The Battlestar Galactica Board Game and its Expansions

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The Battlestar Galactica board game is probably my favourite of all time. Not only does it have exceedingly clever mechanics and nearly endless replayability, but it also captures the theme (one that I didn’t even like that much before the board game) perfectly in nearly every way.

So let’s pretend that my two sentences convinces you of this fact. Or, perhaps, you are already part of the choir. I’d like to talk a little about the expansions.

There are 3 (well 2, with a 3rd coming later this year):

1. Pegasus, covering events in the second season and the season opener of the third.
2. Exodus, covering events of the rest of the third season.
3. Daybreak, which looks to cover the rest of the series (season 4, essentially.)

Pegasus

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The thing about Pegasus is that it was the first expansion and afterwards I believe the game designers decided to take a more modular approach. Pegasus, therefore, does not benefit from this. It is often considered a “rules patch.” For this reason I have heard many dismiss it as “not worth the money” but I personally think this is terribly unfair.

It is true that the Pegasus box is the same size as the base box, but far lighter. It is also true to say there are a lot more bits and pieces in Exodus. For my money, though, I think Pegasus is a far more important expansion.

It tries to achieve two main goals.

First it attempts to rebalance the “sympathiser” mechanic. It is a very unpopular mechanic and many people feel that it is both too “gamey” and also prone to wild balance swings between the two teams. The expansion provides several options for alternatives that generally centre around a enigmatic Cylon Leader. They’re almost a third faction that wins with one of the teams, but only after a series of criteria are met. They’re designed as a balancing factor hindering or helping both sides at different times, depending on their secret agenda.

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Secondly it tries to tidy up a few core game mechanics that didn’t work so well. It achieves this through a number of rule tweaks, but mostly through a new “Cylon Location Overlay.” This changes the way several of the cylon locations work fairly dramatically. For example, cylons can wait in the resurrection ship after revealing and draw more super crisis cards. They cannot, however, go back in to the resurrection after they leave it. It also introduces the Pegasus board. 4 new powerful locations for the humans to help fight raiders and basestars.

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The expansion does also add in some new content – new characters and a new skill deck, for example. These are nice, but don’t impact the play all that much and feel more like bonus material rather than important additions.

Our group found it incredibly difficult for the humans to win with the base game. Our human win to cylon win ratio was probably on the order of 1:10. However, since introducing Pegasus things have evened out considerably. Cylons still win more often than not, but we find the games go down to the wire far more often.

I had originally shied away from Pegasus because of the new Pegasus board taking some of the space-combat limelight away from the pilots. This is certainly true, but we have found it’s not really as bad as we expected. The pilots do still see a bit of action, and everyone is still needed to pull through. I was also deathly afraid of the addition of Admiral Cain. Her once-per-game ability to “blind jump” seemed so strong as to make her a “must pick” character. While she is certainly a powerful character, in practice I don’t find her quite as game breaking as I expected.

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Lastly, I’ll quickly mention the occupation on New Caprica. This is an alternative ending condition for the game where a mini-game is basically played that the humans need to try and survive. Things are very different to the rest of the game, so it was not received very well. We typically don’t play with it, as it is optional, but like other additions with the expansion it can add a bit of extra flavour.

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All-in-all, I think Pegasus is a “must-have” expansion.

Exodus

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I actually picked Exodus up as my first expansion on the recommendation of several people on BSG forums I frequent. They told me how it makes it so that those that pick pilots were not always so bored, and it balances the game better, and makes Cylon attacks less random.

I was a little surprised by some of the comments, since pilot roles were very popular picks in our groups and they were always extremely busy. I couldn’t imagine why they would be described as “boring.” Cylon attacks were certainly brutal, but I really enjoyed them nonetheless. If Exodus improved on that, then all the better.

