky, and the art is by Gaetano Leonardi. At Board’s Eye View, we have become especially fond of the acrylic standees, even if we do sometimes substitute them with Star Trek minis. Like The Captain is Dead 'episode 1', Lockdown is a tense and engaging thematically rich experience. Although it is a standalone game (it's not an 'expansion': you don't need to own or even have played the original game to play this one), it’s a true sequel. It is similar enough to the original game to share its continuity and core mechanics but it plays slightly differently and is, if anything, even tougher than its predecessor. The incorporation of Veteran abilities to supplement each officer's individual special ability also helps to make the game feel like an incremental step up from the original game.
If and when you do manage to escape the aliens’ clutches to win the game, that isn’t the end of the story. AEG have already announced the next instalment – The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet – an Away Team mission where players will be exploring a Strange New World while fending off attacks from swarms of bug creatures. Nobody said Boldly Going Where No-one Has Gone Before would be easy! Board's Eye View will showcase The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet as soon as we can get our tractor beam on a copy.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)