After getting Battlestar Galactica and its expansions for Christmas and having spent a lot of time reading through the rules and the various forums across the internet, I was finally able to get in my first games of BSG last night! Due to wanting to keep it simple to begin with and the fact that one of our group has not seen past the first season yet- it was pure vanilla BSG (although we did use the plastic basestars from pegasus).
Overall we had two games, the first one was five player (which I was really keen for as this is the supposed sweet spot for numbers of players) and the second one was four player as one of our group had double-booked himself that day (which wasn't a bad thing as we were able to try out the much maligned Sympathiser card).
In short, we loved it. We really enjoyed ourselves and the game played really well. For a fantasy flight game it was surprisingly rules-lite but there was a lot of depth to it as the game is obviously designed around the social interaction between players. It was also a reasonable length for our play group at about 4 hours for a game (some might consider that long but my group regularly plays 10 hour Twilight Imperium sessions so it was nice to play something that you could conceivably fit into an evening).
The point of this post is to sat what we learned from playing the game and I'm interested to hear your comments to see if your experiences match ours. So with that said, what did we find?
I'll start with balance. From reading the forums I pretty much found an equal number of posts stating that either the humans can't win, that the cylons can't win or that it's about 50/50 with the base game which lead me to believe that at least with the base game, it must be balanced to a degree. Balance is not something I'm particularly bothered with as my group is a very relaxed group- as long as the balance isn't obviously completely out of whack. From our 2 games (and I understand this isn't a huge amount) I would say that we found the balance about right- it wasn't too hard or easy for either side and there was plenty of tension.
The first 5 player game was a victory to the Cylons, but boy was it close! I played as human and we managed to do an alright job- we got to 6 or 7 distance on our first attempt before we ran out of food and starved! (I think we were influenced too much by reading on the net that you rarely ever run out of food). We actually almost ran out of fuel- before we realised the use of Launch Scout and did what we could to delay the jump until we found a Tylium planet. Character wise we used: Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, Laura Roslin and Chief Tyrol. They all felt pretty true to the series and we enjoyed using them. The only character I saw as a bit weak perhaps was Roslin- being able to scout the Crisis deck was useful (and probably would be even more useful as a cylon which incidentally was starbuck and adama in this game), but her weakness seemed really quite crippling. Nevertheless, I think she will be taken again in the future by different players as we tend to like playing with characters we like from the series, rather than for their in-game effects).
The crisis deck is an interesting beast. There are definitely some tests that its better to fail so you can save your skill cards for the really crucial events but the events are nicely thematic and because we had it well shuffled, the cylon attacks were fairly consistent throughout the game without massive periods of silence or overwhelming odds.
The 2nd game was a very different experience from the first but just as enjoable although we had to use the sympathiser card as we only had four players (more on that in a second). I don't know what happened to the crisis deck in the half hour between games, but damn if things weren't hot at the start! Before we had managed to make our first jump we literally had everything on the board. All the cylon plastic playing pieces were on the board, fighting off against all of our Vipers which were trying to protect all the civilian ships (every last token) which had spawned on the board thanks to repeated cylon attack cards showing up! This was really tense and exciting and we managed to survive without much loss (i think we had 2 damaged vipers before we jumped). This situation really highlighted the importance of the Communications location action so you can move civilian ships out of harms way and within your Vipers's protective screen. XOing the person sat in communications helped out no end! In fact, I would have to agree with the general consensus that using Executive Orders properly is vital for the humans to win as it allows you to do much more.
Moving on to the sympathiser card...I can see why people don't like it. The forced reveal seems quite artificial and actually semi-annoyed the player who got it. Thankfully it didn't ruin his playing experience as he wanted to remain human (he was a cylon in our previous game) and he ended up helping the human side (the crisis literally just before sleeper tipped one of the resources into the red- i was convinced until then that we were going to have deal with two cylons)!. Whilst I don't think the card is quite as bad as some people make out (I don't think it's as bad for the game as say, for example, the original Imperial strategy card for Twilight Imperium)- I don't think it's ideal. It highlights why the game's sweet spot is 5 players but having read through the pegasus expansion- I think the cylon leaders option should be a worthy alternative in future 4/6 player games). With the sympathiser revealed, our cylon knew he was on his one-sies and as we on the verge of brigging him for suspicious behaviour, he decided to reveal. As a revealed cylon he was definitely able to do a bit more damage to us (he was Gaius 'Mother Frakkin' Baltar out of interest) but it was definitely a bit more difficult for him because the humans knew there was no longer a traitor in our midst, so we could concentrate on pure team work which does make things harder for the cylon and I feel, strong evidence against the 'reveal early' strategy although I suppose future games might change my mind things happen differently. The 2nd game ended as a good win for the humans with only fuel in the red.
I really, really enjoyed Battlestar Galatica. I'm a big fan of the show but the tabeltop banter and paranoia makes the game a fairly easy sell for anyone, even those not familiar with the show. I think the balance for my gaming group is good, although I could see the base coming easier for the humans over the course of many games (which is why I have the expansions waiting in reserve!).