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Subject: Great game marred by balance issues rss

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Kurt
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Posting a review like this comes at the risk of bringing out hordes of people telling me how I played it wrong, or how I should have played it 2 dozen more times to really 'get it'. Perhaps they'll be right. But I'm going to publish this negative review anyway, if only to give another perspective for people to consider when thinking about purchasing this game. I highly recommend looking at all the other well thought out (and positive) reviews in this forum.

If you find something interesting in my review, please check out some of my other reviews and perhaps encourage me to write some more by leaving a comment on a game you'd like reviewed. Review Quest: The Games I Own

This is a bit lengthier than I normally write but this isn't as simple as good or bad game for me....

Overview (to save you all some time): This game has tremendous potential and some great mechanics. Unfortunately, it feels as though it's waiting for an expansion (either more pieces or more scenarios) or a huge pile of house rules to fix a number of issues that can throw the balance too easily and early.

Components: Battleship Galaxies ships with some wonderful game components. Fun miniatures with an applied wash bringing out their details, decent artwork on the cards made of ok stock (possibly could be thicker but they aren't like GMT's 'paper' cards), and two large boards that can be put together to form a massive Galaxy to fight over. More on that later...

Gameplay:

The good: The game play mechanics play tightly, quickly, and once you get rolling don't require that you refer back to the rule book repeatedly. However, learning all the rules can be a daunting task for a newcomer and can easily add a half hour to the first game. It badly needs and could easily have done a stripped down first scenario to get people into the game faster: No cards, very simple, ship choices, etc. Earth Reborn has a great example of how to do this with an even more complicated game.

All that being said, it is easy to play once you've wrapped your head around all the terms and options. The roll to hit on a grid mechanic plays great, and that it matches the physical components is even cooler. The critical hit mechanic is great too and allows for some fun (if unlikely) 'hero' moments.

It does remind a bit of Memoir '44's simplicity and how I all of a sudden felt the need to add complexity to it. I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing, it just is. It's probably good in that it keeps everything from being unnecessarily complex, and possibly a (minor) bad thing as there might have been room for a bit more game.

The Meh: But it's not all roses with this. I don't entirely get the point of the shield other than trying to make it like Battleship. Perhaps it's useful during a drafting game or scenario I didn't get to, but largely it only serves to punish new players unfamiliar with the cards, and even then only briefly. Obviously, this is a pretty minor point to quibble over.

Also, I'm not quite sure why the giant board except to perhaps provide for expansions? With a singular board we had some interesting battles, but due to the relative immobility of most ships (not moving many hexes) I can only imagine a full board game being pretty boring even with all of the ships on the board at once. Again, easily remedied by just playing on one board.

The Bad: But most importantly, and the most damning point in my opinion, I found in the handful of games I played that the numbers behind the ships, cards, and special power up spots on the board allowed the game to swing merely from being asymmetrical to suddenly wildly unbalanced. To make matters worse, in most of the games we played the Wretch fleet seemed to have a significant advantage most the time.

Besides some abilities and powers being overpowered, most games seemed to be just a race to the power nebulae. These give the player 'parked' on them special bonuses: more energy per turn, regenerate shields, increase range by nearly half the board. The first person there had little incentive to move off, especially if they already had decent range on their ship.

In one game, I managed to rush my Wretch battleship (the big flag ship) to the shield regeneration nebula, and park it there. The Wretch ship was already overpowered by not having to take a hit if I rolled a 6 or higher and having more useful weapons on it than the equivalent human ship. Once I started regenerating shields every turn, it took the human forces the combined attack power of every one of his ships just to remove my shields. Meanwhile, I was able to park on both the other nebulae, one gave me an energy bonus (meaning I could activate more items than him every turn) and then park my ranged cruiser on the additional range bonus, turning it into a devastating piece of artillery that he couldn't hide from (I could shoot 11 hexes with a strength of 2). That was turn 3.

Even if we were playing on the big board, why would I ever want to leave my spots on the nebulae to chase them around the board if elimination was the goal? If he moved out of range, then I was out of range of his guns too.

Not only did my opponent not have fun, but neither did I. I wanted a challenge as well. As my own profile roughly states, “I'd rather lose in a close game than win in a blow out.” What's worse was my win felt cheap and not because I played better.

While all our other games weren't quite as one sided, they weren't far off. And here's the thing. I like asymmetry in games. In fact I love it. Summoner Wars is one of my favorite games. Twilight Struggle and Claustrophobia are both on the top of my list of favorites. But the difference between these games and Battleship Galaxies is that they also happen to be balanced and not just at the start of the game.