Exodus went for a far more modular approach than Pegasus which I think most players appreciated. There was not much in Exodus that was absolutely required, instead it shipped rules broken into 3 totally independent sections that could be added to the game. So you could play with 1, 2, or 3 of the Exodus components, or even just add in the new Exodus cards and characters (and the couple rule clarifications) and play with none of the new components.

Although there was a little bit of tweaking to the rules (for example, some adjustments to Pegasus additions – such as execution – that had a few flaws) most of Exodus was designed to shake up well-established strategies and tactics the community had developed. It tried to provide more ways for people to behave seemingly contrary to the human’s goal, but in actual fact are keeping the toaster threat at bay. In this way cylons could more easily sabotage the fleet without being immediately outed. Suspicious, sure, but this whole game is about sowing suspicion.

By far and away the biggest addition in the Exodus expansion is the “Cylon Fleet Board.” It removes cylon attack cards from the crisis deck entirely relying instead on having a cylon fleet build up on a secondary board. When this fleet catches up to the human fleet, you transfer the accumulated pieces on to the main board. Thus the attacks are more like a gradual build-up, followed by a large attack, rather than a fairly random collection of small attacks that may add up to large ones.

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I didn’t realise that pilots were less utilised at the time because of the Pegasus expansion, and I’m not entirely convinced that Exodus fixes anything. We found our pilots spent all of their time “escorting civilians” off the board, rather than shooting at toasters.

I personally find the whole process very silly. The problem is in the details, which I won’t get in to, but here’s an example:

It is often times good for the humans to have a basestar attack. Due to the way the rules are written, if a basestar attacks there is almost no chance of the rest of the cylon fleet showing up. The idea is that the whole massive fleet shows up at once, but various conditions can make a lone basestar show up. A lone basestar is really not much threat, so it is definitely the humans preference to let it show up and they make no effort to kill it, knowing that it effectively gimps the rest of the cylon fleet.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of strategy involved with the board – on both the human and cylon side. There are a lot of choices to what might be the best action to take… but they often don’t make much sense, such as the above basestar tactic.

I also don’t like that removing the attack cards reduces the strength of abilities such as scouting, or Roslin’s Religious Visions since attacks can no longer be avoided through those abilities.

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The other additions brought by Exodus are interesting, but not necessary. They’re also simply problems for the humans to overcome – they bring very little positive power to the humans. As a result, they just make the game harder (and when you’re looking at 1:10 lose:win ratio, that’s a tough pill to swallow!) It doesn’t make it that much harder, but anything that sows suspicion – by making it dangerous to look at each other’s loyalty cards for example – makes it harder on the humans even if only by a little.

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Finally the ending condition is mixed up once again. It’s mostly fluff – as opposed to New Caprica which can be difficult and game changing – but that suits fine. It’s a fun way to mix up the game as it winds towards a close finish, without greatly changing things.

As far as I’m concerned, Exodus is good but not necessary. I think you’ll probably have the best time with both Pegasus and Exodus, but if you HAVE to pick one, go with Pegasus as it is better suited to improving the base game. Exodus is mostly fluff and loses some of its re-balance without Pegasus.

Daybreak

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Daybreak is not out yet, but from what we’ve seen so far it looks quite good. They’ve had another go at rebalancing the sympathiser mechanic. Now it is replaced by a new title. Between the original “President”, “Admiral”, and Exodus’s “CAG” most players had a title already. Now there is an interesting new one called “Mutineer.” The idea here is that the everyone gets powers that are presidential-like but you can only hold one of these “mutiny” cards at a time. If something forces you to pick up a second, you are immediately brigged as a mutineer. Therefore, it is probably wise to play this card – unfortunately most cards are both good and bad at the same time. Usually helping in some significant way, but also hurting the human cause in another way. It is probable that sometimes you can afford to lose one resource to gain some benefit… but other times it is not a good idea at all. So – are people trying to stay out of the brig, trying to help, or actively harming the human cause? Who knows!

The mutineer, meanwhile, can hold more of these cards than normal. This means they hold a special role of being able to utilise these special cards more effectively… or to greater devastation. It all sounds very interesting and fun.

