By Andrew Dodson on March 16, 2014 at 12:31pm
I've only recently gotten into playing board games - within the last year and a half or so. But I dove in. I purchased dozens of games and tried them all - war games, mystery games, cooperative games, euro games....I've hit a lot of major genres. Again and again, my favorite board game mechanic is the secret traitor. These are the games where the group works together to accomplish a goal, but someone in the group - maybe even multiple people - are traitors and will subtlety throw wrenches in the group's plans whenever they can. When it comes to board games, nothing builds more excitement than treachery and figuring out who, if anyone, you can trust.
It is my opinion that no game does this better than Fantasy Flight's "Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game."
The game takes place in the re-imaged Battlestar Galactica universe, which without spoiling it for anyone, is about a group of humans on a star-faring battleship traveling to a new world while running from a race of "robots" called Cylons, which want to destroy them. The Cylons also look like humans, so they could very well be on board the ship and no one would be the wiser.
Therein is the treachery mechanic.
The game starts everyone else on the Battlestar Galactica - each player representing a character from the show and each character with their own specific abilities. Once everyone is set and in place, loyalty cards are dealt out, randomly and secretly. Most of the loyalty deck consists of human cards, which makes your objective relatively simple: Survive on Galactica. If you're discover that you're a Cylon, you game is drastically different. It's up to you to covertly sabotage the Galactica during in-game events, and in the case that you're discovered, do as much damage as you can before downloading to the Cylon fleet. If the humans make it eight jumps in the game, it's a victory for the humans. If the Cylons manage to destroy Galactica, then its a win for the Cylons.
The basic mechanic of the game is, at the start of each player's turn, they draw skill cards determined by the character that they are playing as. They are then allowed to move around the board - to different rooms on the Galactica or even moving to a different ship altogether (like the Colonial One) - where they then perform an action based on that location. With that out of the way, they then draw an crisis card. Crisis cards are what make the game progress and most of them mean bad news for the humans of the game.
I'll break down the crisis card above (the big one in the middle). So, for this, the crew needs to reach a combined skill number of 10 to pass the check and continue along. If they fail, then the crew loses one morale. If they pass, nothing happens. At the bottom there is a consequence mark, which activates (pass or fail) if someone puts a skill card into the pile that has a certain icon on it. For this card, only Politics (yellow), Tactics (purple) and Leadership (green) cards act positively. Any other color card (piloting or engineering) have a negative effect. Players go in order, putting in skill cards face down. A player can put as many cards as they want into a check, but no one can say exactly how much they are putting in - just if its a low card or a high card. Humans, obviously, want the crisis to pass. If any of Galactica's resources hits zero (Morale is a resource) then they lose and the Cylons win. Once everyone has added cards, two random skill cards are added to the check from the destiny deck. The active player reveals the skill cards and counts them up - the crisis card in the example above passes fairly soundly, which probably just means that the Cylon player is waiting for a really bad crisis card to come up before throwing in some negative cards and messing up the humans' day.
The game continues like that, with each player moving, performing actions and resolving crisis cards. That flare icon at the bottom of the example crisis card indicated that, once the card was resolved, the Galactica's jump track was able to advance putting it one step closer to making another one of its eight necessary jumps to victory. The other icons on the card tell the players if any Cylon ships around the Galactica attack or move.
There is ALWAYS something for the human players to deal with on the board, and ALWAYS a way for the Cylon players to subtly mess everything up. Should the Cylon act too suspicious, the human players can respond by putting them in the brig, or if they happen to be playing with the Pegasus expansion, they can throw the Cylon out the airlock of the Pegasus, effectively killing them and forcing them to regenerate. That's only if they're actually a Cylon, though. Whenever I've played with the Pegasus expansion, I have seen many more dumb humans go out the airlock than Cylons. This game can definitely bring the paranoid side out in people, and if you act suspicious at all (even accidentally), you may find yourself enjoying some time behind bars or getting a one-in-a-lifetime chance to suck interstellar vacuum.
The Cylon characters always have the option of revealing themselves during their turn, which immediately causing damage to the Galactica and moves the Cylon to a different part of the board with different Cylon-specific actions they can perform to continue screwing with the human players. They are also given a Super Crisis card which, if played at the right time, can be devastating.
