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Professor Phobos

[Musing on a Second Edition] Streamlining the game a bit...

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It'll be years before we ever see a revision to the base game, if we ever do, but I've played this game a ton and I had some thoughts I wanted to share on where I think it could be streamlined and improved a bit. I love BSG and I think it's downright excellent as-is, but there are a couple of mechanics I see as needlessly more elaborate than it has to be to accomplish the goal of the mechanic.


To start, I think the airlock and executions would/will be a core mechanic in any revision, the same way ports made it into Game of Thrones by default. They're just too much fun and thematic. I am a little concerned that the undermine the hidden-traitor aspect, because they make it possible to discover identity too definitively, but with a little refinement I can't see having a Battlestar Galactica game where you can't throw someone out the airlock. Roslin's special power should probably involve doing that, incidentally.


Now for some probably more contentious suggestions...


Skills and Skill Checks

"Okay, it's twelve points, red, green and blue."

"How many points?"


"What colors again?"

"Did we put destiny in yet?"

"Should I help?"


I think you could shave 30 minutes off the playtime by streamlining skill checks a bit. What I would do is drop the skill cards entirely from the mechanic. Instead, we use a completely binary "Help" or "Hurt" cards (Success or Failure, Support or Sabotage, etc). Even one sabotage card causes the fail result on the check (or maybe cancels out two support cards, creating an incentive to include as many humans as possible). Only the character who initiated the skill check (by drawing a crisis, or whatever) and characters who have the right color can toss in. So a Politics skill check has Boomer, Roslin and Zarek tossing in their support/sabotage. This makes it a Resistance-style team. The destiny deck still exists; one card is placed in, and maybe 1 out of 5 or 1 out of 10 destiny cards are the sabotage variety. After each skill check, you discard you unused vote card and it's all shuffled up. There are ways to play around with this- Baltar's "Delusional Intuition" could mean he can always contribute to skill checks, and Chief Tyrol could "Become Union Leader" and be able to do both Support and Politics checks. I would say the rule of thumb to shoot for is at least half the characters can contribute to any given skill check, with overlap. Otherwise the lone Cylon pilot might have to get really good at blaming the destiny deck. Some skill checks could be simple referendums, involving all the players- as in the case of getting someone in or out of the brig, for example, or voting for President.


This has some other benefits. It reduces action paralysis and confusion to new players by eliminating the dual-use of skill cards. It gives Cylons more power (they can guarantee a failure) but more information to the humans. I've actually tested this out a bit, and my group of mostly casual gamers liked the mechanic. It was all more straightforward and less fiddly, with more tension over betrayal and sabotage. Yes, this is just a rip-off of Resistance, but what's wrong with that? You do lose the "oh man, we failed by so little!" but that rarely proves interesting in actual play; the skill check minigame distracts from what it's really all about: tension. 


Skill cards would still exist, as powers people can play. I would condense this down to four types- Military, Political, Pilot, Support- and make it so every character just draws five (or however many for balance) cards of their type on their turn. They don't have numbers, just the power. As much as the dual-use for these cards is a nice little resource management minigame, I don't feel it adds much to the game and it is actually a little distracting from the meat of the skill check- which is the tension over possible subversion by the Cylon players. Every time someone starts their turn, they have to go "oh give me X, Y and Z" cards from whoever is unlucky enough to be the card bank that game, and distinguishing characters with different draws provides such marginal individuality to them it doesn't seem worthwhile. They already have a once-per-game, a special ability, and a drawback.


Cylon characters might get their own skill deck of powers they can use, once revealed. Meaning we have five kinds of cards - Politics, Military, Pilot, Support, Cylon- which is a nice, intuitive spread.


Some of this is designed to smooth over the administrative tasks of gameplay. It might be nitpicking, but wherever you can reduce that sort of thing, the better, in my opinion. I've played the game enough I've grown to dread skill checks coming up time and time again, and hope for the nice binary "choose X or Y" cards, mostly because of these administrative roadblocks you have to do for each and every skill check. 


Pilot Characters


Everyone in my group hates being a pilot. No one wants to be the pilot. They feel like you spend half the time in sickbay, and the other half just cleaning up the space area like some kind of janitor. This is probably because Pilots are more card-dependent just for basic utility than the other character types. What I would do is have, in the space areas of the board, spaces that work like any other activated locations. "Escort Civilian Fleet", "Fly CAP", "Scout Deep Space", "Attack Cylon Fleet", etc. You move your character token there. This provides a set of default actions all pilots always have available to them. Some of the deleted Tactics cards (like Launch Scout) can be made a built-in mechanic this way. 


The CAG role should likewise be core. 



The Cylon Fleet from Exodus is too much fun not to be core; we always use it.The pursuit track is better than random Cylon attack cards. Move the Cylon overlay to the separate Cylon board. In addition, remembering what each crisis card cylon activation icon does is a pain, so here's another change: Those icons are matched to something that is on the Cylon board, and activates that location. (The Basestar Bridge would probably have to be changed, but that's the worst part of the Cylon Fleet anyway) This way the crisis cards act like a cylon player in-absentia, there's no looking up in the rules what each icon means (yes, eventually I got it memorized, but still) and it's all more straightforward. If a given location can't be activated, move the pursuit track forward. Easy as cake. 


