You are the crew of a starship which definitely isn’t the Enterprise. You are under attack from aliens and your captain put the red shirt on this morning because they are dead. You’re left trying to fight the fires, to save not just your own skins but the crew of your ship. Can you repel boarders, get the jump core working to warp out of there, and settle your own arguments in a co-op that takes the best bits of collapsing into a crazy mess and mixes them with some sci-fi? Do you find losing a lot of fun? The Captain Is Dead is here to find out.
How To Play
In The Captain is Dead, players take on the role of a crewman. Crewman range from Admiral, to Hologram to a very Red Dwarf level repair technician. These roles are divided up into departments in the ship. So blue characters are command figures, green is science, and orange is the technicians. These characters have slightly different numbers of actions available to them. They also have a range of special rules, and a range of free skills. Gameplay involves taking all your actions and passing them to the next person until you have repaired the jump core and escape with a victory. If only it were that easy.
There are a lot of actions available to you, but there are conditions on what you can do. The board is divided up into a map of the ship and many actions are limited to certain parts. Such as, repairing the jump core takes place in the orange engineering part of the ship, while firing the torpedoes needs another part.
Movement requires actions unless the teleporter is working, when you can move anywhere for one action. Not only do you need to be in the right area of the ship to perform an action, you need the right skills for it. There are four skills: Command, Engineering, Science and Tactical. Any character can perform the ship’s actions, but each requires a number of actions points and number of skill points.
Some characters have inbuilt skills. When repairing the jump core for five engineering skill, getting a character with two skills inbuilt is a bonus. Otherwise, you have to rely on skill cards, which can be drawn in the CPU core, passed through the communication systems to a different player (if the comms are working) and then used in the right zone.
That’s a lot of ‘working’. The thing is, everything on your ship can not only break but be destroyed, and you need skills and action to repair it. Teleporter offline? You need to walk into engineering with the skills to fix it. Scanners broken? Onto the bridge with enough cards. And how do things break? Oh yes, just a small detail: you’re under a massive and constant attack, and when a player has finished their go you take an Alert card and play it.
These vary from having aliens destroy key systems, to aliens landing on parts of your ship. To you hitting anomalies that do terrible things like change the gravity and increase movement. The cards are turned relentlessly after each player takes a turn, and there are three levels: run out of yellow and things get worse in orange. Run out of that and red alerts appear… If your shields ever reach zero, you lose, and a lot of alerts damage them.
The Captain is Dead - Everything Is On Fire
This is a game of constant firefighting. You need to gather skills to repair the drive, while gathering skills to repair the systems in order to keep the ship alive and often, simply repair to be able to gather skills to repair. At the start of The King is Dead there are a lot of things you can do on your ship. By the end it’s steaming and broken. The chaos builds up, as does the tension among the players struggling to avoid being dragged into the whirlpool.
There is a range of difficulty levels based on how many repairs the jump core needs. From ‘coward’ to what we can only describe as masochistic. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great game that’s well paced, but you will lose, a lot.
I’m reviewing the Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) version of The Captain is Dead, but the game and two expansions ( were originally available elsewhere. The AEG production values are good, it maintains the great art style of the original that’s halfway between 50's sci-fi and modern cartoon, while making the PC and alien standees out of a translucent plastic adds a brilliant touch. Missiles counters are in the form of little missiles, and set-up / pack down time is very efficient if left well. Overall, this is a quality physical package.
The Captain is Dead is one of the finest co-op games on the market but also one of the most intense. It’s perfect for people who like both Pandemic, Sci-Fi and being slapped in the face. Nothing here solves the problem is alpha gamers trying to take over a session. Except you can point out the captain is dead and the group will be soon.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on 23/07/2018. Updated on 21/07/2021 to improve the information available.