Suspicion. Mistrust. Betrayal. Hopelessness. If you decide to play the Battlestar Galactica board game, you will feel one or all of these emotions. Based on the TV show Battlestar Galactica (the more recent one with the female Starbuck), the board game takes you on a ride through space as the human players try to outrun those sneaky Cylons. Throughout the game, the human players will do their best to keep their head above water as the secret Cylon player(s) do everything they can to sabotage their efforts. I’m always wary of licensed board games because they can end up as nothing more than cheap movie/TV tie-ins. The stellar Fantasy Flight Games published this game, giving me hope for it. FFG is known to make a quality product. Does Battlestar Galactica (BSG) fall into licensed game trap or is it worthy of standing on its own robotic legs?
Battlestar Galactica is a deduction and survival game for 3-6 players that plays in about 2-3 hours, playing best with 5 players.
At the beginning of the game, each player will be dealt a hidden loyalty card. This establishes a player’s allegiance for the game as either a human or Cylon. During the game, the human players must try and keep Galactica intact while they deal with attacks from enemy ships, supply shortages, and other crises that pop up. Throughout the game, the Cylon players will secretly work against the humans’ efforts until the Cylons decide to reveal themselves, at which point they will cause havoc in other, less subtle ways.
The majority of the game will take place via a simple skill check mechanic. Players will add cards to a skill check to help or hinder its progress. The catch is, people won’t know who played which card. If the humans fail enough skill checks or can’t keep Galactica flying, they will lose to those devilish Cylon players. If the humans can manage to jump Galactica enough times to reach the planet Kobol, they will have staved off defeat and the Cylon players must hang their heads in shame.
Fantasy Flight Games is no stranger to making games that people want to buy and play. One of the reasons for this is that they always do a superior job with their game’s components. In BSG, you get a box full to the brim with great pieces. First, there is a large game board illustrated with a picture of Galactica that will serve as the main focus for the game. The board also has a spot for Colonial One for the the president to lead from and various Cylon locations that will get used later in the game. Finally, the board has four wheels to track player resources (food, fuel, population, morale) during the game. These wheels will help determine the fate of the players in the game.
To attack and defend Galactica, the game comes with a number of great looking plastic miniatures. Cylon Raiders (regular and heavy), Vipers, and Raptors are all included in great detail. In the later expansions, we also get plastic Basestar miniatures to use. But for now, we have to settle for a cardboard token version.
The game also comes with a ton of cards. You get over 12 different types of cards to be used during the game. All are well illustrated with artwork and quotes from the TV show. Finally there are a pile of different cardboard tokens to be used for various purposes during the game. Once again, Fantasy Flight Games hits a home run with their game components.
How To Play:
Despite Fantasy Flight Games’s usually thick rulebook (clocking in at 32 pages), the game play for Battlestar Galactica isn’t that hard to learn. Due to the convoluted nature of FFG’s rulebooks, I’d recommend learning to play from an experienced player if you can.
To start the game, each player chooses a character from the show. In the base game, there are 10 options to choose from (with more added in the expansions). Characters must be chosen from various categories in order to maintain a balanced game (Pilot, Support, Military Leader, Political Leader). Each player will have a special ability, a one-time use ability and a weakness. All feel quite balanced, but everyone will have their favorites.
Next, loyalty cards are dealt. Each player secretly looks at their card and finds out if they are a human or Cylon. At this point in the game, there are more loyalty cards then players, so it’s possible that no one is a Cylon at this point in the game. Hurray for suspicion!
Once you are ready to play, each player will take their turn in a clockwise manner.
Each turn has 4 basic steps:
1. Draw Skill Cards – Players receive a number of different skill cards (politics, tactics, piloting, etc.) based on their character.
2. Move – Players can move their figure to a different locations on Galactica. Each location does something different from firing the guns to drawing cards to launching yourself into a viper (if you are pilot).
3. Action – A player gets 1 action on their turn. This will either be activating the space on Galactica that they occupy, playing a card from their hand, or using a special ability.
4. Crisis – At the end of their turn, a player draws a crisis card from the crisis deck. This is where the meat of the game happens. All crisis cards are bad for the humans; the only question is how bad. Most have a pass or fail option. The majority will involve skill checks. How do skill checks work? Glad you asked!
Skill checks all have a target number. To hit that number, players play skill cards from their hand into a face down pile. Every skill card is color coded depending on it’s type (pilot cards are red, engineering cards are blue, etc…). The key with skill checks is only certain type of cards can help. Any color card added to a check from outside one of the designated categories will act as a negative. So if the check colors are blue and green and someone plays a red 5 skill card, that’s a negative 5 to the check score. And just so it’s not obvious who is playing the bad cards, two random cards are added from the “destiny deck”. This helps “muddy the waters” so no one knows if that bad skill card was played from a player or the deck of random cards. Genius mechanic.
Eventually the human players will be jumping Galactica to new planets. These involve the Admiral drawing two cards from the location deck and picking one of the two bad choices. Each planet has a distance marker on the card. This represents how far the humans have traveled. Once the humans reach a distance of four, it’s time to draw a second round of loyalty cards. That’s right, you may have been a human the whole time, but surprise! You were actually a Cylon sleeper agent. Much like in the TV show, you were a Cylon the whole time and just didn’t know! At this point in the game, there is definitely 1 or 2 Cylons working against the players. Now, everyone knows it.
At some point, a hidden Cylon player will reveal themselves as the toaster they are. Once revealed, they have a whole slew of new actions they can do on their turn from attacking Galactica with the Cylon fleet to playing a Super Crisis card.
