Carry on Captain Ahab’s Legacy in Nantucket

Nantucket is a naval-strategy video game filled with combat and trading. Oh yeah, and it’s set in the Moby Dick universe. What an age we live in, huh? Truly there is room for anything in the video-game market.

Set in the aftermath of Herman Melville’s classic novel, Nantucket places you in the role of Ishmael, intent on finishing what Captain Ahab started: hunting down the great beast, Moby Dick.
That’s easier said than done, and you’ll have to start from scratch with a small ship and a tiny crew, whaling and taking on odd jobs in order to build a reputation and acquire a boat and crew capable of taking on a monster.

Screenshot of an ocean map from Nantucket.

In Nantucket you’ll sail the seas in search of a willing crew and a fair price for your goods.

At its core, Nantucket has strong management elements, and has you juggling your crew, ship, and resources with a surprising amount of depth. Each class of ship (small, medium, and large) has a variety of modules such as storage, harpoons, and sickbays which can be upgraded. Your total crew is governed by your ship’s size, and more can be hired at ports. They fall into four classes—hunter, sailor, scientist, craftsman—who give a variety of bonuses to your ship, and each class has a branching skill tree to choose new skills from as the crew levels up.

Additionally, you’ll have to manage your inventory. Your crew runs on food, water, and grog—run out, and morale will drop, or the crew will begin to die. Wood is also needed to keep up with daily maintenance and to repair damage. While holding enough to keep the crew alive is important, you also need enough free space for blubber and oil from whale hunts to keep trips profitable. The captain doesn’t get it all—you’ll have you split your profit with crew members.

Whaling is done by encountering whales at random while at sea, or by investigating rumors of whaling grounds that are heard while at port. Combat in Nantucket is something akin to a traditional turn-based RPG (what would Herman Melville think of that?). Each whaling boat on your ship can hold three crew which you can assign to combat and send out to sea. Each class has a set of dice with special abilities—hunters have harpoon abilities, sailors can negate enemy abilities, scientists can heal, craftsman can let other crew reroll dice, and so on. Combat can be punishing when starting off, as there’s only one action per whaling boat per round; a distinct disadvantage when facing multiple enemies.

Screenshot of Nantucket's turn-based combat.

Combat occurs on the high seas, against whale species from narwhals to southern right whales.

Nantucket sets the mood with a soundtrack that evokes classic-seafaring tunes of the early 19th century, full of pipes, strings, and accordions, and on extended voyages your crew will occasionally break out into a hearty sea shanty. It’s a wonderful touch that goes a long way to setting the scene.

On your hunt for Moby Dick, there are other quests to tackle, though it takes a hair too long for the main quest chain to kick off—I was under the impression I’d be spending the entire game wandering the seas at random looking for whales to hunt. Aside from the odd jobs picked up in ports, there are story-based side quests, but they’re scattered about the world with no indication of where they are or when they pop up. As a minor aside, random events will pop up at sea fairly often, often resulting in character traits, inventory loss, or crew-morale changes. Random events could do with a greater variety; the same events will occur an annoying number of times, to the point that you know which choice will give the best chance at a positive outcome without having to read through them.

All said, I can’t help but wish that Nantucket was faster paced in the early game. Certain ship upgrades require a crew member to have a specific skill, and crew members take a long time to level up. Add in the fact that crew don’t get a new skill every level, and it can turn into a grind. Once there’s an experienced crew in place, or you have the prestige to hire a veteran crew, whaling becomes more enjoyable. And yes, there is a hierarchy of whale-species difficulty, like a traditional RPG. At the same time, I’d prefer if the late game was more difficult. With veteran hunters and a crew member who can run a trywork to process whale oil, money can pile up quickly, negating the difficulty. Adding another element to sink some of your earned money into would offset some of this.

Moby Dick is certainly a very divisive book (want to know the entire history of the whaling industry from top to bottom?), but Nantucket is an enjoyable game no matter your opinion, and touches on the book’s more interesting themes of obsession and self-destruction in pursuit of revenge. It’s an entertaining game in a unique setting with great character and mood, and at a reasonable $17.99, it’s worth taking a look at if you’re looking for a new strategy game for your collection.

Nantucket is available on Steam.

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