Disclaimer: This review is from a copy of the game that was provided by AEG to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Game: The Captain Is Dead: Dangerous Planet
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Design: JT Smith, Jamie Vrbsky
Art: Gaetano Leonardi
Mechanisms: Action points, Cooperative, Hand management, Modular board, Variable player powers
Number of Players: 2 – 7
Game Time: 60 – 90 minutes
Description: In The Captain is Dead: Dangerous Planet, players work cooperatively to defend their shuttle from alien bugs while also gathering artifacts to unlock alien technologies.
The game is setup by placing the board onto the table and setting the system cards on their associated sections, Online side up. Shuffle the Alert cards separately by color and build that deck, then shuffle the Relics and Skills and place them in their associated areas. Shuffle the Tunnel and Nest tiles and build the tunnels either using one of the suggested setups in the rulebook or via a method of your choosing.
Play begins with each player selecting or being randomly assigned one of the 7 colors of Roles, selecting 1 of the 3 characters of that Role to play for this game, and flipping one of the other character cards over as a player aid. Players are dealt a random Tool card (1x or 2x use cards with good effects) and 5 Skill cards, of which they must discard 1 so they begin the game with 4 Skills. 5 Alert cards are then resolved from the Alert deck to initially populate the tunnels with some bugs and cause other effects, and then the first player begins the first turn.
Players take turns in order based on the Rank of their player color, with lower Ranks going before higher Ranks (Rank 3 goes before Rank 6, etc.). Each turn, players can take as many actions as the number of action icons on their Role card (usually 4, but some Roles have different amounts). Actions include things like moving (to explore the tunnels), attacking bugs (to protect artifacts and prevent the bugs from reaching and damaging the shuttle), using shuttle systems, and more. Some actions, like using some shuttle systems or collecting artifacts, also require Skills in addition to spending actions. Each Role has 1 or more Skill discounts on their card, that represent that Role’s natural abilities, and discount actions that require the matching Skill. Players must discard Skill cards matching any remaining Skills needed for the action they are taking. If they don’t have the right Skills, they can’t take that action. Additional Skill cards can be acquired at the shuttle.
Players can also deploy devices into the tunnels. There are 6 different devices that can each be deployed once, and the cost of Skills varies by device. Several of the devices are weapons that will automatically kill a number of bugs within a certain range every turn after being deployed, unless destroyed (by a bug reaching the device). Other devices are defensive in use and can stall bugs long enough for the weapons to kill them off or for players to get there and assist in taking care of the situation.
After a player finishes taking their actions, any built devices will activate according to their specific guidelines (this usually involves the guns killing bugs within range), then the bugs will advance a number of spaces towards the shuttle based on the Swarm chart (which will go up and down throughout the game based on effects). If the bugs reach a space with a player or device, they will damage them. Devices are destroyed if damaged, and players are knocked down and considered injured, and will need to be healed at the shuttle). Then, an Alert is resolved which will either add bugs or cause an anomaly that the players have to deal with, and then the next player takes their turn.
Play continues in this way with players exploring the tunnels looking for artifacts that spawn when certain tunnel tiles are flipped over (by a player entering them). Artifacts can be collected by players, but are destroyed if bugs reach them, and must be returned to the shuttle safely. Players win the game when a number of artifacts based on chosen difficulty are successfully acquired, but lose the game if enough artifacts are destroyed that they can no longer acquire enough to meet the win condition.
Review: The Captain is Dead is a cooperative game series that seems to have a very polarizing effect on people. The first game seemed to go over well (we at OSG have not had the opportunity to play it yet), but the second one (Lockdown) fell rather flat. OSG was able to play that one but we did not enjoy it all that much, mainly because our first game we lost within 3 turns or so due to heaping together some really bad luck. Unfortunately, that meant that a lot of people didn’t pay much attention to Dangerous Planet when it released due to sour feelings after Lockdown. OSG was given the chance to review Dangerous Planet, and I’m really glad we did.
Dangerous Planet does not have the same pitfalls as Lockdown. There is still a fair bit of randomness, and it is a difficult game (due to being cooperative), but it’s designed such that even if you have some bad luck it’s still usually possible to try and come back from it with clever planning and some team effort (and maybe a little luck swinging back your way). In our plays it was far less frustrating when the game ended in defeat as usually it had been building up and we just couldn’t get things under control, as opposed to Lockdown where you could just have a couple bad turns in a row that completely ruined any chance you might have had of winning. Dangerous Planet’s defeats left us feeling more like “okay, I know some things I could have done better that game, so next time I know what to do differently.”
I really like that the tunnels are a series of tiles that are very customizable. The rulebook has 8 pre-set tunnel setups, but you can very easily make your own setup to either make the game easier/harder or just to be creative. This not only creates a lot of replayability for the game, it also adds some fun even before the game starts as you decide together what you want the tunnel system to look like.
There are 7 colors of roles that each have 3 different characters to choose from, and each character has a unique ability paired with skill discounts. This means that there is a lot of difference game to game even if you play the same role color again. It’s really fun to try and create fun combos with different characters, and every character brings something to the game. Some of them are definitely better in certain situations, but each is worthwhile in its own right; though I do think some characters are passed over at lower player counts because you have less people to try and cover the essentials and can’t experiment with the more niche characters as much (but that’s the case with most cooperative games that have a wide player count range).
My main complaint with this game is that the rulebook is not spectacular. There were several times where we had questions during gameplay that we couldn’t find a solid answer about in the rulebook and so we had to look it up online. While that isn’t a huge problem, as most people have at least one internet-connected device at the game table at all times in this day and age, I still prefer rulebooks to generally be a full source for the game (aside from the occasional niche interaction that is rare and couldn’t have been accounted for).
All in all, Dangerous Planet is an enjoyable cooperative experience that is difficult enough to provide a challenge but still feel really good when you pull out a win.
Try, Buy, Deny: If you like cooperative and tower defense style games, I would highly recommend Dangerous Planet as a buy. If you only meet one of those criteria, or are just a fan of sci fi games, then consider this a definite try.