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"LOCKDOWN" - J.T Smith & Jamie Vrbsky present the second in the series of The Captain is Dead board games published by AEG.
The original The Captain is Dead game was Kickstarted by the Game Crafter and co-designed by J.T.Smith and Joe Price. Neither of the next two games in the series The Captain is Dead "Lockdown" and The Captain is Dead "Dangerous Planet" mention Joe Price, both are credited to J.T Smith & Jamie Vrbsky. Extensive search on the internet (I Googled and Wikipedia'd) found no reason for the lack of credit to Joe Price, in fact all I could discover was on Boardgamegeek.com where it says "Joe is a fledgling game designer from Arkansas, USA. He co-designed the Captain is Dead." That's all it says. 

If anyone can shine a light on this mystery (at least it's a mystery to me) I'd be pleased to discover the details.

Talking of mysteries. Amazon UK has this on sale for £32.00 ($42.00) and Amazon USA has it on sale at $33.00 (£27.00)  - each rounded by a few pence or/and cents either way.

Lots of Good News.
To begin with all three of 'The Captain is Dead' games are stand-alone and although they do not require the use of, or previous knowledge of, any of them; they do have a fun, episodic, storyline, that follows through from the beginning, creating a role-play like adventure played out in the player's minds and the necessary locations. 

I haven't played the first game, but the precis on the back of the box for the second episode tells me that the Crew of the Spaceship managed to escape the Alien invasion even though the Captain was Dead! Problem being, their spaceship wasn't good enough to get them away from the Aliens and now they (ie You, the players) stuck on an Alien Prison ship with only one way to escape - beat the Aliens and take command of their ship.

If you haven't figured it out yet, The Captain is Dead games are based loosely on your favourite science-fiction television shows. The title 'The Captain is Dead' probably comes from the old Star Trek-style cartoon where two crewmen find a body and the conversation goes "The Captain is Dead Jim". "You take his wallet I'll take the Tri-Corder". If it isn't from that old chestnut then it should be, as the humour within the game has the feel of that era where we enjoyed the most popular period of sci-fi TV before it all became the dark dystopia of our current time. Think early Star Trek™ (pre-Star Wars™) early Batman™ when the characters wore the brightest of clothes and the villains were more likely to play japes with intent to harm in the most ludicrous ways than just vaporize like they do now.

 

The components, all card apart from the 3 Honeypot Cubes and 2 Status Bars, are beautifully produced and graced with smile-inducing, brightly colourful, art. There are 174 cards in different sizes, types and colours and 51 pawns and bases - it is really good that AEG have provided a base for each stand-up pawn so there is no need to often remove any from their slots and possibly damage them. There are 8 'Veteran' cards which are given to all players because it is assumed they have played the first game and have survived; they then continue into this game as Veterans.

You will need a reasonable amount of space (no pun intended) on your games table as there are markings around the board onto which cards will be placed during play, some of these will be partially on the board but with their main body leaking onto the table. Some cards, such as the 9 orange System cards, have specific spaces on the board where they begin every time you play, and the Alert decks (3) are shuffled separately and then placed one atop the other in a predesigned sequence. Other cards, such as the Skill Deck, are shuffled, cards dealt to each player, and the remainder make up the Skill Deck from which you may gain cards throughout your escape attempt. The rules book says to place the Skill Deck onto the "Skill Discard" location on the board, weirdly this is one of the part-spaces whereas the full space above it and actually on the board - Skill Deck - looks more like the better place to put it, besides if you do place the Skill deck half-on and half-off the board it slides due to the angle and the excellence of the card stock used.

 

The Yellow Status Bars are placed on the Concealment Level and the Launch Bay status. You need to keep the concealment level as high up the chart as possible for if it reaches the lowest rung 'Set to Kill' then characters will die if they are caught (discovered) during the Perform Hostile Alien Action phase - if all characters die it is Game Over. The status bar on the Launch Bay can be set at Normal, Novice or Veteran depending on how difficult a game you want to play, just like you'd find in a computer game.

