Monday, September 17, 2012

Everything Went to Baktag: "Star Trek Fleet Captains"

I always wanted to play a space exploration game in which you start out with a small handful of ships and send them across the uncharted reaches of galaxy to settle planets, build bases, complete missions and eventually get scrap with your opponent.  Along the way, you could improve your ship's capabilities and staff every vessel with a unique mix of captains, officers, and specialists.  The game would end up being part Civilization, part Traveller and part, well...Star Trek.    

So keen was I to play a game like this that I bought a Chessex Reversible Megamat a few years ago in the hopes of designing my own game.  But before I could get into it, Wizkids and designers Mike Elliott, Bryan Kinsella, and Ethan Pasternack came along and did all the heavy lifting for me.  Even better, they added the glorious thematic overlay of Star Trek, which I've been a fan of ever since a re-run of "The Corbomite Maneuver" in the late Seventies scared the fertilizer out of me as a child.

As soon as Star Trek Fleet Captains was released back in September 2011, I began to troll Board Game Geek for some early feedback.  Reading a small handful of positive reviews was all the incentive I needed to pick up a copy and start exploring the Final Frontier.  So impressed was I by the game that it inspired me shoot the pilot episode for a board game video series which I hope to continue one of these days.

Last Wednesday night, while Dean and Andrew played out their next game in our Blood Bowl league, Mike and I had a chance to throw down.  

Choosing Sides

Mike opted to play the Federation, which was fine by me since I really wanted to see what it was like to roll with the considerably more aggressive Klingons.  

Initial Set-Up

We decided to play to ten Victory Points and randomly assembled the standard five-hex-by-five-hex game board.      

Fleet Mustering

Mike went first, drawing the Enterprise-E (six points) and the U.S.S. Reliant (two points).  After exceeding the ten-point Fleet Limit on several draws he finally came across the Equinox and the Yosemite for one point apiece.  

My first three draws (the Bortas, Somraw and Kronos One) worked out perfectly.  Curiously enough, it would be one of the last things to work out well for me during the entire game.

Command Deck Assembly 

Mike chose the "Flagship Fleet Deck", the "Main Engineering Deck", the "Captain Picard Deck" and the "Heavy Security Deck".

Being a sucker for thematic shit, I made my selections based entirely on the characters contained therein.  As such, I ended up with the "House of Mogh", "Code of Honor", "Klingon High Council", and "Battleship" decks.  

Opening Moves

After boldly charting a Class T Nebula (purely for navigational purposes, of course), the Raptor-class scout ship I.K.S. Somraw fell afoul of a perilous Black Hole (which the Federation had somehow managed to seed just two sectors away from Qo'noS).  The brave little vessel suffered moderate damage and was forced to send out a distress call.  Please note that this plea for help was very honorably accomplished and in no way resembled the pathetic bleating of a bunch of shortbus-riding dipshit losers like the Pakled.

Officer Klag made his presence felt aboard the K't'inga-class battle cruiser I.K.S. Kronos One emerging from relative obscurity after his superior officer mysteriously turned up dead from thirty-seven distinct d'k tahg stab wounds.  After beaming back from an uninhabitable Class T planet (which would really benefit from inclusion in the Klingon Empire, BTW) an odd "Transporter Malfunction" delivered two notorious Federation war-criminals to us: Admiral Cartwright and Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge.

In addition to sporting rakishly handsome goatees, all three "guests" seemed oddly at home aboard the Kronos.  LaForge even went so far as to kill a mess hall worker with a metal lunch tray after he'd been given too much ice in his blood wine.  Within twelve hours of the "malfunction", Cartwright somehow managed to assume command of the entire ship.  Given the former Federation Admiral's propensity to fly into a rage and beat ass even during the slightest provocation, everyone else in the crew just kinda went with the unconventional self-appointment.      

   Three Klingon War Heroes

As a counter-measure to the aggressive actions of the Starfleet Slime-Devils™, the Vor'cha-class attack cruiser I.K.S. Bortas began to strike deep into enemy territory.  After charting a habitable Class M planet (which would make for a lovely summer home, BTW), she passed through an Inversion Nebula and eventually charted a Hypergiant Star at close range.  Purely for scientific reasons, natch.

Meanwhile, the Federation was up to its usual underhanded tricks.  The Miranda-class "survey" ship U.S.S. Reliant (under the clearly-fraudulent guise of an "exploration mission") coldly annexed two once-autonomous sectors of Empty Space.  Long-range Klingon, monitoring teams clearly  overheard the Reliant make reference to some sort of "Curious Lifeform".  The Klingon High Command has since interpreted this as a code word for a secret Federation super-weapon, which they immediately used it to destroy a perfectly benign ancient defense satellite that had supposedly trapped one of their cargo ships.  And if you believe that, I have great deal on twenty bars of gold pressed latinum for you!

