Monday, August 16, 2010

Battlestar Galactica: Great Game or Best Game?

On Saturday I got together with old friends for Andrew's 3rd Annual Bachelor Party in which we eat a decadent breakfast and then spend the rest of the day playing board games, drinking caffeine, and eating unhealthy snacks.

The board game we chose this year was Battlestar Galactica from Fantasy Flight Games. Its not the typical game we would pick as we tend to go for games with empires and army build up with massive clashes and invasions of conquest. With Battlestar Galactica (aka BSG) there is no long term build up and conquest strategy; instead it is a constant immediate decision tactical game as players work cooperatively to stay alive (i.e. not run out of the four resources) long enough to reach the destination.

Well, mostly cooperative. You see, the game includes a traitor mechanic in which a number of players can switch from helping the group of humans to survive to secretly attempting to sabotage them and make the humans lose. These are the Cylons and these are what turns a pretty standard coop game into a literal mind-f*ck and one of my favourite games ever.

There was five of us playing which meant although we picked characters and set up as humans, before the first turn secret loyalty cards are dealt out which has a possibility of turning two players into hidden Cylons. Halfway through the game the rest of the loyalty cards are dealt so you are guaranteed of having one Cylon but most likely two at that point. As a human you spend a lot of effort trying to suss out who the Cylons are by their actions because unrevealed Cylons are dangerous to the fleet and can cause skill checks to go badly throughout the game. If you think you know who a Cylon is you can send them to the brig where their impact is lessened a lot. However, you guess wrong and put a human player in the brig they can't help out anywhere near as much and trying to convince people you are not a Cylon is surprisingly hard.

We played the game twice. In the first game the population resource was hit hard by a massive attack so the fleet was reeling even though there was no Cylons out initially (not that we knew though). At the mid point Brian and I became Cylons but Brian overplayed his hand in a skillcheck he decided to sabotage and got thrown in the brig early. Realizing he was cornered he revealed himself and got sent to the Cylon areas where he could do more than in the brig. Unrevealed Cylons are by far the more powerful.

I played my status very carefully, helping out on skill checks and strategy most of the time and sabotaging skill checks that were the most crucial. (Skill checks are done by a hidden card mechanic with a random element thrown in to give Cylons some cover for subtle sabotage.) At one point I thought us Cylons had won the game through a failed skill check but Dave came through with a special card and removed all doubt he was one of the remaining Cylons.

Finally I felt I was in a position to weaken the humans by revealing myself after throwing Dave in the brig so I did that and we went in the final turns where Galactica ran out of fuel and thus lost the game for the humans. Go Cylons!

 * * * * *

In the second game, we were much more focused and ready for the mechanics but that made the mind games all the more intense as we watched every player's move with scrutiny reserved for bank dealings. This time unbeknown-st to everyone both Cylons were active from the start of the game and were Dave and Metin. That left Andrew, Brian, and I struggling to keep the fleet alive.

During an early crisis I opted to throw myself in the brig instead of making myself look guilty by throwing someone else in the brig like I did the former game. However this act made me look suspicious (combined with the unrevealed Cylons throwing wood on the fire) and they would not let me out, actively working against the skill check to do so. No matter the protesting I did I was accused and under suspicion and that was that.

I spent most of the game in the brig (at one point telling everyone I hoped the Cylons killed them all) and finally Dave was revealed (he has a terrible poker face) and Metin's actions finally convinced everyone else that he was not kosher. Still, it was several turns before I could be freed as Metin was able to block the efforts with his character's special ability.

The game ended in a flurry of attacks as the Cylons went full out to bring us down but the three human players were able to hold it together and escape to Kobol. Go humans!

* * * * *

This game is highly recommended for groups of 5 or 6 (four might work well). The paranoia is intense and definitely one of the most enthralling gaming experiences I have had the pleasure of participating in. The action is constant and I was never bored or idle.

I'll link to Andrew's review once he posts it.

EDIT: Here is Andrew's report.


  1. Nice review! That sounds like a heck of a lot of fun

  2. Played it twice on Saturday, with the Pegasus expansion. It's a fun game, and the traitor mechanic is a good one, especially as it can flip halfway through and someone who thought they weren't a cylon can turn out to have been one all along.
    Have you ever played Shadows over Camelot? It's got a similar traitor mechanic, (but no spaceships.)

  3. Hmmm this sounds pretty fun. Maybe I missed it in the quick read of your post, but how long does the average game last?

  4. First game was a 3 hour jaunt with lots of pauses for referencing rules. Second game was about four hours with lots of accusations and recriminations. The bastards.

  5. This looks awesome! I am buying this game on your recommendation. We have sporadic games nights with 3-4 couples, and this sounds like a nice break from Settlers or Carcasone! (My friends won't play Illuminati because it is too clunky and evil, but this sounds like it has better flow.)

  6. Just wanted to thank you for recommending this game. Just got it for my birthday and we played two rounds. Its just plain awesome. You made my day ;-)