Introduction

Brought to you by Fantasy Flight Games: Battlestar Galactica! The board game of the TV series! Three to six players collaborate to try to reach Earth before the rag-tag fleet runs out of resources. However, hidden amongst the players is at least one evil Cylon, secretly working to destroy the fleet.

In brief

The game is based on the modern TV series. (Once upon a time there was a game based on the 70s series - I haven't played it, but it sounds rubbish). You get a nice board, with nifty "resource dials" to keep track of the fleet's dwindling fuel, food, and so on. Central on the board is the Galactica herself, and in the surrounding areas, tiny plastic models of human and Cylon starfighters battle over the fleet. Various decks of cards represent each player's ability to influence events in different categories such as Politics or Engineering.

Before the game starts, and again half-way through, "loyalty cards" are dealt out, making at least one player into a secret Cylon agent. The Cylon agent may reveal themselves to the other players or, more interestingly, remain undercover and try to sabotage the fleet from within.

The overall effect is one of fun paranoia.

Now, more details:

The Stuff

It all feels like a very high-quality product. The board and (very numerous) cards all have a very nice finish and feel durable. Ideally the cards would be octagonal, like they would be in the BSG universe, but in fact this only applies to the large "character sheet" cards.

The rule book is well-presented, clear, and even has an index. This is what rule books ought to be like.

A number of starship models are supplied - Vipers and Raptors for the humans, and Raiders and Heavy Raiders for the Cylons. These are very small models in silver-effect plastic; pretty nice, but they'd be damned fiddly to paint, if you're into that sort of thing.

Gameplay

Each player represents one of the familiar characters from the TV show. On each player's turn they draw "skill cards" from various decks, according to the character's specific skills. So, Adama will draw leadership cards, while Boomer will draw pilot cards. Each player also has a once-per-game super power; for example, Tigh has the power to instigate a military coup, and give the presidency to the admiral.

As you may have gleaned from that, the presidency and the admiralcy are transferable. They each bring with them certain useful powers... the kind of powers you wouldn't want to fall into Cylon hands. Thus, an important gameplay element is the jostling for power; throwing someone into the brig to make the Admiral pass down the line of succession, or persuading your fellow players to elect you as the new President.

The game is collaborative in nature. Each turn brings some kind of crisis, which the players must work together to overcome. Many of these are "skill challenges": players contribute "skill cards" face-down to a central pot in order to overcome various challenges, giving any secret Cylon players the opportunity to deliberately contribute negative cards. Two random cards are also added, but if more than two negative cards turn up, you know that there is a Cylon amongst you!

The space battles, so familiar from the TV show, are a big part of the board game. Cylon base stars jump in out of nowhere, and launch raiders and boarding parties. The Cylon ships are automatically controlled, by following a few simple rules. Meanwhile the players scramble to launch Vipers to defend the fleet, and, eventually, spin up the jump drives and jump away, leaving the Cylons in the dust. The urgency and tension of being under Cylon attack and hoping the jump drives spin up quickly is very true to the source material.

Session report

To give you an idea of how the game runs in practice, this is how my first game with my friends went - none of us having played it before.

I was playing Tigh. My "loyalty card" read "YOU ARE NOT A CYLON", which was something of a relief. However, an early skill check revealed too many negative cards, and we were forced to conclude that there was already a Cylon among us.

My friend Andy, playing President Baltar, announced that he would test his "cylon detector" power on me. He read my loyalty card and then announced to the group that the test was positive, and that I was an evil Cylon! Obviously, he was a Cylon, and I protested as much, but the other two players didn't know which one of us to believe.

President Cylon wanted to keep his cover plausible, and so he helped us as we bravely fought off a wave of attacks from incoming Cylon ships. When the fighting was over, though, a fortunate card choice forced Baltar to either jail himself or blow his cover. Once he was in the brig, I invoked Tigh's "martial law" power to make myself President Admiral Tigh, and thus keep the presidency out of enemy hands.

Alas! The military coup was a step too far for my lovely wife, playing Starbuck, who decided that this was highly suspicious behaviour on my part. She helped Andy in a dramatic jail-break, leaving him free to sabotage our chances in a few skill checks, such that the fleet ran out of fuel before reaching Earth.

Game Over, and a victory for the Cylon forces.

Conclusion

I need to play the game a few more times, but the couple of times I've played were tremendous fun and I'm very pleased with the purchase (or, I would be, had it not been a Christmas present). Recommended!

Update 2009-07-07

Having played it a bit more, I maintain my high opinion of the game. The only problem we've discovered is that it seems to be very, very hard for the humans to win the game. There are some simple rule tweaks suggested in the rulebook to address this, but even with these, it seems very difficult. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it feel more like a role-playing experience (with the theme being "inevitable doom") than a game where either side can win.

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