Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

02:58 Tue 08 Sep 2009

I played Fantasy Flight Games’ Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game last night, and was extremely impressed by it. I’ve played two other games by them in the past, Twilight Imperium and A Game of Thrones, and liked both, but I think that Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is the best so far.

The basic premise is that each player chooses a character from the show, with unique advantages and disadvantages, and the players have to try to reach Kobol, the victory point for humans in the game. The twist is that each player also gets dealt a card indicating whether or not they’re a Cylon—and if you’re a Cylon, your goal is to sabotage the human efforts to make it to Kobol.

The odds are different depending on how many players (from three to six) are in the game, but last night there were four of us, each taking a single card from a seven-card deck that had a single “you are a Cylon” card in it. At the game’s midpoint, a Cylon Sympathizer card is added to the remaining three cards in that deck and each player draws again, ensuring that over the course of the game at least one player is a Cylon. You can become a Cylon halfway through.

Naturally, this means that paranoia is rife. Many of the decisions the game has players make are done in secret, with only the result known, so that it’s never fully clear whether a player really chose well. The choices are often difficult, and suspicion falls upon any player who makes a choice that looks bad—for example, playing President Laura Roslin, I early on had to choose between two cards that each represented nasty Cylon assaults, when we were already beset by Cylon attackers. I was human, but to the others it looked as if I chose a card that had no benefit and plenty of disadvantages (the card I rejected was never made public)—just what a Cylon would do, in other words.

This gives the game a strong feel of Mafia, but with lots of other things going on, and no simple mechanics for choosing to eliminate those under suspicion—instead, difficult other choices must be made, choices that determine which resources will be depleted and what risks will be taken.

It captured extremely well the pressure that the humans in the fleet are subject to. Our game was slightly unusual, apparently, in that we came under very heavy attack at the outset, but this added greatly to the sense of drama. For a while it looked as if we wouldn’t manage to make it to a single jump (it seems that at least five jumps are normally required for human victory), but we limped on. The humans have four major stats: Population, Food, Fuel, and Morale; if any of those is reduced to zero, the humans lose. There are other ways to lose as well. At the end of our game, all our stats were extremely low and Morale was at one—but we managed to make it to Kobol.

We made it despite my using the powers of the Quorum to strip Admiral Adama of his rank and send him to the brig, thus moving the Admiral role to the next person in line, Kara Thrace—who was a Cylon. It was tense from the outset, both in terms of just trying to survive the assaults and in terms of trying to figure out who the Cylon was (or if anyone was, in the first part of the game), and the victory at the end felt hard-earned indeed. That the game was able to generate such a sense is a testament to how well-designed it is. I recommend it highly.

(next) »

One Response to “Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

  1. Jeff Fry Says:

    Cool! Coincidentally, I was just talking with the owner of Dr. Comics & Mr. Games about their sweet game rental program (where everything you pay to rent becomes store credit) about cooperative games, and he recommended BSG. I’ll have to give it a try soon!

    Oh…and in other news we actually finished the series last night. Looking forward to discussing at some point!

Leave a Reply