Monday, September 23, 2013

Frakkin' Awesome: "Battlestar Galactica"

The tabletop game world is littered with terrible licensed products. Far too often cynical companies produce board games based on a popular movies or T.V. shows just for the express purpose of parting fans from their hard-earned cash. This has resulted in some of the most notoriously awful games ever made.

Case in point, the spin-n'-move Cheers boardgame shit-fest which saw players shuffling their cardboard characters around a map of the famous pub and then struggling to answer such brain-burning trivia questions as "Does one go upstairs or downstairs to enter Cheers?" The prime-time soap opera Dallas was inexplicably spun off into a laughably bad role-playing game (!) from SPI (!!), in which players finally got the chance to live out a second life as Grampa Ewing or Miss Ellie. Then there's the incongruously vapid Doctor Who: Collectible Card Game, the mere mention of which will still get you lynched in some circles.

Back in the day, I could excuse the existence of these abominations merely because people didn't have a lot of ways to research a game to determine whether or not it was good. Nowadays, there are plenty of internet-based resources to determine whether or not a licensed game sucks monkey knutz.

In spite of these safeguards, unscrupulous game publishers continue to fleece oblivious people by pinching out titles that bear about as much similarity to a board game as Robin Thicke does to a vocalist. Invariably, this results in fans getting pissed off at something they (used to) like and also leaves a bad taste in their mouths about the entire board gaming hobby.

Mark my words, in a month or two dives like Calendar Club will crop up in malls everywhere, their shelves choked with such excretable dust-gatherers as:

World War Z: The Game Given its dearth of choices and over-reliance on luck, one Board Game Geek reviewer wryly observed that this one "stinks more than a rotting, reanimated corpse." Another astute gamer added: "Looking for a great zombie apocalypse game on a global scale? Look no further than Zombie State."  Testify, brotha.

Dexter: The Board Game  I know what you're thinking: "How in Odin's name could you possibly  make a shitty game based on such an awesome show?" Welp, apparently the organ donors at GDC-GameDevCo Ltd. (a subsidiary of Lame-O Corporation) managed to pull it off. Why someone would put a friggin' roll-and-move mechanic in a modern board game is beyond me. What, did you think that the average shmoe would be totally baffled by something slightly more complicated than Clue?  They're called "Action Points", people! It's not hadron collider physics! Sadly many of the exact same issues plague the equally-abysmal Walking Dead game.

The Big Bang Theory: The Party Game A.K.A. Generation Y catnip. Even if you actually like the original show, the board game isn't going to reinforce your irrational love for this Tee Vee equivalent of a naked Emperor. As a slightly naughtier rip-off of Apples to Apples (which, in itself, barely qualifies as a game IMHO), why not go for broke and play Cards Against Humanity? Or, better still, why not dip your nether regions in Tang orange flavored breakfast crystals and then teabag a fire ant nest?

As dire as that sounds, there are a few diamonds in the rough when it comes to licensed games.  Leading Edge's Aliens did a fine job replicating the frantic chaos of that film's intense action sequences. Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit is actually the best thing to come out of the for-the-love-of-God-someone-please-invent-a-Neuralyzer prequel trilogy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer provides a deceptively- deep, almost RPG-style action game experience. Later this year, another Whedonian project might get a fair shake in the form of Firefly: The Game.  

Now these gamers are good, but there's only one game that's the best. A game so well-designed that you literally feel like an active participant in a alternate reality version of the show.

And that game is...Battlestar Galactica:


No, no, no!  Not that Battlestar Galactica, this Battlestar Galactica:


So, what makes this the best licensed game amongst a host of thinly-veiled toaster-like facsimiles? Clues can be found in this here synopsis, lifted directly from Fantasy Flight's website:

"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!

"Each player is secretly assigned his or her loyalty at the start of the game. Players will either be loyal to the humans, or to the Cylons. Humans and Cylons have specific and conflicting winning objectives. The human players win by reaching Kobol, but the Galactica will be be threatened by a host of challenges along the way. Only through the cooperation of the humans will the ship (and fleet) survive. The Cylon player(s) wins by either destroying the Galactica with attacks from the Cylon fleet, or, through sabotage, by reducing one of the necessary resources (Food, Fuel, Population, or Morale) to zero.

"Either all of the humans win together, or all of the Cylons win together…but both sides must figure out who they can trust in order to achieve victory.

