I’d heard great things about Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game when it first came out a few years ago. Our group definitely had it on our radar, what with how much we loved the show and the prospect of being able to be a Cylon and stab our friends in the back. Catnip. But for some reason, we never got around to playing it. Too many games, too little time. So it percolated along in the background, owned but unplayed, while we gave our love to the Puerto Ricos and Agricolas of the world.
But while we were discussing what to play at our regular Tuesday night board game meet-up, my friend Troy suggested climbing aboard the Galactica and finally giving the game a whirl. We picked our characters, me choosing Baltar because we are brothers in hair, and dove in. Five hours later we finished our second game with those weak, inferior humans out of food, out of fuel, and out of hope. I guess you could say we liked it.
Yes, we enjoyed being paranoid, conspiring, nervous wrecks who thought our friends either already were Cylons or were about to become Cylons. See, there are two chances to find out you’re out to destroy humanity: once at the beginning of the game, and once about halfway through. after you’ve possibly been doing all you can to help the people you’re about to totally betray. Along the way, you and your fellow players are trying to avoid pursuing Cylon ships while trying to make enough faster-than-light jumps to reach safety. A concept the game absolutely laughs at.
Not that the deck is totally stacked against the humans. Part of the beauty of the game is allowing you to feel like you’re just about to make it before pulling the rug out from under you in the form of a dozen Cylon ships appearing and the President of the Colonies suddenly revealing herself to be one of them. It’s an exquisite balance between feeling like you’re going to make it and waiting for the other shoe to drop that perfectly captures the tension and dynamics of the show. You really feel like the beleaguered remnant for whom just getting to the next turn is an achievement, and even the successes are tempered by the possibility that it’s just a prelude to doom.
And even if you’re not a Cylon early in the game, the chance you might be revealed as one later leads you to think about hedging your bets. Do you really want to advance the human cause when you might be trying to thwart it in a few turns? It’s something I’ve never seen in a game before. Even without the traitor mechanic, it’s still a fun game of trying to survive in a hostile universe. With it, it’s a masterpiece of paranoia and subterfuge.
In the first game, thanks to Baltar’s trait of cowardice that nets him two chances to be a Cylon right off the bat, I was a traitor from the get-go. But I played it close to the vest. I helped out where I could in as small a way as possible, and when I hindered, it was just enough to throw a wrench in things, but not enough to draw attention to myself. Then, when another player had already revealed themselves as a Cylon and the Galactica was surrounded, I displayed my true intentions and that was the death-blow. In the second game, I wasn’t a Cylon from the outset, but my character, Tom Zarek, had a shady side that I played up because it felt like the right thing to do. So when I eventually became a Cylon, well, it wasn’t too long a walk. In fact, the other players had thrown me in jail before I revealed myself because they pretty much thought I was a Cylon all along anyway. But in the end, the constant draining of resources as they fled for their lives proved to be too much, and once again the human race died in a blaze of little plastic spaceships.
The thing is, even those who were on the losing end absolutely loved the game. Overwhelming odds didn’t feel unfair, but thematic. Betrayal didn’t sting, but was met with laughter. Accusations, arguing, all the worst tendencies of gamers, were taken in stride and as part of the fun. Granted, we had a great group of players who knew how not to take things personally, but the game itself had a lot to do with how things went. I can’t wait to play it again. And once more show you puny fleshy humans just how inferior you really are.