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Archive for the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Category

Battlestar Galactica — Exodus

Played 2 five player games, thoughts:

  • New characters are always good
  • I like the new human goals, in theory. This isn’t surprising, since I came up with the same idea for Shadows Over Camelot. Although (in practice) I don’t think you have enough control over some of the cards.
  • I’m not sure I like the Final 5 cards (which can keep you human but hose people if they look at your card).
  • In theory, the fact that there may be one less Cylon (since all of the loyalty cards are dealt except one) is balanced by the human goals and Final 5 cards. However, when you turn from human to cylon during the sleeper phase AND you are the only cylon in a 5 player game, then there’s going to be a lot of luck. There should probably be some balancing involved (like making the humans jump 9+ a jump, instead of 8+). But in some groups having one less Cylon won’t make it much easier, due to paranoia.
  • The new destiny cards (the 0 and 6 cards) are good.
  • I really like the cylon map and preparation, instead of having the ship cards. The flaw of the base game was that you could have a game with no ship cards that was too easy, versus a game of all ship cards that was impossible. This seems like a nice middle ground.
  • I didn’t play with the Ionian what’s it, which was universally despised by my play group before I got there. (“The end game just kept two people from winning, randomly.” I concur with the judgement that that sucks).

Will I get this? Presumably. Today’s games were just Base + Exodus, but I could see keeping Treachery cards and characters and Pegasus from the Pegasus expansion. I never liked Cylon Leaders, and New Caprica seemed to be less interesting than the base endgame.

Anyway — If you like the base game, this is probably worth getting.

Written by taogaming

January 9, 2011 at 10:06 pm

The Iggies and BSG Variants

So Le Havre won the IGA.

Am I done with Le Havre? It certainly seems like it (haven’t played it in four months). While I agree that it’s a better design than Agricola, the relative sameness of the buildings (from game to game) means that its easy to exhaust the novelty … and since I think there is one true path to victory in Le Havre, well, there you go.

Should Automobile have won? All my concerns for Le Havre count double against Automobile, but I’ve only played twice, so I could be wrong. (Note — that was rhetorical humility only. I’m not wrong. After a few more plays the strategic interest will be sucked dry).

Should Dominion have won? It’s tough to argue against a game that I’ve played several hundred times (online). Clever design (and novel), lots of fans. Theoretically a worse design than either of the other two games, but enough variety to overcome it, and probably the only game of the three likely to hit 25+ hours of enjoyment.

Of course, BSG surpassed that before Pegasus came out, so that tells you who I would have voted for.

Speaking of BSG (and I am, now) — I’ve been thinking about Variants. I think I’d like to play with random destinations … you randomly roll between using the Kobol card and New Caprica card during the sleeper phase. And I’d like to see Pegasus ship enter and leave the game; this mirrors the show, to be sure, but as it stands Galactica isn’t rarely threatened with destruction. Off the top of my head, I think

  • Pegasus should show up the first time a “Ship” card is drawn. (This also helps balance a hard game versus an easy one …
  • You Pegasus damage chits equal to “Distance – 1” every time you jump (So, jump 3, Pegasus takes two damage). Anyone on Pegasus when it is destroyed winds up in Sickbay.

I’m happy with the “Occupation authority destroys prepped ships” variant we tried, and I’d add two minor New Caprica fixes.

  1. Destroyed ships are only revealed to the cylons (so humanity doesn’t gain info when things are destroyed).
  2. A “Basestars bombard” result adds a basestar in front of Galactica if there are none around (usually via a double nuke). Just to keep things tense.

Overall these change will make things harder for humanity, but given that our balance is at 50/50 that doesn’t bother me (unless testing shows I’ve misjudged things).

Written by taogaming

September 27, 2009 at 11:10 am

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Ramblings, Variants

Tagged with

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.

Written by taogaming

August 30, 2009 at 10:07 am

Roll through the Ages and some Expansions

It’s a stretch to say that all of you have already played this, but it’s just a mild stretch (I wager), given that RttA was playtested/demoed at the Gathering in ’08 (where, following standard procedure, I studiously avoided it).

It’s solid, and the Jacqui enjoys it. I particularly like that:

  • all the developments appear useful
  • You have choices from turn 1 (no “build up” turns)
  • The clever combination of skulls with two goods, and that 1 or 3 skulls are “Good.” Adds tension

I’ve also printed out the Late Bronze Age expansion (no thanks to my crappy Dell printer, which stopped working less than six months after purchase). I’m sure we’ll try it.

About the only thing is that I really want to just print out cards with the developments, so that I can quickly see who has what. And maybe toss in a Civilization-style on number of each card. A nice system that can stand plenty of variants and tinkering…. well done.

I finally played the St. Petersburg expansion, again probably years after everyone else. I liked that the Mistress is no longer a turn one game breaker, but we had a turn 1 judge do roughly the same thing. I’d burned out because of the computer game, but I think I’m ready to play St. Pete again, at least with the expansion.

