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Star Trek: Fleet Captains: Romulans and Dominion
Star Trek: Fleet Captains has expansions for the Romulan Empire and Dominion.

Even though it is a kind of mediocre game, my friends and I liked Star Trek: Fleet Captains enough that we were excited to try out the game's expansions. There's a nice, episodic feel to the game that does do a pretty good job of capturing some of the feel of the source material. Fleet Captains has two expansions, which each offer a new playable faction: the Romulan Empire and the Dominion. Both expansions revolve around the same two core mechanics (espionage and saboteurs), but each has its own unique methods and techniques for how they utilize those mechanics. Since both expansions have similar features, I'm going to review both expansions together.

The Romulan Empire connives its way to victory

The Romulans are my favorite race in Star Trek I like Romulan makeup. I like their uniforms. I like their ship designs (especially the warbirds). I like their cunning. And I like the depictions of the Romulans in every era of Star Trek, except for Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek: Enterprise, which both managed to ruin a good thing. So opening the Fleet Captains box to find no Romulan ships was - of course - disappointing, and the very first thought that popped into my mind (after "Ooh, plastic space ships!") was "I should check if there's a Romulan expansion to this game". Sadly, it was sold out on Amazon, and eBay sellers wanted upwards of $150 for copies. I didn't want a Romulan expansion that badly... But my girlfriend, being awesome as she is, eventually saw the expansion come back in stock on Amazon and immediately ordered a copy for me to surprise me. So as I was getting ready to organize some game sessions to play the Dominion expansion and resigning myself to the idea that I'd never play the Romulans, a shiny, shrink-wrapped copy of the expansion literally showed up at my door step. She's a keeper!

Star Trek: Fleet Captains: Romulan and Dominion expansion
I don't like the monochrome ships, but at least the Romulan ships are the same color as in the show.

The green plastic of the Romulan ship miniatures fits well with the color schemes of Romulan ships in the shows, and the miniatures don't look as dull as the unpainted miniatures in the base game. The only Romulan ships that wouldn't be green would be Original Series Birds of Prey (or borrowed Klingon battle cruisers), which aren't included in the expansion's ship roster anyway. Instead, they included three Birds of Prey from Enterprise. That's a shame to me, since I really like the Original Series Bird of Prey's design - not as much as I like the TNG Warbird design, but the TOS Bird of Prey is up there in my list of favorite ships. I really would have liked to have seen one of the Enterprise Birds of Prey replaced with a TOS Bird of Prey in the roster, and maybe even a borrowed Klingon Battle Cruiser, but no such luck. Ah well.

Star Trek: Fleet Captains: Romulan Empire expansion - broken ship model
One of the ship models was broken on arrival,
and the piece was nowhere to be found.

I was a little bit annoyed by what seemed to be manufacturer's defects in the Romulan expansion package. Some of the component slots seemed to be just a little bit too snug for the cards that were set in them, so the cards were bent a little bit upon opening the box. This included the location hexes and mission cards, which need to be shuffled in with the base game's respective decks. Fortunately, there weren't any folds in any of the cards, so a little counter-bending was enough to get them aright. The more severe problem was that the Valdore ship model had a part broken off, and the plastic piece was no where to be found in the box. The broken piece wasn't even in the box, so it wasn't a breakage that occurred during shipping, and it wasn't a simple matter of gluing the piece back on. So much for quality control. Obviously, I can't attest to whether or not this was a common problem with this particular product, but I wanted to mention it.

Either way, it gave me an opportunity to test out WizKids' customer support, which was very "meh". I put in a request for a replacement part back in mid July. The support page implied that customers are supposed to send the old, broken/defective parts back, and that a shipping label would be provided. But after putting in the request, I never received any email or print-able shipping label of any sort. The status of the request remained as "received by Wizkids" for over three weeks, with the "mailed to Wizkids" remaining null, so I was left wondering if WizKids was waiting for action on my part. I didn't feel like mailing the broken ship back, since I was actively using it at the time, so I decided to wait it out. Eventually, the status changed from "received by Wizkids" to "shipped", and the replacement ship model showed up in my mail box three days later. So I guess I wasn't expected to send the original component back?

The Tal Shiar engages in subterfuge missions

Saboteurs are a new crew type that are placed on the other players' ships and have various positive and negative effects. In most cases, the saboteurs will provide a passive positive power (such as a boost to a system), but will have a one-time effect that the Romulan player can activate to harm the ship on which the saboteur is stationed These cards are played directly from the Romulan player's hand, regardless of the relative location of the player's ships. So if you draw a saboteur in your starting command cards hand, you can play a saboteur on an opponent's ship on the very first turn. This adds some welcome opportunities for more early-game interaction between players, as well as allowing for the possibility of negating another player's attempts at early victory points.

