After playing a solo game to cement the rules (in theory), I sat down to play Battlestar Galactica (BSG) with my wife (Denise) and our friends Bob and Jen. We're all experienced eurogamers, and we were looking forward to playing a game that is supposedly similar to Shadows over Camelot (SoC). In this session we found out what is similar, and what is very different between BSG and SoC. I should also mention that none of us has seen the SciFi series, but all except Jen were familiar with the original series (yes, we're that old).
I explained the rules, which took about 20 minutes, and we set about selecting characters. Since I was the only player who had "played" the game before, I went first and chose William Adama because I wanted to be Admiral. I felt it was important for an experienced player to have one of the two special roles. Jen took Starbuck, then Bob took Chief, and finally Denise took Baltar. I then explained the loyalty cards and dealt them out. I was not a cylon. After completing the remaining setup steps we were off!
Initially, things went quite well. Adama moved the initial vipers to defense positions, then Starbuck launched herself in a viper and start wiping up raiders. Chief didn't have anything to repair, so he focused on launching vipers, getting cards, and giving Starbuck executive orders to attack. Baltar started collecting quorum cards, but kept complaining they seemed pretty worthless (Cylon, hmmmmmm? ) Baltar did make me the Vice President though, so I decided not to make any serious accusations yet.
Our first few crisis cards were all skill checks. Since we didn't know for sure yet if there was a cylon, we overcommitted cards and usually had way more points than needed to pass the checks. Several times players were out of cards before their turn came around. This card mis-management would come back to haunt the humans. However, all these skill checks pretty much told us we were all human, as there were often no negative cards in any of the checks, even from the Destiny deck. Maybe Baltar was human after all, even with two initial loyalty cards.
As Admiral, my first two jump choices were sub-optimal. My first choice was between a 1 card and a 2 card. I think the 2 card would have dropped our morale, which was our lowest resource at the time, so I chose the 1 card. Bad move. My second jump choice was between two 1 cards. So, after two jumps, we had only advanced a distance of 2. This game was going to take forever!
By this point, Jen had observed that BSG seemed all about managing bad things. The players can't work toward any good interim goals, like completing the quests in SoC. Only the crisis cards can advance the game, and not all of them have the FTL Jump symbol. So sometimes your entire turn is just bad stuff happening. I didn't give it much thought at the time, but she's right. BSG definitely has a very different, more oppressive feel to it than SoC.
Anyway, back to the game. We finally got our first cylon deployment card, and things began to heat up. There were ships all over the board, and we'd already lost one of our nukes to a crisis card choice. We lost a few vipers, and Starbuck was doing all she could to protect the civilian ships. Two basestars kept firing on Galactica, damaging three areas. Finally the FTL Jump counter got to the -3 spot, and it's Baltar's turn. She (he) said she had a surefire way to destroy a bunch of cylon ships. I argued she should go to FTL Control and jump the fleet. We still had 12 population, and could use a skill card (Strategic Planning?) to increase the die roll by 2. She disagreed and used a quorum card to destroy several raiders automatically. She then expected to draw a crisis card that would advance the FTL marker, but no luck.
So, it came to Adama (me), and I jumped the fleet. I had committed both of my Strategic Planning cards to the skill check on Baltar's turn, but Starbuck came to the rescue and played one. I rolled a 5; just enough to avoid losing population. "See," I said. "The Admiral made the wise choice. We've finally left those pesky cylons behind." I drew the destination cards and choose a 2 planet. Now, time for the second set of loyalty cards. I explained that the Sympathizer card must be revealed immediately. I then looked at my card and, you guessed it, I was the Sympathizer!
Here is where we got into a rules discussion. All our resources were fine, so I was obviously now a revealed cylon. I discarded down to three skill cards, and begrugingly released the Admiralcy to Starbuck ("It's a stupid human title anyway"). I moved to the Resurrection Ship, and didn't get a Super Crisis card. So far all is clear. However, we're only in the action step of my turn. Do I complete my turn by drawing a Crisis card or not? We ruled I should not, since I'm now a revealed Cylon. However, a post-game review of the rules suggested I should have completed my (human) turn, then starting acting as a revealed Cylon on subsequent turns. Also, we weren't sure what to do with the Vice Presidency card, but decided (correctly) to discard it.
Now that Adama was a revealed cylon, the other three players started looking at each other funny. Where was the other cylon card? Of course I could have had it, but by odds it would be with one of them. No matter, there was repair work to do. Starbuck repaired a location, then it was Chief's turn. He decided to nominate himself for President and called for a vote! I figured he was a cylon and wanted to take the big deck of quorum cards from Baltar, so I threw my support behind him. He won the vote, which dismayed Baltar to no end (my wife didn't realize she would lose her hand of quorum cards).
So, on Baltar's next turn, she revealed herself as a cylon! Suddenly it was two humans vs. two cylons. Starbuck and Chief managed to jump the fleet again, but not before taking several resource hits, mostly due to cylon Baltar's Super Crisis card. And they failed their check on a -3 jump, putting the population at 5. At this point, the Galactica had no damage, there had been no boarding parties, the jump distance was at 7, but several resources were getting low.
Then everything went wrong for the humans. Cylon Adama started drawing cylon deployment cards, which Cylon Baltar activated to great effect. We quickly overwhelmed the fleet, and Cylon Baltar delivered the coup de gras by destroying three civilian ships in one turn for a loss of 5 population. Game over, man!
- We all enjoyed the game, but it was really looooong! It took 3.25 hours to get to a distance of 7, requiring two more jumps for a human victory. We should have scouted the destination deck more, to find longer jumps with a hit we could afford. Also, we all agreed familiarity with the game will help reduce the playtime, but probably not below 2.5 hours.
- Overcommitting skill cards can be a killer, as you end up not having the cards when you really need them. We'll have to be more careful next time.
- We should have reduced a resource to the red zone before reaching 4+ on the jump distance. That way the Sympathizer would be human, or at worst remain a lone unrevealed cylon.
- After losing the Presidency, my wife should have used Baltar's special ability to look at Chief's loyalty cards, then declare him a cylon. That would have seeded doubt in Jen's mind. My wife then could have conviced Jen to throw Chief in the brig. The cylons still won the game, but I think this scenario would have been fun to play out. As it was, we didn't experience much of the accusation metagame that others have written about in their session reports.
- While BSG shares the "traitor" mechanism with SoC, they are really very different feeling games. In SoC, the focus is the quests. Who should go where, and how to manage the sword/catapult count. The traitor aspect is cool, but is not the focus of players' actions. In BSG, the focus is much more on the human/cylon metagame. Throwing the admiral in the brig, voting for a new President, rooting out cylons via skill checks and other special abilities, is the heart of the game. As Jen observed, all the other stuff going on around you is just bad stuff that needs to be managed while you're trying to figure out who is on which team. And that is what BSG boils down to; a team game. It will always be humans vs. cylons first and foremost.
Anyway, we all look forward to playing BSG again, especially to see how our first experience affects our approach to the game. Thanks for taking the time to read my report. Cylon Adama out!
Edits: typos, errors (stupid humans)
- Last edited Tue Nov 25, 2008 3:54 pm (Total Number of Edits: 4)
- Posted Mon Nov 24, 2008 5:24 pm
Nice session report. I've never played with 4 people, but it sounds like it worked fine.
As to the sympathizer question: I looked in the rules but didn't find anything conclusive. I think you played it right, though; a revealed Cylon player shouldn't get to draw a crisis card.