01 November 2010

Battlestar Galactica, Part 1 [Boardgame review]

The story of Battlestar Galactica the boardgame picks up pretty much at the beginning of the show. And if you have not seen it I would recommend that you see at least season 1 (including the two part “miniseries”/Pilot episodes). The show is set in a distant galaxy where the human race lives on 12 colonies named after the 12 Zodiak signs, such as Caprica=Capricorn etc. The story goes that they descend from a far away planet from which mankind migrated a couple of thousand years ago for some forgotten reason before they settled in the current system. At some point the humans of the 12 colonies created robot servants called “Cylons” used for forced labor, these were used up until the Cylons rebelled and the first Human-Cylon war erupted.

A truce was called and the Cylons were allowed to peacefully leave to settle on some other planet with the promise of not returning. When the show starts, it has been a few decades since the war. The Cylons are now much more well developed as a military force, they have also learned to create machines that look like humans (pretty much cyborg). So flawless are these particular models that they have infiltrated the human society on all levels within the 12 colonies, and sabotaged the human defense.  So when the Cylons decide to return and say “hello” they quickly nuke the shit out of the 12 colonies killing pretty much all of mankind, and wiping out their military fleet in the process.  The only remaining capital ship (Battlestar) is “Galactica”, an old ship smaller and outdated compared to the “modern” Battlestars of the 12 colonies – it was specially converted to resist Cylon computer viruses from the first war. This battleship soon takes up the role of leading a small fleet of civilian ships out of the warzone with the hopes of reaching some distant safe haven.

The game is centered around “Galactica”, the battleship and guardian of the civilian fleet. Players take the role of a main character from the TV series, either Political leader, Military Leader, Pilots or Support personnel. The mission for the human fleet is to survive long enough until they reach the distant planet of “Kobol”. The mission for the hidden saboteur/Cylon player is to secretly sabotage as much as possible and avoid detection. Once revealed this player will be removed from the human fleet and transferred to the Cylon fleet for direct control of some pretty serious trouble that can be inflicted upon the human fleet.

The gameboard features lots of information so I’ll start with that. Centered we have “Galactica”, it has multiple locations that players can move around to and activate during their turns. Defensive cannons, communication systems to control civilian ships, a brig and a sickbay and all other locations you would expect on battleship such as a central command station.

Above Galactica we have “Colonial One” – the space version of the US “Airforce one”. This is the ship of the president of the human race. It has 3 locations which are all aimed at politics and political game mechanics. Here the players can elect a new president, and the president may keep in touch with the “Quorom”/senate.

To the right of “Colonial one” we have the “Cylon Locations”, including the former capital planet of the human race “Caprica” there are also locations which allow a revealed Cylon player to directly control Cylon spaceships and generally be very harmful to the human fleet.

Then we have two small tracks, one being the “Jump track”. The goal of the human fleet is to make Faster Than Light (FTL) jumps and travel a random distance in hopes of reaching Kobol before they run out of resources. This track is moved forward every time a “Prepare to jump” icon is displayed on a card drawn by a player. It takes 6 turns for the FTL to spin up and make an automatic jump. The humans may opt to make a premature jump and risk losing parts of the civilian fleet in the process before this track reaches its end however.

We also have the “Cylon boarding party” track, whenever the Cylons successfully board Galactica a “Cylon Centurion” marker is placed on the track. It then moves forwards, and if it reaches the end of the track the Centurions are presumed to have reached Central Command or some other delicate location and killed or destroyed enough to make the battleship useless. At this point the humans lose.

Above we have the “resource dials”. All resources have a starting position, they rarely move up and often go down. Whenever a resource ends up on 0 the humans lose. The resources include Fuel, Fodd, Morale and Population. Finally we have the Hangar deck location of Galactica, here you will store all your fighters and recon space ships, and damaged fighters.

We also have a ton of other game components – it is after all a Fantasy Flight Games production (in a good way).

Plastic markers for Cylon fighters and boarding party transport ships. Plastic markers for human fighters (Vipers) and recon spaceship (Raptors).  2 Cardboard markers for Cylon battleships (Basestars). Markers for Cylon Centurion boarding parties, and Cylon Basestar damage tokens showing what kind of/how much damage a Basestar has taken.

