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Battlestar Galactica» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Battlestar Galactica: Why you should and shouldn't try it rss

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Michael Bending
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Last night I had the pleasure of introducing two new players to my favorite board game of all time, Battlestar Galactica (or BSG). Watching them learn how to play the game really brought me back to when I first played the game and how I fell in love with it instantly. It also reminded me why some people who've played, tried to play, or watch this game swore to me never to play it or play it again if they have already... and frankly I don't blame them. So I figured I'd gather my thoughts on who I should introduce the game to in the future (since I'd like to continue doing that) and also share them on here so if someone's thinking of getting the game or even introducing it to a friend, they can get some friendly advice on just that.

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A Quick Overview of BSG

BSG is a semi-cooperative hidden traitor board game that involves decision making, resource management, and deduction. As with most cooperative games, the players are working together to meet and objective whilst playing a game of attrition against the game to avoid losing all their resources and losing the game. The twist is that there are one or two hidden traitors in the game (known as Cylons) who are trying to sow discord, lead the other players (knowns as Humans) astray and sabotage the game while ideally trying to stay hidden so they can more effectively accomplish these ends. This game is strong on theme and is based off of the Battlestar Galactica TV show Reboot and if you are a fan of the show you will likely enjoy playing some of your favorite characters from the show.

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Why you shouldn't play BSG

1.) It's a very long game.

The Problem:

Often games of BSG that I play run between 3 and 4 hours. And I've had many games take upwards of 5. The game I played last night with two new players took almost 6 hours to play... and that was after a 30 minute rules explanation. Personally, I don't mind playing games this long but I know it can be a turn off for many many people. DO NOT play BSG if you can't stand 3 hour board games.

Why this might not be a problem:

Honestly, the first game is usually the longest. Once everyone plays the game once (and often this happens midway through the first game), the game speeds up immensely. And while 3-4 hours sounds like a long time, if it's 3-4 hours of having fun then that seems like a good use of 3-4 hours.

2.) There a lot of rules.

The Problem:

BSG is not a simple game. Last night was the first time in a long time I've had to explain the rules to someone and wow... I forgot how much or an ordeal that can be. It took over 30 minutes (although in fairness much of this was due to distractions, lack of practice on my part, and the include of an expansion for balance reasons based off of player count) and by halfway through the new players were getting restless and saying they forgot many of the rules already.

Why this might not be a Problem:

Almost every single person I've every taught how to play BSG has had a near complete working knowledge by early on or midway through the game. There are a lot of rules, but most of the rules that matter happen over and over again and new players get a quick feel for how they work. The ones that aren't super repetitive are usually rather intuitive or can be explained as they go.

I've never had a problem where someone who's played the game before needed more than just a refresher to get back up to speed. Additionally, usually the "new player problem" can be avoided by having at least one person who's intimately familiar with the rules plan out how to explain the rules a bit. Think about what rules you should glaze over and what things you should emphasize and in what order so as to make the most sense to the new players. The good news here is that BSG is semi-cooperative meaning that often you will be working together with the new players (and if now you can always throw out how "well if you were a Cylon right now you could do X) to give little hints to newer players in the game.

If no one in your group has played before, I highly suggest reading the rules thoroughly a least once before trying to explain the rules and leave the rule book out for reference during the game. This can often make your first game of BSG a little tedious and hard to set up; but by halfway through (or sooner usually) the game usually makes a lot of sense and plays smoothly.

3.) Some players my be very dominant or even yell-y at people during the game.

The Problem:

The inherent problem with any cooperative/semi-cooperative game is that experienced players can sometimes have a habit of telling people what to do and not letting them make their own decisions. Additionally one issue with many hidden identity games is people might start getting angry at players they suspect of sabotage; often when that player is doing something that they think is a bad idea but might not actually be a bad idea. Some people have a hard time handling "Wait, are they doing the thing I think is a bad idea because they're just a bad player; or am I misjudging something; or maybe they're a traitor!" and the cooperative element of BSG really adds to that.

Why this might not be a problem:

If you play with only 5 people (which is ideal for BSG) there are 3 Humans and 2 Cylons meaning there are only up to two other people on your team you can actually get bossy towards once everyone's loyalty is revealed. And before that... well I've found that the fact that you can't trust everyone makes the game less likely to devolve into one person running the show since "what if THEY'RE they Cylon!!!".

