Everyone knows that Star Trek redshirts are doomed, but for The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet… well, you get the idea. Described as "the last 10 minutes of your favorite sci-fi TV show [where] things have gone seriously wrong", this board game is a cooperative Trek love-letter that'll reduce you to a mess of nerves. It's also got a shot at breaking into our list of the best board games.
Time to play: 60 - 90 mins
Set-up time: 5 - 10 mins
Avg. price: $50 / £40
He's dead, Jim
The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet is part three of a series, but it works perfectly well as a standalone board game. This time, you're an away-team tasked with gathering alien artifacts. Simple? Not really. Because the crew's luck sucks, their destination happens to be infested with flesh-eating bugs - and one of these swooped down to bite off the captain's head. Now you'll have to complete the mission alone and against the odds. It's a fun concept that makes the most of tropes you'll recognize from Next Generation and beyond. Trek fans like me will get a kick out of its many references, and the modernist art-style is more than a little eye-catching.
Its mechanics seem to have high-profile inspirations, too. If anything, it's a cross between Pandemic and Betrayal at House on the Hill. To begin with, players lay down tiles in a random formation. These represent tunnels. Like Betrayal, you'll only find out what's inside (be it an effect, bugs, artifacts, or nothing at all) when you move a token onto them. That means Dangerous Planet offers a different experience every time, increasing the game's replayability. It's slightly nerve-wracking as well; there's no way of telling what lurks in the dark, and you'll have to delve ever deeper if you want to win.
Much like Pandemic, things also get progressively worse at the end of each turn. Firstly, bugs hatch from their nests and will advance toward you in a wave of snapping mandibles after every round. Should they reach you or the shuttle, you'll take damage. If the shuttle gets hit four times, it's game over.
This adds time-pressure to your scavenger hunt; can you hold off those bugs long enough to grab the artifacts you need? It's an engaging balancing act, particularly because bugs move faster when you've got lots of artifacts under your belt. E.g., the closer you are to victory, the harder Dangerous Planet becomes.
Then there are the 'alert' cards. Divided by color and severity (yellow is bad, orange is worse, and red is a disaster waiting to happen), these are random events played after your turn to keep you from getting complacent. Which is bad news for us, obviously - they do everything from spawning more bugs to knocking out vital tools. And trust me, that's the last thing you'll want. Your away-team's shuttle is fitted with enough technology to make Scotty proud, be it a teleporter for quick movement or the ability to see what threats are coming. In short, these give you a fighting chance; they're the only way to gather skill cards for deploying weapons or collecting artifacts, for instance. Lose them and you're in real trouble.
Paradoxically, that's the best bit about The Captain is Dead. You walk a knife-edge between victory and failure, and there's a constant sense that you're on the back-foot. It's a welcome challenge, and one veteran board game players will appreciate.
That means it's not for the faint of heart, though. This isn't a casual, breezy sort of game; it's very strategic. The whole thing is a balancing act where every move counts, making it one of the best cooperative board games thanks to a need for good communication. Using its mechanics to your advantage is essential, and you'll need to effectively divide and conquer tasks to stand a chance. That in itself is a lot of fun - it's engaging and collaborative.
If you can overcome the learning curve, anyway. The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet is tough to get your head around because there's so much to absorb. What's more, its instructions aren't always easy to digest. You'll be fine once you've played a couple of turns, but getting to that point is a bit of a struggle. It's not always logical, either - the system cards in particular are confusing thanks to passive effects that aren't labeled as such.
However, it's worth the effort. This is a game with layers, and there are so many different routes to victory. It's got longevity as a result, especially with so many characters to try - you can choose from a crew of 21, each with unique abilities and advantages to learn. That includes a first officer who maximizes productivity and, amusingly, a janitor who's awesome at fixing everything (he ended up being my favorite, funnily enough - the idea of facing down a bug horde with cleaning spray in hand really tickled me).
Not that these roles are the only things that'll have you returning for more. The addition of 'devices' helps to keep things fresh for those who've played every installment so far. Deployed with skill cards and designed to keep bugs in check (whether it's through brute force or more subtle bonuses), they're a crucial way of buying yourself time. Subsequently, they add to the list of mechanics you'll end up juggling. Do you save skill cards and actions for artifacts or devices? This keeps the pressure on, but it's the source of satisfaction as well - you can't go wrong with classic base-defense. It's a gratifying loop.
What's more, it's a good example of how deep Dangerous Planet is. There's so much you can get to grips with, and loads of different approaches. This helps tremendously when it comes to mileage, to say nothing of multiple difficulty settings and the supposedly 'impossible' Koyashi Baru cards you can add for a greater challenge.
I'm not sure you could ask for more.
Where to buy The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet
It's difficult to get hold of anything right now for obvious reasons, so we've gone ahead and linked to websites that still have The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet in stock. You'll find them below.