Battlestar Galactica is, at its core, a cooperative game. You and your fellow players take to the table as crewmembers of the aforementioned spaceship, and the few hours you spend at the board chronicles your ongoing journey through space, and the crises that occur during it.
And boy, are there crises. A whole deck of them, in fact, and it’s these crisis cards that create the chewy centre that the crunchy, sugary, sci-fi-enhanced shell surrounds.
Crises take a number of forms; they can involve enemy ships appearing around you and attacking, shortages of resources, double agents in your crew… basically, imagine anything that you wouldn’t want to happen to you while you’re flying through the endless never, and chances are, there’s a card to that effect.
Each of these events require a certain number of skill points to beat, and the whole team has to contribute to the pile in order to successfully get away with them unscathed - but that’s where the game’s sting lies.
The cooperative nature of Battlestar Galactica may be the chewy centre of this particular treat, but within it lies a peanut, primed and ready to leap down the unsuspecting oesophagus of your peanut allergic team. See, at some point in the game at least one player will find out that they are, in fact, a duplicitous Cylon robot; a mechanical menace who wants to see the other players fail, armed with a frankly incredible array of tricks available them to make sure that happens.
Initially, a smart Cylon player will sabotage skill checks by putting in cards that don’t help very much (or at all!), and then begin spreading distrust about their fellow players. In the first game I played, the person who turned out to be the traitor spent a good portion of the game deliberately spreading mistruths about one particular player, then did a very good job of blaming a faulty memory when the fact that she was incorrect was proven. It’s more paranoid than a room full of stoned Daily Mail readers, and that’s what makes it such a great games. Turns will become secondary to power struggles and bickering, and the moment the Cylon player identifies themselves as such the events of the entire game will suddenly be projected on the cinema screen in your mind’s eye, the traitor’s tells in glorious, technicolour hindsight-o-vision.
Seriously, If you have ever wanted to actively distrust your friends, harbour an intense dislike for your loved ones or demand that your own blessed mother be thrown in jail, then Battlestar Galactica is the game for you. Battlestar is a game of suspicious alliances, taciturn plotting and beleagured desperation; and it’s a game that thinks nothing of demolishing the bonds of friendship with a ten pound brass hammer.
Once they have revealed themselves, the Cylon player will then dedicate the rest of their game to, to put it bluntly, wrecking your shit: They move to a separate part of the board and start firing various different massive problems at the remaining crewmembers, who are already sprinting around the bowels of the ship, fire extinguisher in one hand and first aid kit in the other as they attempt to deal with crises that happen so often you start to wonder whether the ship is under some kind of gypsy curse.
Other than the Cylon players (who often turn into complete dicks once they learn that they win be basically RUINING THE GAME for everyone else) it’s a game that stresses out the whole table, and the various skills and penalties that each character has means that you will never be able to do everything that you need. Your President can use one of his abilities to try and replenish some of the resources that your ship is constantly spewing like a bulimic emetophile (and you’re going to be demanding he do so pretty much constantly) but if he’s doing that then he can’t repair your ships, or man the interceptor drones - and he also needs to do that because there’s a huge swarm of enemy ships approaching - except the last wave destroyed the FTL drive, and that needs to be fixed so you can jump - but what happens if turns out to be a Cylon as well… You get the picture. It’s an exercise in stress and logistics, made all the more difficult by the constant niggle in the back of your mind that reminds you that you might be rabidly exchanging strategies with someone who wants you dead.
Battlestar really is great. Sticking a license on a game often feels like a way of making a not-very-good system sell a few more copies, but according to BG watching friends of mine who have also played the game Fantasy Flight have fairly faithfully captured the tone of the show - and while I know nothing about the programme, I can vouch for the quality of the game. My character could have been called Farty Bumknuckle as far as I cared - I knew his strengths and his weaknesses, I knew who I thought was a traitor, and I knew that we couldn’t afford to lose any more fuel.
Unfortunately, as great as any game is, there are very few without problems - and this one is no different. So far as I see it, there are two (and a half) problems with Battlestar Galactica, and they are thus:
First off, downtime between turns can be fairly lengthy. If a person’s turn involves a lot of space combat, then there are dice rolls, miniatures being moved, and heroic acts pinging from the table like tiny fireworks - but equally, your go could involve leaving sickbay, fixing drawing a card, then simply performing one of the “add up the cards” tests mentioned above.
Secondly (and point-fivedly), the game can be a bit long. Our first game lasted five hours (despite being told that it would take no more than three), and by the end of it the game felt like it had given all that it was going to offer. We were doomed, and we knew it; it was just a matter of waiting for the last of the fuel to finally trickle through our Faster Than Light drive, and passing cards to each other to fill the gaps between Cylon invasions. The Crises had lost their crisis.
That said, I would very happily play the game again; there’s enough in the box to make every game different, and bellowing “traitor!” at your friends simply never gets old. Play someone else’s copy before you buy it, I’d say (it is quite a long game, and playing it is a bloody stressful experience), but I really honestly feel that you definitely need to experience Battlestar Galactica at some point in your life. You deserve it.
(Pics sourced from BoardgameGeek)
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