Monday, 29 October 2012

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game

I first played Battlestar Galactica nearly four years ago. I've only played it a handful of times since, but each time it grows on me. The game roughly follows the plot of the first two seasons of the show, with players controlling one of 10 available characters. They cooperatively use their time to fend of crises: attacks from Cylon forces, encountering new worlds and dealing with dwindling resources (population, fuel, morale and food). The game is pretty brutal, but players can often overcome the crises. Added difficulty, and the game's best mechanic, comes in the form of a hidden Cylon agent amongst the players. This agent can disrupt efforts in The Galactica and accelerate the players' demise.

Kara "Nicola" Thrace
William "Badass" Adama
I played on Sunday with Meghs, Nicola and Al. Al was President Gaius Baltar, Meghs was CAG Lee "Apollo" Adama, Nicola was Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and I chose Admiral William Adama.
 Lee "Meghs" Adama
Gaius "Al" Baltar
The game requires characters to be chosen evenly from amongst military, political and piloting character. This forced balance keeps the game winnable. In addition, the roles of President and Admiral are chosen from strict lines of succession.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, no one was a Cylon. This meant that we were all currently on the same side and working to save our resources. This did not, however, preclude us from being sleeper agents... more on this later.

Heavy assault!
We started the game under heavy fire, and were quickly surrounded by a Cylon fleet of two base stars and loads of raiders. Luckily, we had two pilot characters who could help to defend the Galactica.
A turn consists of drawing Skill Cards, which reflect character abilities, then moving to a location on the Galactica and taking an action. This can be anything from manning a viper, sending a suspected Cylon to the brig, or attempting to influence the Quorum of Twelve. The turn ends by drawing a Crisis Card, which is nearly always bad!

I'm Pres/Ad, bitch!
After seeing off the massive assault, things settled down with some (relatively) minor skirmishes and other crises. We encountered a crisis that forced us into martial law, so I, as Admiral Adama, became President-Admiral Adama! We made good progress with our FTL drive and got some good distances. 
Kara and Gaius deep in thought.

Most Crisis Cards fall into one of two categories: ambush or skill test. Ambushes mean that Cylon forces attack The Galactica whilst skill tests usually cover an internal struggle or the result of a find. Ambushes are obviously bad, whereas skill tests come with badness that can be averted by passing the skill test. Sometimes even good things can happen as a result of the skill test. A test is overcome by meeting a certain value. The higher the value, the harder to achieve. Only certain skills can contribute to a skill test (usually 2 or 3 of Political, Leadership, Tactical, Engineering and Piloting), and the other skills will detract. Players may discuss what they can contribute (only in vague terms), but the Skill Cards are played secretly and revealed at once. What's more, two random cards from a "Destiny Deck" are added to the pile, which will randomly help or hinder the group. This helps to conceal the actions of any covert Cylon agents. This is the principle mechanic of the game that allows the Cylon agent to complete his goal secretly. Skill check cards will also usually activate Cylon ships and progress the FTL drive towards activation.

Look, she's real!
After reaching the midway point of our voyage, we took a break. The weather was lovely, and it was cold inside...
Back at the table, we started the Sleeper Agent Phase. It was here that I found out that I was a Cylon. Being both Admiral and President, as a Cylon, put me in an advantageous position! However, I had to be sneaky so stop other players catching on and sending me to the brig before I could wreak havoc. It also turned out that Apollo was a sympathiser. This is game-balance feature that assesses the state of the game at the Sleeper Agent Phase and either introduces another Cylon (if the humans are doing too well), or puts a human into the brig (if they are doing poorly). In Apollo's turn, I tried to subtly keep him in the brig (using the Skill Test mechanic), but destiny did not smile on me and I was revealed as the Cylon. However, the other players did not have the power to put me in the brig before I could take myself out and appear at the Cylon Resurrection Ship.
Sounds like something a toaster would do...
Outed Cylon agents are removed from the Galactica and placed in the Cylon fleet. Here, players can attempt to hinder the Colonials in a variety of ways, through the use of extra Crisis Cards, or Super Crisis Cards (nasty!). Each Cylon only has access to one Super-Crisis card. 
 The humans proceeded reasonably well after my absence, losing a great deal of resources but getting one step away from the final jump. As a Cylon, I had to prevent that jump and cement my victory.
The Humans win if they can cover a certain distance and then make a final FTL jump (usually 3-5 jumps in total). The Cylons win if they can reduce any of the human resources to 0.
The winning nuke.
My turn came around, and I played my Super Crisis Card. I was one nuke away from wiping out the fleet's fuel supplies. The Humans had to pass a very difficult skill check to avoid losing one point of Fuel, Food and Population. Being one point of fuel away from defeat, this put them dangerously close to being stranded in space. Being a Cylon, I was able to affect this Skill Check minimally, but after the Destiny Deck was added and the cards counted, the test was failed! Humanity was crushed!

As always, this was a great game of Battlestar Galactica. The heavy threat in the opening turns forced all of us to play together and think as a team. We pulled out all the stops and put up a good fight. The game is always tense, and whilst the threats aren't always as obvious as an all-out attack, the came is always challenging. 
Being able to play as the Cylon always appeals to me, as I try to work out the most underhanded way to bring about my team mates' demise. Sadly, I blew it very early on this time. I had the power to stop the humans from incarcerating me, but ultimately I had to sacrifice my position to keep useful. They would have had me int he brig eventually.

The paranoia this game generates is (usually) awesome! Any differences in opinion need to be heavily considered; does she genuinely think that is the better option, or is she trying to steer us towards ruin? So often, two players will genuinely disagree on what the best course of action is, but you can never rule out that the other player is a Cylon (nor they you). 
Now that I have started watching the show, the game is even more enjoyable. Choosing a character to play was extremely enjoyable, and when Al started talking to himself we all had a good laugh. I will be endeavouring to have this game played at the Hampton Games Club some time soon, and I highly recommend that you give it a shot if you can!

Sometimes I secretly hope for at the moment is that Wil Wheaton does an episode of tabletop on the game and brings in three of the cast members to play themselves. If given the choice, I would like to see Edward James Olmos (he'd intimidate everyone into doing what he wanted), Tahmoh Penikett (because he could spend the first two turns getting drunk) and Katee Sackhoff (good chance of table-flipping if she lost). Wil would have to play as Roslin so that there could be awkward fondness Adama. DO IT WIL!

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