Wide Open Space – Battlestar Galactica review

Licensed games are always a problem. Developers have a problem because they need to fit a game around the constraints of the license, while the fans of the thing – the target audience – have the problem that their beloved Intellecual Property will be ruined with something they deem “unworthy”. In the world of video games, it happens loads – walk into your nearest shop and see the amount of shovelware covering the shelves, poorly made games based on crappy movies, annoying characters in thoroughly generic games. Thankfully, the world of board games is a little more discerning, but bad games based on TV shows and films are obviously still out there. I remember terrible titles from my childhood like The Neighbours Game, a range of MB titles loosely inspired by video games (Zaxxon and Donkey Kong, for example – though I recall Pac-Man was alright) and shudder at later efforts like those scourges of the charity shop: Desperate Housewives and Lost: The Game.

Sometimes though, the planets align and miracles happen. The US version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for instance – a game with an interesting mechanic and dripping in theme – has many fans. But in recent years, one game has really stood out, adapting the original source material and creating what I believe to be a total masterpiece. That game is Battlestar Galactica.

Designed by Corey Konieczka and published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008, Battlestar Galactica is based on the remake of the classic 70′s sci-fi series. While it isn’t necessary for you to be conversant in the ways of BSG, having a bit of knowledge about the series will enhance your enjoyement of the game – as it will with any licensed property, of course. However, the game is so well constructed, even people who have never seen the show will be drawn in quickly. Each player takes on the role of one of the characters from the series, all of whom have certain good abilities and one downside; roles of president and admiral are then given to the most qualified characters as listed in the manual. These both give the recipients extra bonuses – special ability cards for the president and nuclear missiles for the admiral.

Now comes the fun part. In the series, the evil Cylons are bent on destroying the very thing that created them: The Humans. Secretly, allegiance cards are handed out saying whether players are Human or Cylon – depending on how many people you have around the table, at least one member of your group will be a nasty Cylon, who must then use their deviousness to undermine the Humans while pretending to be one. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. The Cylons win the game by destroying areas of Galactica, getting enough Centurions aboard or reducing at least one of the ships’ resources to zero, shown on a set of four dials at the top of the board. Humans win by making a series of Faster Than Light jumps, shown by progressing along the FTL track – after every jump a planet card with a number on it is drawn. Get the total to eight, jump one more time and you’re home free. However, after that total hits four, everyone gets another loyalty card meaning that the person you’re totally sure was on your side could well now be working for the enemy…

The game mechanic is actually rather simple.

We can actually see the care with which the game has been created as we have seen in some trading programs. Only some systems like the Top 10 Binary Demo described at the website can boast of a greater focus on assessment and attention to details. These experts pay attention to each part of the program to check its efficiency and recommend only the best ones so that people can trust the program for trading.

You draw skill cards according to your character sheet, move to a location, perform an action and then resolve a crisis card. Certain characters may move to differing locations – the President gets use of Colonial One, a separate ship that has a range of locations each offering something different (including use of the powerful Quorum deck – very useful when you’re in a scrape!). An action may involve dealing with enemy ships that constantly seem to be attacking you, shifting civilian ships into safety or activating an area of Galactica in order to use that place’s ability. If people think you’re the bad guy, get used to seeing the inside of the brig. Often.

The crisis card part of the turn is mean. Crisis, of course, implies bad things – it’s just that in Battlestar Galactica, bad things are a constant companion. Each card has an issue that needs to be dealt with and a numeric value that must be reached in order for the crisis to be averted. Players take skill cards from their hand and place them face down on a pile. Two cards are then added from a premade Destiny Deck, an extra set added in by the game to mess with your head and introduce an element of chaos. The different skills have their own colours and each crisis requires the number to be equalled or bettered to pass the check. The Cylon player can choose to hamper the efforts of the others by adding cards which count against the humans, but here’s the trick. Not everyone has to put cards in. Did the guy on your right add anything to the pile? Was the person opposite you the only one to play some cards? You need to use your detective powers, work out who the traitor is and deal with them before it’s too late.

If the pressure is getting too much for the Cylon player, they can – at any time during their turn – choose to reveal themselves. This doesn’t lose them the game, however. If anything, it makes it even tougher for the good guys because the now revealed Cylon will now delight in choosing from a bunch of areas of their very own that make life even more difficult for the Humans. Super Crisis cards may now be played, each one more awful than the last, sending swathes of toaster-powered laser death at the good ship Galactica – their only hope, hitting that FTL button before they’re wiped out.

Being from Fantasy Flight, production values are high. There’s an awful lot of stuff in that square box, including plenty of plastic ships, although the Cylon Basestars are cardboard – you need to buy the Pegasus expansion for the pretty 3D versions! The artwork and photos are taken from the show, so people who are into the series will recognise elements immediately. People who are unfamiliar with BSG may feel a little lost to begin with, but I reckon that the game will easily drag anyone in quickly – after all, the idea is simple. Survive. Deal with problems. And watch your back, because everyone is a potential threat.

To wrap up, I freely admit that I love to play this game, but there is a caveat. You need to play this with the right bunch of people. Not necessarily fans of the show, but people who are of the right mindset. If you’re going to be picking on one guy all night because you think he’s the Cylon traitor, this game is no fun at all if he whines and moans about people being mean to him. Battlestar Galactica needs to be played with good grace, and the best games I’ve played of it have been the ones where everyone is having a laugh. Sure, it may get a little tense at times, but I firmly believe that this is a game for people who like to play for fun, not those who play to win. Also, it’s great to finally play a licensed game that doesn’t suck!

Battlestar Galactica is published by Fantasy Flight Games and is a Corey Konieczka design. Between three and six players can take part, and it’s available in your Friendly Local Game Store for around £30. I seriously can’t recommend it highly enough. One of my favourites.