Board Game Analysis: Battlestar Galactica

I am Back!

And the first thing we are going to do are some board and roleplay analyses. which we hope that you are going to enjoy and the first one to be analyzed is none other than Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game.

Bests of BSG

The one thing that really stands out in Battlestar Galactica as a best is the build-up, as the game progresses the board itself makes the players more desperate in their attempt at survival. As resources dwindle away and you have to discover who is actually on your side, so you cannot get stabbed in the back.

The build-up is this strong because of how the game handles resources, how mercilessly it takes them away and never gives them back. The further the game goes, all the players feel how time is running out because of this. The build-up becomes even better due to the loyalty of the players, one of the players are working against us and when is he or she going to stab us in the back.

Worsts of BSG

The single worst part of BSG was the climax. As the build-up is the strongest part of the game, having a bad climax will ruin the experience. The reason for the climax being weak is because how the core game-play loop handles resources.

Since the loss of resources is random and even sometimes a must due to crisis cards. (we will go into these later) losing the last resource means that the game is over and after a 2, 3 or maybe even 4 hours game, losing to a random thing that you, as a player couldn’t change, feels punishing for no reason.
Another reason for the weak climax is that there is never a change of pace in the game. The core game play loop will keep going, no matter what the players do. As there is no change of pace, the players will only notice that the game is ending because resources are running out. Since resources are always running out, the players won’t get a climax

The Core Game System

The core game system in Battlestar Galactica, is a loop composed of several important steps. The first thing a player does in a turn is draw skill cards; this is generally 5 skill cards. After this a player gets to move their character to any location on the game board that belongs to that player’s faction. A human player can move to any human location, but not any cylon locations, while a revealed cylon player can only move between cylon locations.

After that a player is allowed to use anyone action he or she can do, either by activating a location on the game board, playing a skill card or using one of their character actions.

After a player has done all this, the player whose turn it is draws a Crisis card. Crisis cards are the cards that make the player lose resources. There are two type of crisis cards, the first one is the choice cards. Where the player or a player with a specific role (Such as president) has to make a choice, this choice can be anything from losing 1 from a specific resource or lose a combat ship.

The other crisis is the skill check; the skill check is a task that needs to be completed by the humans to avoid losing resources. As a skill check is called upon by either a location or a crisis card, the players will have to add skill cards to it to complete it.

Skill cards are added face down to a skill check, so players cannot calculate what they are putting into the check. Before any cards are added to a skill check the players draw two cards from a “destiny” deck. Which represents that everything could go smoother than expected or become a whole lot trickier than the players initially thought it would be. These cards are also face down.

Skill checks have a difficulty which ranges from everywhere from 7 to 28 and they also show what skills are positive to the check. All skills that is not positive to the check counts as negative for the check allowing players to sabotage for each other when a skill check arrives.

After all players have added skill cards to the check, the player whose turn it is, shuffles the piles and flips the cards. Adding the value of all positive skill cards together and then subtracting the value of all the negative cards value.

If the players have the same value as the difficulty of the skill check, the skill check is passed. A lower value means that the players have failed the skill check and will have to take the consequences.

To win in battlestar galactica the players need to make enough distance to escape the cylon onslaught. This means that they need to prepare the jump drive. The only way to prepare the jump drive is to draw a jump preparation crisis card. These crisis cards have a specific symbol in the lower right corner which means that the players are to increase their jump preparation track by 1.

When the players have increased the track 5 times, the ships will jump and the Admiral player will draw 2 destination cards and resolve one. These cards have a printed value between 0 and 3 on them. This is how far the players make it on this jump.

To win the game, the players need to cover 8 or more total distance and jump again, giving the game a minimum number of rounds to complete. This is the only way to win as a human player in battlestar galactica.
There is only one victory condition in the game, but there are several ways to lose in galactica.

The first way to lose is by loss of resources. The game got 4 different resources that it presents to the player, Fuel, Food, Morale and Population and they represent how well the fleet is doing. Whenever one of these resources hit zero, the game is lost.

