Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Battlestar Galactica Boardgame, well....

On my first visit to Triple Play Games boardgame night a friendly gang of guys invited me to play the Battlestar Galactica boardgame (BGB). It's been a while since I've met a new group of players as fun as this one but the game did not totally grab me.

The BGB is a cooperative game. The theme is that the humans are trying to escape their enemies the Cylons and in the process have to survive various "crises." The crises spawn from a deck of cards and require the players to work together and donate cards from their hands to avert riots, water shortages, and sabotage. Players accumulate cards that help deal with crises and may also have special powers based on which Galactica character they are playing. For example, the Lee Adama character has special piloting skills. If you fail to avert a crisis the ship loses supplies, fuel, or human population.

The twist in the BGB is that several players are secretly enemy Cylons. Their goal is to sabotage the human's efforts and destroy the Galactica. Thus, they may play harmful cards during a crisis or try and convince the players that one of Them is an enemy Cylon. The game rules allow for secret play and since the players know that there are in fact Cylon players once harmful cards appear in play the paranoia starts to mount. Characters can be executed or thrown in the brig so there is the potential for the body count to start to rise and if humans are executed by mistake the game can take a turn for the worse, at least from the human player's point of view.

Experienced gamers will recognize quite a bit of Shadows Over Camelot in BGB. That's not necessarily a bad thing since games featuring paranoia can be very exciting. In fact, the players relate that in one game there were No Cylon players (by accident) and despite that it was a hugely exciting game simply because of the mounting atmosphere of suspicion and fear. I'm sure there's some political commentary lurking in that scene! So if suspenseful gaming is appealing then the BGB has a lot to offer.

I was not blown away by the game, however. The crises change in each turn and I never got the sense that my character was improving or that we as a team were building anything lasting. You deal with a crisis with your cards and then boom- off to the next. In contract I prefer games like Talismen or Arkham Horror in which your character can accumulate useful gear, or games like Race for the Galaxy in which you create something that then can help you in later turns. Further, the BGB is really fun only if the players are willing to let themselves go with the paranoia and fear. The Cylon player has limited effect by themselves and if the humans fail to go on an execution and imprisonment spree there's a limit to what the Cylon can accomplish.

Finally, just as with the television series, I can't completely enjoy a game that features executions, show trials, and psychological torment. Yes it's all very gritty but I think I'm too old for that much grit.

That being said, a fan of the series or someone who enjoys what the game has to offer will probably love the BGB. It's not a bad game at all, but it hasn't risen to the top of my list as a game for a wide population of players.

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