Roll Call Sci-Fi Double Feature: Roll for the Galaxy + Ambition; Star Trek Fleet Captains
Roll Call summarizes the past week’s gaming exploits, and who was doing the exploiting. The tail end of school summer holidays is always busy but we managed to squeeze in a few good sci-fi games. In keeping with our Retro-Game Night efforts and loving what we have, both games in this installment are the ‘old hotness’ that have been given added value through worthy expansions.
Thursday Game Group: 4 Players
Roll for the Galaxy + Ambition Expansion (2014/2015, BGG 7.7/7.2) 30 Minutes, 2 to 5 Players.
As mentioned in a previous post, RftG is daunting the first time through but comes easily and rewards multiple plays thereafter. Everyone has now mastered the basics and knows how to recognize a good set of tiles and a good strategy when they see them! Seth, John, Duncan, Mark, and I share the wins around and every game is close. Despite playing almost every session it wasn’t getting repetitious for the Thursday Night Game Group so I didn’t need to buy the Ambition expansion but am glad I did.
Ambition adds a few nice twists to the game and avoids the common expansion pitfalls: namely, added complexity and rules, watering down what made the game good, or lengthening the game. Ambition does the opposite.
The new black and orange dice actually speed up and intensify the enjoyable empire and engine building part of the game. First, the new dice have multiple symbols on their faces. If you use a symbol on a face with a ‘$’ sign for its intended phase it goes back into your cup directly after use without having to pay for it. If a face has two phase symbols you can bump it to the second phase should the first phase where you placed the dice not trigger.
Second, the black “leader” die replaces one of the three white dice that start in your cup and is ‘wild’ representing any colour dice when shipping. The effect is, of course, players racking up VPs and cycling dice quicker. RftG already did a great job of getting and keeping players involved right from the start. Ambition’s new dice improves on this strength.
The new Faction and Home World tiles continue the theme of allowing you to do more. RftG is a ‘Euro Game’ but the Ambition expansion goes a long way to mitigating the “never have enough” aspect of most Euros. Orange dice are fairly easy to come by and there are several new ways to eliminate a white die in exchange for two coloured dice. The new development and settlement tiles continue the theme and there’s a full set of objectives that can spice things up as well although I’ve yet to play with them.
RftG: Ambition demonstrates what an expansion should do
Without breaking the game or bloating the rules, or creating special circumstances and things to remember, Ambition jump starts the early game and provides more paths to victory in the long run. It’s still all about identifying and executing a strategy early and, more than ever, each game I’ve played with the Ambition expansion has ended before I wanted it to, in a good way. There’s always a second or sometimes a third game.
Last Weekday Game of Summer Holidays: 2 Players
Star Trek: Fleet Captains + Romulan Expansion (2011/2012, BGG 6.97/6.4) Between 90 to 120 minutes with 2 players, longer with 3 (and probably not worth doing with 4)
A game of Fleet Captains packs an entire season of Star Trek into one gaming session. Seth and I break it out several times a year and enjoy it each time. Considering the modular board and multitude of card types and counters for tracking a vast array of information, it’s a surprisingly tight game system heavily steeped in all things Star Trek. The base game comes with Klingons and The Federation while the two expansions add Romulans then The Dominion.
It’s more aptly named Fleet Admiral as you control a fleet of ships that earn victory points (VPs). You build a fleet through randomly drawing from a deck of twelve named ships that range in size from 1 to 6 until your combined ship size is exactly 12. This size (as you can play larger or smaller games of any size) is also the number of VPs it takes to win.
Each ship card tells you how many of each type of mission card you draw. A size one ship gives one card while size three has you draw three mission cards and so on. With a 12 VP point game, no matter what your starting fleet you’ll always start with 12 mission cards in your deck but, depending on your faction, you’ll have a different distribution of missions. Each race has a dominant mission type and a smattering of the other three types. The USS Enterprise (below left) for example gets 3 Science, 2 Influence, and 1 Combat mission.
This differing distribution of mission types gives an asymmetry to victory conditions that makes each race play in a way that feels right. The Federation, if left to its own devices, wanders freely conducting science experiments while the Klingons stealth around cloaked and strike hard in unexpected ways. Many of the espionage missions are facedown secret missions, known only to the Romulans, who can also cloak and distribute saboteurs and other nasty surprises. The Dominion use espionage but are equally rewarded by spreading their influence across the galaxy.
