Next in our series of the most essential games, as voted on at BGG: B is for…
Battlestar Galactica (3-6 players, ages 10 and up, can last about three hours) came out in 2008, based on the popular science fiction television series of the same name. It was designed by Corey Konieczka, and published by Fantasy Flight Games. Konieczka is one of the bigwigs at FFG, having also designed Runewars, Mansions of Madness, StarCraft: The Board Game, and many others. This particular game was important because it showed that officially licensed games didn’t have to be trivia based or Monopoly knock-offs to be successful. In the poll, BSG got 25.8% of the votes, easily beating out the #1 seed in the B category, Brass (which came in second).
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game shares the main storyline of the series. Mankind has been all but eradicated by a race of machines known as the Cylons. A small group of survivors has come together and is attempting to make their way to Earth, where they hope to make their new home. Unfortunately, they are followed every step of the way by the Cylons, who have infiltrated their ranks. The Cylons have evolved to the point that they now look exactly like humans, and would be impossible to detect if not for their ability to regenerate after death, and that there are many copies of each Cylon. In the game, most players will be humans, but some will secretly be Cylons. The humans want to avoid destruction and make it to Earth. The Cylons want to sabotage their efforts from within, making this game a classic study in paranoia.
BSG comes with 10 unique characters from the show, divided into four categories: politics, military, pilot, and support. There are several different types of cards – crisis, loyalty, quorum, super crisis, titles (president and admiral), skills, destinations, and the Kobol objective. Additionally, there are plastic ships – Vipers, Raptors, and Cylon Raiders. Along with a d8, there’s also a board which shows the Galactica, the Cylon ship area, the president’s ship, the jump track, and four dials on which you will track population, food, fuel, and morale.
At the start of the game, each player will get a loyalty card. This card tells them whether they are a human or a Cylon. The information must be kept secret, because the game would be a lot easier if the Cylons immediately revealed themselves (at least for the Cylons), it would take away from the spirit of the game. Halfway through the game, each player will get an additional loyalty card, and may find out they a Cylon. Each player has also selected a character, making sure there’s a good mix of politics, military, and pilots. There’s a hierarchy as to who gets which title (president or admiral), and each title has some special powers – the president has quorum cards that can positively affect the human’s game, and the admiral has two nukes he or she can use on Cylons.
The game proceeds in individual player turns, but there’s plenty for everyone else to do when it isn’t their turn. First, you’ll receive skills. Each character has a certain set of skills listed on their card, and the current will draw that many of that type of card in this step. Starbuck here would draw 2 tactics cards, 2 piloting cards, and 1 leadership or engineering card. These skill cards give actions you can do, or can be used when a crisis comes up. More on that in a moment.
The next phase is movement. You can move from one location to another on the board. If you’re switching ships (Galactica to Colonial One, for example), you’ll need to discard a skill card. If you’re in a Viper, you can move to an adjacent space, or discard a skill card to return to a ship. If you’re a revealed Cylon, you can only move around on the Cylon ship.
In the action phase, you get to perform one action. Your options:
- Activate a location: Each space on the ships has a specific action you can do. On Galactica, you could send someone to the brig; you could try to escape from the brig; you could jump the fleet early (which could cost population); you could attack a Cylon ship; you could activate unmanned Vipers or launch yourself in one (which gives you an additional action); you could peek at civilian ships to see if they’ll mess you up somehow if destroyed; you could draw new cards; or you could attack a Centurion on the boarding party track. On Colonial One, you could draw new skill or quorum cards; or you could attempt to pass a skill check to switch the President title to a new character. On the Cylon track, you could play a Super Crisis card or initiate an early crisis; you could discard and draw a new Super Crisis card; you could activate all Cylon ships or launch new ones; or you could steal a skill card and attempt to damage Galactica.
- Skill card: Play a skill card for its action.
- Character action: Play an action listed on your character sheet.
- Activate your Viper: If piloting a Viper, you can activate it to move or attack.
- Title and Quorum cards: If you have a title or quorum cards, you can use the actions listed.
- Loyalty cards: If you’re a Cylon, you can reveal yourself to use the action listed on the card.
- Do nothing: Do nothing.