The second way to lose in Battlestar Galactica is through damage. If Galactica ever has 4 destroyed locations or damage tokens, the ship is utterly destroyed and everyone aboard the ship is killed, leading to the death of all humans.

The third way to lose is by boarding party. This represents a cylon centurion getting all the way to the ships command and killing all high ranking officers, leaving the ship with no leadership and to be destroyed in the next couple of hours or minutes.

The Most interesting system

In Battlestar Galactica there is a loyalty system which decides which players are loyal to the humans and which are loyal to the cylons. This system allows for a lot of undercover sabotage, distrust and
The most interesting system to me is the Loyalty system, how they are using such a simple system to create distrust in a game where co-operation is the key. The system is very simple randomization system. It gives each player a loyalty card at the start of the game which will either say “You are not a Cylon” or “You are a Cylon”.

The goal of the game changes the second you are given a You are a Cylon card, as your goal is now to get the humans to lose through sabotage and making them distrust each other, spreading lies and deceit.
The other players also want to figure out which player that is a cylon, so that they can take care of the cylon without letting him or her destroy to much of your precious resources from the inside and create distrust.

Later into the game, at 4 distances, the players are given another loyalty card, which if you are playing 5 or 6 players’ guarantees another cylon in the game. Meaning even more players will be working towards you.
The thing with the loyalty system that makes it interesting, is that it uses a minimum of mechanics to actually create an entirely new layer to the games depth without adding complexity worth mentioning. The subtleness of the system is its strengths and it adds a lot of choices for the players.

There are also actions and effects that allow you to look at other players loyalty cards. This makes the system complete, as the effects are so scarce, it makes the person who gets to check another players’ loyalty card as suspicious as the player, whose card he or she looks at.

Target group

The target group seems to be 16+ both male and female people who have either an interest in board games, politics or the original Franchise Battlestar: Galactica.

The game has a very complex core gameplay loop. But which can easily be identified which leads to player having to understand the loop, but as it can be easily identified, as soon as all of the players have identified it, it is easy to play the game. This leads me to believe that the people playing it need to have the age of 16+. The players also explore subjects that are for older people, such as the destruction of humanity, what it really means to be human and what is required to lead a fleet with different demands.

The game also have a heavy focus on the social aspect and the necessity of politics, which leads me to believe that the target audience is the one I mentioned earlier.

Summary.

All in all, Battlestar Galactica is a great game, the game knits together the different aspects of the game very well, everything from the politics, the intrigues, the witch hunting and the focus on surivival.
The only thing that the game doesn’t pull off is combat, as the games combat is very bland, and doesn’t add much to the excitement. As seen in the analysis I haven’t even gone through combat, as the players are never forced to be involved in combat even once throughout the game.

Also the game might have had one to many loss conditions, the boarding party feels and plays unnecessarily and is rarely even a bother. It mostly feels like they are in the game so that the heavy raiders and centurions from the series could be in the game.

More than that, the skill check system has a great flow when you get into it, which means that the time spent playing increases while the time looking through rules decreases dramatically. As the skill check system is easy to get into it generally requires one game before the players get into the flow and just start playing without the necessity of a rule pamphlet up all the time.

The Climax is a big turn off though, as the game really builds up for it, but then lets it all just trickle into the sand.

That is it for me than, have a good one from a Van and a Game Designer.

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One thought on “Board Game Analysis: Battlestar Galactica

  1. Welcome back from the summer!

    I noticed you missed explaining the relationships and properties of the systems objects, as well as in-game concepts (like a ship or the decks), i’ll try to go through it systematically later.

    First of all, I was unable to play Battlestar Galactica, as I was sick most of the week, however, I watched a game session of it at http://blip.tv/the-spoony-experiment/battlestar-galactica-the-board-game-part-1-3737592

    Best of BSG

    I agree that the build-up is fairly interesting. Though I’ve only got a second-person perspective of the gameplay, the chance that any of the players might be a Cylon is a very good part of the system.