In general I try not to play with people who can't be nice and fights with people over board games. And if I do I at least make sure they work on it. On the other hand for some play groups probably really enjoy the opportunity to yell at their friends and if you ALL enjoy that then hey more power too ya. Just be careful you don't send someone crying from the game... I've seen it happen.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Why you should definitely play BSG

1.) Emotional Investment:

Remember how I said some people can get angry at people when playing this game? Often this boils down to fact that this game can be very emotional and intense. Last night when we played one player yelled for joy after a die roll and one of the new players described how exciting the game was and how there was an mild adrenaline rush. I've never played a game that I've seen people get more emotionally invested in. This is a game that is often played on a razors edge where a few wrong decisions are what separate victory and defeat. The team and hidden traitor components instill a sense of bonding and teamwork and can lead to hilarious "Sudden but Inevitable Betrayals" at inopportune moments.

2.) Depth:

Wow, this game has depth too it. Because of the length the game ends up being a game of attrition while the game and the Cylons slowly widdle down the Humans resources. Plays that happen in the first few turns of the game can be what ends up deciding who wins or loses. Additionally, most turns you have so many different options as to what to do. Usually, you can narrow it down to 2 or 3; but still; the vast number of options you have each turn is astounding. Plus, all these options give Cylon players many different angles of attack. They can try make a power play and steal the Presidency from another player. They can sabotage skill checks and out themselves as a Cylon, or try to do so in a way that throws suspicion on someone else. They can even just argue for decisions that seem solid but they know in the long run will end up being bad decisions for the human team.

Often when I finish playing this game we'll sit for a like an hour discussing all the different stuff we could have done differently or analyzing an amazing play by someone at the table. Often these discussions lead to ideas for how to make interesting plays in the future. Even after 10-20 games of this; I've still managed to find new and creative ways to help my team achieve victory that no one had thought of before.

3.) Hidden Traiter + COOP:

I've mentioned this aspect of the game earlier, but I'm emphasizing it here because of how much I love this aspect of the game. The issue I have with COOP games is that there's no real conflict; just the players vs. the game. With this game, you have that teamwork and working together feeling; BUT you know you can't trust some of your teammates.

Additionally, this is by far my favorite implementation of the Hidden Traitor component of the any game I've played. What other game let's you skulk in the shadows, sabotaging your friends and trying to lead people astray all while maintaining innocence or even casting blame on someone else. Sure, games like Avalon capture this pretty well. But they don't give you very many options to do so. This game gives the Cylon characters a plethora of DIFFERENT options for trying to win the game. Which I love.

---------------------------------------------------

All in all. I love this game, but it's not for everyone. I hope this review is helpful to anyone thinking of playing the game or introducing it to their friends.

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Noel
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Good review and you hit on a number of points that I think are good considerations.
This game was a big hit in my group for a time and it can be a great experience.
I think that the reason we don't play it any more is that it can either be a very involved and tense time, or it can be not so engaging at all, depending on the card draw. When it shines, it is like a supernova. I think I will see if I can get this to the table again...
 
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Kwijiboe
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I like to use the following comparison. It's like watching a really really good movie with a group of people.

It should only take two hours to watch, but you might have people who leave frequently or start talking to others in the middle of the movie prompting you to pause or rewind frequently.

The game simply demands everyone's full attention. If you have even one disinterested player, the game is simply not worth playing in my opinion. I think that reason, combined with the fact that you need exactly five players to have an optimal gaming experience, it sees much less play in my groups.

But it is still my favorite game to play. But, play it with the wrong group? I'd rather not play.

So, play with a committed group! Stack phones on a neutral spot on the table and for gods sakes don't put a movie on in the background or jimmy will watch the movie instead of playing the game. Damnit jimmy.

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I'd say one important thing to mention is that when you have someone new, they don't need to understand all of the rules. And there's no need to go into depth trying to teach them. BSG is fundamentally a simple game. If you're human, you want checks to pass, or have everyone agree that it's not worth it. If you're cylon, you want the check to fail, ideally without getting caught and if possible you want to make sub-optimal decisions. But that's all a new player needs to understand. The only complexity is in space combat but there's no need for more than 1 or 2 people at the table to really understand how it works. Here's ships. Here's their ships. They have rules on combat and movement. They fight. Then leave the logistics of handling, and the job of the pilot, to someone who has played before. Once you cut out that stuff you can have someone playing within 10 minutes.

