ckd: (gaming)
2008 brought a couple of new (or in one case, "new in English") boardgame releases which have become two of my favorite games.

These are Agricola and Battlestar Galactica. ("Wait, what? A nearly pure Euro and a licensed-property Ameritrash design?" Yes.)

I'll talk about Agricola later. For now, suffice it to say that it redeems the worker placement mechanic from my dislike of Caylus, and it's good enough that I'll play it in preference to Power Grid.

BSG, though? With the right group, I'll play that before I play Agricola. (Tonight at [livejournal.com profile] pandemonium_bks I played both, but BSG first.)

The basic game design is a semi-cooperative, reminiscent of Shadows over Camelot with loyalty cards that mark you as either a "good guy" (human/loyal knight) or "bad guy" (Cylon/traitor), and there are hand cards with values from 1 to 5 in both games. However, that's about where the similarities end.

SoC's quests are pretty basic repeat-card plays, where you have to play 2 pair (Black Knight), a full house (Lancelot's Armor), a 1-5 straight (Saxon/Pict wars), or just a bunch of cards in a tug-of-war (Holy Grail/Excalibur). Very little is hidden, the quests themselves are fairly unthematic in their play, and there's often an incentive to lose a quest to end the game if you have enough of a lead to win without it.

With BSG, on the other hand, the theme is deeply embedded. The characters all have advantages and disadvantages based on their roles in the show; the bad things that will happen are based on events from the early part of the series (the miniseries, S1, and the early part of S2, I believe; I've actually only watched through S1 so far so no spoilers, please). There are two titles, President and Admiral, which can shift around through various events (elections, declarations of martial law, sending the current admiral to the Brig, one of them revealing themselves as a Cylon).

Each turn, after the player has taken their action(s), a crisis card is revealed and resolved. Some will involve a decision made by the current player, or the President, or the Admiral; others will just give the players a skill check, to pass or to fail. Some cards have both, where you have to decide whether to try for the skill check (which might be "gain a resource if you win, lose a lot if you fail") or the known quantity (often a certain loss, but less than a failed skill check result would cost).

[ETA: There are also Cylon attack crisis cards, which add some number of Cylon ships, some civilian ships that need defending, and (usually) a Viper or two to the space around Galactica. Cylon ships can shoot up civilians (usually costing population), Vipers (of which there are a limited number), or Galactica; there are also ships that land boarding parties if they get to the Viper launch spaces.]

The skill check is the central mechanic; most crisis cards involve one, and some actions (electing a new President, getting out of the Brig) require them as well. There are five types of cards (Leadership, Tactics, Piloting, Engineering, Politics) and each type has two different card abilities (a "weak" one on the 1 or 2 value cards and a "strong" one on the 3-5 cards). When played into a skill check, depending on the nature of the check, some colors will be positive; others will be negative. Piloting doesn't help you conserve water; political savvy won't rescue a downed pilot. The cards are played face down, along with two random cards to muddy the waters, then all are shuffled and totalled up. Did that 5 piloting come in from the Destiny Deck, or did Boomer toss it in instead of the Tactics card that would have helped?

The paranoia factor is increased at the halfway point, where an additional set of loyalty cards are dealt out. The Admiral was human before, or at least he thought he was; maybe he was just programmed to think that....

Unlike SoC, there will always be at least one (3-4 player) or two (5-6 player) Cylon cards dealt out by the end of the game. There are many ways for a hidden Cylon to screw things up, and when it finally becomes useful to reveal themselves they get an extra ability to cause damage on their way out the airlock (unless they were in the Brig at the time).

If any of the four resources (food, fuel, morale, population) reaches 0, the humans lose. If Galactica takes enough damage, the humans lose. If a boarding party manages to vent the air out of the ship, the humans lose. If they manage to jump enough times, they win.

Most of the games are close enough that the humans are within a turn or two of winning when they lose, or a turn or two of losing when they win...but it's not just randomness that causes it. (If it were, the game would be much faster and called "rock paper scissors" or "flip a coin".)

It's critical that you get good player interaction for this game; it's almost a very light RPG built into a boardgame. "He's a Cylon! Why else would we have failed that check?" "Why are you calling me a Cylon, you frakkin' toaster? You could have tossed in a bad card yourself."

BSG has already climbed well up the BoardGameGeek ranking charts; it's currently at 32 (Settlers of Catan is 38th; the top three are Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Power Grid).

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