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Battlestar Galactica – First Impressions - Game Articles - Pair O’ Dice Games

Battlestar Galactica – First Impressions

bsg

Just so we are clear this is about the game Battlestar Galactica and not either of the two TV series. The game is simply called Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game however so it’s possible it could be a bit confusing.

Battlestar Galactica (from here most often referred to as BSG) is an interesting game in many ways. First it is based on the newer series of the same name. This in and of itself is not all that remarkable, TV shows and movies often end up with games based upon them. However rarely do these games receive anything close to the critical acclaim that BSG has received and, to be frank, rarely do they deserve such acclaim.

BSG is currently ranked number 18 on BGG in spite of the fact that it is Fantasy Flight Game based on a TV series that is partially co-op. In my opinion this is a remarkable achievement for such a game and while others may feel that it is mostly thriving on unwarranted hype, I honestly feel that the mechanics and the play of the game are quite interesting and possibly deserving in full of what they have received.

In BSG: The Board Game players take on the roles of characters from the TV series and attempt to survive Cylon attacks and other events as they head to Kobol. In essence this is the first season of the show however some of the events in the game are inspired from things that happen later in the series.

There are four “resources” that must be maintained in BSG, Fuel, Food, Morale and Population. If any of these resources reaches zero the humans lose.

Battlestar Galactica Game Board
Battlestar Galactica Game Board

A player’s turn is fairly simple. They draw cards (there are five decks of cards with two kinds in each deck, the type of card drawn is character-dependent), move, take one action, draw a crisis card (which is resolved), activate any Cylon ships as indicated on the crisis card, and then finally move along the Jump Track if the crisis card has a jump prep icon on it.

In a lot of ways the crisis cards are the real crux of the game. Some crisis cards cause more Cylon ships to show up, others force a player (card depending, though it will always either be the current player, the current president or the current admiral) to make a tough choice (lose two population or a lose a food and a morale or some such thing) and others will call for a Skill Check.

Card Example

During a Skill Check players can add cards (face down) from their hands to the check to help or hurt the current Crisis. Two cards are always added to the check from the Destiny Deck as well, and these cards are random. Then the total is revealed. All cards have a number in the upper left corner. This number is added or subtracted, depending on the check, and the results are shown on the card.

In the Olympic carrier example red, green and yellow cards add to the challenge while blue and green cards subtract.

As I mentioned players can add or subtract from a check but why would anyone want to subtract from a check? Well, in BSG you might actually be a Cylon. In fact in every game at least one player will be a Cylon agent. At the beginning of the game each player is given a loyalty card which tells them if they are or are not a Cylon and then when the human fleet has reached the halfway point of their journey each player gets another card. If either card tells you “You Are a Cylon” then a Cylon is what you are.

So, the game is not really co-op and quite frankly is slightly stacked in the Cylons’ favor. In our group we have only seen the humans win one game, though some have been close.

So what do I think of this game? Well let me just say unlike any other player in our group I have a perfect record. I have never won a single game of BSG. Every other player has been a Cylon and won at least once, and the single game in which I ended up being a Cylon was a triumphant victory for the humans. This being said I still very much enjoy the game and look forward to playing it often.

One problem I have with the game is that I would prefer to lose as a human rather than win as a Cylon. This comes from the fact that currently the Cylons seem to have a huge advantage. In truth, I don’t think their advantage is as great as it first appears but being a Cylon is a tad simpler (once you have been found out at least) than being a human and the designer has even admitted that, to keep the tension high, he gave the Cylons an advantage.

The game where I was a Cylon was a three-player game so I was the only Cylon. I feel in a five player game, where I would have some assistance and companionship in my struggles, I can imagine enjoying being a Cylon more.

Before playing the game I had watched very little of the show (though I am watching it now, in part because of the game) so I do not feel it is fully necessary for the enjoyment of play but it will probably help. However, there are few spoilers embedded in the cards but most of these are for the first season and probably will not ruin anything.

Over all I love this game. I sort of don’t want to love it because it often frustrates me but still I find it compelling and I am excited every time it comes to the table. This is after about eight to ten plays I would guess, but the game can easily take two hours to play so it is not one that will be played many times in a sitting (though it has been played more than once in a sitting here on at least one occasion).

Feel free to comment on BSG below!

  1.  
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    Joe Says:

    Wow, this game sounds good.

    I definitely want to try it, both because I am a fan of both shows and the game sounds good.
    However, in our group we only have three players, so it may not be as rewarding…

  2.  

    I’ve played three three player games thus far and while they haven’t been the best games of those we have played they weren’t altogether terrible either. In a three player game it will always come down to a two on one situation but yes, there is certainly less mystery when you know you are not a cylon and thus it MUST be one of the other two.