Explanation to a new player: On your turn, you can do 1 movement and 1 action. The action can be playing a card or activating a location. Every turn there's going to be crises. The card will show what color of cards will count positive and what color of cards will count negative. If you're human, you want those to pass. If you're cylon, you want them to fail. Everyone has defined colors of cards which they draw. There's a communal stack of cards that gets constructed with 2 of every color that will go in secretly. You're going to get loyalty cards, one in the beginning and one halfway through. If it says human, you're human. If it says cylon, you're cylon. If you are a human and get a cylon card as your second card, you're cylon.

And that's about all you need to explain.
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Conan Meriadoc
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I'd be really, really frustrated as a new player in your game session

Ultimately, there's a lot of rules questions that can arise, but that you can't ask because of secrecy issues. Or stuff that you're going to try to do, but can't. Or unplanned rules that ruin a strategy. "Hey, you didn't tell me I'd have to discard all my cards but three when revealing !" "What do you mean, they don't draw crises ? I put them in the brig planning for that !"

You're right that you don't have to explain all the card text, all available actions, etc., but everything related to hidden cylon play should be clear from the get-go.
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ackmondual
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You really can't get around the rules issue. Unless people have voice recorders and/or are taking notes, or have the ability to memorize EVERYTHING, then they're bound to forget things, even stuff related to cylons and giving away your loyalty. It just happens. I try to remind players stuff without them asking ("IF I were a cylon, then what would be the thing to do in this case?" ). I'm also more lax with them on secrecy rules, and allowing the admiral to show destination cards if they don't make sense to him, and allowing undoing of die rolls.


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Michael Bending
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Mat628 wrote:
I'd say one important thing to mention is that when you have someone new, they don't need to understand all of the rules. And there's no need to go into depth trying to teach them. BSG is fundamentally a simple game. If you're human, you want checks to pass, or have everyone agree that it's not worth it. If you're cylon, you want the check to fail, ideally without getting caught and if possible you want to make sub-optimal decisions. But that's all a new player needs to understand. The only complexity is in space combat but there's no need for more than 1 or 2 people at the table to really understand how it works. Here's ships. Here's their ships. They have rules on combat and movement. They fight. Then leave the logistics of handling, and the job of the pilot, to someone who has played before. Once you cut out that stuff you can have someone playing within 10 minutes.

Explanation to a new player: On your turn, you can do 1 movement and 1 action. The action can be playing a card or activating a location. Every turn there's going to be crises. The card will show what color of cards will count positive and what color of cards will count negative. If you're human, you want those to pass. If you're cylon, you want them to fail. Everyone has defined colors of cards which they draw. There's a communal stack of cards that gets constructed with 2 of every color that will go in secretly. You're going to get loyalty cards, one in the beginning and one halfway through. If it says human, you're human. If it says cylon, you're cylon. If you are a human and get a cylon card as your second card, you're cylon.

And that's about all you need to explain.


For me I can usually explain the rules on 15 ish minutes... however we added a tiny bit of expansion components for balance reasons, we kept getting interrupted and I hadn't gone through the rules in a while so it took like 30min

Though I also tend to explain a tad more than necessary cause of the fact they may be cylons and stuff.

The biggest thing I make sure to emphasize is how revealing works and how the brig works. I've had plenty of people try to reveal after the crisis or just sit in the brig cause they thought they couldn't reveal and didn't say anything. It's really good to go over that with newbies
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Robert Stewart
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Explain how skill checks work. Explain how Cylon reveals work. Explain Cylon victory conditions (except the loss from running out of characters if you're playing with executions - morale loss will usually finish you first...).

First turn lets you walk through turn structure, explain Crises, and the Jump track. First Jump (or first time Destination gets scouted) you explain distance and the human win condition. Anything else you can cover as it comes up - salt in strategy and tactics as the game runs. At Sleeper, once the Cylons know who they are, go through reveals again.

You'll still get the new guy who decides to play more-human-than-human in order to avoid a hint of suspicion and bide his time for a crippling betrayal, only to have the game end without ever getting close because humans had too much going for them to ever get into trouble, but there's not really anything you can do about that - it's too easy to think the goal is to stay hidden when it's actually to do harm.
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rmsgrey wrote:
Explain how skill checks work. Explain how Cylon reveals work. Explain Cylon victory conditions (except the loss from running out of characters if you're playing with executions - morale loss will usually finish you first...).

