I've been looking forward to this blog post ever since I decided to talk about my favorite games on the blog. Sadly, I haven't had a chance to play a full game of BSG for a few months (my last game was rudely interrupted by a flooding bathroom, which pretty much ended my gaming for the day).
To put things in perspective: I find BSG to be the most fun, entertaining, exciting, and tense of the various cooperative board games that have come out since Reiner Knizia's Lord of the Rings revitalized this sub-genre. I've played LotR, Shadows over Camelot, Fury of Dracula, and of course Pandemic--see my separate blog post on that last one--and while I enjoy each and every one of those games, BSG beats them all.
Part of this love is due to the masterful ways in which the game designers (Corey Konieczka, Eric M. Lang, Jeff Tidball, and Mark O'Connor) have captured the essence of the compelling BSG intellectual property. Based on the recent reboot of the venerable sci-fi series, this game represents the best marriage of licensed property and gameplay experience that I've seen in a long time, maybe ever. (TSR's Marvel Super Heroes game comes to mind as a potential competitor.)
In a nutshell: Each player takes the role of one of the significant characters from the show, such as Adama, Roslin, Baltar, or Starbuck. (The Pegasus expansion includes additional characters, some of them significant--such as Caprica Six--and others secondary at best, such as Kat or Dualla.) Theoretically, all the players are human members of the fleet, working together to escape the Cylons and survive various crises--from the mundane-but-costly Water Shortages and Looming Elections to the more serious saboteurs and mutinies--long enough to reach Earth. That's the cooperative part.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. One or more of the players WILL turn out to be a frakkin' toaster (or in board game parlance, a traitor). That isn't such a big twist--plenty of cooperative board games use a traitor mechanic--but the twist comes in how the designers match this mechanic to the tropes of the show.
In most games, the traitor's identity is determined (secretly) at the start of the game. That means you know there's a traitor from turn 1, and once you determine a player's loyal, you can trust them for the rest of the game.
But BSG is all about paranoia and turning your trust against you...so the game adds a second phase, roughly halfway through, in which every player receives a second "loyal or traitor" identity card. If EITHER of your loyalty cards indicate that you're a Cylon, it trumps any "you are not a Cylon" card you have.
This means that you can play half the game believing you're on the human side, working loyally and diligently to destroy Cylons and save humanity, only to find out to your horror that you've been on the wrong side the whole time.
This, frankly, is brilliant game design. If you've watched the show, you know that one of its big hooks is the reveal when a seemingly human character learns that he or she is actually a Cylon. To capture that in a relatively simple and straightforward game mechanic is the kind of thing that designers dream of accomplishing.
If that were the only example of matching good design to the IP, the game would be able to hold its head high. But it's only the tip of the iceberg. From specialized character abilities and drawbacks that capture the essence of the characters' identities--Tigh's a drunk, so he has trouble holding on to skill cards, Kat's a stim junkie, so she can't stay in one place for more than a turn--to a truckload of crises drawn straight from the show and translated into challenges that the players must work together to solve, playing this game feels like recreating a season (or more) of the TV show.
While I haven't seen this in person, I'm told that even gamers who haven't watched BSG commonly enjoy the game due to its great design and playability. Your mileage may vary, but I certainly give the game my highest recommendation. It's not the best cooperative game for less-experienced gamers (IMO, that's Pandemic), and you'd better set aside 3-4 hours to get through it, but at the end you'll want to pick a new character and play again.
As for the new Pegasus expansion, by designers Corey Konieczka, Daniel Clark, and Tim Uren, I was also pleased at its gameplay. The new mechanics, while daunting at first glance, proved quite well explained in the rulebook and relatively intuitive to the four experienced BSG players at the table.
Key additions include Cylon leaders as characters (and if you're dubious about being able to play a character who's openly a Cylon, trust that the designers have good answers for that) and a tense new endgame scenario (escaping from New Caprica) that really amped up what can sometimes feel like a foregone conclusion. It also throws in plenty of new Crisis cards, Super Crisis cards, Quorum cards, and even new skill cards, to keep even the basic game scenario feeling fresh and new.
Play BSG a few times before adding the expansion, but if you're looking for new challenges and twists to your BSG game, I definitely recommend picking up Pegasus.