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Nantucket is part Moby Dick sequel, part PC board game

A single-player adventure in the model of FTL

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Call yourself Ishmael in Nantucket, a new PC strategy game available on Steam. I’ve spent a few hours with it, and so far I like what I’m seeing. It’s an ambitious strategy title set in the golden age of sail, and it’s absolutely dripping with its theme. But don’t go into it expecting a rich, narrative journey. The game has much more in common with a European-style board game than with a traditional novel.

In Nantucket, you’ll travel the globe in search of fame and fortune. Along the way you’ll need to build up the skills of your crew, improve your ship and ultimately do battle on the high seas. Fights play out on a small battle board, where players roll dice for the chance to use a discrete set of skills against their enemies. More powerful characters will have fewer blank sides on their dice, and as the game progresses you’ll have more characters and more options in every battle.

Nantucket’s battle board for fighting whales. Below are two longboats, filled with six crew. Each rolls a die at the beginning of the turn, and has a chance to play a skill against the enemies along the top. The whales, on their turn, attack the crew by laying cards. Weather events, shown in the upper right corner, change the scenario each round.
Picaresque Studio/Fish Eagle

Many strategy titles do something like a dice roll, but they hide it in the background. Nantucket, however, leans into the board game theme. Dice rolls are shown as they happen and enemies literally play cards, either face down or face up, against you on the battle board.

The trouble is that, at least early on, there’s not a lot of excitement to these dice-based battles. You might go several rounds doing literally nothing while a shark eats your favorite crew member. Only later in the game, when you’ve got a few longboats and more men in your crew, do things really get interesting. Expect to put in a few hours to get to that point. Know that death is swift, however. If your main character gets killed, it’s game over.

My biggest complaint about the game is simply how redundant some of the quest lines are and how boring the writing is. Much of the game is played on the world map, with players plotting their course from port to port and chasing down whales, lost ships and treasure. You’ll have a bunch of active quests going on at the same time, but Nantucket’s signature quest lines are few and far between.

Keeping your ship stocked with water, food and grog will help you make it from port to port. Random events will conspire against you, including everything from rough seas to piracy.
Picaresque Studio/Fish Eagle

While the randomness of the minor quests Nantucket doles out gives the game lots of replayability, it also has the side effect of stunting its narrative arc. It reminds me a lot of the final scene in Finding Forrester, where the entire movie builds up to a climactic speech, only to have the speech edited out, delivered as a pantomime with a musical overlay. Nantucket promises the sequel to Moby Dick, but never quite lives up to it.

Nantucket is more sandbox than story-driven game, more like FTL than 80 Days. Have that expectation going in and you’re likely to find a very exciting little strategy game that scales well over time.

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