02 November 2010

Battlestar Galactica, Part 2 [Boardgame review]

The game and how it all works.
Everything in this game is performed in secret, no cards can ever be revealed to other players, you may not say what kind of cards you have in your hand, the value of those cards or anything like that. This game is created for creating paranoia and built upon secrecy – this is what makes it so compelling and different from most other games. Especially since players are expected to cooperate towards a common goal with a saboteur amongst them!

Game starts with players picking a character, this works a little differently than in any other games I’ve played because there is a certain order you have to follow. You could decide right here who the “first player” will be, we did it by rolling the D8 and follow the hierarchy of our results.

Characters have to be picked in a certain order from those type of characters that are most plentiful (Military/Political leader & Pilots). Exception being the Support character (Tyrell,  the engineer). Once a player pick one type of character, then the next person cannot pick the same typ. This have to go full circle so that characters in play all have some sort of skills that are useful for resolving Crisis deck cards. Imagine if 4 players picked “Pilot characters”, the game would be impossible to beat.
Our game looked like this:

Player 1 (me): Admiral William Adama
Player 2: President Tom Zarek
Player 3: Pilot  Kara “Starbuck” Thrace
Player 4: Pilot  Lee “Apollo” Adama

Then the President and Admiral characters receive their special cards and tokens that accompany their position.

When characters have picked each player receives 1 Loyalty Card, at this point there is only either “You are NOT a Cylon” or “You ARE a Cylon” cards. Remaining loyalty cards are put aside, and the “You are a SYMPHATIZER” card is shuffled into that deck.  So right from the start, anyone or no one could be a Cylon player. Players will do well to keep an eye out for strange biddings and try to figure out who might be the Cylon player. The Cylon player will do well not to bid with cards that only he has in his character profile. For instance, if there are no other Pilots it would be stupid to expose yourself by throwing in Pilot cards into a bidding situation if you want to sabotage for the humans.

After Loyalty cards have been dealt, each player (except first player) receive a starting hand of skill cards. The first player receive his starting skill cards at the beginning of his turn (making him start one step behind the other players – I figure this is for balance reasons should the first player be a Cylon).

There are no “game turns” as such in this game, rather each player resolves his stuff, then the game moves on to the next, and the next until it goes full circle and keeps going in circles until either the humans are dead or have succeeded in reaching Kobol.  Instead there is something called “Player turn” where the current player does his share of things. Each player can move, perform 1 action and then draw 1 Crisis card in his turn.

Movement aboard Galactica and Colonial One is unrestricted, you can freely move from one location to the next using your move. The action you can perform is either using one of your skill cards or activating something on the board in the location you have moved to.

When all that is done, you have to draw a Crisis card and read it. Some cards allow either the President or the Admiral to choose what to do. Other times it says “Current player chooses”. Most often though, all players have to perform “bidding” with skill cards to overcome the threat of the crisis card. You might think that those skill cards each player draws at the beginning of their turn would last, but you will barely make it through.

When a Crisis card is drawn and it has a number and the colored symbols of skill cards along the edge you have to perform bidding. This is pretty complicated the first time, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. First of all, the card is read and shown to the other players. Then the player who drew that card starts by saying “I can help out” or “I can’t help out” adding “a little” / “a lot”. Players may never be more specific – ever. If a player can help out he follows up by placing some of his skill cards from his hand, face down in front of him. Then the next players does the same until all players have done a statement and either placed cards or passed. After this step, 2 more cards are drawn from something called “destiny deck” , this is a deck of 10 cards, containing 2 from each skill deck that has been shuffled at the start of the game adding further paranoia and suspense to these crisis checks, these cards are drawn and placed face down as well.

When player owned skill cards and destiny skill cards have been drawn, all those cards are shuffled so that no one knows who placed what cards. They are then flipped face up to conclude whether or not the crisis was passed or failed. To do this you count all card from skills featured on the Crisis card as “positive”, all cards NOT featured on the crisis card are counted as “negative”. You add all positive cards by adding the card value numbers together, then do the same for the negative pile, Subtract the negative card value and see if your total is equal to or higher than the number on the crisis card. If so you have passed. If not then you have failed.  At times there are “partial passes” where players only have to reach a certain number to get away with a minor penalty towards the fleet.

And so it goes, from player to player. Crisis cards feature more information than that however. Often there is a “Prepare for Jump” symbol in the bottom right corner of the card. And sometimes there is a Cylon symbol, depicting heavy raiders (transports) raiders (fighters), Basestar launching raiders and Basestar launching missiles against Galactica.

For a Cylon fleet to appear a Crisis card depicting a Cylon attack has to be drawn. These cards feature the layout of the Cylon attack on the board, the appearance of nearby civilian ships that have to be protected, and additional friendly Vipers (fighters).These card often have an immediate attack against Galactica or movement of enemy fighters.  Every time a new Crisis card is draw featuring a Cylon symbol, the appropriate ships are activated and their actions are resolved.

Once the Cylons appear the fleet is in battle until it jumps away, but the normal game goes on during all of this as normal.  Whenever a Cylon symbol shows up that kind of ship takes 1 action. This could be movement towards human civilian ships, movement towards boarding entrances on Galactica or opening fire at existing human fighters in the same area. Human players can launch and activate friendly fighters from the Galactica Command location, each action performed in this location results in either moving Vipers one step on the board or open fire against enemy ships.

