The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Battlestar Galactica — Pegasus

Pegasus won’t change your opinion of Battlestar Galactica. If you have BSG, nothing here changes it. If you like BSG, you can pick and choose your way to a good expansion.

Our group likes BSG, so the expansion is getting constant play. Here’s my thoughts (which are echoed to some extent by the entire group).

The Cylon Leader doesn’t work. The leader has some special rules, but basically draws a special agenda to determine their victory conditions. There’s a deck to use with four or six players where the leader is normally sympathetic to the humans, but needs them to win with some condition dangerously close to losing. So in the old game you’d have 1 or 2 cylons (for 4/6) plus the sympathizer (which would force you to sacrifice resources or get another cylon), and now you have 1 or 2 cylons + someone who wants you to sacrifice a few resources. Pretty clever.

The problem is that the deck has a few cards (33%), where the leader just wants to win with the cylons. In that case, you get the extra cylon right from the beginning.

The five player game (which normally has two cylons) has the same problem in reverse. You just play with 1 cylon + 1 leader, and if the leader is aligned with the humans (33% of the time), then the game balance is out of wack. We’ve stopped playing with the leader in the five player game (which works just fine with two cylons). Since we never really cared for the sympathizer, we’re still experimenting with the 4/6 player game. I think the game could be fixed by fixing the deck of agendas, and we’ve got a thread discussing it.

The other issue is that even when the cylon is on the “right” team, they don’t always have the ability to control their victory condition. For example, one “hostile” cylon only wins if Galactica is relatively undamaged. So if Galactica takes hits, he can go and try to repair it, but since he’s been hostile the entire game, the humans are likely to execute him ASAP. (Or, if they’ve studied the agenda deck, they may just let him repair everything, then brig him). But the point is that the leader can be on the winning team and then have his victory conditions fail through no real fault.

So, what works about the expansion?

It doesn’t add any time to the game. That’s a huge (and welcome) surprise. The first few games are longer just because of learning the new rules, but despite adding an entire new Endgame phase (“New Caprica”), the designers trimmed a bit out of the earlier game to compensate. (Normally we had four jumps + final jump, now we have 3 jumps + New Caprica (one jump) + leaving jump. Roughly equal). There’s a bit more setup time, but you can do the New Caprica setup during downtime in the game.

It gives unrevealed cylons a bit room to maneuver. By adding a few new card types to each deck, people who draw two cards in a deck have the odds of drawing the most common card drop a bit, probably from 75-80% of the time to 50-60%. Since I personally feel the game shines most interesting when the loyalties are unknown, I like this.

But I still have several nits to pick:

  • People should never be happy to be executed. On the New Caprica deck, several crisis execute the current player (if failed). But often the best course of action is to deliberately fail this … the current player looses their hand (and 1 morale), but this is often balanced by getting a better once/game ability (if you haven’t used yours) or even just better than spending the cards to win the skill check.
  • The sleeper phase is too short. This means that you can turn cylon and then not get a turn before the humans are at New Caprica. Since cylon actions are restricted on New Caprica (in particular, no ability to play Super Crisis on New Caprica), being a late cylon can be frustrating. This flaw happened in the base game, but it’s much more common. [I’ve proposed moving the sleeper phase up a bit, which would also push the balance towards the cylons]
  • The New Caprica rules/deck needs more tension. Once you get to New Caprica, the humans are usually able to keep their lead (if they have it).

Let me explain New Caprica. Once you arrive (after jumping 7+ distance), then everyone goes to New Caprica (including Cylons … that half season was basically a thinly veiled critique of the US occupation of Iraq). All of the remaining civilian ships are stacked up and “at risk.” The crisis deck is switched out for the New Caprica crisis deck. Humans can take actions to “prepare” the civilian ships, attack the cylons, etc. Galactica (and Pegasus and the standard Cylon actions) are gone for one jump. When they jump back, the humans can take actions to launch the prepared ships and move back to Galactica. The admiral can order the fleet to leave at any time, which ends the game, but you have to suffer the losses for any ships left behind (and morale for any players left behind).

When Galactica arrives again, the Cylons arrive with basestars and raiders as well, so this final phase should be tense … but humanity can often tell within a ship or two how many can be left behind. Still, its often more tense than the final jump in the base game.

The issue is that the cylon ‘threats’ are diminished on New Caprica. The cylons can move the “Occupation Authority”, and every four moves destroy a civilian ship. But, humanity can usually afford to give up a ship or two. (Worse yet, since the destroyed ship would have been left behind anyway, you reduce uncertainty as to how many you can safely leave behind!)

