Battlestar Galactica is a semi co-operative game for two to six players that plays best with four or more. Amongst the players will be a number of betrayers who will secretly be working to another agenda. The game is based on the modern TV series, with players taking on the role of various characters from that series, such as Starbuck and Baltar. Play is about trying to fend off Cylon attacks, dealing with numerous crises, and ultimately escaping to safety. A game typically takes two to three hours depending on the number of players.
I must admit that when I see board games based on a TV series, I tend to not be greatly interested, and even less so if I have not seen that TV series - which is the case with Battlestar Galactica. That said, when I first played this game I enjoyed it, and have gone back and played it more than a few times.
It does not really matter whether players are familiar with the TV series. Characters have their abilities clearly printed, these abilities make them better at dealing with some things and worse at others, hence the team of players can decide who can take the lead on various problems at hand that need dealing with. For example, a pilot is a far better option to send out to shoot attacking ships than an engineer.
Like all good co-operative games it is tense, with good planning needed and at times a bit of luck. There is a lot going on, most of which is visible on the board so players can readily assess what should be priority. The presence of a potential traitor adds to the tension and as the game progresses the traitor may reveal their hand in a devastating attack.
The board and contents are thematic and of reasonable quality. The rule book is well written, well illustrated and has plenty of explanations and examples. I think it is a pity that the characters and some components are cardboard rather than figures, but this is minor and in no way detracts from play. On the whole the components add to play, helping to bring the game to life.
Playing Battlestar Galactica
Each player take the role of a specific character, one or two of which depending on the number of players is secretly a Cylon or sympathiser. Play is turn based, with each player in turn carrying out a sequence of actions.
- Draw skill cards
- Move their character
- Take an action
- Draw a crisis card which then needs to be resolved.
As play progresses precious resources will get used up. There are four of said resources: Fuel, food, morale and population, and if any of these reach zero, the Cylons win. Crisis cards commonly reduce these resources, and it is these crisis cards that are the heart and soul of Battlestar Galactica.
To resolve a crisis players need to play colour coded cards, the value and power of which is kept secret. Once all players have played their cards face down, two random cards are added then the cards are shuffled so nobody knows who played what, and finally revealed.
If the players succeed the crisis is averted, if not, the crisis happens and the effect is applied to the game board. This is where the Cylon players can if they wish start to tip the balance. They could have added cards with a negative result hence bringing about the crisis. But beware, because characters are limited to which colour coded cards they can draw, playing those cards to sabotage a crisis could reveal the traitor, hence the Cylon needs to tread very carefully.
There is more to Battlestar Galactica, there is the President and the Admiral, both with additional abilities. There is the brig in which suspected Cylons can be placed. There is the need to keep the jump track ticking over, and to keep a close eye on reserves of fuel, food and the rest, to keep the number of attacking Cylon ships down, to maintain the Galactica in functional order and to deal with a potential Cylon invasion of the Galactica.
Then at a well timed moment the Cylon may reveal, adding a whole host of new problems. Whilst there is a lot going on in the game, it is all visible on the board and often choices narrow down quite quickly so play is not overly complex. Finally, if this is not enough there are a few expansions which add even more to the game.
How to Win
Ultimately there is only one way for the human players to win, the Galactica must reach Cobol and escape the Cylons. Fail to manage this or run out of resources and the Cylons win. For the human players to win they need to manage their limited resources, minimise the impact of the various crises, and work together.
It is tough, it is tense, and treachery is always just around the corner. For the betrayer, the Cylon, sabotaging those resources whilst remaining hidden is often the best way to go, even more so if the player paranoia can be stoked up and they throw a human character in the brig for a turn or two.
Final Thoughts on Battlestar Galactica
When I was first introduced to Battlestar Galactica and was told it was a co-operative game that lasted two or more hours, I groaned. Then I was told, and someone gets to play a Cylon and….. Suddenly it started to sound far more interesting.
From looking around, reading what others have said, I am not alone in this. What makes Battlestar Galactica different and fun is that it is not a fully co-operative game, it has the added dimension of an enemy hiding in play.
Ultimately, Battlestar Galactica is a social game, there is a huge amount of player interaction and it is not particularly complex in terms of rules so is relatively easy to pick up. It is possibly too long, but in my experience, time flies when having fun, and it is fun.
The two to three hours does make it a little bit of a commitment to play, but for me it’s a fun addition to the games library, ideal for playing over an evening and perhaps with a beer. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously and it really does not matter if you have seen the TV show or not.