BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (Fantasy Flight Games, 3-6 players, ages 10 and up, 2 to 3 hours; $49.95 )
Battlestar Galactica designed by Corey Konieczka is, for sure, a great hit, thanks to the tremendous background offered by the Battlestar Galactica saga and the great value in graphics and materials offered by FFG production. But to be this successful, there has to be something more than a television tie-in to the game. And there is.
First Battlestar Galactica is a semi co-operative game, a genre that is seeing a resurgence following the trail blazed by Shadows over Camelot (Summer 2005 Gamers Alliance Report). Konieczka take the idea of Shadows' traitor and fits it perfectly into the Battlestar Galactica background. Is there a Cylon on the massive starship Galactica? More than one? Who is the Cylon? Unlike Shadows of Camelot, Battlestar Galactica is not as simple in the beginning because there are a lot of gears interacting. Fortunately, the mix is good and the final result great. Already after 2 turns, the game flows easily.
Every player chooses one of the saga characters: from Captain Adama to Laura Roslin passing from Kara Trace and Gaius Baltar. There are 10 characters available and the rules force a good mix between politicians, strategists and pilots. According to the number of players and the characters chosen, a deck of loyalty cards is prepared. Each player then gets one card that must be kept secret; it could be Human or Cylon. At the game's midway point, a second loyalty card will be drawn. Humans players have to bring the Galactica safe to the final jump without depleting their resources: populations, food, morale and fuel. The Cylon wins by depleting one of the four resources or damaging 6 locations on the Galactica.
Usually there are 1-2 Cylon loyalty cards in the deck but there could be more if Baltar or Valerii are in the game. In four and six player games, a sympathizer loyalty card will be included in the second draw and it will be human or cylon according to the situation at that time.
If one of your loyalty cards is Cylon, then you are a Cylon. But if you get a human card, you can't be really sure if you are really human until the game's midway point. This mechanism is great, well simulating the "silent cylons" while having a lot of implication in game strategy. Can you really play hard against the cylons in the first part of the game if you are not so sure you will be human in the end?
Every character has special powers and weaknesses and also a skill value in 2-3 areas: Leadership, Tactics, Politics, Piloting and Engineering.
The game is played on a map board displaying the Galactica and its location, the Colonial One and its locations, and some special cylon locations.
Starting from the admiral, players take turns in clockwise order. During the turn, a player gets skill cards according to skill levels (a 3 tactics - 2 politics skill level means you get 3 tactic cards and 2 politics cards) and than performs a single action. It could be his special character action, playing a skill card as an action or moving on the Galactica or the Colonial One performing the action displayed in the chosen location. After that, the next crisis card is revealed and resolved.
There are two kinds of crisis cards: attack and real crisis. Attacks usually means that Cylons appear with a Basestar in the space surrounding Galactica, trying to destroy it and the fleet with riders. Once on the map, riders move trying to attack and destroy the fleet according to special symbols on the crisis cards. Real crisis means that humans are faced with a problem. Usually a test is required using one or more of the five skills.
Every one, in clockwise order, plays 0 or more skill cards face down and than 2 more cards are randomly added. The cards are mixed and revealed. The value of all the skill cards in the "right" (required) skill areas are added and then the values of all the skill cards in the "wrong" areas are subtracted from the total. According to the value displayed on the crisis card. the crisis could be resolved or failed. Usually failing a crisis means losing resources. What makes these card plays difficult is that skill cards can also be used as actions and usually it is a tough decision as to whether to keep a high value card or play it as an useful action.
Crisis cards are the core of the game. The human players have to talk and decide how and if they are able to resolve the crisis without sharing informations about the values of the cards in they hands. The cylons will try to make the crisis fail without revealing their identities. The two random cards really help in that way. Usually after 2 or 3 crisis cards, it is clear if there is one or more cylons in the group.
After crisis resolution, the Galactica can advance in preparation for the next stellar jump. The jump can be done without risk when the the ship is ready or can be forced to jump early using the right location in the Galactica. In the latter case some population could be lost. The admiral then draws a destination card that displays how long the jump was in the right direction (usually from 1 to 3) and which resources it used. When the Galactica reaches or passes a distance of 4, the second loyalty is card drawn. When the distance of 8 is reached, Galactica is just one jump to the end.
During the game, a Cylon can reveal himself. That character is removed from the Galactica and his influence in the crisis is really low. However, he now has a lot of new possible actions to perform including a special crisis card he gets just by revealing. Cylon riders are more efficient when there are revealed cylons and it can make the difference between victory and defeat the moment you decide to reveal yourself. Apart from the characters' special abilities, there are also two roles: the President and the Admiral. These roles can change during the game, affected by special board locations. Quorum cards are useful tools in the hands of the President and can help the humans during a crisis and in many other situations. The two nuke bombs are lethal weapons that the Admiral can use during a battle to destroy a cylon basestar and parts of their fleets. Both, quorum cards and nuke bombs, are tied to the roles and change hands if a new character gets the role.
FFG has already announced an upcoming expansion for the game. slated for Fall release, called Pegasus. This expansion will add two new supplemental game boards featuring the Battlestar Pegasus and the planet New Caprica, seven new characters as well as new skill, crisis, quorum, loyalty and super crisis cards.
With 4 and 6 players and the presence of the sympathizer, the game dynamics change giving providing a different feel than with 3 or 5 players. Because of this, Battlestar Galactica has a great level of replayability. It is a really good cooperative game that perfectly recreates the state of uncertainty and strain of the popular science fiction saga. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Andrea "Liga" Ligabue
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