Space – the last frontier. All is quiet, all is calm. The placid stars twinkle at you as you cruise the friendly void.
And suddenly, explosions rock the ship. Blaster-wielding intruders teleport aboard. Enemy fighters swoop in from every direction. Irrational fear grips your comrades. What? Why? How? It doesn’t matter!
Because worst of all, the Captain falls over dead (Incinerated, decapitated, perforated, poisoned . . . it’s really up to your imagination).
Pulling it all together
In the aftermath of this cataclysmic and apocalyptic prelude, only your motley crew remains. There’s only one way out of this pickle. Head into Engineering, repair the Jump Core and then get out of the neighbourhood! Alas, disaster has taken delight in leaving you with a most unlikely band of survivors. How will the Janitor, the Diplomat and The Scholar come together to fend off intruders, shoot down attacking ships and fix the Jump Core? Which of these challenges will you tackle first? Can any of them even afford to wait?
The Captain Is Dead is a cooperative games that has players taking on the roles of disparate surviving crew members working together to escape with their ship (and of course, their lives). Each role comes with a different ability and (usually) some Skill Discounts which are used to offset the cost of performing key tasks in the game. For example, the First Officer has one Command and 1 Tactical Discount while the Chief Engineer has 2 Engineering Discounts (surprise, surprise).
On each of their turns, players will try to resolve one of the myriad threats or problems obstructing their path to escape. There’s only one way to win but dozens of ways to lose. It’s going to take clever planning of limited actions, playing carefully hoarded Skill Cards, and a whole lot of luck to fix the most pressing problems so someone (anyone!) can get a crack at fixing the Jump Core.
At the end of every player’s turn, a new Alert card (triggering some new malfunction, intrusion or calamity) is drawn. There will never be enough time to deal with every threat so players need to discuss (or argue) the best way to maximise their individual character’s actions and Skill Discounts.
Some characters are better at dealing with aliens rampaging through the ships. Others have a chance to cancel incoming Alerts while yet others buff their buddies or fix damaged/destroyed systems. Choosing the right mix of roles will often spell the difference between survival and spectacular annihilation. But why choose when you can let fate randomly decide who’s left alive?
Most actions in the game have Skill requisites. Fixing the Jump Core consumes two Actions and requires five Engineering (duh!) which can be paid for with a combination of a character’s inherent Skill Discounts and held Skill Cards. Other Skill Cards in the game include Command, Tactical and Science (very helpful for resolving truly disastrous anomalies like Irrational Fear and Increased Gravity). Drawing Skill Cards and trading them with other players consumes Actions so everything needs to be managed as efficiently as possible.
Watching It All Unravel
Beating the game at almost any level is hard (my kids and I often swing between COWARD and INSANE). But that is seldom a cause of frustration if you are playing with the right group of people. Since no one is going to get eliminated before the game’s end, everyone feels invested in averting disaster right up to the last second.
Sometimes, a series of particularly bad draws will leave you with the distinct impression that you are doomed from the start (I would contend that for the vast majority of playthroughs, this is already a given) but there’s just enough agency for each player to make you feel like there’s always a chance to deflect some of the worst damage to your ship.
There’s something fun about flipping over a facedown Alert Card (because your External Sensors are totally shot) and screaming in anguish as your ship takes another palpable hit but somehow remains in play. This is the sort of game that leads to truly epic narrative moments. Even in losing, there’s just so much fun to be had.
For games who find other cooperative titles like the Pandemic series too tame for their tastes, The Captain Is Dead offers you a chance to prove how much of a sucker for punishment you are. You’ll probably win fewer than a quarter of your games but it’s sure to result in some truly cinematic and spectacular failures.