Being as it is a Fantasy Flight game, the board and the pieces are gorgeously rendered and the rules are, initially, quite complex - with each expansion adding another layer of stuff to memorize to play a game with everything. There have been three expansions for the game so far, each adding new boards with different ships that the players can interact with, new characters, new crisis cards and new optional rule-sets, adding more complexity to the game.
While Fantasy Flight does a terrific job of embracing the theme of Battlestar Galactic with the beautiful board and detailed pieces, it also does a good job of creating something separate from the show - so while, there may be references to specific events or characters within the game, you can definitely play through a game and not have anything spoiled for you.
This game has created some of the best board game "war stories," all full of struggle and treachery. I went to the Board Games section of Reddit sometime ago and asked for some players there to give me their best experiences. Grey-Ferret wrote:
We're at the end of our long, grueling journey. We've traveled the required distance and just need one final jump to win. We're under attack by two base-stars and down to our final 2 vipers desperately trying to defend the scared, civilian fleet huddled behind the Galactica. Population is at a meager 4 and Morale and supplies are in the red. The FTL drive is still revving up, but still one tick away from being able to jump. Everyone is looking to me, Admiral Adama, for some glimmer of hope. I won't let them down. Chief Tyrol and the other frakking toasters won't beat us that easy. I suspect President Rosiln may be working with the Chief as she did nothing to help us once again. Baltar can't be trusted either, so that leaves just me and Helo, the only soul on this ship that I trust. I have a plan.
I decide to leave the Galactica and coordinate our efforts from the Pegasus. Helo can manage things in my absence. I check in with Engineering to ensure the FTL drives will be ready. All goes well, another Crisis pops up, but we manage. We're golden. All Helo has to do is jump the fleet early and we've won. Even if we lose a few Civilian ships we'll still be okay.
"Now Helo!!"........ "Helo, do you read? Jump the fleet!".......
All I hear is "I'm sorry sir...." as he flips his loyalty card.
What the frak?? I've seriously never felt my jaw hit the floor so hard in my entire life. Roslin had to be the other cylon. If not her then for sure Baltar. I would have suspected even myself before Helo. What the.... How?? But he....
BSG is a great game by itself, but also does an amazing job at recreating the show in board game form. The best games I've played are when the player role play as their characters.
I was Colonel Tigh and was the admiral. (I do not recall if we had someone playing Adama and the admiralty pasted to me...doesn't matter). Someone was also playing as Roslyn. Roslyn was acting like a frakkin toaster by making what everyone though were bad choices on crisis cards. She was thrown in the brig. However, she doesn't lose the presidency in the brig so still has the ability to do more damage. She is saying that she is innocent and accusing others of being a Cylon.
Accusations are flying back and forth. I know only one thing for sure...I am not a Cylon. I don't trust any of these other people at the table. I do the only thing a paranoid, alcoholic admiral would do in my place given these circumstances...
I declare martial law. (Tigh's special ability, which gives him the admiral card and the president card)
"Frak all you toasters, I'm in charge"
When my good friends got BSG one of their first games was a 3 player one, through the sheer distrust that our group has for each other they managed to get all three of themselves in the brig before the sleeper phase had rolled around. Turns out they were all human and they sat in the brig as Galactica burned around them.
Even if you're not a fan of the television show, Battlestar Galactica is a truly unique board game experience where the game isn't so much on random card draws or dice rolls, but largely based on how well you know your friends, bluffing and counter-bluffing, sniffing out lies and figuring out who your real friends are. While initially the game is complex and it can be hard to find a dedicated group, once you're over that initial hump, the game actually plays quite smoothly - provided that your table doesn't dissolve into flat out McCarthyism...which I suppose is actually just part of the fun as well. The game can be played with 3-6 people, though it is almost universally acknowledged that five players is the sweet spot. Once you get the rules figured out, the game can be played through in less than three hours (McCarthyism/Witch-Hunting-pending).
This is one of my favorite games out there right now, and I highly recommend anyone out there with a taste for sci-fi and a desire for a more social kind of tabletop game to pick it up. It's a game that you'll finish up in an evening, and it'll stick in your mind as you think of everything that happened and which of your toaster friend stabbed you in the back and before long, it'll be back on your table again.
Seriously, it is worth checking out. You can trust me. I'm definitely not a Cylon.