Sunday, March 15, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

One of the hot games on BGG at the moment is Battlestar Galactica. I've been ignoring it. If it doesn't come with a life-size miniature of the '80s Cassiopeia:

I'm not very interested. Nevertheless, that was what was on the table at CyberKev's place, so that was what we played. Adam gave a quick rules explanation, some of which I followed, but I figured there was so much writing on the board it would all become clear. That was almost true by the end of the game.

First of all, I would like to say OMGSTARBUCKSAGIRL! I hope those coffee people don't mind that they've named their chain after a hot little blonde girl, instead of a (presumably) hot little blonde boy:

Maybe he was the male equivalent of Cassiopeia in the '80s? Anyway, more cute girls is better. When we chose characters Phil took Starbuck so I couldn't have the other cute pilot - if we're playing characters I like to choose someone I don't mind looking at for several hours. If I wanted a female character I needed to be the president, and with my feeble understanding of the rules I figured it was best for the human race that I didn't do that. I took Gaius Baltar instead.

Of course, I was completely ignorant of the fact that Baltar is well-known for being of dubious loyalty. In fact, looking at Wikipedia, there's a lot about him I was completely ignorant of. It's interesting that in the '80s series Baltar was a shadowy, obviously evil guy, but the modern-day equivalent is that he's a womaniser. How times have changed! I wonder if he's evil enough to smoke?

At the start of the game each player receives a loyalty card, like in Shadows Over Camelot, except this card tells them whether they're a Cylon or not. The very clever mechanic that represents Baltar's dubious loyalty is that he receives two loyalty cards, and if either says he's a Cylon then he is, which gives him about a 50% chance of being one. I wasn't, but of course I was under suspicion.

To complete the list of roles selected - Trevor was the admiral, CyberKev was the president, Adam was the Adama pilot, and the Evil Count was the janitor or handyman or something. So, onto the game.

The first two things that happened to us were Cylon attacks, so we sent the pilots out to fight them. That didn't work very well - Starbuck got injured and Adama had to go get petrol for his Viper or something. However the Cylons weren't obviously hurting us either - I guess if combat was more effective it would be more of a fighting game than the sort of political cooperation game that it is.

I quite like the way cards are played to achieve cooperation or betrayal. Each player has a hand of skill cards of various colours - yellow is political, blue is engineering, and there are 3 other colours. As a minor politician I was drawing two yellow cards and some others each turn. At the end of your turn you have to take a crisis card which represents an obstacle to be overcome by the crew. The challenge specifies what colours can be used to defeat it, and what total value in those colours must be attained to succeed. Cards of the other colours count as negative. Two cards are drawn from a random pool and added to the contributions, then each player adds as many cards as they like without revealing what colours those cards are. When all the cards are collected, they're shuffled and the total calculated. Nice cooperative players like Baltar will have contributed the good colours, but wicked wicked Cylons might have put in the other colours. Given that there were only two random cards added to the pile, if there are more than two bad cards contributed, someone is a Cylon.

That didn't happen to us for quite a while. In fact we were a team of overachievers, regularly scoring 10 more than we needed. We figured either the Cylons were not revealed, i.e. the Cylon loyalty cards would come out in the second round of loyalty, or the Cylons were trying to be tricky. Either way, we were doing well.

Some of the crisis cards have an icon which means "progress on the hyperjump track". After you've revealed a few of those cards you have the option of warping the ship and actually making some progress towards Earth. If you decide to jump before you're not quite ready you might lose some of the colonist ships on the way which costs you population. Oh goodness, now I've got to explain that as well. The BSG (as opposed to the BGG, the BFG, or even the BBG) has a certain amount of fuel, food, population and morale. The crises that befall you whittle away those values, and if any of them fall to zero the Cylons win. The BSG is escorting a fleet of colonist ships containing, for example, ugly dirty people who don't get to be on the TV show. When the Cylons attack, and they have no Vipers to fight, they destroy colonist ships, each of which costs you some amount of fuel, food or population - so losing fights means you come closer to losing the game, and having no Vipers defending is pretty bad.