After your action, it’s time for a crisis. Draw the top card of the crisis deck and resolve it. Some cards indicate Cylon attacks. Some are events. Others indicate that skill checks are needed. To perform a skill check, you look at the number in the upper left corner, and the card colors beneath. To pass, you’ll need a total that equals or exceeds the given number in skill cards that match that color. So, for our example, you need 9 in green and purple skill cards. Each player will get to contribute as many face down skill cards as they want, and two will be added from a pre-constructed destiny deck that contains two of each color. The current player will shuffle the cards and reveal them. Cards matching the required colors are positive, while any other colors are negative. So, if you have 11 in green and purple but 6 in red, you would fail this skill check. Passing usually results in nothing happening, while failure is usually devastating. This is a good chance for the Cylons to strike undetected, but it’s also an opportunity for humans to try and deduce who the Cylons are. Say only one person is collecting yellow skill cards and three yellows wound up in the pile. Two could have come from the destiny deck, but that third probably came from a Cylon. As the Cylon, you have to be careful.
On the bottom left of a card, there may be a Cylon ship icon (as in our example). If so, you’ll activate Cylon ships after the crisis phases. Depending on the current presence of the ships on the board, this could include movement, launching new ships, or attacks.
On the bottom right of the crisis card, there may be a jump icon (as in our example). If so, you’ll prepare for jump after Cylon ship activation. You’ll advance the jump track towards the auto jump space. If you reach that final space, you’ll remove ships from the board and the Admiral will immediately draw two destination cards, determining which one to use. Locations have a distance and instructions. Once you’ve reached a total distance of 4, everyone will get a new loyalty card, meaning that some people who thought they were humans are now Cylons. Once you have reached a total distance of 8, you’ll need to jump one more time, and the humans win.
After the possible jump, it’s another player’s turn. You go around and around until the humans win by jumping away, or the Cylons win by getting one of the dials to zero.
When Battlestar Galactica came out, it drew immediate comparisons to Shadows over Camelot, an Arthurian game that features cooperative play plus an unknown traitor trying to sabotage the quests from within. However, three years later, BSG has replaced Shadows in many people’s minds as the preeminent traitor-based cooperative game out there. The depth of the theme combined with the sheer difficulty for the humans makes this game very replayable. Add in a couple of expansions (Pegasus and Exodus), and you have a game that can be customized, and really gives a feel of the series.
Battlestar Galactica was my choice for the Bs, and I’m glad it won the poll. I’ve only played it once, and probably with the wrong group of people, but I can appreciate what it does. It’s very involved, and, being a fan of the show, I can tell that a lot of care was put into making a great game to represent such a great series. I don’t think you have to really know about the series before playing the game, but be warned that there are some spoilers in the game. I think the base game covers about the first two seasons, and I think the last two are covered in the expansions.
Brass, the highest ranked B game at BGG, came in second in the poll with 15.1% of the vote. This Martin Wallace game about cotton mills is very highly respected, but I haven’t played it, so I couldn’t really give you an opinion. Bohnanza came in third, just three votes behind Brass. That game, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, is all about bean farming and is apparently a pretty good gateway game. Again, haven’t played it. The theme on both of these doesn’t really draw me in, but I think I’m more interested in Brass because the mechanics look more my style. In fourth was Reiner Knizia’s Battle Line, the GMT retheme of Schotten-Totten. I have played this one, and don’t like it that much. In fifth was the abstract game Blokus, which you can find in most big box stores. I would recommend that one. In sixth was Blood Bowl, which I haven’t played. In seventh was BattleLore, the fourth game in Richard Borg’s so-called “Commands and Colors” series. I like it, but I think Memoir ’44 might be a bit better. In eighth was the ubiquitous Other (more on that in a minute). Britannia came in ninth – I know next to nothing about this one. Die Burgen von Burgund was tenth. I haven’t played it, but have covered it on the blog. Bridge came in eleventh. It’s considered to be a classic trick-taking game, but I am not among its fans. Other nominated games included Backgammon; Balderdash; Bang!; Bar-Lev: The Yom Kippur War of 1973; Barbarian, Kingdom & Empire; BasketBoss; Battle Cry; Battleground; Battles of Westeros; Battletech; Betrayal at House on the Hill; Biblios; Blokus Trigon; Blue Max; Blue Moon; Boomtown; Bowl Bound; Bridgette; and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d also offer up Blue Moon City as another alternative.
The Cs are coming soon…stay tuned. Thanks for reading!