Battlestar Galactica Review

“Lucite… hardening… must… end life… in classic Lorne Greene pose… from… Battlestar… Galactica… Best… death… EVER!”

Description from the Manufacturer

The Cylons were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies, before the day they decided to kill their masters. After a long and bloody struggle, an armistice was declared and the Cylons left for another world. Forty years later, they returned and brought humanity to the brink of extinction. The remaining humans, led by the crew of the Battlestar Galactica, flee in hope of finding a new home, one known by legend as Earth. But as resources run low, the survivors discover that their enemy can appear human and infiltrate the fleet from the inside…

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game provides a unique gaming experience. Unlike most games where players win individually, Battlestar Galactica is a cooperative game, with the added complication that one or more of the players is a secret Cylon traitor—your entire side will win or lose, and you might not even be certain who is on your side until the game ends!

Playing Time

120-300 Minutes

Number of Players

4-6

Best With

5 Players

Complexity Rating

3.23 out of 5

Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you’re skeptical of a board game based on a hit-or-miss TV series from the Syfy channel, with one of the worst TV series endings of all time.  When my good friend first brought the game to one of our game nights, insisting that we would love the crap out of it, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to play it.  I still had a bitter taste in my mouth from slogging through the entire series (which admittedly, had some pretty great episodes, and the mini-series that launched the show is absolutely fantastic), with all of it’s nonsensical angel garbage and plot holes.  But with a bit of convincing, I gave the game a try.

AND HOLY CRAP THIS GAME IS SO GOOD!  To be sure, this game is not for everyone.  It is brutally, unrelentingly hard.  I have played this game upwards of 50 times, and the humans have only won once.  And that only happened because it was a four player game, and the player who was the Cylon had never been the Cylon before, and his inexperience led to the human victory.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In Battlestar Galactica, each player takes on the role of a character from the TV show.  Together, the humans defend themselves against the Cylon invaders, which are controlled by “Event Cards” which are drawn at the end of each players turn.  That may not sound brutal, but each event card is almost always disasterous for the humans.  Most require a “vote”, where players blindly add cards from their hand to try and get a certain number of points to prevent something bad from happening.

However, the kink in the game, and the absolute genius in the design, is that at the beginning of the game (and again at the halfway point), players are given secret loyalty cards, which determine if you are a human, or secretly a Cylon.  Cylons actively work against the group, even voting in secret against the Events in the hopes that bad things happen, sabotaging the human’s attempts to survive.  This naturally creates an incredible level of paranoia.  Players, if they suspect who the Cylon might be, can elect to lock them in the brig.

Some of my absolute favorite board gaming memories involve this game.  The betrayals, the lies, the accusations, this game is just so much fun.  But you have to make sure you’re playing with the right group of people, where they understand that a betrayal in game shouldn’t be taken personally.  Couples beware!

Things I Loved About Battlestar Galactica

As a long time player of Diplomacy (and regular reader of the Diplomatic Pouch) I have a soft spot for games of negotiation and betrayal.  With Diplomacy, the game is all about knowing how long you can trust your allies.  With Battlestar, it’s all about trying to figure out who the badguy is, and it leads to some great in game moments, from jailing the wrong person, to a perfectly time backstab that destroys the human’s progress.  I love the loyalty mechanic.  Plain and simple.

The game is unrelentingly hard and bleak.  It would probably be pretty difficult to win, even played without a secret Cylon (in some ways, it’s reminiscent of another great game, Pandemic).  I prefer games that don’t coddle the players, and Battlestar definitely doesn’t do that.

The game is incredibly tense.  As in, too many plays could lead to ulcers.  This is a not a casual game, you become incredibly invested, and sweat beads will likely form late in the game as you have to reveal each new event card, hoping it will not spell your doom.

The game mechanics, in particular the voting/bid system, as well as the combat and resource tracking all feel very natural, and are clearly well thought out.

Even though there is a decent amount of down time between turns (in particular with larger groups of players), it never feels draggy.  Each player is invested in every turn, and often the actions of each player are discussed at great length, with plans laid for the following turns (if you play this card, then I can do this, and then she can go there and jump the ship).

Each game plays incredibly differently.  Because of the mixture of experience, random event cards, and who is (or isn’t) the Cylon, no two games feel alike, even if they might play out similarly.

Things I Hated About Battlestar Galactica

I have an incredible win/loss ratio in this game (I’ve won all but one game I’ve ever played).  Why is that?  Because for whatever reason, the fates or malicious players, I’ve only been a human twice, and one of those games was the single time humans won.  So I’ve only lost the game once.  But of course, that should show you the games inherent imbalance towards the Cylons.

The Sympathizer mechanic is just… not particularly good.  We usually do without it, since the Cylons have no problem winning without it, and it ends up making the game not particularly fun for one player.  It is completely unnecessary, and really the only game mechanic that just kind of sucks.

While a 4 player game of Battlestar can be fun, it really shines at the 5+ level.  In particular if it’s your first time playing, I’d highly recommend not playing unless you have at least 5 players who are excited to play the game.  Otherwise, it might sour you on the experience.

Final Thoughts

Battlestar Galactica appeals to a pretty specific type of board game player.  Those looking for a quick, friendly coop game would be much better off sticking with Pandemic or Arkham Horror.  But if you love games with intrigue, betrayal, bald faced lying to your friends, and scheming, then this is the game for you.

As I’ve laid out, it is a brutally hard, unforgiving game.  Even when things seem to be going well for the humans, a few bad event cards, and a well placed sabatoge by the Cylon player can end the game quickly.  But that’s half the fun, the edge of your seat tension that each turn brings, the sigh of relief as you barely manage to jump out of a system before you’re destroyed, or the desperate fight to stop a Cylon that has boarded your ship makes this an incredibly fun game to play, and one I can’t recommend enough (despite some very valid initial reservations given the source material).

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