Friday, September 20, 2013

5-Player Single Cylon Game

One of the game options added in the latest Battlestar Galactica expansion is the suggestion to play with 1 cylon, 1 cylon leader, 1 mutineer, and 2 human players. If you really want to use a cylon leader in a 5 player game it seems like the way to go, but is that something you should want to have happen? When the idea was brought up my instinctive reaction was that this option is adding extra complexity and randomness to fix a problem that doesn't exist. BSG is a game that feels properly balanced for exactly 5 players with 2 cylons and 3 humans. Cylon leader and mutineer are extra stuff trying to fix the issue of a 4 player game, or a 6 player game, or a 7 player game. The 5 player game isn't broken, so why try to fix it with two big patches?

That said, I'm willing to try anything, so when today's game was set up with this as the plan I was all in. I ended up starting the game as the president and was dealt the one cylon card in the opening phase. My general feeling for the game is the cylon should reveal as soon as possible because just sitting around waiting for a good opportunity to do damage means you're also drawing extra crisis cards and getting extra jump prep for the humans and jump prep is how they win the game. I drew a card that let me take two actions on my turn, and my president card had the potential for doing damage, so I went for it. Force a die roll to potentially lose a morale and then make them lose a morale right off the hop with my reveal action as well.

Snuggles has commented in the past that he likes having an unrevealed cylon for the power of confusion. I haven't had the chance to test the 'start with 2 revealed cylons' game that he thinks would be heavily tilted for the humans, but he really likes the uncertainty that comes about by the last cylon staying stealthy for a while. In this variant the first cylon is also the last cylon, and the power of knowing the remaining 3 players were human was immediately apparent. Especially given the chosen characters, the humans were set up such that they could use new Baltar to funnel once per game activations to Cain for lots of fast jumps or Boomer for lots of guaranteed crisis passes. But on the other hand I don't know what staying hidden would have accomplished for me. I was only drawing yellow and purple cards and was pretty much forced into drawing extra president cards if I wanted to be stealthy. And my passive ability was a pro human one (basically designed to take some of the sting out of water shortage) and if I didn't use it it would seem pretty shady. I couldn't even play a card to defend against the airlock since every single card I drew would be positive, so as soon as I make a play to hurt the humans and get found out, I'm screwed.

As the game progressed it became pretty clear that the cylon leader wanted the humans to win. Every action she took was pro human, and every card she played into a skill check was positive. (It also didn't help that she took probably the most pro human cylon leader as well.) There was one big skill check that destroyed every cylon ship on the board (the humans passed it by 31!) which allowed her to play a card that wanted the cylons to win but have a hard to obtain game state show up with no cylon ships in play after at least 3 jump prep had been earned. I was hoping this was going to be my chance to finally shift the game out of 4v1 but it wasn't to be. She continued to be pro human, and the couple of moves she made that were against the humans weren't planned very well and pretty much did nothing. (Using the communications space to move civilian ships around instead of going back to the cylon game board to move raiders.)

Things were almost dicey for the humans despite all that, with fuel ending at 2, food at 2, and morale at 3. Galactica also had 4 damage tokens on it, with Pegasus having 2 damage tokens. But even with all that damage I couldn't see a line of play to actually finish anything off and they were easily able to finish the game out with the engine room and FTL control to get the final jump since they still had 9 population.

The cylon leader ended up not winning either. She did satisfy 2 of her 4 cards, but they were both cylon wins cards which was very surprising to me. After meeting that one hard one with the cylon ship genocide it seemed like she had a line of play to win with the cylons winning if she just changed back to the cylon fleet, stopped generating jump prep for the humans, and actually attacked the civilian ships with the raiders I was putting on the board. One cylon fleet activation isn't really enough to make any progress but two of them can do some real damage, especially with the two cylons going beside each other in turn order like we were. To make that line even more right, one of her two unsatisfied cards required the humans to fall down to 6 or fewer population and the only real way to make that happen is to send raiders after civilian ships (or fail lots of FTL room activations).

At one point she did try to fly from Galactica directly to the cylon fleet board and use that space so I think part of the problem may have been that she just didn't understand fully how the game worked. The cylon leader can be seen as a balancing factor because they're able to play both sides against each other, but I think you really need to understand your options and be able to foresee the consequences of your actions in order for that to work. Finding a line of play to meet your hidden criteria while also getting the right side to win can be tricky, and ideally should require helping both sides some at different points in the game. She didn't find that line of play, she didn't help both sides, and she didn't balance the game out. She also didn't win.

It sounded like most (all?) of the people playing didn't really enjoy the game as much as a normal game of BSG and I'm inclined to agree. I'm also not sure this game was a good test because the cylon leader played so pro human to her own detriment. That said, I'm not sure that's actually atypical. This particular card setup was one where the cylon leader should have been working both sides but there are cylon leader card draws that are slanted one way or the other. Replace either of her cylons win cards with a humans win card and I'm not sure what she could have done differently. She plays anti-human for even a few turns and they probably lose since they were so close to losing on a few different conditions and they barely passed a couple of critical skill checks. So she probably has to play just as pro-human and can't meet two of her cards and loses. On the other hand she probably could have gone to the cylon board, shot down a few civvies, gotten pop down to 6 or less, and won because helping the cylons in that way and only that way probably doesn't let the cylons win one of the other ways and they probably don't lose enough civvies to make that a lose condition either.

I donno. The cylon leader certainly adds complexity and complication to the game. And I still think it does make the game more interesting for the cylon leader player in particular. So with a group that plays the game a lot and really wants everyone to get more cylon leader plays in I think this might be a viable game option. It probably makes the game a fair bit worse for the other 4 players in the process but that might be a trade worth making for some groups. I'm not opposed to trying again, but I do think the regular 5 player game is the optimal way to play. I do worry that if the cylon only shows up in the sleeper phase that they can't possibly win. Well, maybe if the cylon leader starts off anti-human at the start regardless of their cards because they need to do so to properly balance the game? I do think that's a thing that could well happen with a cylon leader experienced in this format. It is what they're designed to do, after all!

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