"Players' identities are secret and no one will know for certain at the beginning of the game who they can trust. Keep your eyes open and watch how the other players play. Can you trust them to watch out for Humanity’s interests? Or are they Cylons bent on destroying Humanity?

"If your gaming group enjoys highly-thematic political intrigue, and can handle some good-natured infighting and backstabbing, you'll enjoy Battlestar Galactica.

"If you like playing a game where there is a continuous challenge, and victory is always a very close call, Battlestar Galactica is for you.

"If you're a fan of the hit Sci Fi Channel show, and want to simulate the twists and turns on your game table, then Battlestar Galactica is the game you have been waiting for!"

Looking to cut through all the felgercarb and seek council directly from the Quorum of One, a.k.a. designer Corey Konieczka? Then push the following turbo button to read the game's full rules!

***

So last Wednesday night, Mike chose Battlestar as his official game pick. Andrew, Chad, Jeremy and I gathered at his new board game storage facility, ahem, I mean his new house in order to play out what was sure to be another unique and memorable episode. After the complete and total fiasco which was the last game we played, the humans were itchin' for a little payback!    

In order to properly communicate each agonizing decision, I've decided to present our game session in the form of a five part podcast.

Needless to say, no portion of this audio session report is even vaguely suitable for work.

CHARACTER/LOYALTY SELECTION AND RULES

Andrew...William Adama
Chad...Tom Zarek
Me...Sharon "Boomer" Valerii
Jeremy..."Chief" Galen Tyrol 
Mike...Kara "Starbuck" Thrace




PART ONE: THE SEEDS OF DISCONTENT

Starbucks gets all "Pew-Pew-Pew" on the Cylon Raiders and then we fumble our first Crisis amongst many, causing our Population to dwindle.

Adama whiffs an attacks against the Cylon Basestar which proves to be equally impotent. He then opts to lose one Population and one Food in a heart-rending "lesser of two evils" Crisis selection.   

After granting a crew member the fictional title of Vice President, ex-con Tom Zarek helps to tamp down a "Witch Hunt".   

Boomer annihilates a flying toaster. Sadly a flubbed "Terrorist Investigation" prevents her from determining the loyalty of a key crew member.  

After soldering a bunch of Vipers back together, Tyrol makes a stunning accusation.  



PART TWO: FRACKIN' THE HORNET'S NEST

After a three-unit jump burns an equal amount of fuel, Starbuck goes out on patrol, shirking off a "Cylon Accusation" in the process.  

Adama dispatches a few wingmen to aid Starbuck. Following the consensus around the table, Adama decides to pick a fight with a Basestar and three Raiders. Meanwhile, ship-wide Morale starts to dip and more superfluous civilians show up. 

In order to spring himself from the Brig, Tom Zarek is forced to "smoke a lot of hogs". Leave it to Andrew to keep things classy.  

Boomer peels out in a Super Viper too try and head the Cylons off at the pass. "Return To Duty" sees the Basestar take a pot shot on Galactica while the plucky Boomer gets swarmed by Raiders as soon as she's clear of the launch tubes. 

Awestruck by her brave stand (and her cute posterior), Tyrol shows favoritism by passing the Veep position (!) to his main squeeze. Inbound Raiders are thwarted after Starbuck and Adama turf some serious Skill Cards. Meanwhile, a sneaky Heavy Raider makes its way into boarding position!




PART THREE: WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN

Starbuck gets a second shot at a critical target, but another foe waits in the wings! Thanks to Tom Zarek's call for transparency, we won a badly-needed spike on the Jump Track!

Adama drops a bombshell, but it ain't a nuke. Also: a nasty saboteur gums up the Armory and blasts our stockpile of frozen fish sticks out of the airlock.

Tom Zarek tries to stabilize our increasingly precarious situation with THE POWER OF POLITICS by appointing a Mission Specialist. On the same turn a "Terrorist Bomber" is thwarted with gusto and a Cylon boarding party digs in like an Alabama tick.

Boomer tries to contend with an entire wing of Cylon ships. Once again, Tom Zarek's "Investigative Committee" lends a hand during a Crisis and the Cylons end up drinking some poisoned Kool Aid.



PART FOUR: CHOOSE YOUR POISON

Using spit, chewing gum and prayer, Tyrol tries to put the Armory back together and then takes a pot-shot at our unwanted guests. To halt our spiraling Morale, a critical component is sacrificed in order to cobble together a bullshit "Cylon Detector" while the toaster infestation creeps deeper into the heart of the ship.