I also don't mind the case of playing the underdog as is the case of Claustrophobia, but Claustrophobia doesn't become so potentially unbalanced with certain plays that it becomes painful to continue to the end. Throughout the majority of games of Claustrophobia I still have the feeling that there may still be a chance to escape. Once I no longer have a chance the game ends.

Not so in Battleship Galaxies. It seems that once the battle becomes unbalanced there's very little you can do to come back from it short of some lucky dice rolls. The sense of doom is palpable, and yet you still have to chase down all the ships to clean them up (at least in the first scenario). And while we have called the game at that point, it feels like a cop out and anti-climatic at that point.

I get it, the humans are trickier to play well. That's fine, and I enjoy discovering tricky strategies in games like Summoner Wars, and if that were my only problem... well it wouldn't be a problem, but I want the same challenge and complexities to playing the Wretch fleet.

Further, I don't want a game that has elements to it that can throw the balance so rapidly out of whack that it's just a matter of playing clean up towards what feels like an inevitable conclusion. This is why most of us have stopped playing games like Monopoly and Risk at some point in our gaming career. Battleship Galaxies frequently has that same feel of early inevitability too often for my tastes.

It is really a shame too because at its heart there's a relatively simple and fun tactical space battle game here. Unfortunately, this is marred by how easily it seems to get the game into a state of inevitability through a singular move and still have the majority of the game to finish.

Many of these could have been easily (or should have) been fixed. Here's some (untested) ideas that stand out: Lower the bonus for parking on a nebula, limit how often a nebula pays out, give people an easier method of pushing people off the nebula besides killing them, make the opening scenarios more obviously balanced given the strengths of each side, tweak ship strength and abilities to be a touch closer, etc.

Sure, I will admit that having only played this a handful of times, there are very likely strategies that I have yet to discover that may help nullify some of my complaints. My friend and I have discussed some potential for house rules to fix things, but even getting those right will take a large effort of many playtesting on our parts.

The bottom line: With so many good games out there that don't have these problems, I don't feel the need to come back to Battleship Galaxies again any time soon.

Whew. That was a long one. Kudos to you if you made it to the end. I'll try to be more brief next time.
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Guido Gloor
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I agree that the Wretch are easier to learn than the Confederation, and you seem to agree that the factions are quite balanced once you're over the learning curve. In my experience, that's the case - I usually give the Wretch to new players (happened only three times now, too) and I also usually win a close victory with the Confederation. I've experienced wild swings in balance some times, but often even a few small ships that were left over can be tremendously annoying (because they're harder to hit, and keep shooting away a big ship one little bit at a time).

I agree that there could be more depth to the Wretch. What is worse for the game to me though is that there could be much more depth to fleet and deck building - and that'll only arrive with expansions, and then the shield will make sense as well because you don't know which ships you'll actually encounter, whether the opponent will bring multiple small or few large ships. I'm sure they have plenty of ideas in stock for adding more interactions between cards and ships than there already are, too. In other words, I really think this game needs at least one expansion to shine properly.
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Cutthroat Cardboard (Barry)
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I'm tempted to agree with a lot of the OP's observations. Wether there is or isn't a balance issue it's clear that a lot of groups feel that there is over their first half a dozen games.

For me the weakness in the game as it stands are

1. The scenarios

2. The points cost and subsequent balance of the units.

If however you write your own scenarios giving victory conditions that need a variety of different ship characteristics, and limit the Wretch from always taking the same easy choices on units, thing become much more interesting.

In addition I think that the game benefits from less use of the special hexes unless they are adding something to the scenario. Contrary to the OP's opinion I enjoyed games on a large board particularly where the victory conditions require movement, as long as careful thought has been given to balance. These break up the slugathon nature of the game which I don't particularly enjoy.

I know that you shouldn't have to do your own scenarios etc to enjoy a game but I think that there is a really good game hiding in here that makes it worth it.
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Matthew Mesina
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As a Heroscape player, I know why these issues are in the set. It's simple. From reading the comic book it is clear that, as with Scape, this game is designed to be about a "federation" of "good" races vs. the powerful and massive fleet of the Wretch. The Wretch may even pick up allies. Heroscape, which, of course, shares the same designers as this game, was all about alliances and an evolving storyline.

I wish there was another set right now, because the game doesn't get much use for me as a three player exercise. Battle Beyond Space, Eclipse, and other games are starting to divert my attention from this title I was once so excited about.

Of course, scenarios could change that. The reason I am not interested in this as a two-player games is that I go to the Rivals for Catan card game (new decks= new scenarios) or Memoir '44 (campaign books and dozens of scenarios) for two players. (Also Roma and Blue Moon). BSG was meant to pull in another player for me, but the lack of supporting scenarios for 3 is a real issue. It's the same reason I haven't bought Claustrophobia.
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Kurt
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Thank you all for the feedback. You are all making some great points for people to consider and so far I agree with you all. Keep them coming.