I’ve also played four games of the BSG expansion, and I’m sure it will surprise nobody here that I like it, although when playing with 5 you have to not let someone play a Cylon leader. (With 4/6 it debatable).

Written by taogaming

August 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Secret Tapes!

I’ve discovered secret tapes of the Battlestar Galactica’s executive producers discussing what to do to wrap up BSG. Needless to say, they contain spoilers.

Scene: Writers room, neat.

JR WRITER #1: So, ya’ll should tell us what your plan is.


DAVID EICK: What Plan?

WRITER #2: You told everyone you had a plan for the show.

W#1: You even opened with “And they have a plan” in most credits.

MOORE: The Cylons have a plan silly, not us.

EICK: We’re not Cylons…

MOORE: You didn’t seriously believe what a producer says to get money out of other people, do you?

EICK: … I mean, we’ve already revealed all twelve models…

MOORE: Anyway, David and I will work it out.

Scene: Same room, destroyed. Littered take out and empty booze bottles abound.

MOORE: We could reveal more Cylons. That’s always worked in the past?

EICK: Did you even hear what I told the other writers?

MOORE: Uh, sure. OK.

EICK: I know! It could all be a dream!

MOORE: I think that’s been done before.

EICK: Hm. We could just end it with some big explosions, then a peace, then more explosions. Lots of minor characters die, then the main characters live happily ever after.

MOORE: Where will this happen?

EICK: On Earth! They’ll get to our Earth! After the end of Season 4.0, that will be a big twist. Nobody will see it coming.

MOORE: (Quietly) Everyone and their dog will see it coming. (Normal Voice) We pretty much have to do that. But happily ever after? We’ll never win critical acclaim if everything is happy….

EICK: Right! … So we’ll have Roslin die. She’s been dying for the entire show, so we call it foreshadowing.

MOORE: Good!

EICK (On a roll): And … we can insert flashbacks about scenes to make everything seem fated! Ooh. Spooky.

MOORE: You mean like LOST does all the time?

EICK: Oh, nobody watches that anymore.

MOORE (Rolling eyes): Whatever. And the loose ends?

EICK: What loose ends?

MOORE: Well, the Baltar and Gaius hallucinations, for one thing.


Show clock moving ahead 6 hours.

MOORE: I’ve got it! This is the SciFi Channel, so they should be ANGELS.

EICK: What?

MOORE: Well, America is divided into those that believe in Aliens and those that believe in Angels

EICK: Yeah, but our viewers are pretty much Alienists.

MOORE: That’s what makes it shocking! Vaguely insulting! Edgy!

EICK: I like it! So the Caprica that only Baltar sees?

MOORE: Angel!

EICK: And the Baltar …

MOORE: Angel!

EICK: Starbuck?

MOORE: (Pausing) Angel! We never said how many Angels there can be! Woo-hoo!

EICK (Getting into the spirit): And then they can jump forward in time and the Angels can discuss how we’re fucking up our new planet, and technology is dangerous and evil.

MOORE: Goodbye Vancouver, Hello LA!

EICK: And then the Angels can say they should talk to the Pope!

MOORE (Suddenly Sober): What?

EICK: Well, they are angels…

MOORE (Shaking head): Well, never get invited to LA with that. What if they say something cryptic like “God doesn’t like to be called that name.” Then they could be referring to the Pope, but it sounds all pagan-y.

EICK (mulling it over): I suppose.

MOORE: Trust me, chicks dig that ‘spiritual, but not religious’ crap.




Lets just say that personally, I hope that’s what happened. The ending is more annoying intellectually than emotionally, and Moore & Eck can claim that they’ve been playing up the, uh, angle they used since the first episode (true enough), but still. There were a few things I really liked about the last episode. But I’m glad it’s over. I may watch the Plan. Caprica? Probably not.

I also have a secret tape of Alan Moore after he snuck out to see Watchmen, but it’s just several hours of laughter and “I told them so.” Not a bad flick, per se …

So, what do your secret tapes tell you?

Update: Apologies to David Eick for misspelling his name.

Written by taogaming

March 22, 2009 at 10:12 am

Year in Review — Secondary Thoughts

You know, since I was happy to play BSG multiple times this week, I may as well call it my game of the year.

Written by taogaming

February 11, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Posted in Battlestar Galactica

Tagged with

(Semi-)Cooperative games and optimal play

Chris Farrel posted a comment on my BSG variant thread.

The thing is, just from a tactical perspective, simply being total deadweight [as an unrevealed Cylon] is actually pretty tricky to achieve and in many groups it alone would be clearly enough to get you convicted …

This point brings up something that has been brought up often. If everyone has the same information, then (strong) players will be able to agree on the best course of information (after enough plays). Most games give each player their own hand of cards, but the hands don’t differentiate that much. In this respect, Shadows over Camelot is best. Some of the most important spaces take specific cards, whereas most BSG actions don’t. Also, BSG doesn’t have unique event cards that may make people evaluate things differently.

