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The Captain is Dead – Star Trek-inspired digital board game

Developer: Thunderbox Entertainment
Price: $10/£10
Size: 249 MB
Version: 1.0
Platform: iPhone & iPad

The Captain is Dead

The Captain is Dead essentially plays out like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A ‘dark parallel universe’ episode, where Captain Jean-Luc Picard has been killed and it’s up to the plucky crew to rally together to fend off an alien attack.

But if this were an episode of that famous ’90s sci-fi TV show, it would suffer from a repetitive and confounding plot. While The Captain is Dead certainly looks the part, its constant bombardment of threats soon becomes numbing, and the process of toing and froing around your wrecked ship feels like so much busywork.

Your ship is a selection of color-coded rooms

It’s based on a popular board game, which explains the reliance on turns and action cards. Each of your crew members has a distinct ability in keeping with their station – there’s an engineer who excels at fixing things, a soldier who can wipe out a room of intruders, a cyborg who is immune to anomalies, and so on.

As each round begins, your ship’s scanners throw up imminent threats to various sections of your ship. If you hit certain negative milestones like 12 boarders entering your ship, or if your ship’s shields drop to zero, it’s game over.

Some characters will look very familiar to Star Trek fans

And so in each turn you’ll cycle through your crew members, sending them off to various embattled rooms, spending action points on fixing systems and biffing aliens on the nose. Your crew member might not have the appropriate tool to hand, so you’ll need to trade with other members, either in person or over the comms system – provided it’s working.

The Captain is Dead is full of variety in terms of the sheer number of things you need to monitor and address. The presentation is top notch, too, with an exaggerated look that speaks to comic books and animated shows as much as to Star Trek.

The game’s mini cut scenes have real panache

So why does it all feel so one-note and flat? A large part of it probably comes down to those board game roots. Without the tactile appeal of playing pieces and cards, or of cooperative friends huddled around, the game’s insistent music, endless blaring alerts, and repetitive fire-fighting tasks might start to wear on your nerves.

The interface is extremely busy, and occasionally favors form over function. An example of this is a well-voiced and presented tutorial that still leaves you none-the-wiser as to many of the game’s intricacies.

Aliens need to be smacked

This really isn’t a game that should be played on your iPhone, especially not a smaller device like the iPhone 12 mini or iPhone SE. Its many tiny bits of text and imaginatively integrated screen prompts make any length of play on these devices quite fatiguing. You’ll ideally want to grab an iPad for this one.

The Captain is Dead presents an intriguing premise of placing you in control of a constantly threatened starship. If you’re willing to stick at it and learn its ways, working through the many difficulty levels, there’s some slick chaotic fun to be had here. Board game fans especially will have plenty to dig into here.

Your ship’s scanners warn of imminent threats

But where a game like FTL makes a similar premise seem thrilling and tactical, with well-judged variations in tone and pace, The Captain is Dead bludgeons you into submission with its constant stream of threat and endless busywork.