There's two follow up comments I'd like to make.

Regarding expansions
This seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongues when talking about this game. But unfortunately, it's often not in the context of "I can't wait for more expansions" but "Expansions will fix a lot of the problems." Unfortunately, without any announced or even available, I come away feeling that the base game is missing something. So much so that I'm fairly certain that I won't be waiting around for any fixes to come.

I do see enough of a game in there though that I understand why others are interested in making it work for them, which brings it to my next thought:

It's fixable (forgive me Skip for trimming out one bit, the rest of his post is well thought out and should be read):
Skip wrote:

I know that you shouldn't have to do your own scenarios etc to enjoy a game but I think that there is a really good game hiding in here that makes it worth it.

This, I believe, is the summation of many of my thoughts on this. There is a really great game in here. However, for being marketed as a board game, it requires more effort to make it work than I'm willing to put into it. House rules, further balancing ship costs/strengths, custom scenarios, etc. have all been discussed by me and my friend.

And for anyone reading this and on the fence about the game, I can see how many would find the value in doing this. There's some great mechanics in here that are likely worth rescuing. But at the end of the day, I'd rather put that effort into playing a game that's already 'fully baked'.
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Cutthroat Cardboard (Barry)
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I have a hazy recollection of reading an interview with one of the designers who suggested that they had a large number of scenarios in development but that Hasbro chose to run with relatively straight forward ones that tend to lead to rather static firefights.

If that's the case it's a shame. It would be nice if some of those scenarios could make their way into the public domain....
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Carl Forhan
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kdiddy13 wrote:
There's some great mechanics in here that are likely worth rescuing. But at the end of the day, I'd rather put that effort into playing a game that's already 'fully baked'.


Completely agree with this. As a huge Heroscape fan, I really wanted to be enthralled by this game of spaceship combat. Heroscape was such a great game experience right out of the box, but I simply don't have the spare time to tinker with this game to make it work. I found the very first scenario -- the one that should hook a player instantly -- was both boring and terribly lopsided at the same time.

Would an expansion or two spice it up? Probably, but right now I'd rather play Heroscape, M44, Risk Legacy, or Nexus Ops any day over Battleship Galaxies.
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David Hoffman
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Made me think of this:

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Kurt
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ohbalto wrote:
Made me think of this:


LOL! I was thinking of putting it in the review.
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Leo Zappa
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I've played the game twice so far, so I'm obviously no expert, but I have formed an opinion based on my two plays. So far, each faction has won a game which was not decided until late in each game, though in the end, the victories were lopsided. Once one side loses its big ship, things seem to go rapidly downhill for that side, which, in reflection, seems reasonable. As I play more, we will see if there is an inherent imbalance. Even if there is, and this, I suppose, is the point of my post, it would seem an easy thing to fix. Taking Mission 1 as an example, if the Wretch were seen to be winning too often, it would seem to me that simply altering the fleet structures a bit would serve to correct any perceived imbalance in the scenario. As an example of what could be done, perhaps downgrading the Vapor's Fate from Veteran to Standard would be a potential solution. Perhaps upgrading the Everest to Veteran could be done instead, or as well, depending upon the degree to which the players felt the mission was imbalanced as written. In any case, it seems such a minor issue to me, certainly not one to downgrade the game in any significant way.

As for the game, I've found it to be quite fun so far, but already, I hunger for expansions, which I hope are not far off. If I do have a complaint about the game, it is that I would have preferred to see more missions in the box. However, having said that, it's easy enough to create your own missions, or modify the given missions, so again, this is not a major issue.

All that being said, I thought this was a well written and well considered review.
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Van Willis
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Excellently articulated review.

I felt similarly about the game until we started building our own fleets using the point system. I think that is where the game shines, allowing you to surprise your opponent with some pretty powerful combos.

I agree that the Wretch are more straightforward in their strategy, but I'm not as convinced that the game is unbalanced. (Although I agree it can be quite difficult to come back from a losing position).
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Kurt
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Vantastic wrote:
Excellently articulated review.

I felt similarly about the game until we started building our own fleets using the point system. I think that is where the game shines, allowing you to surprise your opponent with some pretty powerful combos.

I agree that the Wretch are more straightforward in their strategy, but I'm not as convinced that the game is unbalanced. (Although I agree it can be quite difficult to come back from a losing position).

Thank you. I imagine you are correct, that it does become much more interesting outside the scenarios.

