Yesterday I went out and played another game of Battlestar Galactica. It was another 6 player game and we gave the new cylon leader rule another spin. This time around Duncan was the cylon leader and I was on the human end of things. Dave commented on the Facebook link to my last post that he didn't like cylon leaders because they aren't playing the same game as everyone else. And as such they don't get to really participate in the conversations the same way other people do. I can definitely see how that's the case. Normally you're just trying to make a binary decision about the other people. They're human, or they're cylon. Maybe if you're playing with Andrew you also need to figure out if they're just being random? But with the cylon leader (at least early) pretty much everything they do is going to be shaded both ways. They're helping and hurting with everything they do and the other players can't know which way they're going to end up. So they can't really have discussions with them.
What it seems to boil down to is the cylon leader is playing a different game than the other players, and the game they're playing basically uses the other players as pawns. They're trying to set up board situations that will lead down the paths they want to go down. On the other hand the rest of the players don't really get to manipulate the cylon leader at all. They can do things that may end up helping or hurting the cylon leader but they can't get the cylon leader to do what they want them to do and they can rarely even tell if they even are helping or hurting. So the other players pretty much can only ignore the cylon leader, maybe throw them in the brig if they're infiltrating and are forced to brig someone, and hope they don't screw up their game that much.
In the game yesterday Duncan started off with two cards that wanted the humans to win and ended up with 3 human wins cards. So he had to spend the whole game trying to help us win. We got off to a fantastic start with Sara looking at the admiral's loyalty card and outing him as a cylon. The admiral got thrown out the airlock before he even got a turn. In an odd twist the person who threw him out the airlock was actually the other cylon. I'm convinced if that guy had taken any other action we were totally screwed. As it played out it looked really good for the humans, but having to go distance 10 is actually a pretty big deal. We managed to manipulate things such that the cylon fleet actually never jumped back in through a good choice of treachery card plays and destinations. (The new admiral was the other unrevealed cylon and he picked out probably the single best destination in the deck for us... I feel like he may not have understood how the cylon fleet board worked.) And even still we almost lost in several ways. We had 3 centurions on the boarding party track at one point and had to kill them all in one go around the table. We took 6 shots across 3 human player turns and got all 3 of them, thanks to the cylon leader having a calculations card. Then we ended up with 1 food, 2 fuel, and 2 morale when we finally jumped away. We did have 8 population left when we won, but there were 13 cylon raiders in the same location as 10 civilian ships with only 2 vipers for cover so we were pretty close to losing on that one too.
I'm pretty sure if Duncan had two cards for cylon wins he could have easily made the humans lose. 28% of the time he'll have 3 or 4 humans wins cards, so despite everything the other 5 players did there was a 72% chance Duncan could have had the cylons win. It feels like it's hard to accept that as one of the other players? But on the other hand having both cylon cards get dealt out at the start of the game is also brutal and that happens 22% of the time. I want to think BSG is a very skill intensive game, but it is also a game with small numbers of 'dice'. The cylon leader adds in another aspect of random chance the players can't control which may be a bad thing, or it may just be more of the same thing you need to expect out of the game?
One thing I will say is the new cylon leader rule feels very appropriate for the theme of the show. The average human and cylon get jerked around by the cylon leaders all the time! Dance my little puppets, dance!
But is it good for the game? My gut feeling after two plays is I'd probably rather just play a 5 player game. But in the past I would sit out and not play at all to make sure a 5 player game happened and now I'd be player 6 and hope to be the cylon leader! There is also the mutineer option which I haven't used. I'd like to try that out to see how it compares.