Just a thought.

Written by taogaming

January 10, 2009 at 8:36 pm

More thoughts about Semi-cooperative games

I listed some theories about semi-cooperative games before. In particular, I listed some ‘ideals’:

  1. The “Cooperate/Compete” decision should be a spectrum, not just binary. Sabotuer gets this right. All of the “good” dwarves want to find gold, but they don’t want to enable the next player to be the finder (then they get the least gold).
  2. Parts of the “good” group can win without the full group.
  3. Players must have strong incentives to act differently. These incentives should not be obvious to other players.

Now, those are my ideals, not a platonic ideal. Unless I’ve grasped the essence of SCGs. Really an SCG could just be a hidden team game. I’ve started thinking about an idealized SCG. Based on my thought that The Thing makes a good setting, I’ve been idly thinking about mechanics. I had another game of Battlestar last night that prompted a new player to comment “This is supposed to be hard, right?” The issue was that no cylon could have done anything for about 45 minutes. Not good.

BSG and Shadows suffer from “attention surplus.” When you make an action, it is instantly scrutinized by others looking for deceit. Players see most of your actions. Some characters have special abilities that hide a bit more (like Roslin’s picking of two event cards), but even then the outcome is fairly constrained and often immediate. Players can quickly judge you.

BSG’s skill checks are a step towards removing that surplus. It arguably doesn’t go far enough, since players track what cards you could hold.

What happens in the movie (and in any real-life situation where loyalties are uncertain) is that people can only focus on people sometime. The difficulty (for the ‘loyal’ team) is that you can’t spend too many resources hunting out traitors. The difficulty (for the ‘traitors’) is that you have to do things that endanger you without getting caught, and you know the loyal team is checking up on you. But do you know when?

To make things concrete, imagine a game where the players are all spies for MI-5. They move around Europe (or just London, say) and do spy things. They all know each other and cooperate on missions. Each spy can win (or lose) as an individual, but it’s entirely possible they can all win.
Unless there’s a mole. A mole will reveal them to the KGB (say) and get them all killed, given enough time. If the players spend too much time hunting for a mole, then they’ll fail at the spy stuff (and get killed in a mission).

But if the players are convinced there is a mole, then it’s reasonable to drop everything to hunt him down. (I assume real spy agencies work the same way … normally doing routine stuff, but then seriously escalating to deal with potential traitors).

(Now that I’ve played a dozen times, BSGs real flaw is that the players know exactly how many cylons to expect. Once teams are revealed, the tension level drops. Shadows does that right).

So, in an ideal SCG:

  • Players should not be able to make instant decisions about each other’s play.
  • However, with the expenditure of resources players should be able to discover past plays. (“Tracking down evidence.”)
  • Once teams have been ‘proven’, the game resolves quickly.

To my mind, this suggests:

  1. Simultaneous play and fast turns, for the most part. (My ideal game would be 60-90 minutes, instead of BSGs 120).
  2. Limited communication during the early part of the game, and a mechanism to limit communication to specific other players. (I’m thinking of “Gunboat” BSG or SoC).

I’m kicking around ideas, but just in my head for now…

Written by taogaming

December 30, 2008 at 9:22 pm

BSG on the Brain

I played a ton of BSG today, which shows:

  • I still obsess as well as the younger me
  • I enjoy the game (warts and all)
  • I’m not the only one
  • I really should watch Season 4.

Thoughts in no particular order:

  • A revealed cylon is stronger than an unrevealed cylon, but providing human players certainty is a downside. Patience usually leads to a critical time to twist the knife. (The downside is that some crisis will reveal you).
  • The three player game is brutal with an early cylon. [Our proposed variant is to start off with everyone as human, deal the initial cards after the first jump, and proceed normally].
  • Despite refining our human strategy, the cylons keep a significant edge. We’ve started upping resources in a 6 player game.
  • Be wary of giving the next player two actions.
  • I get dealt cylon off the deal an obscene amount of the time.
  • The storytelling aspect trumps mechanical flaws.

It may be that BSG is a flash in the pan; but what a flash.

And the last cylon is revealed by Fortress:AT (humor, no spoiler. I hope).

Written by taogaming

December 6, 2008 at 10:53 pm

BSG Balancing Variants

In a post on BGG I summarize some criticisms.

Early revealing is a weakness; not for the Cylons, for the game….

So my ‘ideal’ semi-cooperative game (like BSG or SoC) would:

  1. Give the traitor/cylons room to maneuver while hidden,
  2. Give all players tough decisions all the time,
  3. Speed up once the traitors are revealed

(There’s a lot more detail there).

Anyway, I’m watching the threads on my variant ideas and Alexfrog’s with great interest.

Written by taogaming

November 27, 2008 at 9:51 am