Battlestar Galactica Board Game Review

Battlestar Galactica is based on the recent cult hit television series, and attempts to cram just about every apsect of the show into a playable board game.

Published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008, the Battlestar Galactica board game ended up being a solid hit with board game enthusiasts.

As of now there are two expansions for Battlestar Galactica that require the base game to play. The base game reviewed here mostly covers Season 1 of the show.

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A Brief Overview of what Gameplay in Battlestar Galactica is Like (I will try to keep this spoiler free)

For those of you who have not seen the show, allow me to set the stage (while remaining as spoiler free as possible).

Humanity is on the brink of destruction. A robotic race that humans created and had a war with a while ago, the Cylons, returned after decades of absence and destroyed all but some 50,000 humans -- the crew of the space ship Battlestar Galactica and the civilian fleet it protects.

It has recently been discovered by the crew of Battlestar Galactica that the Cylons have invented a terrifying new technology -- the ability to build prototypes that look, act, think, and feel human!

These humanoid Cylon agents have been secretly hiding among the humans for a while, and were what enabled the devestating Cylon attacks to succeed so throughly. And what's worse, some of these secret cylon agents might even be aboard Battlestar Galactica... and it could be anyone. Even the President of the fleet. Perhaps even the Admiral in command...

And if that weren't enough, the Cylons even went so far as to develop "sleeper agent" models, Cylons that not only look, act, and feel human, but actually believe they are human to boot. These sleeper agents are programmed to "wake up" and discover their true nature only when the time is right...

Are you a human who will aid Battlestar Galactica in getting to its final destination? Or will you end up a Cylon agent, sleeper or otherwise, who will only pretend to be on the humans side while secretly sabotaging their efforts? Your "loyalty card" which you are dealt in the beginning of the game will determine that.

How the Gameplay Mechanics in Battlestar Galactica Work

In Battlestar Galactica, after each player is dealt a loyalty guard in the beginning of the game that tells them whether they are human or Cylon, they put it face down and other players may never look at it (under normal circumstances), nor is a player allowed to show it to the others.

Each player gets to pick from one of 10 characters (in the base game, expansions add more). Each of these characters does an excellent job of conveying that characters personality in the show. Characters have a "positive" trait that will help the humans, based on the strengths of their personality. And then they have a "Once Per Game" ability that represents their peak moment in the TV series.

Brilliantly, each character also has a negative ability, or setback -- a trait that actually hurts the humans. For example, Saul Tigh, a top ranking officer in the show, has his "Alcoholic" trait, making him "drink away" his last card when the going gets tough. William Adama is "Emotionally Attatched", making it impossible for him to send other players to the "Brig" -- even when the other players are begging him to.

On their turn, players get to draw a specific set of "skill cards" that represent the things that their character is good at -- every character has a different set of skill cards to draw. This helps to further differentiate the characters.

After drawing cards from his unique skill set, a player is allowed to move around on the ship and take an action. There are a variety of actions he can take , to help himself, the team, or fight off enemy cylon ships. What he ends up doing will largely come down to who he trusts, groupthink, his characters "job" aboard the ship, and the current game status. But rest assured -- the choices are varied and full of tension and paranoia. Your allies are advising you on what to do, but who can you really trust?

At the end of each players turn is the meat and potatoes of the game -- the "Crisis step." Each episode in the show basically revolves around the humans trying to deal with some sort of crisis situation, and this is brilliantly represented in the board game in the form of the Crisis deck.

The current player reveals the top card in the crisis deck, prompting the humans with a critical decision that must be made or a crisis that must be overcome. They are allowed to discuss amongst themselves what they want to do, and then the crisis is resolved -- typically either by the Admiral or President (titles which are assigned to the players) making an official decision, or through the means of a "skill check."

Skill Checks -- Perhaps the Most Innovative Feature Found in Battlestar Galactica

When the players have to overcome a crisis through the means of a skill check, the whole crew will have to work together to overcome whatever obstable is presented to them.