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A further reveal of Daybreak shows the new destination and the new ship (The Demetrius.) This ship gives the humans even more decisions – they can now run “missions” from there which are like higher-stakes crisis cards. If the humans are feeling confident they can use The Demetrius to try and squeeze out some extra juice… or alternatively a hidden cylon player may drop an unrequested mission on the humans that they have no hope of passing. The effects of these missions cards tend to be really good or really bad. I’m not sure yet whether this addition will be nice to have, but not necessary; mostly ignored among all the other options the humans have (with so few turns!); or a great must-have addition to the game. One quite siginificant addition is a new Rebel Basestar board. Presumably this is somewhat like Pegasus in that it grants quite a lot of firepower – the catch is… it could join either the humans OR the cylons.

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All in all Daybreak sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun. I don’t know if it will be a “must have” but since I already have the other expansions I’m not about to stop now. I have a feeling that Pegasus will still be necessary, but after that Exodus or Daybreak will be either-or options.

A Final Note

I’m wondering if I can run 4 sessions in a row one long weekend. I’ll start one game with the base game, then work through each expansion with some rules to allow people to “carry over” to the next expansion. I have a few ideas floating around for that… but I don’t know if I’ll convince my friends to settle in for that much Battlestar Galactica!

Why the Game Of Thrones Board Game Disappointed Me.

My gaming group are all very pragmatic. I rather suspect this is the problem we face with the Game of Thrones board game.

I picked it up after many recommendations (such as the above one.)

The mechanics, I thought, would suit our group perfectly. We love to trick and fight each other, but it never hurts our friendship. We also like the nitty-gritty details and longer games are no problem. Lastly, we all love the Game of Thrones stories. All in all, the game sounded perfect.

So what went wrong?

Well, the first couple games were pretty fun. They took a lot longer than I expected, but they were our first games so I thought they’d pick up. They also contained a fair amount of wheeling and dealing but they all ended fairly flawed. In the first two we were all easily beaten by sneak attacks performed by a much more experienced player. Those sea attacks can be very hard to spot!

Ok. Fine. We’ll get better.

The first game where we all had equal experience saw one of the players(Baratheon) that were well on their way to victory with a game-long truce with a much weaker player (Tyrell.) So as the game wound down, Baratheon moved to the verge of victory. Everyone knew it, and all previous alliances were restructured into Us vs Baratheon… except… Tyrell didn’t break their truce. They ended the game by moving their pieces OUT of one of their strongholds to allow Baratheon to move in uncontested for the win. “Ha ha!” the Tyrell player crowed, “We win!” Um. No. The silver lining was that in hindsight it looked like we realised Baratheon had the game too late. We’re pretty sure we wouldn’t have been able to stop him any way. Well played, Baratheon.

Baratheon and Tyrell cementing their alliance

Baratheon and Tyrell cementing their alliance

Still, I started to suspect the game wasn’t what I was after. Even if Tyrell HAD switched sides (as logically he should have,) it wouldn’t have exactly been a Game of Thrones-esk betrayal, would it? It would just be a pragmatic attack to improve one’s odds (however slim) of ultimately winning.

Subseqent games pretty much played out the same way. Any discussion of non-aggression pacts, alliances, or truces were done on the understanding of: This is just to improve my chances of winning. That is, it may improve yours as well, but we all know I’m only suggesting we stop fighting because otherwise neither of us have a hope. Fine, fine. But if one of us turns this around and starts to win… it’s back on. Ok, that’s the point of the game, but the problem is that it’s not a betrayal, or surprise.

The above video reviewer mentions how not a game goes by where the Lannister player doesn’t get stabbed and, containing his rage the player will simply threaten: “A Lannister always repays their debts.”