During all of this the Cylon player has the delight of picking the moment to reveal himself and cripple the fleet from the inside one last time – especially during these attacks. A Cylon player could for instance make the fleet jump by moving to the FTL Drive location when the Jump marker is at “-3 population risk” location and hope to lose 3 population. After a forced jump a D8 is rolled, on 1-6 population according to the jump chart is lost, on 7-8 all ships make it safely out of the location to the next. When a Jump is made the jump destination and how far the fleet travels is determined by the Admiral player. He draws 2 cards and picks one, discarding the second without telling what was on it.

You can imagine a Cylon admiral sabotaging for the fleet by always picking the lowest travel distance or picking a destination card which can harm the fleet somehow.

Once the fleet has traveled the distance of 4 or more a second “Loyalty card” is given to all players – including this time the “SYPHATIZER” card. If there were no Cylons up to this stage there is definitely one among the players now. On top of that the player who gets the Sympathizer card has to reveal it rightaway and depending on whether the Cylons or Humans have the advantage this player will join the “underdog” team. This is determined by looking at the resource dials. If all resources are more than half full (BLUE) then the Sympathizer ends up as a Cylon, and immediately moves away from the human fleet to the Cylon Locations! However if any resource dial is down on low (RED) then this player remains a human and just keeps playing as normal.

Should the Cylon player receive the Sympathizer card then he just remains a Cylon and that’s the end of that. This particular step of the rules add another layer of decisions and tactics for both sides. He humans might not want to get yet another Cylon opponent in their game and may look to bring down one of their resources to red before the fleet has traveled the distance of 4. Meanwhile the Cylon player might want to wait with crippling the fleet until the Sympathizer card has been revealed to get an accomplice!

After the Sleeper Agent phase the game returns to normal, and remains as such to the end of the game when either humans or Cylons win.

In our game “Starbuck” was a Cylon. We had some bad luck in the beginning, mainly me having to discard 1 nuke, and when I drew our first pair of jump cards both cards were “distance 1”…  Our president knew about who was the Cylon since turn 2 after being able to look at a random player Loyalty card – he did not share this information with us until later though. I suspected either one of the Pilot players since whenever bidding was sabotaged it was due to red Pilot skill cards. I received the President title twice as well during our game but decided to return it to the original president to spread out the abilities and because I was fairly certain that the president player wasn’t a Cylon.  Our fleet was jumped by Cylons at one point but we managed to escape without much problem. However as the game progressed,   things started to look grim. The resource dials had crept down to bad levels, “luckily” one dial was on red when the Sympathizer card was drawn by our president or else we would have had 2 Cylons!

Our fleet was then attacked by Cylons 4 times – pretty much in a row! As the first Basestar attacked it launched missiles towards Galactica, knocking out our FTL Drive! Son of a bitch I thought, and we had just made a jump so our “Prepare to jump” track was down on 1 meaning lots of turns in battle with the Cylons before we could make our escape. The following turn another base star appeared! The combined enemy fighter force was now all enemy fighters available, we also had incoming enemy transports. We started moving civilian ships out of harm’s way and launched Vipers to protect our flanks. No one had a Engineering skill card with “Repair” on it so the FTL drive remained out of order.

When the 3rd Cylon attack card was drawn the President tried to throw our Cylon saboteur in the brig but we failed the bidding, the Cylons destroyed half of our Viper fighters and we pulled Civilian ships further back, one player managed to draw Engineering cards for the FTL drive repair. But our jump track had not moved one bit since the first attack! On the 4th Crisis card another Cylon attack card was drawn and a huge wave of Cylon raiders mowed down the last Viper escort and destroyed enough civilian ships to bring us down to 0 population and the Cylon player won.

This game is really awesome, if you are a fan of the BSG show I guess the experience  will be enhanced – else I figure it is “just a Sci-fi game with cool game mechanics”. The learning curve is steep however (though the game mechanics are rather simple once you know them), and if you plan to play this with entirely new players who have never played this game before you have to brief them on pretty much all rules so that they know how to act as human as well as Cylon. The game is made for 3-6 players. But I would strongly recommend playing with 4 players or more to get the most of out it. The amount of Cylon cards in play is scale by the amount of players. The order of succession for Admiral and President is listed in the rulebook as well to avoid confusion if one of those are thrown in the brig or turn Cylon.

We will play this game again down at our club this coming weekend, pretty much everyone is excited as hell about it haha,  so I’ll let you know how it went on our 2nd attempt :-)

I read that there are two expansions for this game as well, but I think the original should last a good few months before we need to spice it up with anything.

Special thanks to my buddy Calle/Millmir (president player during our game) who took pictures of the game in progress.

Get this game over at GameManiacs.

1 comment:

  1. Very good review!

    It is truley an awesome game and my personal favourite.

    We've played it quite many times and lately been using the first expansion. Dunno what to think about it, it is not as well written as the base rules even though there are some very interesting and funny elements such as a second Battle Star and Cylon Leaders.

    /Mattias H


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