I was very excited when I noticed on the mini-mace II website that Ron McClung (the MACE gaming coordinator) had a copy of Battlestar Galactica! I made it my mission to play it during the event, and my mission has been accomplished! So, did it live up to my expectations? Well, sort of…
But before I get to the final word, let me talk some about things I did and didn’t like. I’m not going to really explain the rules, though, because you can go here to read them yourself!
The first thing I liked was the loyalty card system (which is similar to that found in Shadows Over Camelot). What’s really pretty cool and different in BSG is that players actually get cards two times in the game, first at the start of the game and then again halfway through. If you get a “You are a Cylon” card either time, then you are one and are working against the other players. Dealing out cards the second time is very thematic, representing those sleeper cylon agents that didn’t even know they weren’t humans originally (like Boomer).
But there are also some issues with the system as well. In our 5-player game, for instance, there were two Cylon cards in the loyalty deck, but it became obvious to us early on that no player received either at the start of the game. Things were therefore a bit boring until after it became obvious that both our Admiral and President were actually Cylon sleeper agents! It is also conceivable that the same person could receive both cylon cards (one each time they were dealt), which would make the game way too easy for the humans.
I also liked the way that the Cylons attacked the Galactica. At the end of each turn, the active player draws a Crisis Card, and some of them indicate a Cylon attack, which places a certain number of base stars, raiders, civilian ships, and vipers into the space areas around the Galactica. Almost every other crisis card, however, would also have a little icon in the lower left corner that would activate some of the previously placed cylon units to either attack or (in the case of base stars) launch more raiders. Base stars could fire directly at the Galactica and damage internal areas (which wins them the game if they can damage 6 at the same time), while raiders can destroy civilian ships that usually reduce the total population of the fleet (which I’ll mention more later). Having this threat build around the ship and trying to figure out how to eliminate or (more often) hold it off until you could jump away was by far the most enjoyable part of the game.
Yeah, we were screwed…
On the other hand, the rest of the Crisis Step threats were pretty random and boring. The whole “skill check” thing seemed pretty themeless, and those cards never seemed to be much of a real threat. The event crisis cards were a little more interesting thematically, but they failed completely at involving more than one player in the action (because only one person ended up making the decision on the card). I did like how there were the four core resources (fuel, food, morale, and population) that the humans had to protect and manage (with the Cylons winning if any of them ran out), but the ways they were lost seemed, if not random, at least a bit hollow.
I did like the Jump Track mechanic as well, however. You see, the Galactica can’t just jump away from trouble exactly when it wants to, it has to prepare the jump drives and navigate to their destination and all that stuff, so it takes a little time. This is measured by the “Jump Preparation Track”, which basically has five steps on it. The track is advanced if there is a certain symbol in one corner of the crisis card for the turn, and if you get to the end of the track after a turn, the fleet jumps safely away from whatever trouble its having. On the third and fourth spot on the track, you can actually choose to jump early, but a certain number of population will be lost in the process, which made for some interesting decisions that have to be made (particularly in the midst of a heated Cylon attack).
When you jump, the person currently serving as the Admiral draws two destination cards and picks one to travel to. These destinations may have some event or opportunity on them, but more importantly, they also give a certain number (1-4 I think) of destination points as well. When you get to 8 destination points, the humans win the game! Of course, getting to 4 points causes the sleeper agents to awaken, and (as it was in our game) when both Admiral Adama and President Roslin turn out to be Cylons, you’re pretty much screwed.
Overall, I liked the game more than not. It seemed a little boring to start, where you didn’t really have much to do on your turn if the Cylons weren’t attacking, but then it got insanely difficult when the traitors went to work. I think that the biggest weakness of the game is that, with the exception of the Cylon attack, there is no persistent threat that you can see building. The crisis cards are singular events that come and go, and while they may knock a point or two off a resource, they still don’t generate the tension that I expected. In Shadows Over Camelot, for instance, the “progression of evil” almost always causes the increase in one of the threats that are clear on the board. You either have a card added to one of the quests, another seige engine added to Camelot, or another Pict or Saxon added to the battlefield. Their continued presence serves as a constant reminder and source of stress, which is the crux of what makes the game fun for me. Battlestar Galactica just seems to miss that.
I love the theme, but when I compare the game itself to other great cooperative games like Shadows or Pandemic, I find it lacking. I still recognize that this is only a first-play impression, however, and I am very willing to try it out a few more times before I totally make up my mind. I just don’t know that I’ll buy it on sight like I was planning to originally.