Never have I seen a betrayal that would warrant this sort of fist-shaking. It’s just too risky. Occasionally I could see a chance to grab a “free” castle if I tell the guy sitting next to me, who I’ve had an unspoken agreement with since the start of the game, “Oh, that’s a power token. I have no intention of attacking your castle, I just don’t have the resources.” Then, “Surprise!” it’s a march order and I grab me a free castle. Occasionally. And then – is it worth it? Due to all the above issues, no-one is silly enough to leave a castle completely exposed to a so-called ally.

“Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”

The best scenario would be one where, in a series of cleverly orchestrated back-stabs you surprise everyone by suddenly getting 8 castles and instantly win the game. Never. That’s when that’ll happen. We can all count, you see. You have 6 castles? Well then, everyone is watching your armies like a hawk. Your allies, even if they decide it’s not time to go on the offensive surely aren’t going to leave a castle next your armies without sufficient defenses. Ser Loras is the only way such a move might be pulled off (“I can afford to lose this castle because there’s no way he can get a second.” Oops. That army that wasn’t adjacent to any castles has suddenly bounded up and taken 1 extra castle.)

So essentially, a Game of Thrones board game turns into a fairly lack-luster war game. One that hasn’t failed to take 8 hours, yet. Since betrayal on the board rarely amounts to anything, the vying for power becomes the most interesting part. Using the raven to look at the wildling deck, or the blind-auctioning for position on the influence tracks. Unfortunately, these make up a very small part of the game compared to moving armies around and my play-group has house-ruled a few small things that makes this part even less interesting.

I decided a while ago that it would be a good long while until I break out the Game of Thrones board game again. I broke that rule after a month or two, mostly because it was with an entirely different gaming group… and that 6-hour marathon convinced me that I will probably never break the game out again unless I get begged and begged. Things were no different. Everyone was practical and pragmatic. No alliances, no back stabbings, and the player with the best military strategy won. It was so. Freaking. Boring.

Speaking of Star Wars

The latest addition to my X-Wing Minatures Game arrived today (well, I’m in cahoots with two friends.) Isn’t it purdy?

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That brings the collection to:

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Keep in mind, these are all perfectly to scale.

The minis have been notoriously hard to get. There is still plenty of the core game available, but the expansions have been problematic. Wave 1 expansions (the X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE fighter, and TIE advanced) are sold out basically everywhere in the world. I was able to find a very small supplier here in Australia and grabbed the last X-Wing and Y-Wing off him.

Wave 2 (the TIE interceptor and A-Wing) appears to be nearly as hard to find. How my friend found 2 INTs on Amazon, I’ll never know.

I was speaking with a small shop here, and I was told that no-one is getting the allocations they are asking for, because the demand is high and supply is low. As a result distributors are asking for even higher allocations than they need in the hope that when they are rebuffed they end up with what they wanted in the first place. This is just exacerbating the problem.

Wave 1 appears to be at the printers now (meaning sometime this month,) but if you’re looking to pick up these key elements to this game, I’d strongly suggest pre-ordering. With video games – AVOID pre-odering, but for this game, I’m going to go ahead and strongly recommend pre-ordering or there is a good chance all the reprints will be gone and who knows when another batch will come. Everyone is going to want the iconic X-Wings and TIE fighters. I’m sure the Y-Wings and TIE advanced will be popular in their own right.

The YT-1300 and Firespray are plentiful at the moment and I expect them to remain so. I can’t guarantee it will remain so, but I expect them to be less popular due to their extra expense and the fact they are less renowned for dogfighting.

Lastly, there is a new expansion coming which includes the HWK-290 (aka Moldy Crow), B-Wing, TIE bomber and Lambda-class shuttle. Other than the B-Wing, which I personally dislike, I expect this wave to be pretty unpopular. Strategically, it’s sound and the quality looks as good as any of the other expansions… but all 4 ships are noteworthy only for being particularly pedestrian. Or in the case of the HWK-290 – a crap idea melded to a shitty design.

If you aren’t familiar with the game, stay tuned – I’ll go into detail in a later post. Spoiler alert: It’s expensive, but awesome.