At last look, there were nearly 300 games in the BoardGameGeek (BGG) database with a Star Trek theme, dating back to the 1970s. Not a single one of them has attained an overall average rating higher than 7.1, which places that “7.1” game – Star Trek: Fleet Captains – at #225 among the nearly 80,000 games in the database (a sizeable proportion of those 300 Star Trek games are expansions to Fleet Captains). It begs the question: Why hasn’t there been a decent Star Trek game? Star Wars has three games among the top 200 in the BGG rankings, including one – Star Wars: Imperial Assault – that’s ranked (by an average rating of 7.918) at #12.
Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that Mayfair’s recent release of Star Trek: Five-Year Mission is going to fill that void, into which one might have expected someone to go boldly. It’s a cooperative game that has more to do with dice than Star Trek. The only connection, aside from a few ‘benefit’ issues, related to characters in either the original or NextGen series, is the artwork; screen shots, apparently pulled from both series. Wipe the Star Trek artwork off, paste The Big Bang Theory onto it, and you’re good to go.
I’m guessing here, but that’s not likely to happen, because there’s just not enough to the game to warrant duplication with a different pasted-on theme. All that said, Star Trek: Five-Year Mission is a low- to medium-weight game that will engage its players in a fairly simple, straightforward, dice-rolling-and-assignment series of actions, that while failing to exercise any serious mental muscles, does offer its players a bit of a challenge. This challenge is lowest at the bottom of the varied levels at which it can be played; from “Ensign,” which requires you to score 10 points before ‘mission failure” to “Admiral,” which requires 20 points.
Basically, the ‘game’ side of this cooperative equation is throwing what are known as Alerts at you, on every turn. Three levels to them; Blue (easy), Yellow (medium difficulty) and Red (difficult). On your turn, you will be required to choose and play an Alert card, detailing specific dice that must be played on them for successful completion. Failure to complete a given card puts that card in a ‘failure’ pile, which, when there are five in the pile, signals mission failure, meaning the ‘game’ has won. In your central display of Alert cards, you are only allowed three in each color. The addition of a fourth Alert card in any color means that the oldest of that color card has failed and must join the “failed alert” pile. You (plural) can also lose if your chosen Enterprise (TOS or NextGen) incurs more than five damage points.
The requirements of each alert are dice, in combinations of three colors (like the alerts, the dice are blue, yellow and red; most alerts require a combination of colors to complete). A blue Alert card, titled “Diplomacy,” for example, requires the group (either individually, or in teamwork combination) to place a blue “5” die, and a “4” die of any color on that card to successfully complete that card (“any color” is represented in white on an Alert card). A Yellow Alert card, titled “Reprimand” requires four dice of any color; a “2,” a “5,” and a “3” and a “4,” which must be played together by a single player onto that card. A Red Alert card, titled “Communication Failure” requires five die, all “1”s; one yellow, two red and two blue.
The decks, by the way, are divided, depending on which Star Trek Enterprise you choose to play the game; the original series Enterprise (NCC-1701) or the NextGen Enterprise (NCC-1701-D). The Dice Pool mat and individual player mats are double-sided to accommodate this decision. All cards in the Blue Alert deck are common to both. Roughly half of the Yellow and Red Alert decks are left out of play when you choose one or the other Enterprise.
Successfully completing the requirements of an Alert card does not always earn you points, because not all alert cards have them; only six of the 23-card Blue Alert deck are worth a point, and only 12 of the 24 in the Yellow deck are worth a point. All cards in the more difficult Red Alert deck are worth a point. Failure, though, always counts against you in the “five failed alerts” pile which signals that you’ve lost. Makes some of the work you put in to completing the non-point-gathering cards seem, literally and figuratively, pointless.
Each player (from 3 to 7) receives a mat representing any one of seven characters from either the original series or Next Gen; numbered 1 through 7 (you are supposed to use the mats in numerical order, no matter how many players there are, so you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, for example, play with six people and use mats 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). They recommend that you play as one ship or the other, although they do allow for a hybrid combination of the two, allowing you, for example, to play using Jean Luc Picard as Captain (#1) and Spock as First Officer (#2). They do recommend that while you can ultimately play with any set of characters you want, that your cooperative crew have at least a Captain and a Doctor. Nowhere in the instructions does it indicate how, or even if, you are required to split the decks up the way you do if you’re playing with one ship or the other. If you have a combination crew, do you play with Alert cards designed for one ship or another, or combine the decks?
