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Sunday, July 01, 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to venture back onto the internet…

It lives!
Innovation in
mental health care?
Site-visitors who’ve tracked the ‘Recently played games’ widget over on the sidebar (or on my BGG profile page) during the months of this longest of bloglags will have been aware of continuing activity there throughout all that time. Regular readers will be quite unsurprised to hear that the recent reappearance of Up Front is particularly gratifying to yours truly. But it is the unexpected return of the Cylon menace which I must bring to your attention today.

Another random assembly of nuts, cranks and scrounged body-parts
A genuine masterwork?
I hosted a boardgaming stag-night for Badger last August. Seven of us played Cosmic Encounter and Dominion, both of which went down very well in a company of mixed gaming interests and enthusiasms; a success sufficient to generate demand for repeats, which themselves have happened often enough to establish a definite new games group. And so last Saturday 6 gamers assembled for a much-anticipated session of games and grub, with the prospect of playing Battlestar Galactica: the boardgame adding unknown and challenging expectations to the already familiar atmosphere of pleasant anticipation.

Another co-op horrorshow?
No! NO! NO!
Regular readers will remember the heavy Sunday-session action BSG saw back in 2009-10, and my searching analysis as I strove to convince myself that this game wouldn’t turn out to be an easily solvable solitaire puzzle after the fashion of Arkham Horror. Pitching BSG to Badger had brought all this back to mind. You see Badger hates co-op games with a passion, so I’d already had to reassure him that BSG is nothing like the other co-op games he’s played, that he should give it a try and if he didn’t like it that would be that. And, although Gav was as keen to play BSG on Saturday as I was, I couldn’t help but remember that he’d remained sceptical about the game after his previous experience. My reassurance- that he hadn’t played Cylon yet, was an unpersuasive simple truism.

More than just species survival at stake
Cooperative coefficiencies
You can see then that quite a lot was riding on that first game of BSG on Saturday, the sum-total of which could go so far as to decide the game’s future at my table. I confess I was quietly confident. Why? Because, reviewing the rules on Friday night to ensure that Saturday’s game went as smoothly as possible, I came to the long overdue realisation that BSG just isn’t a co-op game in the conventional sense of that term and that I had therefore created, in Badger, false impressions which would quickly be corrected once he got a taste of actual play.

I say “long overdue realisation” because in all my previous studies I had treated BSG as a co-op game with betrayal. BSG is actually a ‘euro-styled’ conflict/strategy game featuring humanity’s race to escape a war of extermination unleashed by its own creations, played by 2 teams which are randomly and secretly chosen. It was this flash of insight on Friday night which reassured me that we were on a safe bet with Badger.

What went down
The Cylon menace:
 uncountable, implacable,
lurking
Asking around while I set up the game, I found out most everyone had seen the original show: David was a major fan; Badger, on the other hand, had watched it once or twice and wasn’t very impressed (a minor twinge for yours truly there!). Undaunted, I went ahead and got the first game up and running in some 15 minutes, which pleased everyone no doubt.

Game the first
Coming 3rd in the playing order, and with the offices of Admiral and President already grabbed by Greg and Badger’s character choices- Laura Roslin and Saul Tigh, respectively, I decided to leave the other players’ options open and plumped for “Chief” Galen Tyrol. Everyone else’s character choices followed quickly, giving us the crew seen below. The initial Loyalty deal made me not Cylon, which was fine by me because I was more interested in being Cylon in the 2nd part of the game. And we were off!
Solid and dependable?
The first surprise came when, with Cylon ships swarming around the human fleet, Tigh headed to the Admiral’s Quarters to throw Starbuck in the Brig, a cinch with the difficulty reduced by a total of 6. Suspicions were immediately raised, as you can imagine. Those suspicions hardened when Adama later followed Starbuck to the cooler.

