All images were taken from the O’ Captain game
After catching a glimpse of Leon Barillaro and Scott Bullock’s game last Big Bad Con I was astounded by the huge amount of dice it seemed to require to play it. I mean, any game that allows me to use most of my dice arsenal will always be well-received, but how complex could it be? Leon informed me it was a solo journaling game in which you told the story of a sailor/pirate by creating constellations. I love pirate stories, as well as astronomy, so I was immediately hooked!
I backed Leon’s and Scott’s game as soon as it came out on Crowdfundr. Even though I saw it in Big Bad Con, I didn’t get the chance to try it, and people were speaking really well of it. Now that I have my digital copy, I’ll tell you all about my initial thoughts on it after trying it out.
A brief idea of what O’ Captain actually is
Just like with any journaling game (check out my journaling game by clicking here!) O’Captain will be spent mostly writing in your journal, be it a Word document, or a piece of paper written in ink at candlelight while ocean sounds play in the background. The other half of the game is spent rolling dice and interpreting them in the same way you do with constellations in the sky.
One of the coolest mechanics of the game is that it does really matter where your dice land when you roll them. You need to link the dice forming constellations. If you can’t form any with your dice roll, your story ends. The tough part is that the constellations are already pre-defined, meaning you have a collection of possible constellations you have to try to make. You sum the numbers on the dice that conform to it and check the corresponding question in a table from that constellation that is linked to that number. That’s the event that transpired in your story. You have to detail it and continue your journal.
Something I need to prase is the layout of the game. The art may be simple, but the layout is gorgeous. The pieces on the side, even though they are repeated all along the zine, make it extremely stylish. Additionally, the way it is all set up makes it simple to quickly find anything you might be looking for at all times, causing the jumping between pages to be much easier than expected. Trust me, you will be a lot of jumping between pages. I can only imagine that it must be even better in physical format.
Stars, Setbacks, Assets, and Titles
Each of these 4 things work as your resources along the game. Stars are the d6s you have to roll to create constellations and clusters, adding the numbers up to find the resulting prompts in the tables. Setbacks are d4s that decrement that number and you need to get rid of. Assets, on the other hand, are d8s that you can decide to expend whenever you want to increment the number you rolled. Lastly, your captain Titles work just like assets, except these are d10 and you can expend them once per voyage.
These resources change after each roll as you keep answering prompts and building your story as a captain. Some prompts even allow you to choose between losing X stars OR Y assets, or other similar decisions. This way, you need to strategically decide when to use each of your resources. Selecting the appropriate angle to throw the dice in the dice tray can be handy as well.
This game is going to be using plenty of dice. For instance, you need at least 8 d6s to play, as there are the dice you will always be rolling. This means that if you are the sort of person who lives with only one dice set, this game might not be for you (unless you decide to roll virtually). I do highly recommend having a dice tray for this as well, so you don’t risk having dice fly everywhere when you roll 10+ of them at once.
Clusters and Constellations
The game’s core mechanic. On each dice pool roll, you need to make either a cluster or a constellation. Clusters are easier to make, consisting of only 3 or 4 stars, meaning these are the ones that you will be making at the beginning. As constellations are much more difficult to accomplish and require more stars, ranging from 5 to 9 of them, these appear far less often during the game. Therefore, the game creates through its mechanics constant story beats for your tale, having small events transpire through clusters that are interrupted by the end of the story arc in the form of a constellation.
At times, your dice pool may not allow you to create any sort of cluster, or constellation. That’s when the modifying stars’ positions mechanic comes into play! You are allowed to move the dice, but doing so will change the die result, causing a lower dice roll result. As you keep progressing through the game you will be forced to reposition dice, lowering your dice result, thus causing you to have prompts that negatively impact your story as a captain. You need to find a middle ground and select the cluster, or constellation you want to create strategically. I’ve found that aspect of the game incredibly entertaining. Continue this until your captain’s retirement, or inevitable downfall in glory.
O’Captain is an excellent system to tell your pirate or sailor tale. While it is a solo journaling game, it recommends playing with one other person to bounce ideas with and giving the best results to the prompt. The story of my captain Smelly Will might have been a short-lived one, but it was filled with backstabbing and impacting discoveries while it lasted. The game mechanic is unlike any other I’ve ever seen, making me want to give this game many more tries until I get to create a legendary pirate! What’s more, trying to find constellations amidst the plethora of dice is far more fun than I anticipated! Be sure to keep this game on your radar, if not try it out, and/or get it if possible!