In a further example of Federation imperialism, the Oberth-class "science" vessel U.S.S. Yosemite supposedly discovered a conveniently "abandoned" Colony base just floating around in a Class 11 Nebula.  After discovering that all of the colony's escape pods had been recently jettisoned, Klingon High Command came to the logical conclusion that the Yosemite somehow managed to irradiate the peaceful settlement and drive off its original inhabitants.  Another piece of evidence came in the form of a half-garbled transmission we intercepted in which the Captain of the Yosemite was clearly heard to proclaim "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US"!

The notorious Nova-class science vessel U.S.S. Equinox subjugated a Class D planet for its own nefarious purposes, thus clearing the way for the Sovereign-class starship USS Enterprise-E (the "E", by the way, stands for "EVIL").  This deceitful garbage scow of legendary proportions blew past her fleet-sister and began to drop her own brand of hippy-dippy, Liberal Socialist clap-trap on a poor, defenseless Class J Planet.  It didn't even seem to matter to them that the place was completely uninhabited.

Back in civilized space, the Kronos One was about to intervene in a Class J Nebula's "Civil War" when she received the distress call from the Somraw.  Thanks to the Federation's treachery, Admiral Cartwright (?) was forced to abandon this humanitarian mission and rush in to rescue his fleet mate (??).  In venturing so close to the Black Hole, the Kronos One suffered moderate damage but still managed to tow the Somraw back away from the brink.

Meanwhile, the illustrious flagship Bortas traversed a void of Empty Space and scanned the path ahead, keeping a close eye on those treacherous Federation Ha'DIbaH's.


Starfleet continued to exhibit the luck of the Fek'lhr.  While poking it's saucer section into a place where it didn't belong, the Reliant was hit by a "Displacement Wave".  They still managed to make a successful Level 12 Engines check to break through the wave and escape the sector.  On the Honor scale of one to ten, this would certainly rate no higher then a "2".   Now, if they'd managed to escape from the crushing grip of a Black fucking Hole, I might have been impressed...

Similarly, the Equinox stumbled upon a "Particle Fountain", which was flooding that region of space with dangerous subatomic particles.  Just in time, the crew managed to pass its Level 12 Sensors Test to maintain a minimum safe distance and study the unique phenomenon.  

So, just by sheer luck, the treacherous Federation had already managed to weasel four Victory Points!

After breaking away from the deadly grip of the collapsed star, the plucky Somraw continued to sift through the immediate area, looking for additional Starfleet-brand booby-traps.  Eventually she followed his sister ship back back to Qo'noS to affect repairs.           

Incensed by the Socialist drivel leaking out of the Enterprise-E's com channel, a small band of working-class, blue-collar inhabitants of a Class J planetary system contacted the Klingon Empire for assistance.  The Bortas was quick to respond, dropping off copies of Araxa Shrugged by the celebrated Klingon objectivist philosopher Eyn Rannic as well as full-length episodes of the O'Revulac Factor with Boral O'Revulac.  This allowed the glorious Empire to complete the "Disrupt Influence" mission!

In response, the Federation callously attacked the Bortas with no less then three ships!  Grossly outnumbered, the Bortas was heavily damaged but managed to activate her cloaking device and make a strategic fighting withdrawal.  Qa’pla!!!

After this cowardly assault, the Federation armada broke up.  The Yosemite barged into a Class 1 Nebula and immediately began constructing secret research facilities, which they attempted to pass of as an "Outpost".  This eventually allowed them to falsely claim the "Foothold" mission.

The Equinox scanned a Class J Planet and likely made off with a small fortune of precious stones and minerals.  Clearly oblivious to the events depicted in The Wrath of Khan, the Reliant decided to recklessly poke around in the Mutara Nebula.  Meanwhile the Enterprise-E just did doughnuts in a Class K Nebula, generally acting like a bunch of dicks.

End Game

After pondering revenge against the unsuspecting Reliant, cooler heads prevailed and the captain of the damaged Bortas set course for Qo'noS.  Still cloaked, the battered ship managed to maneuver through a veritable gauntlet of hostile Federation vessels and eventually managed to reach friendly territory.

The re-constituted Somrow returned to the nearby Class J Nebula in an attempt to quell the Civil War that was still raging there.  C'mon, someone's gotta have a conscience in this cruel and violent galaxy!  

With the loathsome Enterprise-E now brazenly intruding on Klingon territory, the Kronos One was dispatched to confront her.  Thanks in part to his "insider knowledge", Admiral Cartwright and company proved victorious, inflicting a point of damage on Starfleet's Golden Child.  Despite the glorious triumph, Cartwright decided to spare the Enterprise-E and seek out a worthier foe.  Please note that this decision had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Kronos One was still completely and totally outgunned and her crew was collectively baktagging themselves during the fight.

