Good board games are challenging and entertaining. Great games have flexibility and replayability. But the best games are the ones that let you and your friends enjoy the action as well as each other, an excuse to laugh while defending yourselves against certain doom.
They keep getting better, too. Monopoly and other static games with fixed boards have been old and busted for two decades. The not-so-new hotness: games with multiple character choices, flexible winning conditions, flexible difficulty levels and boards that change each time you play them -- not to mention living storylines, sequel "episodes" and refereed tournaments.
Because it's Star Trek month here at Blastr, I found eight post-modern board Star Trek games, plus two classics that have withstood the test of time. I hope you relish them as much as I.
Risk: Star Trek
Risk: Star Trek isn’t just a skin variation on a theme. Well, it kinda is if you play it as a straight-up Risk game. But there’s a second, more advanced way of playing it that adds a more cut-throat element to an already cut-throat game. Players choose from one of the five Star Trek captains, as well as their crew; with four crew members in play at any round, they really can save you when some inferior captain tries to invade your hard-earned territory.
Here, Q has gathered all five Star Trek captains and pitted them against each other in an Arena-like fashion. However, invading and defending are critical to meeting Q’s many quests, and the first captain to meet three of them wins the game. But you’re also subjected to Q-vents, which need to be resolved, some of them more dastardly than others...particularly the Tribbles.
This game is as vicious as it is fun. And the Tribbles were as insidious as they were adorbs.
(2 to 5 players)
Star Trek Catan
As with Risk: Star Trek, Star Trek Catan is a twist on the fabulous Settlers of Catan game. The gameplay mirrors the original game as well, where the first player to reach ten points wins. But tnstead of the standard five resources in the original — wood, wool, ore, clay, and wheat — this version substitutes food, water, oxygen, tritanium, and dilithium. Also, the robber doesn’t appear on a 7 roll; the Klingons do.
In addition, players get support cards in the form of the original crew, plus Sarek — Spock’s father, who doesn’t get nearly enough board game love.
But your support card can also be a hindrance, as you can’t discard it until its condition is met. So if your Kirk card lets you avoid penalties on a 7, you’re stuck with it until someone actually rolls a 7. Damn it, Jim.
Star Trek Fleet Captains
STFC, a game based on the Heroclix system, has a great deal to recommend it: Randomized tiles and randomized ships give this game decent replayability, plus if you don’t like your mission (based on either science, influence, or combat), just replace it with a new one.
Players choose subdecks of cards from a static deck, which gives this game the flexibility of a CCG without having to spend your house down-payment on a card that gives you Star Trek equivalent of three mana.
It’s not a perfect game. It’s two or four players only (no three or five players). It’s kind of spendy. And sadly, because of the game’s randomization of cards you need for your winning condition, your missions may not be completable. But whether you're attacking the Klingons or bombarding the Federation, you'll see it’s Star Trek through and through.
(2 or 4 players)
The Captain Is Dead
TCID isn’t an official Star Trek game, but I’m including it because it has as much Star Trek feel as any game here. But really, it’s more like the Kobayashi Maru. Our captain is dead, and to win, the crew must save the ship and warp away from the attacking aliens. Sounds simple. It is and it isn’t.
Players choose a station (medical, engineering, science, etc.), then from there, you can pick a character (you're given two or three choices). For example, in Engineering, you can become either the Chief Engineer or a Teleporter Chief.
TCID is a cooperative game, so instead of trying to stab your buddy, you’re actually trying to save their life so they can save yours. As a veteran of too many combat games, I’m thrilled with the 21st-century trend of collaborative games, and this is one of the better ones.
Pro tip: Even with a less challenging winning condition, TCID is hard. To me, that made it more fun. The Admiral card is way overpowered, making every game with him in it more likely to succeed. Stick with the First Officer for an extra challenge.
Star Fleet Battles
Where would any list of Star Trek games be without Star Fleet Battles? This 1979 game boldly went where no game had gone before, by blending the world of Star Trek with the tactics and strategy of a war game. This is a game for the strategically minded and the answer to every half-written manual you’ve ever encountered.
However, it’s not for everyone — myself included. Although it has a simple kill-or-be-killed goal, the manual is so densely packed that playing the game felt more like work than entertainment. To wit:
But if war games and battle simulations are your cup of tranya, then you can’t do better than Star Fleet Battles. You just can’t.
Pro tip: Beginners should play with smaller ships. With fewer weapons systems, no shuttle craft, no transporter bombs, no high-energy maneuvers — and no positron flywheel — your game will much more streamlined and much less complicated. You can always graduate to larger ships later.
