For nearly five decades, “Star Trek” has been a part of American popular culture. With five TV series, 11 films and one more due out next year, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Throughout its long life, “Star Trek” has had its share of game tie-ins — some good, some horrible. Unfortunately, rarely has any video game, card game or board game managed to both catch the theme of the “Star Trek” universe while still being fun and playable.
“Star Trek: Fleet Captains,” a new board game from Wizkids, manages both wonderfully. Set in a generic timeline where Captain Kirk's Enterprise-A can fight side by side with Captain Picard's Enterprise-D, the Federation faces off against the dreaded Klingon Empire as both seek to expand their power into a new region of unexplored space.
The game comes with 24 detailed starships (12 Federation, 12 Klingon) that sit upon bases that allow you to adjust the ship's power settings (shields, engines, weapons, sensors) or even allow some vessels to engage a cloaking device. A standard board is created from 50 location tiles that are turned face down, so that players never know what perils or promises they will find when moving into them. When discovering new worlds, players also have the chance to draw encounter cards, which offer random events that emulate crises from the various “Star Trek” series.
Command cards also offer the players the chance to alter events and give bonuses to their ships in combat. Some cards can be played as crew and placed upon a starship, giving the ship a persistent bonus for its systems or in combat. Combat itself is generally intense, mirroring the action of the series beautifully.
“Star Trek: Fleet Captains” is not merely a starship combat simulator, however. Players are assigned various missions that allow them to accrue victory points. It is possible to play a game without ever firing a shot at an opponent. Some missions include conducting sensor tests on a star, establishing starbases or beaming away teams down to a planet. Additionally, players attempt to exert influence throughout the board in an attempt to best their opponent diplomatically.
Theme is always an important component in a board game. How well the game play reflects its theme is often a major contributor to its success, and again, “Star Trek: Fleet Captains” succeeds on many levels. One truly feels immersed in the “Star Trek” universe with the game's starship models, various pictures of characters and aliens on the cards and a game engine that just feels like it could be a “Star Trek” episode.
Though the game play is first-rate, there are some problems with “Star Trek: Fleet Captains.” There have been some complaints on the Internet that some of the starship models had been broken before being unboxed, though I did not have this problem.
While the models are beautiful and a lot of fun, the cards and location tiles are paper-thin. One would hope that for the price (it retails at about $80, though you can find it much cheaper by hunting online), Wizkids would have printed these items on harder stock. Such thin cards and tiles probably won't last long, which is a shame because this game will get a lot of play.
Despite these problems, this is a very well-designed game that promises hours of fun and holds a high replay value. Given the series' suitability for family audiences, this two- to four-player game contains nothing offensive and would make for a great family night activity. Most games generally run about an hour and a half to two hours, depending on victory conditions set by the players.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular "History Challenge" iPhone/iPad apps. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org