Starbuck leaps out of her Viper even before it skids to a halt and heads to the Armory in an attempt to beat off (?) the invaders. The Food loss required by the next Crisis is mitigated somewhat when Starbuck and El Presidente join forces to discard a slew of Skill Cards.

Despite being infected with a deadly cargo and pursued doggedly by Raiders, the Galactica succeeds in making another jump. Now only four centons away from Earth, more Loyalty Cards are handed out and a second wave of paranoia and fear begins anew.

The dirty, filthy Cylon traitor scumbag dumps his initial Super Crisis Card, presumably for something even more bastardly.

Via "Executive Orders" Tom Zarek inspires Tyrol to keep blasting away at the Cylon interlopers.  Unfortunately the engineer would be hard-pressed to hit a Centurion in the ass with a nuke.

Torn between the immediate crisis onboard Galactica and the looming disaster coalescing around the civilian fleet, Boomer opts to tackle the invasive element on board the ship. And by "tackle" I mean "wave-to politely". Along with Tom Zarek, Boomer chucks a mittful of Skills Cards in order to avoid more Food spoilage.

Tyrol urges Boomer to jump in a Viper and combat the pursuing Raiders but she can't get there quick enough to attack. The dumb and ill-bred Cylon Player makes sure that a "Crippled Raider's" kamikaze strike lands true.




PART FIVE: DEATH THROES

Cylon Raiders kick the ever-lovin' shit out of the civilian fleet and then cripple the Armory again! After Starbuck shrugs off a clingy Tyrel she manages to repair the damage. After some "Resistance" overkill the humans get a temporary reprieve.

The Cylon player / molester of goats moves to Caprica (now renamed Ca-PRICK-a, btw) and plays a Crisis Card which spurns on the board party, who are still buried in Galactica's hoo-haw like a bouquet of metallic dicks. In a moment of life imitating art, Starbuck provides a temporary reprieve. After a "Tracking Device" threatens to end the human race, Boomer's "Mysterious Intuition" finally comes into play!

Meanwhile, the swarm of Cylon Raiders tailing Galactica laser-fucks three more fugitive ships. The human Population is now hanging by a thread!      

Zarek dittos his "Executive Order" on Tyrol who apparently can't hit the broad side of a Basestar. A"Mysterious Message"gives us a much-needed push!

Boomer attempts to Death Blossom an entire squadron of inbound Raiders. During the subsequent Crisis, the foul-smelling Cylon creep at the table conspires with the Destiny Deck to drain our Fuel and destroy a Raptor. What a dick, amirite?!? 

The Galactica pulls off another FTL jump, but is she running on empty?

  
     

***

REVIEW

PROS:
  • The components of the game are perfect: practical enough to play with, evocative enough to sell the theme and simple enough to avoid any unnecessary confusion.  
  • I love the variety of available characters and their customized powers and weaknesses. So much so that the game sometimes feels like a lite n' breezy RPG.  
  • A corona of Raiders, Basestars, boarding parties, fleeting resources and Crisis Cards simulate the show's "walking on a razor's edge" tone with elegant precision.     
  • The paranoia and suspicion generated by the possible presence of one or more Cylon spies is palpable. While the humans have it tough enough as it is, baseless mistrust and unfounded accusations will only make it ten times worse.
  • A really good Cylon player can spell the difference between victory and defeat. They can also experience gleeful moments of abject cruelty, like charring ants underneath a magnifying glass.    
  • Every match I've played that far has told its own unique narrative. No other licensed game I've played (save perhaps War of the Ring) has even come so close.       
  • The game forces players to make one agonizing decision after another.
CONS:
  • None. Even the fiddlier rules are there for a reason and contribute boundlessly to the game's thematic awesomeness!  

The main thing I really wanted to communicate with this post is that Battlestar Galactica is a totally different animal than the typical crappy licensed games which have long-plagued our beloved hobby. It's smart, engaging, tense, respectful, and permanently ensconced in my Top Ten Favorite Games of All Time.

As such, it easily earns a perfect score: six pips outta six.

  
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Tired of interrogating your kitchen appliances? Click on the link below to order a copy of Battlestar Galactica and the Exodus Expansion to help support this blog!  



1 comment:

  1. Awesome recap, and an awesome game! Sorry for the asterix of not killing the humans sooner (cylon jump track).
    Jeremy's voice is fantastic also!

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