A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of holing up with friends and playing board games for hours on end. When I was just out of college, this sort of thing wasn’t a rare occurrence – I had many friends who lived only minutes away and it wasn’t hard to get a group together for Settlers, Lunar Rails or Rock Band. But that group has been scattered to the four winds, and I’ve been out of the board game loop. As such, the Battlestar: Galactica board game was new to me.
The premise of the game is fairly simple: you’re a character from the show, on board the Galactica. You’re dealing with attacks from Cylon ships. At the same time, however, one of your party is secretly a Cylon – and no one knows who. Will you be able to keep your fleet of humans safe, without falling victim to Cylon attacks, food shortages, mutiny, and more? And can you do this with a Cylon mole working against you?
Now, I was a pretty big fan of Battlestar: Galactica when it was on TV (it was hard to contain my inner fangirl when I interviewed Richard Hatch). However, I haven’t watched it since the show wrapped up. The board managed, surprisingly, to do two things simultaneously: remind all of us old fans just why the show was fantastic, and still provide an entertaining experience for those who hadn’t ever seen an episode (there were at least two at the table).
The only real TV knowledge required is pretty much explained in the general premise. However, for those who are familiar with the show, the game is brimming with details guaranteed to make you smile – from the cards without corners to the special abilities lovingly assigned to each character (more on this momentarily).
The fun starts at the very beginning: loyalty cards are handed out. Each player receives a card that tells them whether they’re a Cylon or not – there will be one or two Cylons, depending on the size of the group. Almost every player receives only one card, with some exceptions. For example, since Gaius Baltar is a “Coward,” he gets two cards. Immediately, his chances of being a Cylon are raised. Everyone looks at him with suspicion, especially when he tries to be helpful – a brilliant mechanic that is absolutely fitting for the character.
Big decisions have to be made constantly. Every turn, a new “Crisis Card” is put into play. The players have to work together, often choosing between two evils, for the good of the fleet. Secret votes are frequent – a prime opportunity for a Cylon to stir up trouble.
When a Cylon is finally revealed, either by choice or by discovery, a new dimension of the game opens up, with the Cylon actually taking control of her own fleet. Depending on the number of people in your party, at the halfway point of the game everyone might be given another loyalty card – and someone who may have thought they were a human finds out they’ve been a Cylon Sleeper Agent all along!
The game is primarily played with cards, but the board itself is gorgeous – again, so many details that make me smile – and fun, with miniature ships that clearly illustrate the threat at hand. There’s also an element of chance, with dice rolls, and skill cards that even affect your fate – oh, this game has a bit of everything. And, amazingly, it still feels streamlined and elegant.
The only major con is that it is a long, involved game, with an expected playing time of around three hours (though games do go faster when everyone has played at least once). It definitely helps if at least one person in the group is experienced already, both to speed along rule explanations and because the game can seem a bit daunting when you start pulling out all the components.
But if you’re devoting a day or a weekend to game-playing, this is a must-try. In fact, I loved it so much I went out and purchased a copy the following week. Sure, I may not play board games as often anymore, but I want the Battlestar: Galactica board game as an option when I do!
What about you?
Have you played this game? What other board games should I try?