First turn lets you walk through turn structure, explain Crises, and the Jump track. First Jump (or first time Destination gets scouted) you explain distance and the human win condition. Anything else you can cover as it comes up - salt in strategy and tactics as the game runs. At Sleeper, once the Cylons know who they are, go through reveals again.

You'll still get the new guy who decides to play more-human-than-human in order to avoid a hint of suspicion and bide his time for a crippling betrayal, only to have the game end without ever getting close because humans had too much going for them to ever get into trouble, but there's not really anything you can do about that - it's too easy to think the goal is to stay hidden when it's actually to do harm.

Pretty much this. Not only will keeping the rules simple make the explanation go faster, whoever you're teaching will be able to absorb it and stay engaged throughout the explanation. If you get caught up in explaining all of the rules and details, they're going to zone out and not remember it anyway.

And ultimately win or loss isn't crucial in a teaching game. It's more about giving a flavor of the experience for them to see if they like it. I think I played more than 10 games of BSG before I really paid attention to how space battles work. One of the nice aspects of a hidden traitor game is that for board management, as long as 1 person knows how everything works, they can take care of all of the public management. Maybe you need 2 people if the first player is low on scruples.

And a lot of the decisions are made at public points. If a new player is the Admiral, you just have to explain that they're going to look at 2 cards. Generally speaking a higher distance is good for humans, shorter distance worse. Nobody will see their discarded card. So they can make their decision and then defend it.

Honestly, BSG is one of my simpler games to teach. It's basically, move, take an action, contribute to a skill check. Pretty much all Euros and efficiency engines require a much stronger grasp of all of the details and phases and options to really get started.
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Dystopian wrote:
I'd be really, really frustrated as a new player in your game session

Ultimately, there's a lot of rules questions that can arise, but that you can't ask because of secrecy issues. Or stuff that you're going to try to do, but can't. Or unplanned rules that ruin a strategy. "Hey, you didn't tell me I'd have to discard all my cards but three when revealing !" "What do you mean, they don't draw crises ? I put them in the brig planning for that !"

You're right that you don't have to explain all the card text, all available actions, etc., but everything related to hidden cylon play should be clear from the get-go.

Things like the # of cards left after your reveal I see as pretty trivial details. And not something that someone would get bent out of shape about in what is a teaching game. And is primarily pretty social. If you're a cylon and you can brig a human, it's pretty much a great thing to do regardless of the drawing crises wrinkle.

I'd cover cylon revealing in the beginning. And then reinforce when the 2nd round of loyalty cards are being handed out.

In general, I've seen people come away with a much stronger negative experience with a first time playing a game if they get bored and exasperated with a long rules explanation before it starts rather than, "This detail rule works like this" mid-stream. They're much more likely to avoid something in the future if they had a negative experience than if they simply didn't win or needed minor corrections throughout.
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Rob W
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I don't consider BSG a semi-cooperative hidden traitor game. It is a team vs team game. There is a big difference. The catch is that you don't know who is what team or even what team you are on. One of the two teams always wins.
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rwright wrote:
I don't consider BSG a semi-cooperative hidden traitor game. It is a team vs team game. There is a big difference. The catch is that you don't know who is what team or even what team you are on. One of the two teams always wins.
The definitions have been blurred on BGG, and it probably doesn't helped they changed it on at least one point.

For me, "team game" was for games where you know who's on your side and who isn't, like with Fury Of Dracula, Scotland Yards, and Cranium. Splitting hairs.

Not sure why we need a distinction that one of the 2 teams always wins. I figured there's always going to be at least one winning team
 
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ackmondual wrote:
For me, "team game" was for games where you know who's on your side and who isn't, like with Fury Of Dracula, Scotland Yards, and Cranium. Splitting hairs.

Not sure why we need a distinction that one of the 2 teams always wins. I figured there's always going to be at least one winning team

I think what he meant is that in a semi-cooperative game, there is a chance that no one will win, whereas in BSG there is always a winner. Additionally, in many semi-coops, only one person wins. There is the shared goal of the players winning and the individual goal of outperforming the other players. In BSG, there is no goal that all players share. In fact, all of the Cylon and Human goals are completely opposed. That separates a game like BSG from a game like Legendary.
 
