“Who put that in there?” “Why go there, do you want us to die?” “No I didn’t fail that on purpose” “Right everybody we need to put him in the brig”
These are just a few of the frantic half sentences you might hear during a game of Battlestar Galactica, as you and your friends try to keep the fragile human fleet alive to fight another day, but not all of you will be helping. Battlestar Galactica is the grand daddy of a small genre of co-operative games involving hidden loyalties, based on the SyFy show of 3 1/2 good seasons and 1/2 we don’t talk about. You don’t need to have seen the show to enjoy the game but the theme definitely enhances it.
Some players will be valiant humans holding their own against the relentless enemy fleet, but a few may be Cylon infiltrators, unfeeling skin-jobs, they look like us but all they want is to see us die in the vacuum of space. If I seem biased its because I am.
While the overall game state of Battlestar Galactica can seem intimidating with its big map and many decks of cards, an individual player’s turn is relatively simple. You draw your cards, maybe move around, do an action to help out the fleet, then get dealt a crisis card for the team to deal with together. While you can wait a while for your turn you’re always involved in the action on other players turns, helping in crises or watching for treachery. This simple turn along with the game being co-operative really helps teaching.
Ultimately the game of Battlestar Galactica is about resource management as a team, the material resources of the fleet like fuel, Galactica’s compliment of fighters and players’ hands of cards, to be used either as beneficial actions or in skill checks. These skill checks are the openings the duplicitous Cylons can start using to ruin people’s days. There are 5 colours of skill cards, no character draws skill cards from all colours and only some will contribute positively to each skill check, and skill cards are added secretly, no one knows who contributed which cards and the randomised ‘destiny deck’ adds in some wildcards so no one is sure if the Cylons have revealed themselves with sabotage.
If the team of humans feel sure enough they can attempt to put the suspected Cylons in the brig, this is another skill check so Cylons and those who do not agree with arresting that player can resist. If arrested or otherwise rumbled by the humans, Cylon players have a final recourse, to kill themselves and travel to the resurrection ship. Acting overtly now, Cylons have access to a mini board of locations with which to threaten the human fleet.
The game does have some problems, the additional role of the Cylon sympathiser in even numbered games is added as a balancing mechanic, if the humans are doing well they join the Cylons and vice versa. But this sometimes feels like too much of a correction, especially with 4 players, either 1 lonely Cylon or some seriously overwhelmed humans. It also sometimes feels a little long, this can only get worse as expansions are added, and endings can be slightly anti climactic, the humans knowing they’re either safe or doomed for a few turns ahead. Another problem is a fault that I personally have, the game is quite susceptible to coaching, where a more experienced player overly steers the others towards a ‘correct’ series of decisions. This combines with the difficulty of being a Cylon as a new player (it’s even harder to know ‘good’ moves than for the humans) to make a first game experience that isn’t great.
If your group has the time I would recommend Battlestar Galactica, at least the base game, if absolutely none of you have seen the show then maybe the flaws will overwhelm you, but this type of semi co-operative game is a great gateway drug, so why not start out with the original.
Disclaimer: I have not played this with expansions they may fix/ruin everything, delete as applicable