When I was in second grade I formed an animal protection club named “Animal Care Club”, spurred on by an animal show I had watched about whalers in the 80’s. In those days several countries still actively participated in large scale commercial whaling. My friends and I spent many days at recess fighting imaginary whalers and destroying imaginary whaling ships. I wasn’t the only one who grew up hating whalers. The anti-whaling movement was so passionate that even large movie productions worked to address the planet’s needs to protect the whales, as in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. All things considered you’d think I’d be an unlikely candidate for someone who would be interested in a game about whaling, and yet here we are.

Nantucket is a game that draws much of its rich story from Moby Dick and the whaling trade as it stood in the mid 1800’s. In the game you take on the role of a young captain starting out in the whaling trade. It follows to some degree the novel Moby Dick and Ahab’s search for the infamous white whale. It’s a combination of real-time movement and dice/card-based combat all wrapped together as an RPG. You play the role of a lowly new captain of your very own whaling ship.

You start with a small ship, limited number of crew slots and low prestige. You first must hire a crew to man your whaling ship and among your choices are Hunters, Scientists, Sailors, and Craftsmen or you can pick a lowly cabin boy and train him any way you wish. Each crew member will come with their own unique set of traits, some good and some bad, as well as skills. Traits identify the impact that the crew member has on other crew members or themselves. Are they picky eaters? Are they greedy? This must be taken into consideration when hiring, but are also traits that can be picked up along the voyage. The skills provide additional benefits such as hull repair, cooking, medical bay etc., which not only impact the crew, but also the research that can be performed to upgrade your ship. Be aware however that your crew will die…a lot. For those who have played Darkest Dungeon, you’ll understand. I tried not to get too attached to individual crew members, because alas, whaling is treacherous.

As stated above, ships can be upgraded as well whether it be the harpoons, the sails, etc. The upgrades all improve the ship that you currently possess and once you upgrade an area of your ship, those upgrades transfer to newly purchased ships as well. Upgrades are key as well, not only for the improvement of your current ship, but better ships require many of these upgrades to already be in place before they can be purchased. Your ship dictates how much cargo you can carry (which includes blubber/oil from your hunt, as well as food, water, grog and wood). It’s a balance between ensuring you have enough grog, food, water and wood for your journey, and leaving plenty of cargo space left for your kills so you can bring in money to pay your crew and upgrade your ship.

The missions are broken down into minor quests, side quests and the main quest. Minor quests are ones that you acquire from either your crew member or the local paper. Typically, it involves checking out a new whaling location or transferring cargo to another port, etc. Side quests typically help to unravel the story and lead to advancing the main quest. Some of these quests involve making choices which impact the final result and may lead to powerful objects. While sailing you will also come across encounters like your grog spilling or your water smelling funny. The choices you make during these encounters could lead to sickness, death or simply the loss of a resource. Some encounters are more likely to occur depending on where you are sailing, as each “tile” on the map will offer potentially hazardous or beneficial traits.

Combat is broken down into four phases but first you must identify which crew members are going out on the whaling boats and how many whaling boats you want to deploy. Once this has been decided, combat begins. Phase 1 is the weather phase where a random weather effect is presented. The weather has many different effects depending on the condition, such as randomly stunning a character or creature (which can be whales, sharks, pirates, etc.) among others. Phase two is the creature card placement phase, where the creatures place their cards face down. Either in front of the whale boat they are attacking or on their character card for a special ability. The third phase is the character phase where each character on the whaling boats will get a roll of the dice, which indicates what sort of attack, defense, or health is rolled. Once the dies are rolled, you choose the character and the action they wish to perform. Each character on the boat has different attributes, and only one character per boat can be utilized each round. The fourth and final phase is the creature attack phase where the remaining living creatures resolve their cards one by one. Once the round completes, you begin a new round following the same four phases until either all the creatures are killed, you choose to retreat from battle, or the captain (you) are killed. To the victor goes the spoils or a trip to Davy Jones’ Locker.

The visuals and music in the game are stunning and they maintain a very 1800’s type feel. The map is beautifully constructed, the enemy cards look hand drawn and you’ll find yourself singing along with the crew. The colors are very muted, keeping with the older theme, and the sights and sounds truly make you feel as you are part of a novel.

Nantucket is a game that is strangely addictive. While many of the missions are repeated and a lot of your time is spent sailing from port to port, for some reason I kept coming back to it. It maintains that “just one more turn” feel to it, to a point where I’d literally stay up an extra hour just so I could complete some upgrades and continue the quest. Even as I write my review, I long to be back onboard my ship the Samantha (named after one of my cats), facing the perilous sea on the hunt for Moby Dick. As I said in the beginning I am about as anti-whaling as one can be, but since the game is more about the history of it and less about the actual whaling, I was able to look past that and enjoy the game immensely.

What I liked: Gorgeous production value, One-more turn mentality, Board game like combat

What I liked less: Sailing from Honolulu to Nantucket…that takes a long time

4.5 out of 5 stars