Players: 3-6 Ages: 14+ Game Time: 120-180 mins
Picture the scene: in the far distant reaches of space, things are bad! Humanity and all its colonies have been wiped out by the robotic servants called the Cylons, that humanity itself created! You are onboard the last human warship left in existence, escorting the ragtag fleet of civilians fleeing from the metallic menace that pursues them. Food, fuel, morale, even human lives are all in short supply. Throughout the fleet, there are disasters popping up left right and centre. You don’t even know who amongst your own team you can trust! Anybody could be an undercover robot hellbent on humanity's destruction, they just don’t know it yet...
Can you even trust yourself?!
That, good sirs and madams (and toasters) is the core premise of one of my fave games of all time, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. Designed by Corey Konieczka and first published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008, it's been out a while now and isn't even in print anymore! But it's good to review some of the classics too, it doesn’t always have to be the new hotness! So I figured I’d share my review on one of the games that got me hooked into modern board gaming. It is now also available on Tabletop Simulator.
Battlestar Galactica - The Board Game, is a semi-cooperative game. In the base game, everyone picks a character from the 2000’s reboot of the show (though seeing the show isn’t necessary), each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Every character has an important role on the ship, be it chief mechanic or science officer, but notably some hold positions of power such as President of the Colonies or Admiral of the Fleet.
Everyone then receives a loyalty card that determines their fate. Either the “You are a Cylon” Card or “You are Not a Cylon” Card. Human players will have to work together to protect the fleet and navigate the various disasters to keep Galactica in one piece until they reach their target destination, which can vary depending on what expansion they are playing, but essentially they are looking for a new Earth, a place they can be safe. Only then do they win the game.
Cylons, on the other hand, are human-appearing robots that infiltrated the fleet, and will try their best to undermine the humans' efforts. They win by whittling down humanity's four “resources”: Fuel, Food, Morale and Population. If any resources run out, then humanity is either stranded in space for all eternity, starves to death, just gives up or umm… is dead already.
This game incorporates one of my favourite thematic design choices from a board game interpretation of a TV show; players draw ANOTHER loyalty card at the halfway stage of the game. They can start the game believing they are human, and then become a Cylon at the halfway point. They are sleeper agents, activated when the time is right by their robotic overlords. This way, no one is above suspicion, even if they were a trusted ally at the start, they may suddenly turn against you. Just like the show!
No one is above suspicion, even if they were a trusted ally at the start...
Gameplay-wise, BSG is a fairly complex beast. There are lots of different options available and a variety of ways to play, too many to run through in this article! But in a nutshell, players have three parts to their turn. They collect cards and then can do a “Movement Step” to go somewhere else on the ship if they wish. After this they may then do an “Action Step”, which is either using the room they are currently in or using one of the text abilities on their cards. This can involve moving civilian ships around in space, getting more skill cards, or shooting down the Cylon raiders pursuing the Galactica!
Finally, is the “Crisis Step”, this is where the bad stuff happens! Often the current player is either faced with a choice, this usually involves a difficult choice that either they or a person in power such as the President must make. For example, Food Riots - the people are rioting as they are hungry, do you give in to their food demands and take some from the reserves (Food -1) or do you deny their requests (Morale-1)?
The other main type of crisis is the “Skill-check” where the players are presented with a number of points needed from certain coloured cards (that the players themselves possess). Say for example, there is a problem with the fuel tanks that needs 15 points of Yellow, Green and Blue cards to resolve it. If the players fail to meet the criteria, something unpleasant will happen! So nice, loyal, meatbags will want to pass this skill check and can decide to play cards from their own hand of skill cards, facedown, into helping resolve this crisis. All skill cards have a points value, and all Yellow, Green and Blue cards added into this pile add their points towards the total, if the players meet or exceed 15 points in this example, they win the skill check and the bad thing usually doesn’t happen.
Of course, if any other colours are revealed, they instead subtract their value from the points total! This presents the Cylons a possible method of sabotage, appearing helpful but actually ensuring the humans keep suffering penalties! Two random cards from a “Destiny Deck” are also added which can provide cover for the Cylons. However, it's still advised to be cautious, too many cards of the wrong colour might arouse suspicion, especially if you're the only character drawing that colour!
Speaking of suspicion, here is the most fun part of the game. You never know who to trust. You can accuse each other, try to get each other thrown in the brig in the hope of reducing damage, and with the right expansions, you can flush potential traitors or unlucky victims into space out of the airlock… it’s the only way to be sure!
It’s the only way to be sure!
Don’t worry too much if you fear you won’t have much of Cylon poker face; in my opinion, the most fun is being undercover and making the humans destroy themselves. But if you do get outed as a toaster and flushed out into space, the game isn’t over for you. You are merely downloaded into another body that awaits you, one of the perks of being software! You can never again infiltrate the human fleet, but you gain access to Cylon-only locations that allow you to harass the humans in more overt ways such as controlling the Cylon spaceships directly and laughing maniacally as you do so.
The only criticism I have is the game balance: Depending on the expansions played, if the humans outnumber the Cylons too much, it can be too easy for the humans and can feel like a hollow victory. On the inverse, if the Cylons are equal to the number of humans, then it is brutally hard and might be a bit too soul crushing for the meatbags. If you do however get the fabled number of five players, though, it is the humans vs usually two Cylons, which is just perfect. Almost every game I’ve played like this has been super close and has always had a nail-biting finale.
As I could go on about this all day, I shall try and summarise... This will always be in my Hall of Fame for modern gaming. Some of the closest matches and most hilarious moments, I have encountered playing this gem. I enjoy both being a human and donning my detective hat, trying to sus out the undercover traitors. I also enjoy being the traitor, slowly undermining the human’s efforts and then doing a sudden but inevitable act of betrayal at the exact right moment! All good fun.
I rarely give out this score, as no game is truly perfect, however I feel I would be doing this game a disservice if I didn’t give it the highest score I possibly could. 6 out of 6!
Dan Leaky - The 'other' founder
Dan of all people introduced me to this game... and I loved it.
It's a tense nail-biting ride even when there isn't a toaster in your group at first. The strategy involved is just immense and I left my experience wanting to play again, which is always a good sign.
My only reservation is the weight or complexity which makes it a little inaccessible for people who aren't familiar with the hobby already.
George E Ohh - The Rules Lawyer