Some of the more interesting Romulan saboteurs include one that can leech victory points from an opponent [LEFT],
and another that can steal a ship from an opponent's reinforcement pool [RIGHT].

The saboteurs have a variety of different effects. One even allows the Romulan player to leech victory points off of the other player unless the other player sacrifices a couple of her own victory points in order to remove the saboteur from her ship. This card also opens up the possibility for a game to end in a tie, and the rules have no clarification of how to resolve that situation. Yet another saboteur has an ability that allows the Romulan player to potentially steal a starship from the other player's reinforcement pool! That's right, you can steal starships! So I guess I can get that Klingon battle cruiser to serve in my Romulan fleet after all. Since it's such a powerful ability, it does require a die roll to pull off, and the smaller the size of the ship being stolen, the more likely the Romulan player is to succeed at the roll. Stealing a rival's size 6 flagship is a very unlikely event, and stealing a smaller ship (with weaker shields) makes it very easy for an opponent to steal it back.

There's a new sensor action that ships can take called "Transmission Interference". Running interference requires an opposed sensor check against an enemy ship in any location. The greater the distance between the ships, the harder it is for the aggressor to run the interference. Succeeding at the check allows the player to force the victim to discard one of their mission cards and draw a replacement. This is particularly potent against missions that require steps to be taken across multiple turns (such as building installations), since you can allow the player to invest in starting the task, only to shut them down at the last minute. It can also be a way to delay the opponents' ability to end the game, and thus give yourself a chance to mount a come-back. Lastly, it makes the sensor system more important to keep enabled. If you disable your sensors for combat or some other purpose (or they're disabled by damage or sabotage), you open yourself up to the opponent automatically succeeding at this action and cycling out your mission cards (since a disabled system causes your ship to automatically fail any opposed test with that system) regardless of the distance from your ship(s).

Star Trek: Fleet Captains: alternate Kronos One and Excelsior
Alternate Excelsior and Kronos One cards
allow Federation and Klingons to draw
espionage missions.

The expansion also adds a new set of purple espionage mission cards, and certain Romulan ships draw espionage missions into the Romulan player's mission deck. The expansion also includes a variant of the Federation's Excelsior and the Klingon's Kronos One that allows those players from the base game to also draw espionage missions (assuming that the player drafts the corresponding ship into his fleet). The new espionage missions feature a lot of objectives that require indirect military action. Most of them are centered around cloaking your ships and deploying sensor echos, or intimidating enemy ships away from your own ships or territory. Other missions involve placing saboteurs, removing influence, or forcing another player to discard command or mission cards.

Overall, the focus of this expansion's mechanics is to add greater interplay to the game. If you are the kind of player that strongly dislikes having your plans and strategies interfered with, then you will probably be very frustrated with this expansion's new mechanics. Early strategies can be completely derailed, and the game becomes much more reactionary with this expansion in play.

The Dominion turns your own crew against you

The Dominion expansion retains the same espionage and saboteur mechanics as the Romulans, but the strategies and methods involved in employing them are different. For example, the Dominion doesn't have the cloaking devices that the Romulans have. Certain espionage missions that involve cloaking devices are just outright impossible with the Dominion (pending some extenuating edge cases). It's not a problem, because you can cycle through mission cards as a free action. In fact, you could even look at this as an advantage, since the Dominion can cycle out any such mission cards without any reservation, which just puts you one step closer to going through your entire mission deck and being able to chose which mission types you want to draw. Instead of cloaking devices, the Dominion have shapeshifter characters, and their command cards allow them to steal cards, crew, and missions from other players, as well as cards that force other players against each other (in 3 or 4-player games).

Star Trek: Fleet Captains - Dominion shapeshifter
Shapeshifters replace other players' crew cards.

Shapeshifter characters are similar to the saboteurs of the Romulans, except that instead of adding them to a rival's ship, you replace an opponent's existing crew member with a shapeshifter. Any abilities of the original crew member are replaced with the espionage or sabotage abilities of the shapeshifter, which the Dominion player can activate at any time. The Dominion, thus, turns the other player's own crew members against them. The player whose crew are replaced with a shapeshifter can still discard the shapeshifter using the same methods that you would discard a Romulan saboteur, so they're not any harder to deal with.