  3.  

    I won my first game last night and as a human to boot!

    It was a four player game and the Cylon ended up getting even more unlucky than me in the other human victory. Kind of too bad really. We have had some close ones as the humans and honestly having the fleet pull one of those out of the fire would have been more satisfying.

    One of the more amusing moments of the game was when President Baltar revealed himself as a Cylon and Admiral President Adama (William not Lee) ended up with almost the entire Quorum deck in hand (course I was playing Adama so it was personally interesting to me).

  4.  

    My initial take on the game was that it was much more complicated then it needed to be. Information Paralysis was high, and the random factor seemed more potent than human strategy. Now I will admit, I haven’t played a lot of it, so maybe the complexity curve drops sometime after your second game. Just the same, I don’t feel the complexity it has was justified – the game could have been 40% simpler and still been every bit as good. The little skill cards, for example: your hand can have two cards with the same power but different number values, and two cards with the same number value but different powers. That alone makes knowing which to play kinda tricky, but then there’s your special power, which decks you draw from, and all the complicated board position to muck it up further.

    They went to so much trouble trying to make it flavorful, but much of the flavor gets lost because on each play, instead of focusing on the in-character event, you’re focusing on the many permutations of card plays and special abilities relevant to it.

    And then there were things where the flavor was completely disconnected. Case in point: The Olympic Carrier card you showed. Reverse-engineering what that card should be based on how it played out on the show (because it felt like on the show the characters made the hard decision and did the best possible thing), I’d say success should be -1 population and -2 morale, and failure should be more like -3 population, -1 morale, and a cylon attack. I realize the numbers are pretty subjective, but that episode was a classic no-win scenario. The corresponding card should reflect that.

    Between the high complexity, the randomness that prevented long-term strategy, and a few cards that just thumbed their noses at the scenes they were trying to emulate, the game had too many flaws to make it worth my buying.

    Yet I can’t deny it gets good ratings. I wonder how much of that is hype and fandom. I suspect a slightly easier version would have scored just as high on BGG, while also been faster to pick up and playable by a wider audience.

    Not to say I didn’t have fun playing it, it’s just that I kept thinking “this could have been so much more fun if they’d trimmed it down”. I find I say that about a lot of Fantasy Flight’s big games. (On paper, I love Arkham Horror. In practice, I rarely play it any more.)

  5.  

    I have never seen the show, but all of this does kind of make me want to try out the game 🙂

  6.  
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    Mike Says:

    The show has been amazing, which alone makes me want to try this game. But add to that the fact that I’m a sucker for space combat games and count me in.

  7.  

    r. b. bergstrom –
    “two cards with the same number value but different powers”

    Actually, the numbers on the cards are low for one of the two types of cards and high for the other. Two cards can never have the same number unless they are the same type of card. This actually is part of the balance in that the cards with higher numbers are often the cards that are only good in specific situations (though some of this is certainly subjective).

    During out first game everything did seem pretty complicated and a bit overwhelming but after about three plays everything felt very simple.

    I can however agree that some of the flavor gets devoured by the way the cards play out. Sometimes is hard to see what success even means. The choice cards are easier though even some of those are a bit odd. For example the Riots card is a choice to either lose 1 moral and one food or 1 fuel and one population. In our last game Pat commented that apparently the second choice was to burn up the people that were rioting using our fuel… which if this WERE the case you would think it should cost a bit of moral as well…

    Still… I love the game and the humans are winning more often now. I however still suck at being a Cylon.

  8.  

    Actually, the numbers on the cards are low for one of the two types of cards and high for the other. Two cards can never have the same number unless they are the same type of card.

    No, we’re both wrong… and, we’re both right. 🙂 Mainly the error is mine, as I did not make my point as clearly as I could have.

    For those unfamiliar with the decks, there’s a picture at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/430657

    Since each character draws from more than one deck, your hand could consist of, for example:
    Yellow 1 (Consolidate Power), Green 1 (Executive Order), Green 2 (Executive Order), Green 5 (Leadership), and Purple 5 (Strategic Planning).

    5 cards, and between them are three numerical values, three colors, and four powers, and every card has something in common with at least one other card. What’s the best play for a skill challenge in the colors yellow/green/purple?

    That’s a rhetorical question – we’d obviously need to know more of the board situation and the crisis at hand to answer that. I’m really just pointing out how complexity they put into the decision – which IIRC is a blind decision made without knowing what the rest of the group has already contributed to the challenge.

    I am glad to hear, though, that the game is less overwhelming the more you play it. I kinda figured it’d have to, but it scared me off before I could get to that stage.

  9.  

    I just wanted to say, I am still the worst Cylon ever.