A “Current player” token, 10 character sheets and character stands – the pilot characters also have “Viper Piloting” tokens which are placed beneath the Viper they currently pilot.

Civilian ships, these are always place facedown so that no one knows what kind of ship it is until it is destroyed and flipped face up. Sometimes these ships are insignificant, most of the times however a destroyed civilian ship will reduce your population, and even fuel and morale.

 The “Prepare to jump” token which is placed on the “Prepare to jump” track, and Battlestar Galactica damage tokens. When Galactica takes damage a token is picked at random and the token is placed at the correct Galactica location, this location cannot be activated until it is repaired. If Galactica takes 6 damage tokens at any time the ships is destroyed and humans lose. Sometimes these locations don’t matter as much, but damage in the right place can cripple the humans severely. In our game the FTL drive was damaged as we were attacked by two Cylon fleets – even if we could have risked a jump and lose some population we were unable to do so since no one currently had any repair cards at hand.

1D8 which is used when ships of any kind attack each other as well as to determine the outcome of certain cards being played.  2 “Nuke tokens”, the player acting as Admiral is in control of these. They are extremely potent against Cylon Basestars and should not be used until the players absolutely have to.

The “Skill deck” is divided into 5 categories, Politics, Leadership, Tactics, Piloting and Engineering cards. Each character in the game has at least 2 skills printed on his character sheet. Players draw skill cards from those skills printed on their character sheet at the start of their turn – and may have as many as 10 cards in their hand before they have to discard skill cards. The skill cards feature useful actions or bonuses which can be played either during a players turn, during a bidding or during a spacebattle.

Even though players only ever automatically draw cards from their specific character skills, there are ways of acquiring cards from other skills – primarily by using locations on the board such as the “Research lab – Draw 1 Engineering or 1 Tactics card” or Colonial 1 where players may draw 2 Politics cards.But the main function of these cards occur in the event of bidding during a “Crisis card” check.

Crisis deck cards form the main obstacle and at the same time hope for the humans. At the end of each players turn a Crisis card is drawn and resolved. Sometimes the Admiral or the President may choose the outcome printed on the card, but most of the time there has to be a collective bidding to overcome the crisis – using Skill cards. Many crisis cards come with a number and the colors of Skill cards that have to be used to overcome the crisis. During a bidding, all skill cards used with the correct color are counted as “positive” and all skill cards used in the bidding with any other color are “negative”. At the end of the bidding the total of each side is counted and if the positive number equal to or above the Crisis Card number then the crisis is passed. Sometimes there is a reward for passing a crisis. But most often there is no positive effect, just lots of bad things if you fail. This part of the game is where the Cylon player will focus his sabotage.

Remaining components feature the “Jump destination deck”, whenever Galactica makes the FTL jump the Admiral draws two cards from this deck and chooses 1 and discards the other. Printed on these cards is a number showing the travel distance and some information about the surroundings. These cards are then placed next to the “Kobol” card to keep track of how far the fleet has traveled, the Kobol card shows the victory condition of the game – which is to travel the distance of “8” and then make one final jump to reach safety. The Kobol card also reminds players about the “Sleeper Agent” phase which occurs if the fleet travels the distance of 4 or more.

The Admiral and President card to keep track of which players currently hold these positions. These cards also tell the player about the abilities this position bestows the player. Super Crisis cards are extremely potent "Crisis cards" only available to the Cylon player from Cylon locations. It is resolved as a regular Crisis Card but the difficulty is very hard to overcome and the penalty for failure devastating.

Quorom cards, drawn by the president only all feature certain orders the president may issue during his/her turn. Ranging from arresting another character, ordering to use brute force against the enemy, making inspirational speeches to boost morale and such.

And of course the main component of the game which makes it all so much more exciting – “Loyalty Cards”. These are given to players two times during a game. At the start, and during the Sleeper Agent phase. There are only 3 cards, “You are NOT a Cylon”. “You ARE a Cylon” and “You are a SYMPHATIZER”.

Check in tomorrow for Part 2 when I make a rundown of how the game plays now that you are familiar with the components and what they do. The game has a pretty steep learning curve but once you know the rules it flows remarkably well and it is probably the most exciting game I and my buddies have played.

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