I recently finished the longest game I ever played. It took about 50 days from start to finish. It concerned the popular board game Battlestar Galactica played by forum.
We all know that usually tie-ins to popular books, movies, or games are not very good. Harry Potter books are OK, Harry Potter movies based on the books are not not so good, and Harry Potter video and board games based on the movies are pretty bad. But there are exceptions. One such exception is the Battlestar Galactica board game. On the famous website BoardGameGeek, on which thousands of boardgames are reviewed, this game actually ranks in the top-20 (in comparison, Settlers of Catan‘s rank is between 40 and 50).
Battlestar Galactica is an SF television series, spanning four seasons, in which the human race is virtually extinguished by robots called Cylons. The last remaining humans are fleeing with a fleet of spaceships, led by the Galactica, in search for the legendary planet Kobol to restart human civilization. The twist of the series (in which it differs from the 1980’s series with the same name) is that the Cylons can appear as humans, and there are actually Cylons posing as humans on board. Some of the Cylons do not even know their own nature, until they get a wake-up call.
The Battlestar Galactica board game, created by Corey Konieczka and published by Fantasy Flight Games, ties in to the first season of the television series. The game is for 3 to 6 players, but is best with 5 or 6. It is a cooperative game, which has two teams: the humans and the Cylons. The loyalties of the players are unknown at the start of the game; they all appear human. Someone might know that he is actually a Cylon, but it might also happen that someone thinks he is a human, while halfway through the game he finds out he is actually playing for the Cylon team.
In the game, each of the players fulfills the role of one of the 10 major characters of the series. They move on the ship, collect skill cards, perform actions, and try to deal with crises that pop up every turn. The goal for the humans is to reach the planet Kobol by performing several faster-than-light jumps. The goal for the Cylons is to stop the humans from completing their goal, either by destroying the ship, or by dropping one of the key resources of the ship to zero.
The game is quite complex because it offers a myriad of choices, and the game’s mechanics are not very engaging. These are both minus points. However, where the game shines is in its atmosphere. It is all about the interactions between the players. The humans know that there are Cylons amongst them, and if they can smoke them out, they can try to make them harmless. The Cylons, on the other hand, try to stay hidden while not helping the humans too much, until they see their way clear to do some big damage. In the meantime, the crew tries to stay alive under a bombardement of crises. The atmosphere of the game is one of paranoia. There are dangers lurking from every side. Sometimes the humans luck out, sometimes things go wrong — but if they went wrong, was that just chance, or was a Cylon actively messing with them?
I really like this game, but I cannot bring it to the table as often as I would like. It is quite a long game, usually spanning 2.5 to 3 hours. And while most players like it, the complexity might seem daunting for new players. Also, some players are turned off when they realize the game ties in to a television series that they have not watched. Actually, the game can be enjoyed by anyone, though it does come alive more for those who have some experience with the series.
On BoardGameGeek people have started to play Battlestar Galactica through forum posts. A moderator creates a forum thread, and invites five or six players from a list, who then have in-game discussions and post their actions in the thread. The moderator sends players their cards and executes random factors when necessary. It works really well, and the game is a joy to play in this fashion. It is, however, different from the tabletop game, as it is much easier for players to track all in-game information. This makes a Cylon’s job quite a bit harder, as messing with the humans will give his identity away much faster. Still, the Cylon team wins about half the games played this way, so it seems balanced.
Reading the threads is also a nice way to get familiar with the game. A few threads which I recommend:
- Battlestar Galactica – Online BGG Game The first game played by forum. This was a very tight game, with truly excellent players.
- Battlestar Galactica Online Game Session IX – AustraliAsia This game contains some hilarious roleplaying, specifically by the guy in the role of Gaius Baltar.
- PBF Game 18 – Battlestar Europa This is the game I participated in. It is rather short, but contains interesting twists.
- BSG 31 – Battlestar Ulysses This is the game I am currently in, and that has just started last week. Already we are almost unable to handle the crises.
If you want a list of all the games, visit the BSG_PBF Wiki. If you would like to read a thread without knowing the identity of the Cylons, you should watch out, as that information is found on the Wiki. If you own the game and wish to sign up for a PBF experience, you can do that through the Wiki also. Owning the game is a must, as Fantasy Flight Games does not allow the publishing of card texts in the threads.
Highly recommended, both the game and the forum-playing of it. And OK, also the first season of the television series. So say we all.
Addendum (July 3, 2010): In the meantime, I finished two more games of Play-By-Forum Battlestar Galactica: BSG 56 – Battlestar Isoroku, and BSG 72 – Battlestar Lincoln. Both were good fun, but if I have to pinpoint my favorite of the four games, it is Battlestar Isoroku. It was exciting, tense, and quite funny. I think it will make a good read. Should someone take me up on that, I challenge you to guess who the second Cylon is before it is revealed.