In addition to their graphically-represented dice requirements, many Alert cards have combinations of what are known as “Dangerous Alerts” and “Special Ability Alerts.” The “Dangerous Alerts” require a variety of somewhat urgent actions. If you draw an Alert Card that has a Yellow or Red Alert symbol on it, you have to immediately add another Alert Card, of that type, to your display of them. If it has a “Prime Directive” symbol on it, you have to complete that card before completing any other card; if you do complete a different card before completing the “Prime Directive” card, all “Prime Directive” cards in your display fail. If it has an “Urgent” symbol on it (an hour-glass), you have to turn over a provided egg timer, dictating how long you have to complete that “Urgent” card before it fails (this is a particularly interesting ‘twist’ to things). “Special Ability Alerts” grant individual players special abilities and remain in play for the player who completes them; using another crew’s ability, healing injuries, treating one die as any color, adding or subtracting value from a die roll, or re-rolling any number of dice.
There are, of course, cascading disasters; draw a Yellow Alert card on your turn and discover that it has a Red Alert symbol on it, requiring you to add a Red Alert card, which, in turn, has a Yellow Alert card symbol on it, etc., etc., etc.
There’s nothing mechanically wrong with the game. It’s a light and light-hearted cooperative exercise that would be a good introduction to the cooperative game genre. It just doesn’t pass the “good-Star-Trek-game” test, because again, aside from the pictures, and somewhat relevant crew member abilities, you’re not engaged in the Star Trek universe. You’re just matching dice to their colored symbols on cards, and taking it on faith that when you resolve, for example, the Red Alert, “Wounded” card (depicting NextGen’s Chief Miles O’Brien and the Cardassian, Gul Dukat, staring at each other) that you’re engaged in something Star Trek-y. Why, one has to wonder, is “Guinan” a Red Alert card? I can sort of understand why Deanna Troi’s Mom is a Red Alert card, because she always managed to give Picard such a headache, but Guinan? And what’s with the Yellow Alert “Live Long and Prosper” card, with a picture of Spock? When has that declaration ever caused Kirk to go to Yellow Alert?
Though the increasing values for “Mission Success” ratchet up the anxiety a bit, particularly if you opt to attempt an “Admiral” mission (20 points necessary to win, a minimum of two alerts in each color, and one urgent Alert). But if you’re playing with a lot of players, multiplied times the five dice that each gets to roll (unless someone’s sustained an “injury”), you’d have to think that a combination of between 20 (four players) and 35 (seven players) dice rolled in a given round of play would yield the necessary combination of numbers and colors to fulfill any mission before it fails. Each player is capable of contributing to completion of that mission and the dice they contribute remain on the card. There is some variation entailed in the dice rolls, in that while you’ll generally be rolling five dice, they’re not always going to be of the same color combinations, but even at that, victory’s a decent bet; not a good thing in a cooperative game. Though the “Admiral” mission has a way of making life difficult for players, it’s not about a Star Trek problem and/or solution. With just more Alerts to deal with, in general, players just run out of time.
I’ll concede that I may be a bit grumpy about this, because I’m a bona fide Star Trek fan; not what’s known as a Trekkie, mind you, just an admirer of the whole Gene Rodenberry universe, and old enough to have watched the original when it first aired in the late 1960s. As a result, I may expect too much of a Star Trek game, wanting it to be an accurate reflection of the Star Trek universe (have not, as yet, played Fleet Captains, but a passing familiarity with it suggests that it might be more relevant to the Star Trek universe).
There are better cooperative games – Pandemic, for example – though as noted, Star Trek: Five-Year Mission does bear a figurative “gateway to cooperative games” label. It’s a bit early for any meaningful response from the BGG community, where it is maintaining, on the basis of 118 ratings, an average 6.80 (no one has rated it at “10”). My own rating would fall close to the current BGG average.
Star Trek: Five Year Mission, designed by David Whitcher, is published by Mayfair Games, who kindly provided me with a copy for this review. It can be played by 3-7 players, and though there are no solitaire instructions, it’s easy enough to lay out a few player mats and have at it. Age range on the box says “10 and up,” but you could stretch that down to “8 and up.” It retails in the $30 range, with the usual bargains to be found.