Badger’s meddling notwithstanding, the first half of humanity’s escape to Kobol went well. We soon found ourselves past the halfway point, at distance 5. Our resources at that point were:
  • FUEL: 4
  • FOOD: 5
  • MORALE: 7
  • POPULATION: 11
“Cards on the 
table everyone!”
The Sleeper Agent Phase was academic because we had a resource in the redzone (so Gav didn’t join the Cylon cause, thankfully).

The air had been thick with accusation and counter-accusation for some time by now. I tried to shed some light on things by playing Investigative Committee on a skill check, forcing all skill cards to be played openly. Badger and Sparky both invested heavily in helping us pass the check, which was significant because they were my prime suspects for Cylons. And yes, I did consider the option that either or both of them were dissimulating to put the rest of us off their tracks.

A threat and
a challenge
More decisive- and far more amusing, was the moment when a Cylon ‘Swarm’ appeared. Having gained and retained the office of Admiral when he sent Adama to the Brig, Badger controlled our nukes. “Nuke or Cylon?” was the question he immediately faced, a question we were happy to pose in the form of a doleful chant. Badger swithered enough that our existing suspicions should’ve more than just hardened or been reawakened, but in the end he launched the nuke on his turn and took out the basestar.

This was smart play on Badger's part in 2 ways:
  • He kept us guessing as much as he could.
  • He used up one of our nukes.
It'd've been smarter to have done this earlier, against a lesser threat, but this was Badger's first game after all. The question of Badger’s loyalties became academic soon enough thereafter: he revealed himself as Cylon, dealing 2 points of damage to Galactica in the process. These were:
  • -1 FUEL (leaving us on a perilously low 1 FUEL).
  • -1 FOOD.
The game-saver
The Cylons threw everything they could at us in the endgame. First we were hit by an ‘Ambush!’: with Starbuck now Admiral, Sparky came to our rescue with the last nuke, taking out the basestar and a couple of Raiders (finally vindicating his humanity in my eyes). Then Badger dropped a ‘Massive Assault’ on us (his Cylon Super Crisis card), which reset our jump preparation track from 1 to 0 as well as confronting us with a huge Cylon fleet.
    We were lucky though: we’d already reached the Kobol jump point thanks to a ‘Legendary Discovery’, and we had more than enough population to risk a quick jump to safety as soon as we were able. And so it fell to Starbuck to move to FTL Control to jump us out to Kobol at a cost of 3 population. Phew!

    You'll probably have noticed that there has been no mention of the 2nd Cylon who always appears in a 6-player game. That Cylon was Greg's Laura Roslin, who was revealed very late, because Greg was in the Brig and didn't want to lose out on the effect of his reveal. The net effect of this was that Greg also missed out on the chance to generate crises, any one of which could've finished us off. I don't think he'll be making that mistake again any time soon.

    Game the second
    Coming 4th in the playing order, and with one of each of the 3 restricted character types (Military leader, Political leader and Pilot) already chosen- including Badger starring as Saul Tigh again, I had free reign in my character choice. The role of hotshot Viper jockey appealed to me, so I took Starbuck. The final crew was:
    Motely maybe, but…?
    We enjoyed an early stroke of good fortune when we were able to deactivate a ‘Cylon Tracking Device’- you never need another basestar in your face in BSG. We were hardly able to enjoy our relief before 3 bad cards turned up in a crisis: we had a Cylon aboard already apparently. Once raised, these suspicions were quickly hardened when Badger moved Tigh to the Admiral’s Quarters, where he promptly slapped Starbuck (who at that point was doing what she does best: fighting Cylon Raiders in her Viper) in the Brig.

    “Oh no you don’t!”
    Still, we made our 1st jump quickly enough, then enjoyed a long quiet spell, during which time David used his Presidential powers to play ‘Assign Mission Specialist’, taking control of our next jump out of Badger’s hands: we weren't going to let him choose the worst of a bad set of options at the cost of valuable resources. Badger then enjoyed a lucky escape when we couldn’t pass the skill check on ‘A Traitor Accused’ to put someone in the Brig: he was the target we were aiming for, naturally enough.

