Sunday, December 28, 2008 07:51 AM
Game Day Gaming Report
 by Fëanor

Yesterday was Game Day at the home of Peccable and TrackerNeil. Poppy and I joined in playing two games that we had never played before: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game and Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game. Both were very enjoyable. The former has a series of elements that are meant to give you a different experience each time you play: the board is constructed from random interlocking game board pieces, human characters are chosen from a pool of possible characters, and the humans' quest is determined by selecting one of many scenarios. We played a scenario where the humans had to escape in a pickup truck, which meant they first had to find gas and keys, then gas up the truck, and then drive away. Peccable and myself played all the zombies, while the others played the humans. We also played with a house rule such that the zombies couldn't walk through walls (which didn't make sense to anyone as a rule, and anyway seemed to unfairly tip the balance of play in favor of the zombies). The game isn't exactly complex; making the optimal move is pretty much always an easy decision, and the outcome of nearly everything is decided by chance - a random die roll or a random card draw. The humans found the keys to the truck early, so for them it was all about searching buildings for gasoline, while shooting the occasional zombie. For the zombies, it was all about eating the brains of any human we could find, while also keeping an eye on the humans' getaway vehicle. If the humans had pulled the gas card out of the deck early on, they would have won easily, as the zombies really aren't all that dangerous. As it was, they didn't get it until it was really too late. So, it was a fun game with humorous cards which provided a reasonably similar experience to that of your average zombie movie, but the gameplay was a little too random.

Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, was a far more complex and strategic experience, and a really impressive game, especially considering it's just a TV show tie-in. Each player picks a character from the show, in a drafting process designed to give you a balanced set of character skill sets. Each character has one or two special abilities, a weakness, and particular types of skill cards that they draw each time. A card will let you perform an action on a turn, or modify an action at some other point in the game. Skill cards can also be used to perform skill checks, which happen most often during crises. This being Battlestar Galactica, there's a crisis at the end of each turn which has to be resolved, sometimes by throwing skill cards at it, sometimes by giving up an important resource (food, fuel, morale, or population), which you have to keep an eye on, because if you drop down to zero on any resource, the game is over. At any time, a Cylon fleet could attack, and you'll have to deal with that by launching fighters, firing Galactica's weapon systems, or using one of your two nukes. If you get boarded and the Cylons make it to the control room, you lose. You also lose if Galactica takes too much damage. You win by getting to Kobol, where you will find a map to Earth. In order to do that, you have to jump Galactica a certain number of times. You can only jump once you've moved a marker far enough along the jump track (your FTL drives have to spin up). Each time you jump, you pick a destination from a handful of destination cards, which could be one, two, or three steps closer to your goal.

So in a way, it's similar to the Lord of the Rings board game, in that you're all working together as a team to try to survive a series of seemingly insurmountable perils while making your way to your ultimate destination. But the play is complicated by the fact that one or more of you could be Cylons, Cylon sympathizers, or Cylon sleeper agents. Cylons can be secretly acting against the humans during skill checks, and in other more subtle ways. Cylons can then reveal themselves, get resurrected on the resurrection ship, and cause more horrible damage from the Cylon fleet, sending a super-crisis at the humans.

It's a very clever, well designed game that really captures the feel of paranoia and doom from the show. As in the series, things start out bad for the humans, and then keep getting worse, and you're constantly having to sacrifice things to move on, and make tough decisions between a bad option and an even worse option. And then you're always having to keep your eye out for those Cylons.

Our game came down to a final, terrible choice for the humans. We had only one jump left to get us to Kobol, but we were also very low on all of our major resources, and we were surrounded by a Cylon fleet. We could just make the final jump immediately, but there was a chance we'd leave behind members of the human fleet - so many that our population resource would drop to zero and we'd lose. But if we waited for the FTL drive to spin all the way up, we could be killed in any number of other ways. As Colonel Tigh (my favorite character), I made the decision to frak it, push the button, and jump. It all came down to a fifty/fifty die roll, which would decide whether we'd left anyone behind when we jumped. You should have seen the jubilation when the roll went our way. Humanity was saved!

The game probably has only one flaw, and that's that it can get very boring for the Cylon players - especially the Cylon sympathizers - once their role has been revealed. A Cylon sympathizer, once revealed, has to place his character in the Cylon area of the board, and is left with only one of a handful of actions to perform each turn. There's no more cat-and-mouse spy games, and no more struggling to survive; the player just has to sit there trying to throw the occasional roadblock in the way of the humans, otherwise just watching everyone else play the game. I can't think how you could really fix this problem, but it is an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise excellent game.

Regardless we had a ton of fun and I'll be looking forward to the next game day. Thanks again to Peccable and TrackerNeil for hosting!
Tagged (?): Battlestar Galactica (Not), Gaming (Not)



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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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