Seth is often able to claim victory with The Federation by sending his ships all over so they can rack up VPs through science missions. In the latest match (early game pictured here) my Romulans used cloaking to get close and then harass and strike the Federation ships in force so they had to fight instead of dedicating their precious actions to getting science mission VPs. All the while my sneaky Romulans got VPs for things like decloaking then attacking or ganging up on single ships.
Exploring the final frontier and strange new worlds is a staple of Star Trek: Fleet Captains. Location hex tiles and encounter cards create a dynamic modular board. You can use an action to ‘scan’ ahead to peek at one of the facedown tiles adjacent to one of your ships or you can just move onto it and flip the tile face up and see what happens. All the Star Trek classics are here: Stable Wormholes, Class M Planets, Empty Space, Nebulas, and many more. After six years of playing I don’t think I’ve explored them all yet.
The first time a location tile is flipped and revealed you must roll for an encounter. If you hit the target number you stop your movement and resolve one of an array of encounters. Here’s a sampling. From Alternate Realities to Tribbles, Star Trek fans will recognize many of them. Again, with at least 150 encounters I don’t think I’ve resolved a fraction of them yet.
Oh yes, the miniatures! They are functional, decent sculpts with clix dials for keeping track of status, but in need of a paint job. (on “The List” of things to paint!) The Federation gets twelve unique sculpts but the Klingon, Romulan, and Dominion sets of twelve have far fewer. And still, there’s more to this game – a lot more – but I think you get the idea.
The two most important questions.
Is it a good game system? Yes! Fleet Captains is a big sprawling game with 16 decks of cards and 8 or more ships in play at any given time. There are also hundreds of tokens necessary to keep all the bookkeeping and the many persistent conditions and rules straight. The core rules, however, are simple and solid enough to allow all the moving parts to mesh into a tense, balanced, and always close two-player battle. That said, you need a high tolerance for ‘busy’ to enjoy this one but to its credit Fleet Captains always clocks in between an hour and a half and two hours.
Throughout, on both your own and your opponent’s turn you’re always engaged directly and there’s infinite replayability in the base box alone. The game is still available but the price has almost doubled since I bought my copy in 2011. Be warned, you get a ton of great stuff in the box but the cards are thin and wear easily. Budget for several hundred card sleeves if you want to protect your investment. This is one I’d buy again even at today’s price and despite the cheap feel of some of the components.
Does it do justice to the Star Trek universe? A resounding yes! At no time, ever, does it feel like a tacked on theme. Every card, counter, ship, and mission is pure Trek. In fact, I can’t think of another IP that could successfully port into this system and come out half as well. It pulls in everything from the ‘Prime’ universe: the original series, the animated series, The Next Generation, DS9, Voyager, and all ten ‘Prime’ movies. Whatever your idea of Star Trek canon this game is chock full of it and all meshes seamlessly into an entertaining game as filled with cliff-hangers, difficult decisions, and unexpected events as a full season of Star Trek.
There are two expansions for Fleet Captains: Romulan Empire and The Dominion. Romulan Empire knocks it out of the park by introducing the Espionage mission type in addition to a fully rendered Romulan civilization populated by all your favourite characters from across the Trek series.
The Dominion expansion is a must for DS9 fans but, otherwise, you can take it or leave it. Apart from the occasional reprint Wizkids obviously no longer supports the game system. It’s pretty clear The Dominion expansion was a bit of an afterthought with repetitive sculpts and an exact reprint of the Espionage mission cards already found in the Romulan expansion. I felt a bit ripped off after purchasing The Dominion but I’m a completionist and loved DS9 so I have to admit I’d buy this one again too. The Dominion is fun to play but, like the Romulan expansion, needs an experienced player to make the faction competitive against The Federation or Klingons from the base set. Like many Fleet Captain fans I hold out hope for a Borg expansion, or any expansion for that matter, but there’s no expansion event on the horizon. If you’re keen, there’s excellent fan-made material available on the Fleet Captains Facebook page.
Have you played Star Trek: Fleet Captains? What other Star Trek games have you tried that go boldly and play well?