    Beneficial?
    Yes, thankfully
    Our 2nd jump took us to a Tylum planet, giving us a much-needed net +1 FUEL (which put all our resource dials in the bluezone again, so that the Cylon Sympathiser was reset to Cylon). The next thing we knew we were ‘Besieged’ and Badger had revealed as Cylon (again!), hitting Galatica for 2DP (again!):
    • Admiral’s Quarters: no one was going to the Brig in a hurry.
    • Armoury: more importantly perhaps, we wouldn’t be able to fight any Centurion boarding parties.
    “Code Red!
    Code Red!”
    Then, in quick succession we: were hit with ‘Inbound Nukes’ (Badger’s Super Crisis)- we won with +23 (total overkill in hindsight); saw a ‘Tactical Strike’ Cylon fleet- which cost us -2 POPULATION; and made our 3rd jump- to a Barren planet, which cost us another 2 precious FUEL. Our midgame resources were:
    • FUEL: 2
    • FOOD: 7
    • MORALE: 4
    • POPULATION: 7
    So the Sleeper Agent phase was another non-event, which disappointed me because I was dealt the Cylon Sympathiser card.

    Our 3rd jump was quickly followed by our 4th, which took us to an Icy moon for another -1 FUEL (leaving us on the verge of disaster with just 1 FUEL). Gav had revealed as Cylon by this point, so that when a ‘Cylon Swarm’ appeared, we knew it was do or die: we just had to jump and hope to get lucky because the Cylons would finish us on the spot if we didn’t. We jumped, lost the last of our FUEL, and humanity was exterminated from the face of the universe once and for all.

    Score 
    Long-suffering humanity 1
    Soulless skinjobs 1
    (.V.)

    Afterthoughts
    Bad-ass mo-fo!
    These 2 games utterly vindicated all the hopes I had invested in BSG back in 2009. For me, the key moment came when I turned to Badger to ask him if he was enjoying himself and he replied with a quietly gleeful affirmative. Of course, he’d got perhaps the ideal introduction to the game- being Cylon from the get-go with a character whose ability easily to throw people in the Brig makes him perhaps one of the strongest characters to play in that role (and perhaps that quiet glee should’ve alerted me to that fact). No wonder he chose Tigh again for the 2nd game! In any event, the simple fact was that Badger easily agreed with what I’d explained to him while I was setting up the game: that BSG isn’t a co-op game.

    Gav too enjoyed BSG last Saturday far more than he had any time he’d played it before. He even finally got his chance to be Cylon although, as he pointed out, he hardly got a chance to do anything once he revealed himself in the 2nd game

    Can the sequel 
    cut the mustard?
    If the 2 players whose potential reaction to BSG was of greatest concern to me enjoyed themselves enough to establish the game as one they’d happily play again, then it should come as no surprise that the rest of the crew were equally satisfied. The hardcore BSG TV show geek at the table- David, in particular seemed happy, both with the game itself and with its depiction of the show of which he is such a fan. And if all that wasn’t enough, with the Pegasus Expansion and the use of Cylon leader characters, BSG can handle 7 players, meaning that it can be added to the list of games we can play when our Saturday games days have the full complement of players.

    All in all then, those were 2 of the most enjoyable and satisfying games of BSG I’ve played since I bought the game. Colour me delighted dear readers. :D

    To the streets of Mega-City One
    He is the Law!
    There was time for another game after the dust had settled from the Cylon victory over humanity. My first suggestion was Alhambra, which Gav seconded. Setting the game up, I made the perplexing discovery that one of the scoring cards was missing. We sorted through the parts in the box several times but it was nowhere to be found. Perplexing and painful. So I suggested Judge Dredd, which Gav again seconded.

    And so it was that Judge Mac took to the streets once more, in the company of a couple of nameless rookies and:
    • Judge Blowfish (Badger).
    • Judge Womble (David).
    • Judge Lurch (Sparky).
    Judge Dredd was, if anything, a bigger hit than BSG, because of the screwage factor of the cardplay. I think some people were at first a little taken aback by the sheer arbitrary malice of this element of the game but everyone soon got into the swing of things, and cries of outrage and wails of anguish quickly became a constant refrain. In fact it’s possible that people got a little bit too carried away with the screwage. Perhaps a strange comment to make about the definitive feature of this classic game, but last Saturday the net result was that we ran out of time and couldn’t finish the game. I can’t exactly remember who was in front but I suspect that it was Greg’s nameless rookie.

