“Discover the alien artifacts or become bug chow” proclaims the front of the box for The Captain is Dead – Dangerous Planet. Although technically the third game in The Captain is Dead saga, Dangerous Planet can easily be viewed as a stand-alone title.
There is no need, or expectation to have played the other games and there is no disadvantage for not having done so. This game has become my go-to cooperative game and I hope you will see why.
What’s The Scoop?
The intrepid crew are without a captain, as you may have guessed from the title. They have escaped their previous imprisonment in an alien colony and returned to the starbase. Whilst there, High Command assigned them a new captain and a new mission.
The mission: to visit a planet within the alien empire and recovered artifacts that are key to unlocking advanced technologies. To that end, the crew embarked on the long journey to the Dangerous Planet. A landing party were deployed using the age-old method, a shuttlecraft, which landed on the deserted surface. In true Star-Trek style, the Captain was part of the away team.
In hindsight, the Captain should have been more careful. Clearly, he hadn’t read the front of the game box because, as he stepped into the first tunnel, a giant alien bug swooped down and bit off his head. A grisly way to end his short-lived tenure as Captain. The rest of the crew are again without a commander in chief. But the mission is far from over. There are still artefacts to find and the bugs are advancing through the tunnels towards your shuttlecraft.
How Do I Start?
The game is part board and part card based. There is a board containing the shuttlecraft and the systems cards. The rest of the game is made up of system cards and tunnel cards which lead off to the bug’s nests. From the nests, swarms of bugs will emerge and advance toward the shuttlecraft. The board also contains an artifact track on which to record the artifacts which have been collected by your crew.
At the start of the game, all computer systems are online. This means your crew can communicate, transport, swap items and pick up skills. Your shuttlecraft also starts at full health. As the game continues, and bugs begin to infiltrate, these systems and the health of your shuttlecraft deplete. The game ends if your shuttlecraft reaches zero health.
For me, role selection is one of the main things that sets this game apart. There are 21 role cards within the game box and the game starts with each player selecting the role that they want to play. Since this is a cooperative game, there is an element of strategy within the role choice. Each role has inherent skills and an ability which sets them apart from others.
These characteristics can complement the other roles taken on by other members of your team. Some roles also have extra actions to spend during their turn. Players can select which role they want to play, but only one role of each colour can be played in the same game.
After all, there is no advantage to the crew if every player is playing a commanding officer – too many cooks can spoil any broth. Once they have selected their role, the player receives a matching pawn which they place on the shuttlecraft to begin the game.
Each player also receives a randomly drawn tool card. They can be used twice during the game and are generally stronger than other actions which can be taken during a turn.
The final element of setup is the alert deck, five alerts are drawn before the start of the game. Generally, alerts are negative events that include systems forced into the offline mode or the spawning of bugs. At the end of each player’s turn, a further alert is drawn and resolved.
As the game progresses, the alerts increase in difficulty and the game ends when the last alert is drawn. They are randomly drawn, but the external scanners can help your crew to see the next three upcoming alerts and plan for them. When the external scanners go offline, you are flying blind until you can repair them.
How Does It Play?
In a nutshell, the game is relatively easy to learn and rewarding to play. A turn is made up of phases. In the first phase, you spend actions by performing various tasks. To begin with, your options are movement, killing a bug in your location, carrying other players, and giving or taking skills or tools to or from other players.
After spending your actions, you must activate any devices in existence. Building a device costs at least one action and can only be built when a player has collected the necessary skills. This becomes easier as the game progresses and a crew can work together to pool their skills, although they must be in the hand of one of the crew to build the device. Devices are essential to winning the game. When the bugs advance and multiply, the devices will be the key to pushing back their swarms.
The third phase of the game belongs to the bugs, which advance at varying speeds depending on your level of difficulty and how many relics have been recovered so far. In The Captain is Dead – Dangerous Planet, resistance to bugs is futile. If one touches a member of your crew, the player is injured and must receive medical treatment to be able to get back to their full potential. After bugs have advanced, the final phase of a turn is resolving an alert.
Artefacts are recovered by exploring the tunnels and finding their hidden locations. At the beginning of the game, all tunnel tiles are face down. As your crew explore the tunnels, the cards are turned over and activated. Some of the cards contain negative events. Some reveal the locations of artefacts.
A crew member with enough scientific skill can recover the artefacts which are then marked on the tracker. The game is won when the number of artefacts recovered meets the mission requirements for the difficulty level selected. Recovering artefacts also unlock relics, which can aid your mission.
Final Thoughts On The Captain Is Dead – Dangerous Planet
The Captain is Dead – Dangerous Planet is not an easy game. At times, the heavy emphasis on randomly drawn events can feel unfair and the advance of bugs can be relentless. At first glance, the rulebook can also seem like it was written by the same alien race that inhabits the planet. It can be confusing and could have been laid out in a much clearer way. That being said I love the game.
Never before have I found a cooperative game that keeps me coming back for more. The variety of gameplay and character choice means that players can return time and time again without the experience feeling repetitive at all. The varying levels of difficulty can add challenge when you feel you have mastered the game or can reduce the difficulty when introducing new players.
Personally, it is a game I have played with die-hard board game fans and newbies alike. I’ve even played with my nan. It really is a game that can appeal to anyone. This game will feature on my board game shelf for years to come and I can guarantee that it will appear on my table regularly.