For example, there may be an "Airlock Leak" -- this means that unless the players work together and expend their skill cards to address this problem, there will be consequences.

There are typically two end results in a skill check - Pass, or Fail. Failing a skill check is bad for the humans, while the hidden Cylon players (if any) will secretly be hoping for a "fail" result.

Before a skill check, players are allowed to discuss if they can help in the check "a lot", "a little", or not at all. They then, in turn order, take turns placing hidden face down cards from their hand in a stack on the table, along with two random cards from the "destiny deck."

Each Crisis card with a skill check lists which color skill card (there are five different types of skill cards) will help in the skill check. Any colors that do not help will hurt.

When the players are done adding cards, the cards are flipped over and the results tallied up. Each skill check has a certain value which must be surpassed by the total strength of the cards to get a "pass" result. Anything less than that value results in a "fail."

Players are NOT allowed to tell other players which card(s) they played into the skill check. This gives Cylon players the opportunity to place cards that hurt the humans into the skil check and blaming it either on the other players or on the random cards from the destiny deck.

The Cylons do have to be careful, though, as logic and deduction are the human player's recourse -- each character only draws specific colors of cards. If the Cylon player gets too greedy, they will get exposed and the humans can vote to send them to the brig!

Play continues in this manner until the humans are either destroyed or reach their destination, and there will be a variety of challenges and situations along the way. The crisis deck is vast, and makes every game feel different.

The Sleeper Phase

From the start of the game, depending on the amount of players, there may be either zero, one, or two Cylon players hidden in your group. Halfway through the game, players draw a second loyalty card for the "sleeper phase" -- it is at this time that players discover if they were secretly a "sleeper agent" -- a Cylon that truly believed they were human all along!

Playing Time, Demographics, Etc.

Battlestar Galactica is a long game. A typical play session of the board game lasts a little over 3 hours unless the Cylon player(s) destroy(s) the humans early. However, despite being lengthy, the game has sort of an "epic" feel to it, so the length feels appropriate.

While a minimum of 3 players is required to play the game, you need 5 players to get the full experience of the game. 2 Cylons and 3 humans is the perfect mix, and allows for the most interesting situations to occur.

In order to fully enjoy Battlestar Galactica, you will have to be comfortable with lying, bluffing, and deceiving other players. You will also need to take joy in the tense and sometimes even emotional situations that occur when accusations and distrust start being sewed aboard the fleet. This is a very spicy, social, game with solid mechanics to back it up.

Recap Time: Positives and Negatives about The Battlestar Galactica board game:

For fans of the show, the thematic ties that the board game makes to characters and events found there is simply remarkable

There is rarely a dull moment in Battlestar Galactica -- this game is exciting

Because there is no clearly defined way for either a human or Cylon to play, your imagination is the limit

Beautiful components -- when all set up, this game is a sight to behold

This is a unique experience that can't really be had in any other board game

The Battlestar Galactica board game may simply be too long for some people.

Extremely sensitive to player count, and does not scale very well. Five players is very ideal.

Check below for my final verdict on Battlestar Galactica!

The Verdict on Battlestar Galactica- Is it Fun?

Battlestar Galactica is an amazing game -- easily one of my favorites. Although its 3 hour play time seemed a bit daunting to me at first, after playing the game for the first time I just wanted more when it was over.

Also, I hadn't even watched the show when I first played the board game and everything still made sense. In fact, playing the board game is what inspired me to go back and watch the show on Netflix.

While I usually prefer playing as the Cylon because I love getting to be sneaky and finding new ways to cover my tracks and not get caught, being a human against tricky Cylon opponents is just as fun.

Battlestar Galactica feels like more than just a game -- it truly is an experience. As corny as that sounds, its true. I think back on my games that I've had and they seem like grand adventures. For 3 hours of my life I became the Admiral of the Battlestar Galactica who proudly led the humans to victory, or the humble President who had to make the hard choices.

Or every now and then, I was the quiet mechanic that the humans trusted and relied on to repair the ship. Little did they know that I was a Cylon all along, and I had a plan...

-Roger Wilco

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