July 14, 2017 - Oliver East -
Oh Captain! is a brand-new buffing game from Florian Sirieix and Ludonaute, for 3 – 6 players. Players take up the role of explorers aboard a ship which has been mercifully saved from the depths of the ocean by the Nukha monster. Brought to the surface in a treasure filled cave, players aren’t pirates but what are they supposed to do? No-one can resist the temptation of gold! The Captain sits back while the others explore out, taking his/her pick from the loot brought back. At least until a mutiny is called. However, is Oh Captain! a game to be treasured or left to monsters of the sea? Let’s find out.
At the offset of the game, most of the players around the table start with 3 gold pieces. The captain being the most important member on the ship gets that bit extra starting is 5 gold. This balance is key as the captain must try to remain rich to show his/her power over the explorers; otherwise a mutiny may be on the table. Due to the captain’s importance, only the explorers can go out to find loot, choosing the top card from the shuffled deck.
There is a total of 35 cards, broken down into 7 Lanterns, 5 Grappling Hooks, 5 Guns, 5 Lizards, 5 Purses, 7 Nukha Eggs and the game ending Nomad card. Each player receives a player mat with these numbers on. This is helpful as the game is all about bluffing so knowing the maximum numbers of individual card types can help players to spot an obvious lie. Five of the card types, including the Nomad, come with an instant power. The two that don’t are the coin purses and Nukha eggs. These come into effect after the game is over, gaining or losing a gold coin, respectively, for whomever owns the card.
The card powers are almost more important than the actual cards as this is the element that gets used if bluffed correctly. Lanterns allow you to turn over an opponent’s loot card to see what it is. The gun lets you to discard one loot card from an opponent. Grappling hook enables you to steal a loot card from another player. Finally, lizards let you take a gold piece from another player. It’s key to remember that no powers can be used against the all-important captain but they are free to use the powers on anyone they wish.
On an explorers’ turn they first count their gold. If they have more than the captain they can either pay 1 gold as a loyalty fee or call a mutiny, become the captain and claim a gold piece from the middle of the table. It isn’t often that players don’t take up this opportunity to mutiny but occasionally it can be advantageous to continue to bluff cards past the current captain. This is because on an explorers’ turn they pick the top most loot card. They can look at it to see what it is then they must offer it to the captain. Enter the bluffing as they don’t necessarily have to be truthful to the captain. For example, the player may have picked up a lantern but told the captain it is a gun. If the captain believes the explorer he can purchase it for 1 gold piece. If he has brought the explorers card, if it is what the explorer said he/she gets to play the ability if not she/he just keeps the card and it has no instant power.
If the captain decides not to purchase the card offered, the explorer can now use the power on another player. Following the same example as above despite having a lantern the player has a said it is a gun. If the chosen player believes it is a gun they must discard a collected loot card. If the chosen player doesn’t believe they call the explorers bluff. In the example the explorer was lying about having a gun therefore would lose this call by the targeted player, paying them a gold as a penalty. If the card had been a gun the targeted player would have a card discarded and pay the current explorer 1 gold for ever doubting the explorer’s honesty.
This is where Oh Captain! becomes all about the double bluff. Double in the sense after bluffing an item past the captain they must then try to use it on another player. A legitimate tactic is to be 100% honest to the captain but pretend you’re not, just to be able to use an ability on another explorer. Often if a captain has turned down the opportunity to purchase a card other explorers are more eager to call your bluff. Being able to utilize the abilities can be key to victory, especially if you can put on a non-trustworthy face!
This might sound impossible yet it is exactly what Oh Captain! is capable of. It encourages both honesty and dishonesty at the same time. Something only encouraged by the rule that when picking up a Nukha egg card, which loses a point at the games conclusion, you must lie. Naturally, the honest/dishonest balance is going to be extremely different depending on the gaming group. Apparently, I play with a bunch of constantly non-trustworthy explorers but this may drastically vary for you. Even normally 100% honest players may not be in Oh Captain! though. Players are certainly lead towards dishonestly more than similar titles, such as Sheriff of Nottingham.
When the Nomad card is finally drawn, the game is over and players count up their coins. Lanterns and coin purses give gold bonuses while the Nukha eggs will knock those shiny gold victory points off your totals. Don’t discard your guns, lizards and grappling hooks just yet though. The player with the most in their possession at the games conclusion will get a 4-gold bonus separately for each card type. It would have been nice to see second place bonuses too for larger player counts but it isn’t exactly a game-breaking non-inclusion.
Despite being 100% within the rules, if the captain becomes set in their ways or becomes stubborn it can seriously disrupt the flow of Oh Captain! If the captain consistently buys every card offered to them the captaincy ends up changing hands too quickly. Conversely, a more game disrupting effect occurs when the captain simply refuses to purchase any cards. There is nothing to force a captain to buy a card but without this exchange of gold a single player could keep hold of the captaincy. It’s not entirely experience ruining but if the explorers had other ways of raising their communal gold to rival the captain this would be completely avoided.
The card quality is second to none. The simple clean artwork for the items makes them distinct and recognisable at a glance, perfect for a quick peak when drawing before bluffing. The card backs are, as well as being identical, rather stunningly designed in black and gold. The golden Luma in the centre of the design being readable the same whether the card is the right way up or upside down. Luma being the universe that Oh Captain! is set in. The thickness is perfect so you don’t need to be overly worried by those card benders out there… you know who you are. The only let down with the cards is the card holder. It is a tad flimsy and to be entirely honest past it being used to denote turns it is pointless. It just seems like an inclusion in the box for that instant “oooo” but not long term playability.
New players may find their first game a tad confusing. Not only do you often have to bluff past the captain and another player but what is on the card may not matter at all. This makes it slightly harder to teach to new players than Sheriff of Nottingham, where players only bluff items past the sheriff. Unlike Sheriff of Nottingham, Oh Captain! does offer a slightly faster experience as the game flows and turns move fast around the table. While the captain doesn’t keep changing each round everyone will get a chance to call a mutiny unless they are being seriously targets by others.
It is a bit odd that a shift away from pirates to explorers has been made but it doesn’t massively detract from the theme of a captain and crew. Comparisons to Sheriff of Nottingham are clear but Oh Captain! does enough for both to live happily on the same board game shelf. This is mostly due to the game revolving around the powers more than the items. As with any bluffing game once you get caught bluffing everyone will start to be suspicious and then the entertainment flows. Does the captain risk buying something? Should you bluff the captain or your fellow explorers? The double bluff aspect makes things interesting and reduces the downtime players perceive. At any point, you could be targeted by an items power and having to call someone’s bluff. Overall, Oh Captain! offers a fast and thoroughly entertaining bluffing title that’ll provide the shouting and laughing as the best of the genre do.
[Editor’s Note: Oh Captain! Was provided to us by Esdevium Games for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £17.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]