Star Trek Trivial Pursuit Anniversary Edition
This pared-down version of Trivial Pursuit has no board and no pies. But what it lacks in traditional Trivial Pursuitness, it makes up for Star Trekiness. In some ways, Star Trek Trivial Pursuit was my favorite — and not because the box does double duty as the Galileo shuttle. It’s because it gave me the opportunity to unleash my raw geek power.
It's a simple enough game: Answer the trivia questions in every category before some other know-it-all beats you to it. With questions like "What was Spock's betrothed wife's name?" and "What stigmatizing disease did T'Pol contract?" winning this game pretty much justified all of those hours watching Star Trek. Hell, it justified my entire life.
Pro tip: Shuffle your deck thoroughly before you begin. It took several rounds before we realized that this large deck wasn’t solely dedicated to the original series.
Star Trek: Five-Year Mission
5YM is a fun cooperative game, challenging enough to keep your interest yet simple enough to play with different age ranges/stages of inebriation. Players choose between classic Trek, Next Gen, or a combo of both, before they pick their characters.
You start off with three mission decks: a general blue deck, plus yellow and red decks, which need to be separated into classic or Next Gen piles, depending on which version you’ve chosen. Players are given five dice of different colors, and each card has a mission you can complete by matching the die colors and number on your roll. If you can only match one number, that’s fine. The next player may be able to match the other on their turn. If your rolls are dice-tastic, it's mission accomplished.
But certain cards can result in injuries, damage to the Enterprise, or time-based challenges that may or may not be met. Losing one mission is bad. If you lose five missions, or if your Enterprise takes five points of damage, you’re as dead as Edith Keeler.
(3 to 7 players)
As Star Trek fans know, tridimensional chess, also known as 3D chess, was shown on the the classic series in episodes “Charlie X” and "Court Martial." Fan Andrew Bartmess took that game and made it real and playable.
In many ways, tri-d chess plays like standard chess, where the object of the game is to take your opponent's king. But the extra dimensions give the game, well, extra dimension. While in traditional chess, you can move your pawn one space forward (two on its opening move), here, you can also move it one space forward, one space forward above, or one space forward below.
It’s a simple shift in perception, recognizing that the overlapping boards are actually the same main board. The trick is to pay attention to the other “attack” boards. For a fun twist, you can pick up and move one of the smaller boards and replace them in other positions — as long as the board is either empty or has only one pawn on it.
It takes practice, but if you can get the hang of standard chess, you can get the hang of the Star Trek version (Note: When I say “you,” I mean “not me.” I lost hard).
Star Trek: Attack Wing
Do you like miniatures? Strategies? Precise measurements? Do you hate boards? Star Trek: Attack Wing has got yer game right here.
Using multiple components (like dials and maneuver templates), players must balance characters and actions against the strength of their ships. Plan, attack, and yes, measure your firing arc. If your opponent can’t evade, you’ll be sending them to Stovokor. Or vice versa.
Attack Wing is a solid combat game that doesn’t force you to wade through encyclopedia-sized manuals (I’m looking at YOU, Star Fleet Battles.) But even though it’s enjoyable, it has one serious flaw: WizKids’ multiple expansion packs encourage you to make extra purchases. Let me do the math for you: $12 here + $15 there = the freakin’ DLC of board games.
Side note: Attack Wing has a living storyline, with new challenges each quarter that wrap up with a tournament. The prizes aren’t stellar, but the bragging rights are.
(2 to 4 players)
Star Trek Panic
In Star Trek Panic, you need to complete five missions with the original Star Trek crew in order to win the game. However, that’s secondary to the real goal, which is to keep the Enterprise from going out in flames (Really. There are flames.). Romulans, Klingons, and Tholians converge around the board and pummel your shields and eventually your ship until you take them out. But don’t bask in your sweet victory. Before your turn ends, you draw two more enemies.
The thing about Panic — particularly Star Trek Panic, based on Castle Panic — is that the s**t hits the fan pretty much the moment you begin, and the game feels as if you’re scrambling to keep up. It’s OK the second time around, when you know what you’re doing. The first game? It feels like you’re about to die at any moment. It’s the very definition of panic. This makes it hard to implement an offense when you’re too busy on the defense.
But what Star Trek Panic lacks in strategy, it makes up for in creating a bonding experience. After all, you’re working together to save the Enterprise. That makes you and your buddies the best crew around.
Pro tip: Go around the board and do damage in order of sector. And make sure one person moves the ships, to avoid confusion as to who moved what .
Side note: My sharp-eyed buddy Frank thinks the Klingon Bird of Prey graphic comes from Star Trek VI and not the original series.
(1 to 6 players)