You don’t switch back to the standard deck when Galactica (and the cylon fleet) re-appear, which means that if humanity gets the first turn they can nuke the base-stars (via an Executive Order) and then be safe from any more base-stars appearing via cards. There are also some minor issues with the way that phase is set up and the automatic move of cylon raiders that are distasteful (a cylon who gets the first action can’t order the raiders to converge on the spot where the prepared civilian ships will appear when they leave the surface of New Caprica).

So while we’ve had a few tense games on New Caprica (including one where humanity desperately tried to avoid advancing the fleet returns timer, failed, but then the cylons failed to destroy Galactica on their turns), typically humanity has won any game where they’ve entered New Caprica with any reasonable margin of error. (For our group, that means that all dials are around 2 or higher).

The balance is pretty even in our games, I think it’s roughly 50/50 in the games I’ve played, and not far off that for the group as a whole. So I’m OK with tinkering with the balance to make it slightly harder for humanity to win if it increases tension. (If your group has the cylons winning all the time, you’d probably want to adjust this somewhat).

There are a couple of ideas I’ve thought about (and some of them have been kicked around) to make New Caprica more interseting:

  1. Give the cylons the ability to play their super-crisis. One or two of them wouldn’t make sense (like the Massive Assault or fleet maneuvers), but allow the rest. This also solves the “Sleeper doesn’t get a turn before N.C.”) issue.
  2. Any ships destroyed by the occupation authority are taken from the prepared ships (not the unprepared) and are not revealed until the end of the game.
  3. If any human is executed by a crisis on New Caprica, the cylons get to pick their returning character.
  4. If the New Caprica crisis card doesn’t activate the occupation authority (and only about 1/3rd of the cards do), then roll a die and activate it on a 1-2. Perhaps only on a ‘1’.

The last part may be better done by careful examination of the New Caprica deck and just picking out a few cards that are almost always pro-human and removing them. (For that matter, there are a few super-crisis cards that are almost entirely worthless, pulling them would also adjust the balance).

Despite all this writing, I’m happy with the expansion, and our group likes it. I think one copy has been played ~25 times in not-quite two weeks. It’s tough to have every game be tense, with so much variability, but if you just don’t play with the cylon leaders you’ll get the most bang for the buck. (Since 1/3rd of their games switch the number of cylons by a full character from where the game is balanced). We may just re-do all the agendas, but that would take some work.

Update: I put a poll on BGG regarding game balance. We’ll see what other groups think)

Update: To answer the first two comments — yes, we randomly pick humans. But I don’t know if that affects executions much. We’ve executed to bring Zarek in twice (I think), but we sometimes start with Zarek now (as Dennis points out). Also, executing to get rid of Boomer or another pilot to bring in someone who draws executive orders is probably going to be roughly equal.

One item that should be pointed out is that (unlike some groups), when our players are human in the early game we’re often a little bit greedy, since human wins aren’t rare. If we were self-less, the humans would probably win a bit more. Obviously our group (which has 5+ player with 25 or more plays) has a pretty good idea of what the humans have to do to win.

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Written by taogaming

August 30, 2009 at 10:07 am

3 Responses

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  1. Humans are 6-5 in my eleven games so far. But the last few have been with random character selections, which we find spices up the game and gets some play for the less optimal ones (*cough*Zarek*cough*). Random characters help the cylons, so Pegasus leans even more human.

    Note that a couple of your comments (happy to be executed, Cylons pick the replacement) don’t apply as much if you are choosing your characters. And even with random draw, I don’t think any of us have ever been happy to be executed. And so far we’ve only airlocked someone once “just to be sure”; we’ve always either found out through other means, or the Cylons have found it more useful to reveal themselves.

    I really like suggestion #2 (blow prepared ships, keep hidden). That would help with the pop-counting in the endgame. I don’t like #4 — there’s a space that both moves and spawns occupiers. We use it little enough as it is, but if it happens randomly even more often, we’ll never touch it, and the decision space shrinks.

    I’m happy to see that we are using the Pegasus locations and particularly Reckless cards more now.

    Unfortunately Cylon Leaders are so badly broken that we’re hesitant to play with 4 or 6 anymore. Maybe we can try the no-sympathizer variant from months ago.

    Dennis Ugolini

    August 30, 2009 at 10:58 am

  2. I agree with the Cylon leader not working, because their victory condition is random between being pro-human and pro-cylon. (It has a greater chance of one or the other, but that just means you have an X chance of playing the game out in a state in favor of one side, and a 1-X chance of playing it out in favor of the other side).