Dominion Armada

One of the other defining characteristics of the Dominion is that they have a lot of ships of size 1, and their cards and abilities encourage the Dominion to maintain a large fleet and to grow it even larger. They have cards that buff every ship in the fleet, as well as cards that providing benefits that scale with the size of the fleet. The Female Changeling crew card also has an ability that allows the Dominion to grow its fleet size every time it takes reinforcements, which allows them to effectively pull out all of their Jem Hadar fighters if they want to. Of course, each reinforce would require an action, which means that drawing all those reinforcements is quite expensive. The Dominion can offset this cost with other cards that allow for extra actions.

Many Dominion cards and ability promote large fleets and ships acting in swarms.

These massive fleets can allow the Dominion to puts its warships on the front lines, fighting enemy ships and trying to control their movement, while the many smaller ships can stay in the backfield and perform influence missions and build installations. Alternatively, these large fleets can also swarm and overwhelm enemy ships.

I have a couple of component complaints with the Dominion armada. For one, it's hard to fit those massive fleets on the hexes on the board, and the expansion didn't add any sort of "task force" or "fleet" token to represent multiple ships on the board. A really neat thing to do would have been to include a couple plastic task force figurines that include sculpts of multiple smaller ships attached to one base (along the lines of the fighter squadrons included in Star Wars: Armada). Sadly that didn't happen, nor is there any cardboard token to save space on the board. Secondly, I would have liked to have seen action tokens that could indicate that a ship can take multiple actions. You could, hypothetically use the extra tokens from the team variant of the game, so this one isn't that big of a deal.

With the Dominion's large fleet sizes, some kind of task force token or figure
(ala Star Wars: Armada's fighter squadrons) would have been welcome.

New mechanics promote interplay and improve some core mechanics

One of my hopes for the expansions was that they would improve some of the base game's lackluster mechanics. Specifically, I was hoping that the espionage missions might add more relevance to influence/control tokens or to installations. The rules were amended such that the first starbase any player builds is worth two victory points instead of one, but this still doesn't really solve the issue. I still feel like the economy of actions just doesn't make influence and installations worth it. Getting 2 victory points from six actions is a lot better than only getting one, but this feels like a very poor and blunt-force attempt to get people to even use the mechanic. I still feel like the bases are only worth building if you have a mission for it, or maybe if you get a planet in the middle of the board that provides you with a discount for building installations, and even then, only if your ships aren't occupied doing something else.

There's also one or two new locations that have positive effects for the player who has control tokens on it, but if you don't draw those locations, then it's moot. So while these core game issues feel a tiny bit better, I still feel like this particular area of the game is a bit underdeveloped. I'm still wondering if maybe we're playing the game wrong, since the game comes packaged with a crap-ton of influence tokens, which implies that the designers expect for players to use a lot of them. If someone knows something about influence that I'm missing, feel free to let me know in the comments!

All those influence tokens [LEFT] still go mostly un-used, but at least cloaking [RIGHT] is more viable.

I really feel like Starbases should do something along the lines of granting additional actions or increasing your command card hand size. Influence should do something along the lines of providing movement discounts in tiles that you control, or to grant boosts to combat or skill checks. Some command cards may have effects like these, but it just doesn't make sense to waste actions placing influence on the off chance that you might draw a card or mission that will give you some benefit for having control.

Some other rule changes and amendments do help improve a couple other aspects of the core game's mechanics. I already talked about how the "transmission interference" action makes sensors feel more important -- even critical (unless you want an opponent to cycle out your missions). Another small rules adjustment that makes a huge difference (at least in how we play) is the "Emergency cloak" rule. This allows a ship to spend a subset of its engine points in order to cloak while moving. Emergency cloaking makes cloaking much more viable, since you don't have to waste a precious action to do it, and you can now cloak and attack on the same turn without having to play some Kirk-Fu command card tricks. The downside is that it reduces your ship's mobility that turn, but that's a small price to pay. It also slightly reduces the strength of the Klothos' "fade away" ability (which allows it to cloak during movement), but that's also a small price to pay to make the core cloaking mechanic feel so much more useful.

More players and longer games

Having either, or both, expansions also opens up the possibility of playing larger three or four player competitive games. There's new rules and board configurations for these rules. I never played the four-player team variant from the base game, since I didn't think it would be that fun. I'm also not keen on the idea of trying the 4-player competitive game, as it would probably just take too long.