The humans must keep jumping Galactica until they reach a distance of 8. After that, one more jump to Kobol and they win. The Cylons must either destroy Galactica or drain one of their four resources to zero to win.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Battlestar Galactica is far from a cheap licensed tie-in. BSG is almost a love letter to the TV show. There are so many elements from the game that just screens “this is what the people in the TV show went through.” From the constant hard decisions between the bad and the really bad to the ever-present Cylon threat, BSG is all about survival. It’s about barely treading water until a Cylon decides to step on your head and push you under. So many games claim to immerse players deep in theme, but BSG probably stands at the top of that pile. I can tell from the fantastic game play that the designer must have been a huge fan of the show. You want the Battlestar Galactica experience? Well here it is.
Now that’s not to say that you have to be a fan of the TV show to enjoy this game. In fact, I know players that have never even seen one episode of the TV show that still love playing BSG. That right there shows you what kind of game Battlestar Galactica is. It’s about deception, it’s about sabotage, and it’s about survival. Any board game fan and appreciate these things. This isn’t a game that relies on a player’s skill at trivia or knowledge of the TV show to win. Any player can jump right in and compete. If you are a fan of the show, then it will make playing the game all that much better. Being able to choose your favorite character and taking on his strengths and weaknesses is a ton of fun. Even with it’s superb theme, the real strength of BSG lies in it’s fantastic game play.
Yes, the game play is also really well done. Despite the overly long and sometimes confusing rulebook (a staple of Fantasy Flight Games it feels like), BSG is actually not that hard to learn. The skill check mechanics is probably the hardest thing to remember, but that should only take a few turns before it all clicks. The skill checks are a great aspect of the game. With the addition of the “destiny deck,” it makes skill challenge a tense and nerve-wracking experience. You never know if a Cylon will help screw up that really important challenge.
Too add on to that, while the players are busy trying to keep Galactica flying, there is a whole meta-game going on. That’s one of the things I love about BSG. It’s really two games in one. On one hand, you are moving around the ships, fending off attacking enemies and trying to keep Galactica in one piece. While that’s all going on, you need to figure out who is the traitor in your midst. Within the first turn or two, accusations will start flying. And rooting out those evil Cylons can be frakking hard. Were those two red cards in the skill check from Starbuck or were they from the destiny deck? Did the admiral choose a planet that wasted 3 fuel because the other card was much worse or is he secretly tying to sabotage you? These questions will all run through your head during the game. Accusations will be flying faster than the Vipers.
Eventually, enough will be enough and casual accusations will turn into a nasty witch hunt. You are so sure this player is a Cylon that it’s time to throw them into the brig (or out the airlock if you have the expansion). I’ve played in one game where both the admiral and the president were both sitting in the brig because they were both sure each other was a Cylon (spoiler alert: I was the Cylon and could sit back and watch them sink Galactica without any work on my part). These kind of accusations are what make BSG so much fun to play. You have a game with a ton of player interaction and some solid deception to round it out.
Now that’s not to say BSG has no flaws. My biggest gripe is the player count. BSG plays optimal at 5 players. Any more or less and the game will loose a little bit of it’s awesomeness. At 4 or 6 players, you get a sympathizer loyalty card. It basically assigns a loyalty card halfway through the game based on how well the humans are doing. It’s kind of lame in practice and FFG has actually released a variant option for people who hate it. At 3, the minimum amount of players needed, there is only 1 Cylon. Once players figure out who the Cylon is, all the tension of the game evaporates. With 5 players, there will always be 2 Cylons. So even after one reveals himself, the humans still need to root out the other saboteur.
Finally, BSG is not a short game. Expect to play for at least 2 hours (longer if you are all learning the rules). Up font, that seems like quite the time commitment. The nice thing is the game moves so fast, it will never feel like you’ve spent 3 hours on one board game. Turns will move quickly, there will always be something to do and accusing your friend of being a “Frackin’ Cylon” never gets old. However, people might see that playtime and be hesitant to make that kind of commitment.
So while not perfect, Battlestar Galactica does involve a lot of constant action, deep player interaction and a solid metagame that will keep you coming back for more and more. Even when I lose at BSG, I still walk away knowing I had a ton of fun.
I have played over a dozen games of Battlestar Galactica and I still love it just as much as when I destroyed my first Cylon raider. The giant pile of crisis cards and the random draw from the loyalty deck gives the game an incredible amount of replay value. And this is just with the base game. Add in the fact that there are already three expansions out (each of which adds different elements to your game), BSG is sure to hit your table top over and over again.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the show, there is no reason you can’t enjoy Battlestar Galactica. While it remains true to the source material and is closely tied in with its theme, newcomers will be at no disadvantage to TV show fans. But if you are a fan of the show, then this game needs to be in your library. You will love it.
If a game about sabotage, deception, deduction, and the fight for survival sounds interesting to you, then grab a copy of Battlestar Galactica today. It’s sure to become a regular staple on your gaming table. Just don’t trust that guy next to you, I’m sure he’s a Cylon.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $40
Final Score: 5 Stars – Never has a game so captured the essence of its source material before. Fantastic, thematic game play make this a must own.
• Perfectly captures the essence of the TV show
• Game play filled with tension and loads of player interaction
• Minimal downtime
• High replay value
• Don’t have to be a fan of the show to enjoy the game
• Game is perfect at 5 players, looses some of its zip at other player counts
• Long play time can turn some away