#3: Captain's Log

An epistolary game of starship explorers.

Kai Xiang

In short: Captain’s Log is an epistolary game for 1 or more players, best played over Email or Discord. Tell the tale of a Vessel and the Crew that calls it home: as it charts a course through a galaxy of strange and diverse anomalies in the name of exploration; all through the medium of the Crew's personal logs. Download it here.

Captain’s Log was born out of a desire to make a game suitable for playing over a distance (as more and more of the world goes into lockdown) and was inspired by the relentless pace at which I’m devouring old episodes of Star Trek while social distancing.

But instead of making a roleplaying game where players took on the role of the explorers (like Data or Seven of Nine) themselves, I was more fascinated by the role of the scriptwriters and production staff behind Star Trek. Copious and excessive reading of production notes and trivia reveal a fascinating world of back-and-forths: arguments and debates, reflecting on intended themes and characters’ voices.

So much negotiation, creativity and work goes into bringing these characters and stories to life, that I wanted that to be the process players would emulate. Instead of playing Seven of Nine, players will ask each other: What makes Seven Seven? What defines her character? What are her inner thoughts, her hopes and fears?

And thus, Captain’s Log was born.

On Game Design

There are some issues though, which I hope future iterations will improve upon. I get that this is a game that will appeal to a very very niche audience, that would consider the process of writing to be fun instead of work.

More game mechanics might alleviate that, but at the cost of hampering the creativity that players would get to channel. To what extent should more mechanics be introduced? Should a dedicated system for linking Traits (Talents, Weaknesses, Bonds) to the Prompts be put in place? Should there be a Crew Management or Downtime mechanic for making changes between Episodes? Inconclusive.

On the mechanics that do exist in the game, I’m keen to figure out (through playtesting) how we can create a closer connection between the themes inherent in works like Trek (the wonder of exploration, multiculturalism, what it means to be human) and the mechanics themselves. I definitely foresee revising the Tables to capture these themes more.

Lastly, I’m extremely eager to figure out whether the core gameplay loop (figuring out the prompts and series of events, determining who writes, then writing) makes sense. Would it be better to have the players figure out a prompt, write for it, then determine what happens next? Or is having a predetermined set of outcomes better for coherent storytelling?

Look forward to another iteration of Captain’s Log in the coming months, once I’ve found the answer to these questions through playtesting.