As far as unbalanced, you are also correct, conditionally... The balance definitely isn't obvious. The Wretch are far easier to play, but that alone isn't damning (it's just edging towards uninteresting).

I think there are a number of elements that allow the game to suddenly be thrown out of whack with little hope of coming back from it. I keep coming back to the nebulae as a primary complaint. If they there were a one time reward, or more limited in some fashion I likely wouldn't have as big a complaint about them.

I've been reading The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design and there's a great article by Dave Howell and some of his golden rules for game design. One of the key rules is "Don't Kick a Player Out Before the End of the Game." But in this case, his corollary, "Don't Make A Player Wish He Were Kicked Out" applies. Once a Battleship parks itself on a nebula (the shield regenerator is particularly bad) it can make the game a real drudge.
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Van Willis
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kdiddy13 wrote:
I keep coming back to the nebulae as a primary complaint. If they there were a one time reward, or more limited in some fashion I likely wouldn't have as big a complaint about them.


I haven't found the nebulae overly powerful in my games. They are good, but parking on them leaves you within striking distance of most newly launched units. A veteran Vapor's Fate is especially annoying on a shield regenerator, but not more so than the ISN flagship ( especially with Bronson Skiles) on the +7 range tile.

In my experience the event cards are what really have more capability of swinging a game than the nebulae. An alert from the ISN Torrent or spectral resurgence can really change things quickly. I suppose that is why I like fleet construction the best- because it allows me to load my deck with the event cards and combinations that I want (not to argue there are lots of actual options for deckbuilding currently).

I think your review highlights some excellent points for potential buyers, I guess I just don't find any of the weaker elements of the game unforgivable as you seem to.



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Kurt
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Vantastic wrote:

I think your review highlights some excellent points for potential buyers, I guess I just don't find any of the weaker elements of the game unforgivable as you seem to.

I'm glad you feel the review is worth reading (or skimming...). For some (like myself) these sorts of imbalances just leave the game feeling unsatisfying and frustrating. For others, there's a really nice game there that may be worth checking out and works well if you don't mind spending the effort balancing it yourself.

This is not a flat out bad game by any means.

Thanks for the input!
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Fred Hartig
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The only thing I did, was removing the two "range bonus" discovery tiles from the game, as they indeed are to random and to powerful.
I just draw from the 6 remaining tiles when setting up.

Everything else seems balanced; after 9 games we had 5 Wretch victories and 4 ISN victories.
The Red Tougu Squadron(veteran version) is a pain in the a**, but there are ways to counter them.

Hope there will be expansions with more ships, cards etc.

I even ordered this one as a replacement for the EVEREST mini, because the provided mini reminds me more of a WW1 Battleship than a starship.



Fred
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Kirk Mathes
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Fred22 wrote:
I even ordered this one as a replacement for the EVEREST mini, because the provided mini reminds me more of a WW1 Battleship than a starship.


But that's what makes it fun and gives it character! Especially for fans of Starblazers.

I suppose everyone has different tastes though.
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Nathan Moore
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You actually mentioned alot of my issue with the game, though I did feel the races were actually balanced if each side made the correct ship + card choices. However, the movement issue is what really drove me batty, and why this hasn't seen alot of play in my circle. Why in the world they didn't create planets/energy depots/SOMEthing to force you to move around the board more is beyond me. (IE if each team lost a few points in energy recharge and had to capture spaces on the board to get them back) Heroscape, with its height advantages and melee/ranged unit meta battle forced the fight to constantly be on the move. Without that, parking is just such a ridiculously powerful strategy the game to me becomes not interesting. Yay, we race to the center of the board and stop, fun.
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Kurt
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aielman wrote:
You actually mentioned alot of my issue with the game, though I did feel the races were actually balanced if each side made the correct ship + card choices. However, the movement issue is what really drove me batty, and why this hasn't seen alot of play in my circle. Why in the world they didn't create planets/energy depots/SOMEthing to force you to move around the board more is beyond me. (IE if each team lost a few points in energy recharge and had to capture spaces on the board to get them back) Heroscape, with its height advantages and melee/ranged unit meta battle forced the fight to constantly be on the move. Without that, parking is just such a ridiculously powerful strategy the game to me becomes not interesting. Yay, we race to the center of the board and stop, fun.

Well put. You managed to sum up many of my problems with it in a single paragraph.
 
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Trent Y.
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My main problem with this game is that many versions of a unit are 'too good' for their points.

The Wretch Squadron comes to mind (you know the one). It's pretty much 'auto-include' and you would never choose anything but the veteran. Here are three choices but you'll only pick the veteran.

Not all units are this glaring. But it's still my biggest problem with the game.

That and a lack of expansions.
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