Thursday, March 12, 2009

Toasters, toasters, everywhere!

Battlestar Galactica
An unexpected visit from Gav (last seen at G3's 10th anniversary bash) plus Dave's presence ensured our first long-awaited 5-player game of Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game last Sunday.

The initial dice-off gave us the following cast of characters upon whom would depend the fate of humanity:

  • Gav: Starbuck.
  • Dave: Saul Tigh.
  • Me: Laura Roslin (I'd enjoyed the Presidency before!).
  • Andy: William Adama (he wanted those nukes obviously!).
  • Donald: "Chief" Galen Tyrol (Donald reluctantly succumbed to our collective insistence that we couldn't do without a 'Support' character).
The 1st thing we noticed was that there is no Cylon Sympathiser in the 5-player game, so that we knew precisely the threat we would face, if not exactly when it would appear.

We did OK in the opening game, even though the initial Cylon attack was soon reinforced, leading to the loss of a civilian ship and to the Galactica being boarded by a Centurion raiding party. Adama launched a nuke and promptly destroyed a Cylon basestar and 3 raiders.

Even so, the other players' panic forced me to spend 3 valuable skill cards to rush across from Colonial One to make a risky early jump. Cylon activity had been confirmed by this time, when 4 negative cards appeared in the same skill check. So we had 1, perhaps 2, of the toasters among us. My reluctance so blithely to give up the powers of my office aboard my own ship led to the predictable accusations that I was a Cylon, which was rich given that it turned out that Donald and Dave were Cylons right from the start. But we jumped successfully all the same.

Laura Roslin's qualities as President were soon on show again, when I dealt with those pesky Centurions using the 'Authorisation of Lethal Force' quorum card I'd picked up using the presidental office back aboard Colonial One. She also revealed her capacity to put right her own mistakes: faced with an invidious choice between 2 crises either of which would trouble us, I chose the one which ended up putting Adama in the brig after our failure. I was able to play a 'Presidental Pardon' quorum card quickly to give Adama back his freedom.

However the Admiralty remained in the hands of an alcoholic Cylon (the Admiral is demoted if sent to the brig), whose wife had reappeared. Surprise, surprise, martial law was declared so that Tigh became both president and admiral. Laura Roslin's abilities came to the fore again. I used her special 1-off ability to draw 4 quorum cards and play 1. That 1 card turned out to be 'Arrest Order': Tigh was off to the brig and the Admiralty was back in the safe hands of a human William Adama.

Life was surprisingly quiet on other fronts while all this politicking was going down and we managed to go quite a long time before the next Cylon attack came in. Donald even managed to pull some fancy footwork using his engineering abilities to get our sorely depleted Viper squadron back up to strength. The neverending crises were taking their toll though. We ran out of Raptors and our fuel and morale were reaching dangerously low levels. The only good thing that could be said was that we were by this time pretty sure that Donald and Dave were the Cylons, and weren't shy of telling them so.

Our evil pair eventually revealed themselves and started doing what Cylons do best: screwing over the hopes of humanity. Luckily for us they'd left it just a touch too late, and we were able to sneak through to Kobol with our fuel and morale both at 1. Just a single extra round of open Cylon play might've been enough to seal our fate!

Glorious humanity 1
Evil toasters 0

This game continues to shine. There is an obvious replayability limit to a single scenario procedural game like BSG. So far though the number of characters, the random loyalty and the variety provided by the various decks of cards has meant each play has been different from the last. Still, I can imagine this freshness could easily be lost if the game was overplayed in a short space of time. Our close result in Sunday's game also suggests a fine balance, which is good for a game of this kind.

I also continue to be impressed by how the game implements the TV show (I'm into season 2 now thanks to Andy's DVD's). Faced with William Adama's limitation: 'Emotionally Attached' - he can't activate the Admiral's Quarters location, which sends people to the brig; we were wondering why. Eventually I remembered that I'd seen the season 2 episode underpinning this only the night before: the moment when Adama breaks down over the corpse of the very Boomer copy who'd tried to assassinate him.

Sunday's game showed too the game's narrative strengths. This isn't something which drives gameplay as such. It's just very entertaining when the turn of a card generates utterly apt events that could very well've come straight from the TV show.

