Saturday Morning Gaming: Kobayashi Maru (as a board game)
Our gaming group, when everybody shows up, has seven people in it. The DM gets a side of the table all to himself and everybody else gets to sit next to a friend. The downside of this number means that there are a lot of games out there that we can’t play. They’re for 2-4 players. They’re for 2-6 players. Games for 7 people are thin on the ground.
Moreover, most of the games out there are competitive in nature. Like, there’s going to be one winner and everybody else is a loser. If you’re in a gaming group like mine, you know that competitive games aren’t likely to have the winners be randomly distributed. In our group, we know that Player A is likely to win, and if it’s not Player A, it’s likely going to be Player B. This can be less fun for Players C-G. So it’s good to find stuff like co-op games where the group wins as a group or loses as a group.
So when I saw that The Captain Is Dead allowed for 7 people and, on top of that, is co-op? I jumped on it like a… all of the “I jumped on it like” phrases I know are vaguely offensive… anyway. I knew I had to get it.
We had to play-test it first, though, before throwing the WHOLE group into the pool. So I went over to my bud’s house to unbox and read the rules and play the game. Okay. You’re on a space ship. You’re being attacked by a bunch of hostile aliens. Your goal is to hold them off long enough for you to fix the damaged warp core thingamabob and get the heck out of there. It ain’t about defeating the aliens. It’s about holding them off long enough to not die.
Well, first off, you have to pick your character. There are 7 ranks to choose from and the players will be one of these 7 ranks, but the ranks have 3 different characters to choose from. Rank 1 is the officers. Rank 2 is the engineers. Rank 3 is the helmsmen types. Rank 4 is the weapons officers. Rank 5 is the science officers. Rank 6 is the medical-adjacent officers. Rank 7 is the janitor/ensign level staff. You’ll recognize each archetype as you flip through them… oh, there’s the android. Oh, there’s the holographic crew member. Oh, there’s the bartender.
Here’s one of the things that I thought was really good and interesting, each of the three characters of each color is not only different from the other two, they’re all good. Like, you’ll be reading each card and saying “I don’t know which one I want!” Each one is really useful and you will only reluctantly pick the one you eventually pick because, seriously, the other two are awesome. Each character gets four actions (the android has five actions, the counsellor can start with five if she starts her turn in a room with another player in it) and has a special ability of some kind. Maybe it takes fewer actions to do something like make or fire a proton torpedo. Maybe it’s cheaper for them to pay to get rid of a particular persistent event. Maybe it’s cheaper for them to buy a card. Maybe they don’t get injured, they just immediately die, but there’s always another one of them so start playing that one (the red shirt).
You’ve got a ship, too. It’s got all of the latest amenities. A med bay, a cargo hold, a science office, a bridge, a central computer, a weapons bay, and, of course, the warp core. Which is damaged. The ship has comms which allow everybody to trade cards no matter where they are on the ship and teleporters which allow them to move instantaneously between rooms and scanners that show you exactly how bad things are going to get. Wow! This ship has it all!
After you get your characters, you set up the ship. There are yellow alert cards, orange alert cards, and red alert cards. Shuffle the individual decks and then stack them so that you draw from the yellow alert cards, then the orange, then the red. Shuffle the skills deck and give everybody four skill cards and then have them drop a skill card into the cargo hold. Choose your setting of how badly damaged your warp core is (do you need to repair it 4 times? 8 times?) Then you flip over four yellow alert cards and begin your game.
And the yellow alert cards are brutal. Wham! 3 aliens show up in a particular room and injure any players in the room. Wham! Remove 10% from the shields! Wham! Disable the teleporter! Wham! A gas that causes everybody to be afraid of everybody else and so you can only perform actions in a room if you’re the only one in there? Crap. And now you get to play. Go in the order of the ranks. After your character performs their actions, draw another yellow alert card. WHAM! Crap, it’s a spaceship that increases any shields damage by 10%.
And now it’s time for the next character to do stuff. And then draw a yellow alert card… until you run out of yellow alerts and get to start drawing orange alert cards. In our testing, we’ve never made it to red alert cards.
In our first playthrough, we played with two crew members and got our butts kicked right and proper. Like, we didn’t manage to repair the warp core even once. We got STOMPED. Okay, we said. Let’s play two crew members each… and, that time, we managed to repair the warp core two or three times before lost. Seriously, the bad stuff came and just kept coming.
The game it reminded me of? Ghost Stories. Down to us looking at each other and saying “I don’t see how we’re going to turn the corner here.”
Now that we pretty much have figured out how to play, we’re going to introduce the game to the group and see if, as we’ve theorized, the sweet spot for the game is 5, 6, or 7 players (because, seriously, we got STOMPED with two players and did significantly better with four due to the synergy that existed between everybody). Or, hey, maybe it’s just one of those games that the joy is found in how long you can survive before being utterly destroyed.
So… what are you playing?