Guest Review : Battlestar Galacitca Board Games

Battlestar GalacticaBattlestar Galactica is a 3-6 player semi-cooperative game based on the re-imagined series. Players take on the role of one of the major characters on the Galactica trying to survive after the Cylon’s attack on the Twelve Colonies. Throughout the game, players must manage of finite resources while trying to identify and mitigate the threat of any Cylons among the humans. A game of Battlestar Galactica takes about 3 hours.

Appearance: The components of Battlestar Galactica are of high quality and fit in the 12” X 12” X 3” box with plenty of room to spare. While all of the tokens, cards, rules, and board fit easily in the box, the insert that comes with the game is not at all useful once the cards and tokens are taken out of their shrink-wrap. Even a simple tray that could be used to store the cards would have been a nice touch. That complaint aside, the tokens are made of sturdy cardboard and feature clear art identifying its purpose. There are two sizes of cards: Mini-American – 1 5/8”X 2 1/2” and Standard American – 2 1/4” X 3 1/2”. Both card types look great and feature images from scenes from the television show. The smaller cards sometimes have more writing than I’d like on them, making them hard to read, but making them full- size would be too large. It’s a minor complaint and only really affects maybe 10% of the cards – and I’d prefer a little crowded over too empty.

There are 32 plastic ships in sculpts of Vipers, Raptors, Raiders, and Heavy Raiders. The plastic is a little malleable, but doesn’t seem to warp or bend much if accidentally bent a little out of shape. The sculpts are quite good and significant detail is shown on pretty small models.

The board itself is a 24” X 24” square that is dominated by an overhead view of the Galactica, with small areas representing the Cylon fleet, Colonial One, dials to track key resources (Fuel, Food, Morale, and Population) and other Tracks and card deck locations. The board is well designed and efficiently uses space.

Character cards are perhaps the best item in the box. The cards are cut in the elongated octagonal shape of the paper in the television show, which shows attention to the little details. A prominent photo of the character is shown as well as skills, character type and special abilities. Easy to read and quickly gather information from.

Rules/Ease of Learning : The rules for Battlestar Galactica are not incredibly complex, and the rulebook is generally well done. An experienced player can easily teach a new player how to play in about 20 minutes. The goal of the human players is to reach the planet of Kobol by executing 8 units worth of FTL jumps. Cylon players must prevent the human players from reaching this goal by depleting a resource to 0, a centurion invasion, or destroying the Galactica.

To start the game, players must select a character. Characters come in four types: Political, Military, Pilot, and Support, which correspond to the skills and how the character can help the Galactica. For instance, only Pilots can fly Vipers to defend against Cylon attacks, whereas Political leaders are more likely to be President, and Military leaders are more likely to be the Admiral. Players pick characters in an order determined by the table, but players must select from the types that are most plentiful (or Support). This ensures that each player has a sphere of expertise and that the largest cross-section of skills is obtained. Title cards (President and Admiral) are distributed to those highest in the line of succession. The President is the political head and can utilize Quorum cards to help the humans survive. Quorum cards can increase certain resources, brig suspected Cylons, and the like. The Admiral is the military head and receives two nuke tokens that can be utilized against the Cylon ships attacking Galactica. Both the President and Admiral also are called upon to make choices throughout the game from Crisis Cards or selecting FTL jump locations.

With the characters in play identified, a Loyalty Deck can be constructed. The Loyalty Deck dictates whether or not you are a Cylon or a Human and your Loyalty may change mid-game! The number of players and the characters in play will change the composition of the Loyalty Deck. Cards are dealt out and the remaining cards in the deck are set aside. Halfway through the game, a second card will bedealt to the players, which might change their allegiance.

Loyalty Cards are kept secret, so no one knows if or who is a Cylon. Deft Cylons can subtly prevent success of the Galactica’s crew. However, a Cylon may be discovered and becomes a revealed Cylon. Revealed Cylons harass the humans from the Cylon Fleet locations.

A game turn typically consists of drawing skill cards, moving, performing an action, and resolving a crisis card. To additional steps: Activating Cylon ships and prepare for jump are completed if a Crisis Card dictates that they should take place. Crisis Cards are either a skill challenge or a Cylon Attack. Skill challenges have a difficulty value and skill types that can help to resolve the challenge. Each player may place cards into a check’s pile but any skills contributed that are not identified as valid forthe challenge are subtracted from the total. In addition to the player’s contributions, a Destiny Deckplaces two cards in every check. This deck provides a little randomness and allows a Cylon to operateundetected by providing a degree of deniability. When a skill challenge is failed, one or resources are reduced.

Cylon Attacks represent situations where the Cylon Fleet has discovered Galactica. Cylon ships are placed on the board and create a physical threat to Galactica and nearby civilian ships. Cylon ships on the board mean that civilian ships may be destroyed (which result in resources being lost), Galactica being damaged, or Centurions boarding the Galactica.

Battlestar Galactica backGameplay : Battlestar Galactica is able to capture the feeling of the television show very well. The distribution of Loyalty Cards and the Destiny Deck contributing to skill checks feed the feeling of mistrust of your fellow players. The Destiny Deck allows Cylon players can covertly contribute negative cards to skill checks, which will make checks harder to complete, or sink the attempt entirely, furthering the Cylon agenda.

Each character’s special abilities and rules feel right and make them come alive. For instance, Baltar has the Cylon Detector once-per-game ability, which allows him to view all of one player’s Loyalty Cards. Baltar is also a coward and starts the game with two loyalty cards which increases his chance of being a Cylon and immediately makes him more suspicious. Another example is Starbuck’s Expert Pilot ability, she can make two actions when she starts her turn in a Viper; Insubordinate makes it easier for her to be thrown in the brig. Not only do the characters feel right, they seem to be well balanced against each other.

When the Cylon fleet arrives the space battles are furious and often very challenging. Strategically selecting how to manoeuvre in space to protect the fleet and Galactica is very important for the Viper pilots. Vipers are the main way for humans to prevent Civilian ships from being destroyed or Centurions boarding the Galactica.

Secrets are important in Battlestar Galactica. The cards contributed to a skill check are shuffled before revealing them, Loyalty Cards, and the Destination selected by the Admiral are all examples of secrets kept in the game. Again, this drives the tension and mistrust among the players skyward.

As a Cylon player, you need to weigh the risk of staying undercover too long against the damage you can do while unrevealed. Revealed Cylons cannot contribute as many cards to skill checks, but can activate the powerful Cylon Fleet locations. The most devastating parts of revealing yourself as a Cylon do not take place if you are in the brig – so choose when to reveal carefully.

There are a few minor issues with the game. First off, the sympathizer loyalty card is confusing and does not seem to add much to the game. The second issue revolves around the brig. If a human player is suspected of being a Cylon and is thrown in the Brig, influential players can keep that player in the Brig by convincing others to keep them there. A true Cylon would likely reveal themselves after an attempt or two to get out of the brig. A human player can only be released from the brig on a successful skill check, so particularly paranoid groups could leave a human player in the brig for the entire game – which isn’t much fun for the affected player. If the Cylons are able to get all the humans in the brig, well…game over.

Conclusion: One doesn’t need to know the television show to enjoy Battlestar Galactica, but it does help to really appreciate the game. The themes of trust and a race against limited resources are well showcased, and the characters are well designed and feel like their small-screen counterpart. If you’re a fan of the show or like games with hidden traitor mechanics, Battlestar Galactica should be on your game shelf.