Review – Battlestar Galactica

BSG.pngGot the game as a present during holidays and I have to admit that I’m quite fond of the series (both original and remake). However, after certain games, I am less and less fond of FFG designs. All too often rules turn out to be very poorly written, have conflicts that are patched up with separate rulings in various cards and in errata longer than original rulebook. On top of everything else, most games are cluttered with immense amount of unnecessary rubbish that one could easily live without. That combined with some sort of obsession to institute same basic system to every game regardless is just beyond my understanding. But anyways. Some of the games are entertaining.

What is in the box? (besides of rather poor quality miniatures (flashed bendyplastic) representing raiders, vipers etc)? Basestars are cardboard which is rather good choice (that said, cardboard counters would work much better for everything, and also look much nicer). The box has usual amount of cards but not quite as many as in some others and that is definitely good. There is also unusually modest amount of other counters and such. That part is then promising. Board has places for various cards counters etc, including some resource dials bolted on the board (definitely better than stack of counters or cards that I expected). So, overall it all looked fine.

After scanning through the rulebook I came into two conclusions. First, it is written by Corey/FFG standard, which is nice way of saying that competent rewrite and indexing would be in order. There are 32 pages of rather illogically organized rules and as usual without index or proper examples. In reality there is content for about 3 pages. The rest is just fluff to hide the rules (for sake of comparison, moderately complex Wilderness War can get along with 16 pages of well written rules, and Successors with 20 pages, including index and examples).

Second observation was that because of the clutter, and equally cluttered rules, game would play rather slow. Initial guess was between 5 and 8 hours. Setup time would not however be measured in eons like for 1st Ed Mansions of Madness and that is a good thing, but it does take quite long anyway. Unfortunately after reading the rules it was quite evident that the mechanics really required exactly five players and would not actually work with any other number. Later confirmed from other sources that it is indeed the case.

All in all, the first impression of BSG was mixed.


Game flow

Game flow is very odd at best. Essentially the system is build around anonymous voting system combined with reheated Arkham Horror/Mansions of Madness move-action scheme (Wings of War, Sails of Glory, X-wing and others share same ideological origin and it’s functionality can be argued in those as well. At best is just awkward. Many would appreciate if the system would finally be buried somewhere nobody can find it ever again).


Update: Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed, with different designer has apparently seen the light and build system that actually works for the purpose.


There is no defined turns that would give any indication of time-scale so it is assumed to be flexible. At the same token, there are weird details and no-abstractions that would be better if abstracted entirely (a simple example that repeats in various ways over and over again: when person can walk from one end of the ship to other, viper or raider cannot fly same distance in same “time” in space – may be funny first time around, but then… well, really? Could not come up with anything better? Seriously?).

A Skill check – or rather, a voting system allows players to make decisions called by crisis cards. Each player draws a crisis card at the end of their turn and it is resolved in a way or other by each player playing color coded cards to either advance the case or work against it. Curiously enough, player in brig does not draw crisis cards, so nothing advances during their turn, but then nothing bad can happen either. Which is funny – for a while. Player in brig may however play and draw new the cards for full effect – which brings in mind interesting considerations. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of room for meaningful strategy and everything depends on the random card draws.

Game bogs down a lot if there is even a single player that has tendency to play slow leading to significant downtime between players. It may take well over 20-30 minutes of idle time between moving one piece and doing nothing meaningful before it’s your turn again. There are also many, many things that can put players in sick bay and repeated visits there is probably the worst part (one character was sent there again after every action he got out and holding about 1 or two cards in hand at most). Sickbay mechanic  bogs the game down, but also reduces the meaningful decisions even further.

There are also cards that force player to discard cards and failing to do so will dwindle the resources. In two games so far there were no apparent Cylons present, but food was reduced to zero just because president kept on getting event cards of that effect every turn, and could not discard required amount of cards repeatedly because there was not enough even at the start. Quite uninteresting way to spend 4 hours. Change of that, or something similar happening again is remarkably high. Not to take it wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, it is just plain boneheaded if the game system drives there like a train and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It is just not fun.

Conclusion

BSG idea is good. The hide and seek to discover the enemy within before they destroy you – or to destroy the enemy before being discovered. However, the design is really very poorly executed, repetitive all too similar to Arkham Horror and after a while, becomes  boring. Because of the rule ambiguities, the clutter, poorly designed game flow, cards for everything and constant requirement to reshuffle cards cause the game to be easily 6-8h ordeal. (For sake of comparison, this is a time scale one can squeeze about 2 small ASL scenarios, or one very long Fire in the Sky, 2-3 Wilderness Wars, or 2 Hannibal games, not to mention six games of Basic Impetus with a good long lunch break in between).

Is BSG worth it then? Hard to say. Assuming one can collect five players to play game for 6-8 hours (or more), the fun part is number of laughs about the random cylon hunting process. The Cylon side being far more fun of the two. Question is though, how many times that will be fun though before well runs dry? I’m afraid that the number is very limited indeed.

Sadly, would anyone else have designed the game, it would probably not feel like Flux, and it would have good rules and reasonably fast gameplay. I would certainly not add any expansions to the game but will probably play it again – if getting five players. With any other number – no thanks.

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2 Responses to Review – Battlestar Galactica

  1. Azazel says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve eyed this game off a few times but never been brave enough to pull the trigger. FFG can have some hits, but as you say, they favour too many card components and convoluted rules over a streamlined, playable ruleset far too often.

  2. Tichy says:

    Thanks for the comment. If you have precisely 5 players, it can be entertaining, but even then it does require certain “let’s ignore inconsistencies” policy, and group that does not have anyone that has a tendency to think their moves too much (it is far too random for analytical play anyway and excessive thinking just adds up playtime).

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