Characters have specific starting places on the Alien ship. Players can look through the available characters and choose one that they like the look of or they can be randomly dealt out. If you choose a character it is quite likely you will select the same one each time you play, whereas if you are dealt a random character each game it is more likely that you will enjoy the game more as you discover the differences between each role. Characters are fairly well balanced so that each has something to add to the escape committee. All roles are shown on character cards which are in sets of 2 or 3 identified by colour. This is important because only one character from each colour may be chosen to make up the crew for the game.

Unlike many Escape Room games The Captain is Dead Lockdown (and the others in the series) are replayable so that although the goal of the game is the same the way it is achieved or failed is generally quite different. Some cards may be constant throughout but many are random through shuffling so that not every game features the same exact items, objects etc. Personally I am a fan of Escape Room games and even more so when I know they are not one-off games.

Orange: Chief Engineer. Hacker. Teleporter Chief.
Green:   Science Officer. Cyborg. Scholar.
Red:      Crewman. Tactical Officer. Telepath.  Are you brave enough to be the character in the Red shirt?
Blue:     First Officer.  Admiral.  Sympathizer.
Yellow: Weapons Officer.  Soldier.  Only 2 characters in this faction.
Purple:  Counselor.  Diplomat.  Medical Officer.
Grey:    Hologram.  Ensign.  Janitor. Yes, the janitor may be just the man required to save the day.

Character cards have six pieces of information: Title; Always-on ability; Per Use Cost; Per Use Ability; Status; Hacking (Alarm). Pages 8 & 9 of the excellent Rules book details all of the character roles and gives full details of what skills and abilities they have. Players can only hold a certain number of cards as their Hand; this number is shown in the top right corner of each character card. There is more player assistance on the flip side of each character card.

This is a cooperative game and you should do all you can to help each other, however don't be afraid of splitting the party. Sometimes it is necessary for you to be the one to hold the fort while someone else takes a technical action.  Players take turns one after the other starting with the character who has the lowest Rank number. They do not have to use all of the Actions available to them but the rules make it quite clear that wasting Actions is a no-no, a sin of intense magnitude, a Don't Do It! Though of course there is no penalty if you don't use all of your Actions, but neither can you save them for later in the Round (that would have been cool) or for your next turn, as the gamer's bible says about Actions and special abilities, objects etc etc etc "Use them or Lose them" (okay I made that last bit up). Almost all activities require the use of Actions, generally only injuries (or death) prevent you from using your abilities, but Hostile Aliens in your location will also do the trick.

The game itself merrily explains that there is a controversial mechanic known as 'player elimination'. This occurs when the status bar on the Concealment chart reaches the aforementioned SET to KILL level. Any crew member in a location with even a single Alien dies. This game is about surviving on an Alien Prison Ship and escaping by the only means possible, but it is also very much about having fun by dodging the Alien patrols, outguessing the system, and using the abilities and skills available to you at what you perceive to be the best time and in the best place.

What happens when a player character dies? If the players all agree then the player whose character died gets to choose on of the others in their colour faction and start again from the starting position on their card. If you are all really generous they can also use the third role in the set if they die again, but then that is it! dead=dead. Remember the Yellow faction only has 2 cards in its set so that's only one second chance for the Yellow faction player.

Each game we played was similar but different. We used new characters for every game, we were successful 60% of the time, and we had fun 100% of the time. Please keep returning to GGO for news on the third game in this series The Captain is Dead - Dangerous Planet which we have just begun playing and taking notes and photos. I would normally say the £32.00/$33.00 is a tad expensive for an Escape Room game, but that's because most of the games in this genre are one-offs or even worse a Legacy game which you cannot even pass on when you have completed it. I have explained some of the rules and the basic idea of play which I trust is enough for you, dear reader, to have a decent interpretation of what it is all about. As it's an Escape Room style game the least I say the better, the clues are there, the abilities and skills and actions are there, all you have to do is identify and implement them.  

Bright and colourful, good rules, nicely produced cards and pieces. Great to play a game where almost everything is down to the players making decisions together and planning their way to the control room so they can take over the Alien ship and escape to . . .  ? We can safely assume that someone playing this game succeeds because the back of the third episode's box begins with "After escaping from the alien prison ......"

I began this review by saying "Lots of Good Things" so I will finish it with a section entitled "The Bad Things" and then end it there.

The Bad Things:

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015