That freed up board space can be used to include the combat table on the back of the manual, right on the board for reference. 


Cylon Leaders

I feel like the Cylon Leader mechanic should be less tied to the show. What I mean by that is, in the base game we can have an Cylon Adama or Cylon Roslin, but we can't have a Human Cavil. Each character should start as one of the four human types- Support, Political, Military, Pilot- and the Cylon Leader option just converts them to a character who starts as a revealed Cylon and therefore draws Cylon cards. This is more an aesthetic preference on my part; I liked in the base game any of the characters could be a cylon or a human. Cylon Leaders could be employed in the base game to replace the god-awful Sympathizer mechanics no one likes. With perhaps some refinement (from Daybreak, say) of the Divided Loyalty which is still a little too "swingy." 


The Board

Add Space Area Locations for the pilots. Move the Cylon stuff entirely to a second board. Maybe drill down the space areas to just four. I'd also love it if Colonial One got to be its own board on the side, so if it blows up you can flip it over. Add the Airlock to Galactica. What would be kind of neat is if there were was an  "unused" location, that starts off as the museum and does nothing, and with various cards the humans could dedicate that space to a particular use- Joe's Bar, Dogsville, assault raptor suicide squadron, etc.


A Civilian Fleet overlay, where you can go to, say, Cloud 9, might be fun too. They could all be small boards that get flipped if the matching civilian ship is destroyed. 


The Destination Deck and Game Pacing


I love the destination deck, but it has one major problem- the variable distance. A distance 1 jump can radically lengthen the game time. This is a vital tool of cylon admirals, but it can stretch out a game far longer than planned for. Many of my game nights are weekday afternoons and can't go on later than we plan. A Cylon Admiral can horrifically drag out the game with even one lucky destination draw. An unlucky destination draw can horribly drag out the game even with a human admiral. 

So...why not just say, "You Need X Jumps." Say, four jumps- make the fourth, humans win. Tune based on difficulty, game balance, and desired length. Cylons could still perhaps sometimes sabotage the jump track, extending the game a little bit, balanced out by humans being able to accelerate jump progress at risk, shortening the game a little bit- hopefully it all comes out even. As a minor point, when I introduce new players, I think it'd be easier to say "We need four jumps" rather than "We need to reach distance 8 and then make one more jump, with units of distance being abstracted..."


The destination deck can stay, but instead of varying distance, it has varying costs to the human players. Cylon Admirals select the worst destination, Human Admirals the best. It's still unpredictable, it's still engaging, but it doesn't have this all-important influence over the pacing of the game. 

Edited by Professor Phobos

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While I appreciate the thought that went into this post, this isn't really a streamlined version for a 2nd Edition, this is radically re-envisioning the game and would require radically redoing the expansions as well; it's pretty much a completely different game. To directly address some of your points:

I don't really think the skill checks are that confusing for new players. After the third or fourth check even our non-gamer friends have the skill check system down. And I don't really see why you think skill checks involve "administrative roadblocks" since it has always gone pretty smoothly for us.

Our group has a lot of fun with the Pilots, possibly because players who are hoping to be Cylons can choose them to avoid the other players checking on them. We're quick to check the Pres and Admirals loyalty card when possible, so the Pilots remain relatively unscrutinized and can possibly do a lot of damage with those red cards that never seem to be useful in skill checks.

I do agree that the CAG role should have been included in the base game and that it would be more convenient to have the Cylon locations on a different board, but they already gave us a new Cylon board and are giving us yet another in Daybreak. And I honestly fail to see how the Cylon ship activations are difficult to remember, there are only four of them, two are shaped like the ships they activate and although the Basestar ones look kind of similar, one is clearly firing something.

I actually really like the variable distance on the Destination cards. It makes for a more interesting and variable game, forces you to launch scouts with some regularity and puts suspicion on the Admiral when a crappy Destination is pulled, adding tension to the game and changing the playtime, one game it took us six jumps before we even went eight distance!

So while I do think there are some things that could be changed or improved on, I don't think it needs nearly as much restructuring as you suggest.

groden1h likes this

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Needs? Nah. Game is easily in my collection's top five. But there's no sense not taking a second look for a second edition in like, five years. Or ten.


Anyway, by administrative roadblocks, all I mean is that you have the skill check's difficulty, it's eligible colors, it's pass/partial pass/fail results, often an alternative option, and then the questions...


(as a human): "Will it be sabotaged? Do I/we want to use X card resources on this check?"

(as a Cylon): "Do I want to sabotage this check given the risk of discovery? Do I have enough to make a meaningful impact that warrants the risk of sabotaging?"


Personally, I only find the first two questions important to the game's theme and tension. I admit the whole "do I waste this 5 point card..." thing is a very nice little mechanism that makes the cards a resource allocation minigame. I just don't find it that interesting. I would prefer a more straightforward and I guess more dramatic implementation, along the lines of Resistance.


Anyway, it doesn't really matter, since I doubt FFG is doing a second edition anytime soon. I've just been thinking about it since some recent games and had to get it out of my brain. 

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I'd be more interested in a second edition that combined the expansions together into one box, kEeping modularity but tweaking mechanics that either were flawed (executing to find loyalty) or weren't as compelling as they could have been (trauma tokens). Overall, the base game is probably the best way to play, and I'd like to see the expansions interconnected with more elegance and less rules duct tape.

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