There was also a rules blunder:
  • 'Authorisation of Brutal Force' includes a dice roll which risks the loss of 1 population. I missed this. It wouldn't've made any difference. If there was 1 resource of which we had plenty on Sunday, it was population.
Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game
Witnessing the Battlestar's 1st victory saving humanity obviously whetted our appetite for treachery and backstabbing: Settlers had only to be suggested to be seen to be a square peg in a round hole, so that eyes soon settled on the Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game, the prospect of which gained ready assent.

This game last hit the table in May 2008. Sunday's game confirmed the impressions I'd formed back then: a fun game that mostly works well but which could perhaps've benefited from some more attention to the writing of the rules. I used my ownership of the game to take an early lead, only to be finked on by Andy, who was rewarded by being the least successful Troubleshooter ever until the endgame!

Dave and Gav were leading as the endgame developed, and eventually a sequence of plays resulted in them being gifted a joint victory (I remember for sure that Gav won; my memory's a bit hazy about Donald's part in it).

Andy 1
Dave 0
Donald 1
Gav 2
Me 1

As already noted, the Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun! Card Game is a good game that would've benefited from just a bit more development work. It suffers too from a problem I remember from my brief encounter with the original rpg back in the 80's, namely that the rules overburdened the desired style of gameplay.

In the cardgame it's a matter of there being so many options on each card, with such a variety of outcomes, that hand analysis is time consuming. The effect of this is to slow the pace of the game, lengthen the overall playing time, and so somewhat to undermine the atmosphere. This is in contrast to, for example, Munchkin. Whatever else you might want to say about Munchkin, you can't say that it is overburdened with layers of options slowing down gameplay.

As ever, a rules issue arose leading to disputation which proved ultimately less than pointless. The issue was the precise weight of the phrase "the moment" in the rule that the cardplay phase ends "the moment a living Troubleshooter runs out of action cards". Exactly how absolute was this guillotine on cardplay? I ended up agreeing with everyone else on this, ie. that you could execute the card played to empty a hand, if only because it was more fun.

Thinking back, I've come to the conclusion that the troublesome phrase is there for the sake of those situations when a player empties their hand with a 'Play Anytime' card during someone else's turn.

With less than an hour to fill another quick cardgame seemed the obvious choice. Recent form led me to expect more Ivanhoe. Instead we plumped for the sheer chaos that is Fluxx, the cardgame of ever-changing rules.

We managed 3 games in the time available, each of which showcased Fluxx's qualities in their own way. Gav won the 1st game on his 1st turn, before Dave had even had a chance to start - sheer chaos like I said! You either like this kind of thing or you don't. I don't mind it at all. At least Dave's entire downtime in that game was less than is the case in the average single turn in many other boardgames.

Gav won the 2nd game too. I should've won it: at one point I had a winning combination of goals and keepers in my hand, but I didn't notice them until it was too late. Sheer chaos again!

Donald won the 3rd and final game thanks to a blunder on Andy's part, when he played a goal without checking its effect on other players. Accepting it was too late to correct his mistake, Andy consoled himself with the thought that at least he'd stolen the clean sweep from Gav. We shared his sentiment.

Andy 1
Dave 0
Donald 2
Gav 4
Me 1

Fluxx is a game I like quite a lot, although I'm not sure it'd ever quite take over from Ivanhoe as my cardgame filler of choice. Playing with 5 players on Sundays I was also struck by how quickly we cycled through the deck. This is making me seriously consider investing in the new version advertised at Looney Labs, because it has more cards.

Battlestar Galactica boardgame:
- My 2009 gaming wishlist #2
- Done down by dastardly Donald's devious duplicity!
- The fickle finger of fate
- A moment to marvel at...
- The end is nigh?
- What price survival?
- Again, the toasters' offensive


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good time. I totally agree about Paranoia. I wanted to love that game but it totally needs to be streamlined. Great assessment.


"A bit political on yer ass!" said...

Thanks for your comments Steve, and welcome to RD/KA!.

It is a pity about the Paranoia MBFCG, yes. Though it is just a question of the difference between a wee gem and just a good game. I guess that difference was all it took for the game to flop in the shops though.

John ;)