You Should Play The Battlestar Galactica Board Game Before You Die

Image: Board Game Geek

Released in 2008, Battlestar Galactica is a brutal, punishing tale of a dwindling group of humans struggling to survive the constant bombardment from threats external and within. It's no longer in print due to licensing issues, which is an absolute shame, because it's one of those board games that you should absolutely play before you die.

The general principle of BSG, whether you play with the base game or the expansions, is similar to Resistance, One Night Werewolf or other group-based "find the traitor" games. One or two people will start the game as a Cylon, although you don't know who they are, and the Cylons don't know if they're alone.

So the game builds slowly. The Galactica, like the early episodes of the series, is under attack. A basestar and some raiders threaten valuable supply ships, carrying precious fuel, food and other resources. Players draw from a crisis deck every turn, forcing players to burn valuable skill cards, activating enemy ships, raiders and basestars. And if you're really unlucky, those crisis cards will trigger all-out attacks from the cylon, flooding the map with more ships than you can possibly deal with.

And that's if your FTL drive and weapons systems haven't been brought offline.

BSG never seems like a stressful game, up until the point where it's a knife-edge fight for survival. Which is also why it's so, so good.

Image: Board Game Geek

A game of BSG is best described in phases. The first, undoubtedly because you'll usually have one or two (or the whole table) people who haven't played before, is a matter of feeling out the abilities. Characters like Saul Tigh and William Adama are officers first in line to be the Admiral, ones who control the nukes, make executive decisions on where the fleet jumps and, usually, what resources they have to sacrifice during crisis moments. You then have characters like Laura Roslin, the defacto choice for President, and engineers and pilots that are more skilled in battle and repairs.

All of these characters draw a certain amount of cards at the start of every turn, which are needed to pass skill checks as they arise. Players have to beat a certain number to pass a skill check, but if a card is the wrong colour, then its value is subtracted from the final amount. And because players can put in as many cards as they want - or no cards at all - there are plenty of chances for sabotage.

So the first phase of the game is everyone slowly getting accustomed to survival, learning the best opportunities for sabotage, and learning more about how they want to play. And then the hammer falls halfway through, when all players are dealt another Cylon/Not A Cylon card. And it's by this stage, that everyone truly knows how to start fucking with people.

I had a session recently with some friends that went from 0 to 200 in the space of a couple of turns. Every card we drew at the beginning was getting us closer to Earth. We weren't being flooded with basestars or heavy raiders, and all our vital resources were relatively healthy.

And then we got hit with one all-out attack.

Then a second. A third. A fourth. Then a near mutiny on the ship. Another all-out attack. And then another.

Suddenly, the board was filled with ships. We couldn't add any more base stars to the map. People were pulling out the best rolls of their life just to stay alive. At one point, there were so many heavy raiders that a single activation would have ended the game right there.

And just as things were starting to get calm down, the eighth or ninth card in a row that hadn't moved us closer to Earth, one of the humans flipped.

The Galactica was on fire from stem to stern. The toasters had well and truly cooked us.

Image: Board Game Geek

There's been a few BSG expansions since the original launch, all of which have changed up the formula in useful ways. The Pegasus expansion added new game boards, including the New Caprica board for players to colonise, the ability to execute players, special Treachery cards, a new mechanic to spice up skill checks and even special Cylon leaders.

Exodus - the second expansion focusing on the post-New Caprica phase of the series - brought a Cylon Fleet board into the mix and some special 0-strength and 6-strength skill cards. Conflicted Loyalty cards add personal goals to players that force humans to act more suspiciously, costing them a resource at the end of the game if they don't. Final Five loyalty cards add a penalty for checking the loyalties of non-Cylons. There's also Trauma Tokens to manage, with players at the risk of elimination before the final jump. There's also Daybreak, an expansion that overhauls some of the systems from Pegasus, but you can also play it with the base game.

But you don't need any of the expansions, because BSG is ultimately about playing the people across from you. And what makes it all worth it, as opposed to just playing something like Resistance or Avalon over and over, is that there's enough mechanics in there to stop the game from devolving into a constant string of accusations. There's crisis cards and battles for everyone to jointly assist in without having to constantly screw people over all the time. There's enough of a lead in that you can slowly introduce new players over the course of the game, and there's options for players should they get revealed early, or shut into the brig unfairly.

BSG is a lengthy game, totalling between 2 to 3 hours if you're dealing with five or six people. The more players the better in BSG, because the more things that go wrong, the more targets to accuse, and the more abilities to play with, the more fun everyone will have. And BSG, by itself or with any combination of expansions, does a banging job of echoing the spirit of the rebooted series.

The saving grace about BSG being out of print is that its popularity means you can usually find a friend, or a game store, that has a copy lying around you can borrow. And if that's the case, pick a night or a weekend and grab some friends. It's still one of the best tabletop takes on betrayal mechanics, and an excellent recreation of the TV series.


Comments

    It's a fun game but if, like me, you haven't watched the show, you might not get as much out of it as someone who has.

    I enjoyed playing the game. Really should go get myself a copy

    I've enjoyed the game, but have found people that haven't seen the show struggle to understand a lot of what is going on.

    I love co-op boardgames that have a chance of secret traitors. Dead of Winter is another good one.

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