For fans of the original The Captain is Dead, it should come as no surprise that the Captain is still dead. Having jumped to warp and survived drifting through an asteroid belt, those aliens are hopping mad. This time they’re not just boarding the ship in little groups. They’ve taken over the shipped, trapped us in the infirmary and shut us out of our own computer systems.
See if Fairway survives in this preview of The Captain is Dead: Episode 3, Lockdown.
The Captain is Dead is a highly underrated, under-appreciated cooperative game series from designers Joe Price and JT Smith. Last week, they released the second expansion of the game called Episode 3, Lockdown, on Kickstarter. Episode 3 is a two- to seven-player game and takes about 90 minutes to play at almost any player count.
Initial Impressions ^
- Episode 3 is not going to disappoint fans of the first two versions. The same suspense and tension exists in this one as in the previous ones, but with slightly more interesting mechanics in the “ship control” and “concealment.”
- There’s lots more invading-alien-blasting action in this game.
- Most of the great roles return from the previous versions and they’ve updated them and added a few new ones, including an alien!
- The game is refreshed with new actions, new weapons and tools, and even a new skill.
Game play ^
I’m not going to dwell on the basic mechanics of the game which are the same as the previous two versions. However, you do need the base game to play this one. In Episode 3, the game takes place on the same board with a few changes. Instead of an exploding warp core, the ship has been taken over by the aliens. To win, the players much work together to regain control of the ship by either removing all of the aliens from the ship for a series of turns or “repairing” control.
Like in previous episodes, the players take on one of a huge number of possible roles. Each role has a specific ability, a number of “actions per turn” and, in most cases, a discount. In addition, having now survived two previous encounters with the aliens, players also start with one of a new set of “veteran” upgrades.
In addition to the human crew (and the hologram), Episode 3 introduces an alien sympathizer. This character avoids most of alien-related negatives, but won’t kill its own kind. The alien sympathizer also gets a discount on a new skill: alien language. The alien language skill is a necessary part of a whole mess of the new issues faced by the crew: taking back control of the ship and unlocking systems.
In this episode, the ships systems are all “locked.” In order to get access to those systems, the players have to unlock them. That means spending actions and skills to just turn them back on. Alternatively, the players can just try to “hack” the systems to get access to it for one action. But hacking systems usually takes an action, a lot of skill, and causes an “alarm.”
Alarms are another new mechanic in the game. Whenever an alarm sounds, a player is captured or spotted by an alien, or players kill an alien, the entire teams “concealment” level goes down one level. Concealment replaces the “shields” mechanic from earlier games. If the team’s concealment level reaches the bottom, players are at risk of dying. Players have chance to increase their concealment (just like shields) and certain new upgrades help minimize the losses.
The “dying” in Episode 3 is a form of player elimination, but the player isn’t actually eliminated. The player takes over another one of the same-colored roles. Only after dying three times (extremely unlikely in all of our games) is the player actually out of the game.
There are a few other changes worth noting. First, being spotted and captured by aliens is an ever-present threat. Certain aliens now patrol the ship. They move in a predictable circular pattern, but they can definitely make trouble. New aliens are added to the ship with almost every event. In either case, if a player (without a special power) is caught in the same location as an alien, in addition to lowering concealment, that player is hurt and sent back to the infirmary.
Second, the game introduces a host of new weapons (including grenades) and upgrades for the players to use in battling the aliens.
Third, the “anomalies” of previous games now add “honey pots” to certain of the actions in the game. The honey pots turn otherwise innocuous actions into alarm sounding actions.
On the green ^
The Captain is Dead: Episode 3 captures the fun, theme and suspense of the previous episodes. In some ways, this game does things even better than the first two.
Alien blasting. There’s something much more involved in the decision to kill the aliens on the ship. You can’t just mindlessly kill them all because (until later in the game with an upgrade) each one you kill lowers your concealment. That means emptying a room full of aliens might put your entire crew at risk of dying.
Win condition. We really liked that there were two ways to advance the “Ship Control:” by repairing it (one action and 3 alien language and 4 engineering skills), and by eliminating the aliens from the ship. This latter condition made overriding alerts and other strategic plays valuable.
Events. I felt like the events were much less unpredictable than in previous versions. From a guy-who-likes-to-win perspective, this was nice. The shuffle in previous episodes had a huge impact on the game. Here, the range of impacts in the escalating levels were all very similar, but all still very terrible.
Maintains high points of previous episodes. I should probably review the original and episode 2, but Episode 3 maintains many of the things that I like about those games:
- Wide variety of player roles in a wide variety of identities: men, women, cyborg, alien, etc.
- Each of the roles seem relatively balanced. There are clearly better combinations of roles, but even then, it just makes the game challenging like you might expect if a Janitor and red-shirt crew member were the only ones manning the ship.
- The art style is perfect for the theme
- Player’s actions are also useful and usable throughout the game.
- The game maintains a high level of tension throughout.
- Players are encouraged to make efficient use of their actions. Wasting actions is a terrible thing.
Box. The Episode 3 box is now big enough to fit the original game and Episode 2 into the same box!
Player elimination. I liked the respawn mechanic in this game. Even if “concealment” falls to “set to kill” and a player is killed, the player merely removes that character and picks another of the same color. They lose their veteran upgrades and their skill, but can still play and contribute. Hilariously, if you’re the redshirt crewman, you just respawn. In at least one game, we intentionally let a player die so that we could get one additional action which lead us to victory.
Where it comes up short ^
Patrols. The only thing we noticed is that the patrolling aliens weren’t nearly as much of an issue as they appeared they might be when we read the rules.
Dominant player. Like previous incarnations of TCID, an aggressive player can still direct the actions of other players in the game Episode 3. To those players, I say, “relax. It’s just a game.”
On the Green ^
The Captain is Dead: Episode 3: Lockdown is another terrific expansion for a great and under-appreciated cooperative game. By bringing the alien fight to the ship and providing players new challenges, this expansion definitely brings new life to the game. For fans of the first game, this expansion is definitely worth picking up.
The Captain is Dead: Episode 3: Lockdown is in the hole for a birdie. ^
Fairway was provided a copy of the expansion (he already owned Episode 1 and 2) in order to write this review. He was not otherwise compensated for the review.