    Score
    Who? ½
    Who else? 0
    :-|

    Afterthoughts
    A hit, a palpable hit. Uneasy rests the crown after Saturday’s inconclusive ending, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this game quite soon. ;)

    8 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    I am a borderline gamer (apart from Scrabble). Cosmic Encounter? Have seen it. Know who has a copy. Is it worth the investment in time?

    John McLintock said...

    Hi there Anelyia. First comment on my first post in nearly a year. Thanks. :)

    Know who has a copy.
    I take it you mean you know someone who has a copy? Well that’s good. As for whether it’s “worth the investment in time?” Cosmic Encounter is one of my all-time favourite games and features in my list of 10 most-played games ever. So I think it’s worth the time, naturally enough. But I have to admit that it’s a game which is very polarising: people seem to either love it or hate it.

    So I guess you’ve got to ask yourself some questions. Do you like games with lots of chaos and randomness? Games with lots of negotiation and player interaction? ‘Take that!’ games, in which you can delight in screwing over your friends? If you can answer yes to one or more of those questions, then CE might be for you. While you’re thinking about it, you could do worse than read my review of FFG’s magnificent rerelease of this acknowledged classic. ;)

    Ian said...

    Great days gaming, I'm jealous.

    CE I have to say it would be a no to me if your a borderline gamer. A little complex at times to be really interesting that first time. Though I really enjoyed playing kingmaker in a game at ManorCon wayyyyyyy back

    Ian

    gnome said...

    A most glorious and spectacular return oh RD/KA!

    John McLintock said...

    Hello Ian. Welcome to RD/KA! and thank you for your kind words.

    As for CE? Well, Anelyia did say that she knows someone who owns the game. Your remarks about complexity are a bit beside the point if you’ve got someone to teach you how to play (just like ASL, eh?). Also: the new FFG edition is really, really good on this score (as my review explains): the rules are remarkably well done- for an FFG product; and the few additions that FFG have made to the game are all about making all possible alien and/or card interactions as clear as possible. Just as is the case with ASL, players are bound to come up with combinations which haven’t been accounted for, but I really do think that FFG’s new CE is as clear an account of the game as has been printed since the game’s first publication 35 years ago.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean Anelyia will like it. I just don’t think the complexity shoud be a barrier to her anymore than it should be to anyone else. But then, I am a boardgame geek for whom the ASL rules used to be light reading of an evening. ;)

    John McLintock said...

    Thanks Gnome. I can always rely on you to come along and cheer me up by cheering me on! :D

    David Eccles said...

    Just a quick point to make (which I am doing with no small measure of glee) with regard to your Alhambra comment: There is no third scoring card, third scoring occurs only after all the tiles are finished with. I Think I'm correct in saying this is mentioned in the set up quite clearly, and even has a diagram in the rulebook showing two scoring cards being inserted into the money deck. I would suggest in future that you read your game rules more carefully, especially since you are always so quick to tell everyone else to do this at the Sunday sessions. ;)
    Still thoroughly enjoying the blog buddy, keep up the good work.

    John McLintock said...

    You got me bang to rights Dave! It’s true readers: although I didn’t mention it in the post, it was the non-existent 3rd scoring card I’d thought was missing. In my, Gav didn’t notice my mistake either. :P

    In truth though, my mistake was fortuitous: as much as I enjoy Alhambra (and as Gav and regularly remark: we both enjoy the game far more than its lack of direct interaction would lead us to expect), I think getting Judge Dredd to the table was a better call. That game went down extraordinarily well; finding that one of my all-time favourite games is such a good fit for the group is a prize worth the blushes over my moment’s stupidity. ;)