    However, it is not desirable for the Cylon leader’s loyalty to be known to everyone at the beginning, since this removes the guesswork from the game.

    The solution, imo, is two part:

    1) For an N player game with H humans, there needs to be about C cylons for the game to be balanced. Fantasy flight apparently believes that C = H-1. Our extensive testing has revealed that C = H/2 is pretty balanced. (That is, one cylon per two humans is balanced). Of course, this only works in games where the #players is a multiple of three. Therefore, you need to do the following:

    For an N player game, get as close as possible to 2/3 human and 1/3 cylon as possible. (1 human in 3-4 player, 2 in 5-6 player). Then, if the number of Cylons is greater than 33%, do something to make the game easier. (In 5 player games, we give out extra resources). If the number of cylons is below 33%, do something to make the game harder. (In a 4 player game, we reduce resources and give the Cylon player one bonus action on their reveal).

    The sympathizer mechanic that the game provides DOES NOT WORK at all. It leads to a game state that is either very heavily pro cylon (if they become cylon), or somewhat pro-human (if they become human). If basically enforces a rule on the humans that they must reduce a resource to Red by a certain point, or they lose. This isnt a good game mechanic, imo.

    2) Now that we have determined an accurate balance in terms of #cylons based on #players in the game, the Cylon leader must not change the number of players who are Cylon or human. Also, the Cylon Leader’s loyalty must not be revealed to everyone.

    Therefore: The Cylon leader must draw their victory condition (from a deck of cards containing some pro-human and some pro-Cylon victory conditions). Then, the Cylon leader needs to create the loyalty deck. If the Cylon leader has a pro-Cylon victory condition, they count as a Cylon and create a loyalty deck with one less Cylon that would otherwise exist. If the Cylon Leader has a pro-Human victory condition, they create the loyalty deck as normal.

    This solves all the problems. It is true that a player drawing a Cylon loyalty card in a 3-4 player game could ‘know’ that the Cylon leader is pro-Human. However, thats ok, because in order to reveal that information ot everyone else, they have to claim to be the Cylon.

    Alexfrog

    August 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm

  3. I agree with the Cylon leader not working, because their victory condition is random between being pro-human and pro-cylon. (It has a greater chance of one or the other, but that just means you have an X chance of playing the game out in a state in favor of one side, and a 1-X chance of playing it out in favor of the other side).

    However, it is not desirable for the Cylon leader’s loyalty to be known to everyone at the beginning, since this removes the guesswork from the game.

    The solution, imo, is two part:

    1) For an N player game with H humans, there needs to be about C cylons for the game to be balanced. Fantasy flight apparently believes that C = H-1. Our extensive testing has revealed that C = H/2 is pretty balanced. (That is, one cylon per two humans is balanced). Of course, this only works in games where the #players is a multiple of three. Therefore, you need to do the following:

    For an N player game, get as close as possible to 2/3 human and 1/3 cylon as possible. (1 human in 3-4 player, 2 in 5-6 player). Then, if the number of Cylons is greater than 33%, do something to make the game easier. (In 5 player games, we give out extra resources). If the number of cylons is below 33%, do something to make the game harder. (In a 4 player game, we reduce resources and give the Cylon player one bonus action on their reveal).

    The sympathizer mechanic that the game provides DOES NOT WORK at all. It leads to a game state that is either very heavily pro cylon (if they become cylon), or somewhat pro-human (if they become human). If basically enforces a rule on the humans that they must reduce a resource to Red by a certain point, or they lose. This isnt a good game mechanic, imo.

    2) Now that we have determined an accurate balance in terms of #cylons based on #players in the game, the Cylon leader must not change the number of players who are Cylon or human. Also, the Cylon Leader’s loyalty must not be revealed to everyone.

    Therefore: The Cylon leader must draw their victory condition (from a deck of cards containing some pro-human and some pro-Cylon victory conditions). Then, the Cylon leader needs to create the loyalty deck. If the Cylon leader has a pro-Cylon victory condition, they count as a Cylon and create a loyalty deck with one less Cylon that would otherwise exist. If the Cylon Leader has a pro-Human victory condition, they create the loyalty deck as normal.

    This solves all the problems. It is true that a player drawing a Cylon loyalty card in a 3-4 player game could ‘know’ that the Cylon leader is pro-Human. However, thats ok, because in order to reveal that information ot everyone else, they have to claim to be the Cylon.

    Alexfrog

    August 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm


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