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Well, I was thinking that in some other games you could have team vs team vs game with no winners. After thinking about it some, you could have that in BSG if all players lose. That only happens if the game beats the humans (pre-sleeper) with no cylons. That would be a sad day.
 
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rwright wrote:
Well, I was thinking that in some other games you could have team vs team vs game with no winners. After thinking about it some, you could have that in BSG if all players lose. That only happens if the game beats the humans (pre-sleeper) with no cylons. That would be a sad day.
Or if the humans lose, but all cylons perhaps + CL got eliminated via Exodus' IN.

Scottland wrote:
ackmondual wrote:
For me, "team game" was for games where you know who's on your side and who isn't, like with Fury Of Dracula, Scotland Yards, and Cranium. Splitting hairs.

Not sure why we need a distinction that one of the 2 teams always wins. I figured there's always going to be at least one winning team

I think what he meant is that in a semi-cooperative game, there is a chance that no one will win, whereas in BSG there is always a winner. Additionally, in many semi-coops, only one person wins. There is the shared goal of the players winning and the individual goal of outperforming the other players. In BSG, there is no goal that all players share. In fact, all of the Cylon and Human goals are completely opposed. That separates a game like BSG from a game like Legendary.

Can you provide some examples? I can't think of any team games where no1 wins. That's like having a competitive game where there's no winner. They may all suck or did something wrong, but somebody still has to have the highest score.
 
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Robert Stewart
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ackmondual wrote:
I can't think of any team games where no1 wins. That's like having a competitive game where there's no winner. They may all suck or did something wrong, but somebody still has to have the highest score.


There are competitive games where it's possible to have no winner - though that does tend to lead to a degree of co-operation.

I can also think of at least one competitive game where, usually, everybody wins. Of course, generally, someone is a bit more of a winner than everyone else (though I have also seen outright ties)
 
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Pasi Ojala
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Get the Imperial Assault Campaign module for Vassal from http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Star_Wars:_Imperial_Assault
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In 4-player games with Exodus and with or without Cylon Leader (Daybreak Motives) all players can lose a game and all players can win a game, and both have happened to us at least once in 200 plays (probably around a third of them are 4-player games).

Depending on the player count and options used, BSG may be a co-operative game with a traitor, a hidden team game, a team game if all possible cylons have revealed, or anything in-between.
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Gerry Smit
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If the crisis deck kills you all off in the first couple of jumps, and you haven't hit sleeper yet. All humans die.
 
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a1bert wrote:
In 4-player games with Exodus and with or without Cylon Leader (Daybreak Motives) all players can lose a game and all players can win a game, and both have happened to us at least once in 200 plays (probably around a third of them are 4-player games).


If you're referencing Exodus, I assume you're talking about the Ionian Nebula's player elimination mechanic? Otherwise, what you just wrote isn't really specific to Exodus.

GerryRailBaron wrote:
If the crisis deck kills you all off in the first couple of jumps, and you haven't hit sleeper yet. All humans die.

I recall this might have happened. A centurion got on board, but no noticed that the last spot for the cent. says "humans lose", and nobody otherwise brought that up until it got all the way down there and it was too late!
 
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ackmondual wrote:
a1bert wrote:
In 4-player games with Exodus and with or without Cylon Leader (Daybreak Motives) all players can lose a game and all players can win a game, and both have happened to us at least once in 200 plays (probably around a third of them are 4-player games).


If you're referencing Exodus, I assume you're talking about the Ionian Nebula's player elimination mechanic? Otherwise, what you just wrote isn't really specific to Exodus.

The one You Are a Cylon loyalty card needs be undealt for everyone to be able to win. That is specific to the loyalty deck of Exodus.

(Sure, everyone can lose with all objectives and setups if the game ends before sleeper if there are no cylons.)
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ackmondual wrote:
Can you provide some examples? I can't think of any team games where no1 wins. That's like having a competitive game where there's no winner. They may all suck or did something wrong, but somebody still has to have the highest score.

Well I don't know about a team game, but a semi-coop where it is possible for all players to lose is Legendary, that Marvel deck-building game. Some of the later iterations like the Alien version are truly coop, but I believe in the original game, all players can lose if they don't stop the villain, though if they stop the villain, the player with the highest score wins alone.
 
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