The Saturday before Thanksgiving, Alex, Rachel and I went up to Derby Line, Vermont to visit our friends with Border Board Games, the Northeast Kingdom’s monthly gaming get-together. The game that took up most of my evening was Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, in spite of my intention to finally get another go at Castle Ravenloft — I’ve been foiled twice now since playing it at Fall-loha last September, for the record.
I’ve known of Battlestar Galactica for a while. It’s been in the local gaming circle almost since it was originally published. It got a lot of play in its early days, which tapered off drastically to none due to issues of taste and preference. I managed to avoid trying it out by not being interested in the source material and not wanting to engage with certain players in the way that I understood the game required.
Even a year ago, I sat out what sounded like a fun session of the game, again telling myself it was because of player(s) involved with the game. But what I heard from that session made me wish I’d tried it. I didn’t get another clear shot at Battlestar Galactica until this Saturday at Border Board Games, so I took it.
We played with the Pegasus expansion, which I gather added more characters and terrible things to befall the fleet, in addition to the titular ship. The game’s owner, Carlo, took the Cylon leader immediately, which seemed to surprise the more experienced players, Alex and Bethany, so I suppose it’s another expansion element.
The core of Battlestar Galactica is the characters dealing with crisis after crisis, drawn from a deck of cards. Crises are resolved by characters playing skills cards of various sorts. One crisis may call for political and tactical skill cards, for example, so those count towards reaching the goal number, while all other cards count against that score.
See, the game isn’t just the characters working together to overcome challenges. There’s also one or more Cylons in the game, secretly working against the humans to drag them down on any one of four meters: population, food, fuel and morale. While the mechanical core of the game is overcoming those challenges, the social core is figuring out who’s a Cylon — or flippantly accusing anyone you like because it amuses you to do so.
In the game we played, I think we were a little distracted from rooting out the Cylon in our midst as Carlo was a very obvious antagonist as the Cylon leader. And he didn’t even do all that much in the beginning, preferring to build up to gain super-crisis cards. I chose Gaius Baltar as my character. He’s especially prone to being a Cylon, so I got a lot of suspicious glances and specious accusations, meaning I spent my cards and table talk trying to prove Baltar’s innocence and usefulness to the fleet. He was also the president the whole game. I didn’t see enough of the quorum deck to gauge its utility; I can say I was underwhelmed by the two quorum cards I did draw.
Like a lot of other contemporary games these days — I’m looking at you, Agricola — Battlestar Galactica has that sense of too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Each character typically gets one action per turn, and there are so many ways to use that action, all of them necessary to keeping the fleet together.
In the end, it was Rachel’s Starbuck who was the hidden Cylon. I had a strong sense it was her or Bethany as Adama, as they were the only ones who regularly drew tactics cards, which kept appearing in skill checks where they were a detriment. In the end, I used Baltar’s Cylon detection ability on Bethany, as I wanted to be sure one way or another about her. In retrospect, knowing Bethany wasn’t a Cylon meant we should have turned the heat on Rachel, since Alex’s character couldn’t draw tactics cards as regularly as Starbuck does. But that’s not what happened, probably because Bethany and Alex still suspected me, as Baltar’s inspired delirium lets him draw from any skill deck he likes, so I was a potential suspect for contributing the tactical spoilers.
Learning Battlestar Galactica was fun, overall. The paranoia aspect started to get me after all, as I relied pretty heavily on Alex’s lead without any reassurance he wasn’t a Cylon driving us to destruction. That can screw with your head. I’d like to play it again, but I plan to be select about with who I play the game. There are certain game personality types I don’t like dealing with at the best of times, let alone when there’s the additional layer of potential treachery.