    Worst of BSG

    I don’t entirely agree that the climax is bad, if the players lose (whether by being unlucky or by being plain bad) the climax is “you failed/the food is randomly eaten by the stowaway rats, humanity is eradicated”, while winning is “despite the cylons efforts, humanity has survived”. Though the player might feel betrayed, unlike me. Though the default loop is kinda monotone.
    I also dislike the way they handle the resource management in the core system, as it is a fairly disconnected system, would feel better if it integrated with other systems, like the combat system (aside from losing resources because the cylons destroy one of your civilian ships.)

    The Core Game System

    Ok, here is where I will start differing. Since I could not play the game myself, I can not give much details besides what I have observed.

    You completely ignored the character cards (unless you played another version of the game). At the start of the game, each player picks a character, each character card have some properties, I could only properly see “politics”, and they have a class/role (admiral, pilot, something or the other). These are its properties, I’m not sure what its behaviour is though, the relationship is the properties values used by the other elements of the game.

    The skill cards have a colour too (unless it is crisis cards, again, it is what I observed), that is a property. Its relation is in the skill check.

    Crisis cards have a behaviour, making either the player with a certain role choose (choice is a property i think, or is it a behaviour?), or a skill check (colours is a property). Their relation is character cards and skill cards.

    The players themselves are an in-game concept, they have a hand (with skill cards), cylon or not, and a character card (with role). Their relationships are skill cards (they can play them), the ship (they’re on), and crisis cards (they need to pick one). Their behaviour varies, depending on if he/she is a cylon or not, if he/she is a cylon, he/she will try to actively destroy for the crew (without being found out), while a human would try to increase resources and try to reach their destination.

    Jump preparation track is an in-game concept as well, I haven’t clearly understood it, but it’s behaviour and relation would be to draw the destination cards I assume. The property is maybe the number it has increased (which is reset once it reach 5, I assume?). It is largely disconnected from the rest of the game.

    The resources are not an object in themselves, they are properties to another. As far as I’ve understood, it is the Battlestar Galactica (aka. the ship), which is an in-game concept, who hold those properties. It also holds positions (though I’ve clearly not understood how they work, thus neither their behavior). Its relation lies with the crisis cards and the players. As well as the enemy ships (they try to destroy the ship).

    Finally, the decks that holds the crisis and skill cards are in-game concepts, their relation are to the players, crisis cards, and skill cards.

    That breaks it down to:
The core system: the players, the character cards, the crisis cards, the ship and the skill cards.
    The loyalty system: the players and wether or not they are a cylon.
    The combat system: which i’m unfamiliar with.
    And the jump system: the ship, the destination cards and the distance.
    Though the core system could be broken up into crisis system as well.

    I’ve probably missed some crucial parts, but then again, I haven’t played it, so I can only be so objective.

    You haven’t as much described the core system, as you’ve described the rules and a typical round.
    Though to be fair, I’ve only described (some of) the objects, not how they integrate into the system.

    The Most interesting system

    I agree that the loyalty system is the most interesting system in the game. That simple layer of “he/she might be a cylon” is a genius part of the system, it will sow distrust throughout the game, and as a player may become a cylon mid-game, their suspicion will only rise, “who can I trust?”. I can imagine being a cylon in the game can be interesting, as the distrust is high already, spreading more uncertainty and suspicions can’t be that hard.

    Target group

    Judging from the game session I watched, it would seem the age group is indeed 16+ any gender. Though I could disagree on the other three, as I have no real interest in board games, hate politics, and don’t like the original franchise. I would say it is more about playing mind games (and reading them if you are a human) and intrigues.

    I can agree that the theme is a little too dark for a younger audience, even though it could appeal to younger audiences, they probably will not enjoy it as much as an older audience that will have an easier time grasping the concepts.

    Summary

    It seems like a decent game to play, though they have put too much emphasis on the resources, while the most prominent part of the game is the players and their loyalty. The resources should be a means to an end, not a deciding factor to the game. I know that the developers wanted to put emphasis on resource management, but it is not well-implemented in my opinion. They have a combat system as well, but as you described, it’s barely there. Had they used the resources more in conjunction to the combat system (like using resources to create defences, and frequent attacks from the cylons), it would feel much more polished.

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