Most of the board games I play with my crew are fairly recent, but on the weekend we dove into our pile of shame and played our first round of Battlestar Galactica. It either went very badly or very well, depending on how much hate and mistrust you like in your board games.
First released in 2008, it’s a game where players assume the role of one of the main characters in the show, then work together to overcome a constant stream of crisis and challenges, some of them direct (like Cylon ships attacking the Galactica), others internal (like a water shortage).
These problems are usually pretty easy to overcome. External threats can be dealt with by engaging with Vipers or firing from the Galactica, and they’re resolved with some dice rolling. The other challenges, which arise from drawing “crisis cards”, are handled by players getting together and spending various cards in their hand to meet a points total.
Oh, except at least one of you is usually a Cylon. And is working in secret to undermine everything you do.
For the human players, every crisis is a choice between spending enough of your cards as a team to pass the test’s criteria and keeping hold of the cards for future use. You need to pass these tests, because failing them will deplete your supplies of fuel, food, water and people, but you need the cards to perform actions like repairing sections of the Galactica if they’re damaged.
It’s a delicate balance. One that’s continually thrown off by the Cylons. Crisis cards are played as a team, and they’re played face down, before being shuffled and resolved. So while human players are trying to save everyone’s life, Cylon players—protected by their anonymity and the shuffling—are probably playing the wrong kind of card, either burning ones necessary for Galactica actions or ones that will stop everyone else from passing a crisis test.
For the video game players in the house, imagine FTL, only if one of your crew was a Cylon. That’s pretty much this game.
It does exactly what it was setting out to do: replicate the personal tensions present in the TV show, where a desperate band of survivors not only have to worry about everything going wrong around them, but about the people closest to them potentially working for the enemy and having a hand in those disasters.
In the show, this leads to a lot of punching, shouting, explosions and sex. In our game, it led to lots of furtive glances at people’s faces during crucial moments, lots of “are you a Cylon no come on really are you” questions and some dangerously false accusations. Similar, then, just on a smaller scale.
Our game began well. We shot up some Raiders, made a few jumps, passed a few crisis tests. It all seemed easy. Then the Cylon agent went to work. We failed some seemingly simple crisis tests, and suddenly things were going very badly. An explosion in the hangar bay meant we couldn’t scramble Vipers. President Roslin was accused of being a Cylon, locked in the brig and stripped of her title.
Only she was innocent. Turns out that player was just not very good at the game, and our attention should have been focused on Admiral Bill Adama himself, who had quietly been working against us and now—through a combination of bad jumps and dwindling supplies—had Galactica on the ropes.
So we locked him up, made Starbuck Admiral, realised that halfway through the game a second Cylon sleeper agent had woken up to maintain the pressure, ran out of food then watched the Galactica explode. Welp.
It was an exhilarating, hateful experience. The former because it’s genuinely exciting playing like this, every turn a gambit, never knowing who is actually on your side and who is not. The latter because once the Cylons start fucking up your game, you start to get angry.
I’ve played plenty of games where player allegiances are hidden like this. Bang! being maybe the most common. But that’s a fun little casual thing. This is a relatively lengthy campaign-like experience (we clocked in at over three hours), and the more it drags on, and the more you suffer at the hands of someone you used to call a “friend”, the more you sympathise with everyone on the TV show who wanted to put a bullet in every Cylon they came across.
Like I said, the game’s not new, but was updated through to 2014 with expansions adding more ships that you can hop between to complete missions (the main game only has Galactica and Colonial One, but later expansions add ships like the Pegasus and Demetrius) and more characters you can choose from.
I don’t know if it’s something that’ll become a permanent part of our board game roster, but I certainly had fun with it, and will definitely reach for it in the future whenever I think my friends have become too friendly, and need somebody shouting at them across the room (probably inaccurately) that they’re a tincan piece of traitorous shit.