  10.  
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    FoxtrotCharlie Says:

    I can however agree that some of the flavor gets devoured by the way the cards play out. Sometimes is hard to see what success even means. The choice cards are easier though even some of those are a bit odd. For example the Riots card is a choice to either lose 1 moral and one food or 1 fuel and one population. In our last game Pat commented that apparently the second choice was to burn up the people that were rioting using our fuel… which if this WERE the case you would think it should cost a bit of moral as well…”

    Flavor is just flavor not an exact representation. Riots is just meant to be a no-win scenario where you need to choose which pair of resources you’re going to lose or the less of two evils if you prefer.

  11.  
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    Mike Says:

    Well, we played this last night at Dan’s (Joe, Dan, Briana, myself) and I knew something was wrong when, towards the end of the 4 player game, I was the only human. It’s was hard enough winning with 1 cylon working against the group, let alone 3.

    After the game, Dan supposedly read in the instructions that he put too many cylon cards into the game (ya think!?). Trying to leave that negative first experience behind me, I still feel the game is lacking something. I’d much rather play Race for the Galaxy, which Scott introduced to us last week.

    I agree that a game should be hard (they always suffered in the show), but players should have a very good chance of success if they play well. With BSG, you can work great as a team, and still fail miserably. Luck should have an effect, but never majorly determine outcomes in a strategy game, IMHO of course.

    Maybe we’ll give it another try next week with 5 people and find out whether or not there are too many potential cylons, resulting in loss of fun for me.

  12.  
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    Joe Says:

    I loved the game.
    I was psyched in the beginning to be human and I thought we had a chance.
    Then I became the Cylon Sympathizer and I enjoyed kicking the pants off the humans.
    It was enjoyable all the way until the end, when we (the Cylons) won and it was revealed that it was 3 Cylons vs. 1 human.
    That was a downer, that we had misplayed the game and it ended up being a very unfun sensation.

    I fully look forward to playing it again – correctly.

  13.  

    I’m glad you guys got a chance to try it. Scott played it as well at Origins and was the lone Cylon against the rest of us. Things got tight for a bit but the humans did win fairly soundly.

  14.  
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    Mike Says:

    Yeah, tight isn’t even within reach as the lone human. Can’t wait to play the game correctly!

  15.  

    I found it slightly unfortunate that I was the Cylon for my first game, compounded by the fact that I thought I had blown my cover early and chose to reveal my identity at only about the third or fourth round of play.

    Now that I’ve played, I gather that some of the difficulty for the Humans is distrusting and second-guessing your fellow players, which I completely missed.

    All in all I don’t know what I think of the game yet. I’m also in the position of having the flavor mean zilch to me since I’ve never seen a single episode of the show. Similar to how I viewed the new Star Trek movie, does it still hold up as enjoyable if you replaced all the characters with unknowns? I don’t know (Star Trek warranted a big shrug and mild regret of having paid theater prices to see it).

  16.  

    Theme is kind of a strange monster. Some people criticize games that lack “cool” theme and other people have the exact opposite response to games that seem to care more about them than mechanics. This is fairly close of course to the Euro vs. Amera battle but I think things are blurrier than they use to be.

    I like BSG a lot for its mechanics and for me its more the style of the game than its theme. It does help a bit now that I am watching the show but I liked it a lot even before I was.

  17.  
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    Mike Says:

    Anyone who ever had even a small inkling of interest in Sci-Fi needs to see this show. It’s one of my top 5 in 30+ years. Dark, gritty, and amazing attention to detail, especially the combat.

  18.  
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    Joe Says:

    Mike, I totally agree.
    The gritty reality of it makes it heads above most other SciFi.
    And the way it presents real philisophical ideas of human interaction and existence make it real SciFi IMHO

  19.  

    You guys win. I’ll move it up in my Netflix queue so it should at least hit sometime this year 😉

  20.  

    Sara and I are down to the final four episodes (which we are watching via Hulu since the discs are not out yet). If anything, she is more fascinated with the show than I am.

    I think one of the greatest parts of the show is that we occasionally pause it to discuss some concept or situation that has arisen. We don’t even always agree on who or what is right in the situation.

  21.  

    The moral dilemmas and grays do sound interesting.

    I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was rather cool toward this show, despite lots of recommendations by friends. Just now I realized (well, remembered) it’s my default reaction to any movie or series that I perceive to have gotten too much marketing, or too much praise, etc.. I tend to avoid them.

    It’s certainly possible I’ll start watching the show and forget these doubts. Hopefully my expectations won’t have grown to unattainable heights by then.

  22.  
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    Mike Says:

    That’s interesting…I often find that highly praised items end up being worthwhile. Highly marketed, well, that’s always hit or miss.