Monday, 17 November 2008

Frakked Up

Thanks to Jamie I finally got to play Fantasy Flight's Battlestar Galactica board game at the weekend, desperately hoping that it would be as unrepentantly awesome as Arkham Horror.

Turns out: it is. In fact, in certain respects, it's better. Like AH, the game is co-operative in nature, casting each player as a character from the series, and launching wave after wave of raiders, heavy raiders, and baseships against you, occasionally mixing it up with a food shortage or fuel leak. Again, like AH, there is a palpable sense of the odds being ludicrously stacked against your rag-tag fugitive fleet. Run out of food, fuel, people or (perhaps slightly less convincingly) morale, and it's game over, and it seems that every ten minutes someone is rioting, engaging in McCarthyist Cylon-hunts, or repeatedly trying to usurp the Presidency (that last one might just have been Cocklick, though in fairness he was playing Baltar). You get distracted trying to save a clutch of helpless civvie ships from incoming raiders, and all of a sudden there are centurions in your launch bay waltzing (roboboogie-ing?) their way to your tenderest areas.

The true genius of the game is the fact that one or even two players might be a Cylon. Might be. Maybe not. Maybe everyone around the table is a pure-blood human, just as dedicated to saving the survivers of the Twelve Colonies as you are. But can you afford to take that chance?

Obviously, this ferments a glorious atmosphere of paranoia. Attempts to resolve the various crises can be scuppered by Cylon agents, though they must take care not to make their sabotage too obvious (we were three quarters of the way through the game before it was even confirmed there was a Cylon in our midst, but more of that later). Many decisions have no wrong and right answer (should someone activate an emergency jump during an attack, even at the risk of losing some of our ships?), meaning a savvy Cylon can deliberately weaken the fleet even as they appear to protect it.

Plus, just to make things more confusing and entertaining, there's a chance that players may prove to have been Cylon sleeper agents halfway through.

That was exactly what happened to me. Having spent the first part of the game (which is almost entirely based on the first season, and thus concludes with the arrival at Kobol) as Admiral Adama, bravely fighting off swarms of Cylons, choosing our most profitable path through the galaxy, and taking Baltar's presidency from him in a bloodless coup (I was suspicious he might be a toaster), I awoke one morning to learn I was a Cylon. Admiral Adama, President of the Twelve Colonies, and a Cylon agent.

This has potential, I thought.

From that moment on I began to eat away at the fleet like a cancer. Each jump suddenly happened to take us to desolate systems, absent of resources. Galactica's battle tactics switched to focusing on destroying baseships, allowing raider squadrons to attack the fleet and further deplete our fuel supplies. Several characters found themselves unexpectedly detained in the brig, unable to argue or barter there way out. Each responsibility belonging to either Admiral or President was perverted to suit my agenda. Only at the end, when it was too late to do anything about it, did I reveal my true colours by deliberately allowing a fuel leak, leaving the Galactica all but dead in space.

Meanwhile, the bickering amongst the other players had reached fever pitch. Was Baltar's single-minded quest to seize the President's power proof of some treacherous agenda? Why was Lee Adama spening so much time out of the cockpit? Why did Tyrol keep claiming he couldn't speed up repairing our birds? Roslin I had arrested as a Cylon sympathiser, which I thought pretty funny, all things considered. Tigh got arrested too, whilst I still thought I was human, but mainly for shits and giggles (it eventually transpired he had been a Cylon all along, so I guess I called that).

By the time I vented the fuel, revealing myself as a Cylon (unfortunately getting tossed in the brig before I could escape giggling), the fleet was totally screwed, with half the characters incarcerated, a massive toaster fleet hammering the Galactica, and plenty of robo-men traipsing through the corridors with gay robo-abandon. Victory was imminent. Tragically, though, the sweetness of our triumph was somewhat lessened, for two reasons. Firstly, Tigh's revelation that he was also a skin-job was somewhat muted since Jamie did it by attempting to make me President again whilst I was incarcerated, forgetting that his "Martial Law" skill hands executive power to the Admiral, which was a title I no longer possessed. Thus, Lee Adama received the Presidency instead, or at least he would have done, had Jamie not tried to pull all this off in someone else's turn, and was therefore breaking the rules. He might as well have baked a cake with "I am a Cylon" written atop it in icing, for all the good his unmasking did.

No matter, I thought. So what if the only other Cylon in the game has horribly botched his coming-out party? The fleet is running on fumes, the chrome-jobs have the feeble flesh-sacs surrounded, and any moment now I'll be able to kill myself and return to the fold. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong is that Jamie had accidentally fucked up to such an epic extent he had created three sleeper agents at the halfway point, in addition to himself. The Cylon players outnumbered the humans. Tigh, Baltar and both Adamas were skin-jobs, leaving Roslin and poor Chief Tyrol the only real people aboard. We had spent the last three damn hours running a fucking Basestar, with two humans aboard just to mess with their heads.

Damn you Jamie. Damn you to Hell.

Our host suggested another game, preferably with me in charge of Cylon generation, on the reasonable grounds that now we knew what we were doing, it might be somewhat less frustrating. At that point, though, I was convinced Jamie would still find some way of messing up, leading to us discovering four hours into the game that the crew of the last battlestar comprised three Cylons, two pod-people, and Saruman of Many Colours.

Still, brilliant game. Just make damn sure you read the Cylon agent rules damn carefully, because you can't ask half-way through "How many of us are skin-jobs then?" because you've suddenly realised that you couldn't organise a mecha-pissup in a bullethead brewery.


Senior Spielbergo said...

That does indeed sound awesome. I wannna play!

Pause said...

We usually get something wrong on a first play, realising the mistake over half-way through; it was just a shame it happened to be something so spectacularly crucial. But for what it's worth I enjoyed it a lot; I inevitably need at least 2 games before I'm comfortable with or even generally understand what's going on, and don't usually take to those that require backstabbing, deceit and secrecy from the players, but I felt very much at ease with the scenario and rules long before we'd finished. Even becoming a sleeper put me on the wrong foot for less than a full turn, although it helped that I spent the whole game with a well-defined role; if I'd had Baltar or Roslin I might not have got into the swing of things so quickly.

I'm convinced that next time we play it'll be great, and almost every game is bound to throw up at least one memorable moment.

jamie said...

Excellent review SS, I'm glad people enjoyed it even despite my Loyalty Card delinquency, as well as Tigh's sozzled out-of-turn attempt to bestow the presidency on you as you mouldered in the next cell along.

I think it has a lot of potential, and can't wait to play it again; as Pause says, the mechanics are pretty easy to grasp and it's got a nice flow to it.

I liked the roleplay elements people added to it as well of course, from Gareth trying to come through on manifesto promises and James' interminable attempts to overthrow him, and of course how could we forget Rictator Ricochet's Big Red Button?

SpaceSquid said...

The Big Red Button should be compulsory for all further sessions. It made me feel all manly. My greatest regret is that I didn't have time to fire the other nuke off before I was arrested.

And I believe my full title was Chief ExecuRic AdmiRic Supreme Rictator William "Richocet" Adama McAmazing III. It was absolutely worth stuffing all those ballot boxes to steal power.

I admit that the idea of Saul being so drunk that he tries to declare martial law whilst in jail, at the wrong time, and aimed at the wrong person, is pretty funny.

Gareth's ongoing Caligula-like paranoia was a joy to behold, especially since he spent the entire game victimising what turned out to be the only other human in the whole frakking fleet.

I should also mention that I agree with Pause, we always stuff these things up the first time or two. Just look at how easily we ran through Arkham Horror, though the absence of any expansions meant that the scariest moment in the entire game was probably Cylinder Head...