After this humbling defeat, the Enterprise-E fled the scene, looking for easier pickings.  She tried to intervene against the Somraw in the Class J Nebula "Civil War" but decided against it after the wayward Bortas suddenly de-cloaked in the same system!  Once again the little sissy Enterprise had to slink away with her tail firmly tucked between her nacelles.  After driving off Starfleet's paper champion, the Bortas and the Somraw joined forces to finally bring peace and prosperity to this humble little corner of the galaxy, earning a hard-fought Victory Point!   

Meanwhile, the Yosemite and the Equinox combined forces to spread their filthy Starfleet propaganda leaflets over no less then four unsuspecting star systems (a Class H Planet, a Class Y Planet, a Class One Nebula and a region of Empty Space), instantly transforming their inhabitants into a bunch of shoeless, drum-beating, patchouli-scented, space hippies.



(NOTE: photos may not be accurate)

This allowed the Starfleet menace to complete its "Establish A Hold" Influence Mission for yet another Victory Point!  

But this would be the last beautifully-regimented mind that the Equinox(ious) would ever warp with its pall of independent thought.  The Class Four Kronos One bravely attacked the Class One science vessel, inflicting a point of damage.  The Kronos One would then go on to bravely attack the Equinox two more times, eventually destroying the vitriol-spewing, hate machine just one sector shy of Earth.  This would earn our glorious Empire the colorfully-named mission "Death Blow", giving us a much-needed Victory Point!  

Unfortunately those Federation dogs would have the last laugh.  The Reliant and the Yosemite paired up to explore an O-Type Star and complete some kind of "Stellar Research" bullshit.  It's much more likely that they were trying to collapse the star and beam it right next to Qo'noS for yet another one of their patently hilarious "Black Hole Death Traps".  

To make matters worse, the duplicitous Enterprise-E snuck by our defenses and infiltrated a Class M Planet adjacent to our Command Post.  Junior Communications expert Lieutenant Rachel Maddow helped spread Starfleet's noxious influence there, allowing them to complete the presumptive mission "Morale Blow" for two more Victory Points and walk away with a tainted win!          


So, as it turned out, I made for a pretty piss-poor Klingon.  Having both he Somrow and the Kronos One immediately damaged by the Black Hole was something that I never quite recovered from.  To make sure I was on equal footing with Mike, I really felt compelled to send both ships back to my Command Post for repairs.  During those pivotal early turns, Mike did an excellent job getting Victory Points from Encounters and setting himself up with some fairly straightforward Missions.

Next time I'll exploit my ability Cloak to get into position, score some Combat Mission Victory Points and then press the advantage if the odds are in my favor.  I'll also cycle through my Missions a lot better, dumping more complicated fare like "Valiant Pursuit".  Since I was convinced that Mike was going to crush the Bortas during the gang-up I held onto conditional Missions like "Vengeance" ("Destroy in battle an enemy ship that destroyed one of your ships") for waaaaay too long.  I was also pretty pissed to draw "Battle Scar" ("Take at least one damage from an enemy ship in combat without being destroyed") after my little run-in with Mike's triumvirate of terror.  

Regardless of my crap luck and lackluster gameplay, I still loved playing Star Trek Fleet Captains.  The game is so fun and thematic that I can have a blast even whilst being shit-hammered by my opponent.  I love the Heroclix ships, the variable Locations, the familiar crew cards, the evocative Encounters and all of those fun and flavorful Missions.  Above all, I love the System Tests and Opposed Combats, both of which really simulate the spirit of Star Trek.  It's pretty awesome when your opponent attacks you with a Command Deck crisis but between the efforts of your stalwart crew and a well-played Interrupt, your ship narrowly avoids certain disaster!  

The game isn't quite perfect.  Some of the components (like the Location "tiles") are frustratingly chintzy.  Some of the ships are a tad fragile.  The rule book, although well-illustrated and loaded with examples, can inspire "chicken or the egg" debates about certain mechanics.  In the past I've been tripped up by Command Deck timing issues and when exactly you get to refresh your hand.

All told, however, this is one of the most thematically rich titles that I've ever played.  Given my RPG background I positively lurve board games that end up telling a cool narrative.  Star Trek Fleet Captains plays out like a classic episode of the T.V. show(s) or like one of the good, even-numbered movies.  It's an absolute classic that will hopefully be augmented soon by a very-welcome Romulan expansion!

Star Trek Fleet Captains easily nets five pips outta six!      


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  1. Just tried a 3 player game with the Romulan expansion and there wasn't a turn where we didn't have to consult that awful rule book to clarify actions, cards, movement... you name it. The rule book is the worst one I have ever read and really held the game back for us. We all called it a day after turn 3. This game is running on impulse for my gaming group and we are all massive trek fans too!

  2. I have to agree with you Daniel, this is one of the worst rulebooks I've had the misfortune of reading. In our game, Mike and I had to come to a logical consensus on how to interpret a rule and then just go with it. I really hope that WizKids comes up with a Second Edition rulebook sometime soon because there's something really special about this game.