I did play the three-player game, and it was OK. It added extra time to the length of the game (as is to be expected), but it seemed fairly competitive and balanced. I suppose it does open up the possibility of two players teaming up against the third. The game mechanics (even with the expansions) don't really encourage (or allow for) cooperative play, so if players are teaming up like that, then that probably has more to do with the players than the game. Having a third player also means that falling behind early doesn't necessarily feel as punitive as it does in the two-player game, since the other two players could act as a check on each other's success, and the lagging player could potentially sneak up under the radar. It also means there's more targets available for the espionage and military missions.

Star Trek: Fleet Captains - 3-player game
Having either expansion allows for 3-player games. Both expansion allow for a 4-player free-for-all.

I definitely do not recommend introducing the game to any new players in a 3 or 4-player game, as it's already complex and confusing enough for experienced players. But if you have two other friends who have already played a game or two, then the 3-player variant is worth trying out.

Storing the expansions is a bit of a challenge. Both expansions come with encounter cards and location tiles that need to be mixed in with the base game's cards and tiles (respectively). Unfortunately, the base game's plastic insert doesn't have enough room to store these extra components. This means that unless you find an alternative storage solution, you'll need to separate the expansion cards and tiles from the base ones to store them in the expansions' boxes. The encounter cards are numbered, so it's not terribly hard to separate them, but the location tiles aren't numbered or marked in any way (that I could see) to determine which ones came from the expansions.

Another minor issue is that neither expansion added components for marking which ships have made power adjustments or moved. As a convention, I tap the ship's card when it's moved, and I place the action token on the respective ship to indicate that it has made its action. There's still no way to indicate that a ship has already made a power adjustment. Maybe I could use an influence token or something? There's certainly plenty of those.

Still too complex for its own good

Unfortunately, the big elephant in the room remains: the game's poorly-worded rules and frequent confusing edge-cases. None of those problems with the base game have been fixed, and the new rules, cards, and special abilities open up a lot more ambiguities in the game's rules. You'd think that Wizkids and the designers would have learned some lessons from the original game and done a better job of phrasing the expansion rules or clarifying the cases in which the new rules seem to conflict with base game rules. That's not the case. In fact, rule ambiguities seem to have gotten even worse in some cases!

There were a bunch of rules questions that we were able to come to confidently answer after more careful investigation of the applicable section(s) of the rule book(s) and by checking forums. I got an answer to whether or not emergency cloaking avoids having to make a breakaway roll, and for how to properly use Pardek, for example.

Star Trek: Fleet Captains - rules and errata
Expansions (thankfully) only add a single page of new rules, but there's still plenty of points of confusion.

But there were also a handful of other rules questions that we have been unable to reconcile as of the time of this writing. Other questions involving the Rekar and Valdore crew cards are still somewhat unresolved, and there's also confusion with situations like trying to resolve the "Space-faring lifeform" encounter when multiple ships are involved. If the rules confusions was a deal-breaker for you in the base game, then it's still going to be a deal-breaker in the expansions.

Despite the issues with the rules and component limitations, I like both of these expansions. Neither one seems to fix my complaints with influence and installations feeling like weak mechanics, but other rule changes for cloaking and an actual powerful function for sensors help to improve some base game mechanics. Both the Romulan and Dominion fleets have fun new gameplay systems that really promote greater interaction between players. Either expansion really does help to elevate the base game considerably, and having both just opens it up for more players.

PROS

  • Romulans!
  • Increased interaction between players via saboteurs and transmission interference
  • Sensors actually have a powerful function now
  • "Emergency cloak" rule makes cloaking more viable
  • Adds 3 or 4-player support, at the expense of greater downtime
  • Romulan and Dominion fleets play well against each other
  • Romulan ship miniatures look good in green plastic

CONS

  • Neither expansion makes installations or influence feel more worthwhile
  • Even more rule ambiguities and confusions?!
  • Not enough room in base game package to store shared components
  • Some expansion components are not marked as being part of the expansions
  • Dominion ships are all purple, including the Cardassian ships that should be yellow
  • Romulan expansion contained manufacturer defects, including a broken ship

FINAL GRADE: C+

Manufacturer: WizKids
Lead Designers: Mike Elliot and Ethan Pasternack
Romulan Empire exp original release: October 17, 2012
Dominion exp original release: August 2014
Player(s): 2-3 players (or 4-player team game) (with one expansion), 2-4 players (with both expansions)
Game Length: 2-3 hours (+ 1 hour for arguing over rules / looking up FAQs)
Official site: wizkidsgames.com/startrek/star-trek-fleet-captains/

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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