Anyway, when you hyperjump you leave behind all of the Cylons you were fighting. You may alos not be organised enough to get the word out to all of the ugly dirty people, so you may lose some population as well. We figured a few times that if we didn't jump the Cylons would destroy colonist ships anyway, so if jumped early and lost some population we'd still be better off. The show's not about those people anyway.

When you hyperjump you move a certain number of steps toward Earth. The Admiral draws two travel cards, each of which grants you a certain number of steps and a penalty, and of course the higher the number of steps the higher the penalty. Our Admiral was extremely cautious, meaning that after 3 jumps we'd only moved 4 steps of a required 8. Not only were we still a long way from home, but the game was taking a really long time and I was starting to doubt the loyalty of the Admiral.

After 4 steps, more loyalty cards are handed out. If you receive a Cylon in this batch, you suddenly discover you're a Cylon. By that time we knew there was a Cylon amongst us, and as the bad cards were red - pilot cards - we suspected Phil or Adam. Even worse, we discovered that the Evil Count von Handyman was a Cylon sympathiser and we had to throw him in the brig.

The game then entered a long political phase, during which the BSG seemed to be becalmed. Although the handyman was in the brig and was known not to be a Cylon, it was a political argument to try to get him released. We needed to pass a yellow-purple skill check, and someone kept throwing in red cards. We strongly suspected Adam(a), and wanted to throw him in the brig as well, but that was a purple-green skill check and red cards kept disrupting that as well. The Cylons were also out to get the Admiral, i.e. trying to depose Trevor so they could steer the ship themselves. Looking back I can see the beauty of the struggle, but at the time it just seemed to drag.

Madam President brought some sanity to the situation with an inquiry into the imprisonment of the handyman. When Adam(a) blatantly voted against releasing him from the brig, we knew we'd found a Cylon. Shortly afterwards, we figured out that Starbuck was a Cylon as well. BOTH of our pilots were bad guys. We began to think we were screwed, as there was nobody to fight the Cylons and they'd just pick off our colonist ships whenever they got the chance.

Still the game did not end. The interstellar wind picked up and we started moving again. The political machinations over the Admiralty had been resolved in our favour, and the Handyman had been appointed Acting Admiral. He certainly drove a lot faster and more recklessly than the previous guy. As the nuts and bolts started to fall off the BSG we jumped twice, and were in sight of home - just one more warp to win the game.

There still wasn't much hope though. The Cylons called all of their friends on the CB radio and told them where we were, and we were under attack with no defence. Adam(a) finally played a super-crisis which pushed us over the edge, and I think the last of our population died. The Cylons won!

Well, it might have been exciting, except by this time I was trying to sleep between turns. We'd been playing for 4 and a half hours or so, which is more than I care to spend on any game, especially after my bedtime! I can see how parts of the game are well-designed, and it all seems to work, but... I just don't care. I don't care for the theme, and I don't want to spend that long playing any game. If you like the TV series, and if you like long games, and if you like Ameritrash, then this is an EXCELLENT game for you. I won't be playing it again, but I hope you enjoy it.


~*~Sandie~*~ said...

1. How can you have a life size miniature?
2. The coffee chain Starbucks was named after a (male) character in Moby Dick. They initially considered Pequad, the name of Ahab's ship.

Chris said...

I like 80's Battlestar just fine, but you are doing yourself an injustice if you don't watch the new series. Both it, and this game, are AWESOME!!!

Fraser said...

A diagram of the intersections and non intersections of gaming likes (and thus dislikes) would be quite interesting.

There are at least some things I know we both like, then there seem to be quite a few that I love and you hate (BSG to name but one) and also vice versa (most word games).

I will say BSG needs the right group of people, luckily we seem to have a quorum of those floating around at the moment because it comes out pretty much every Gamers@Dockers and EGF. There are definitely the two camps though, those that want to play it and those who don't :-)