June 23, 2006

Hands On: Battlestar Galactica Collectabe Card Game

BattlestarGalactica.3.21.06a.jpgWe had a chance to sit down with our new Battlestar Galactica Collectible Card Game Starter Sets [IconUSA]. First impression, right away - cool packaging. The starter sets come in an elongated rectangular box, with the edges cut off to make the trimming octoganal (just like all of the paper in the show). The box holds two mini decks of 31 cards. One deck is themed with the militaristic Commander Adama, who faces-off against President Roslin who leads the other mini-deck (we'll get into more details about how these themes play in a minute). The game also has a tutorial that walks you through a deliberate sample game of mini-deck versus mini-deck. The tutorial assumes the cards are straight out of the package and in their orignial order, but if you've shuffled them around in excitement then the game comes with directions on how to put them back in their original order. Too nice.

Okay, so the enjoyment and usefulness of the packaging and instructions is fleeting in the whole scheme of things. The cards are what make this game, and if they don't hold up then there really isn't a point? With that - we have some good news, and some bad news.

The bad news stems from the materials, or the manufacturing, or the shipping process - we can't quite tell which. The cards have the same elongated octagonal edging as the box. Since there aren't any corners to bend back we would have thought this lessens the chance of a bent edge on any of the cards. However! Some cards come with edges already warn to the point where the card's white base material is exposed (the cards are matte black otherwise). We're not collectors here, and we don't expect to hold onto these things in the long-term in hope of a return on our investment, so the worn edges don't bother us too much. Pure-bred collectors might have a hard time trying to find a 'mint' version of all the cards, though. If you're a good-sport then you could think of these worn edges as just another level on the rarity scale.. but uh, we'll assume that you're not that forgiving.

Thankfully the good news is in the gameplay.

Most of us here are players of Magic: The Gathering (the granddaddy of modern CCGs), and it's long been our CCG of choice. It's hard for us not to compare any new CCG to our baseline CCG, and today isn't going to be any exception.

The designers of Magic finalized the game's turn-format some 14 years ago. The game's longevity stems from the fact that these foundations are relatively simple, but include hooks for new cards (with new abilities) to fit into the cracks of the base rules. We've played a few other CCGs that tried to spice up CCG gameplay by creating a more complicated base set of rules (Vampires Bloodlines for example), but we found that the rule-complexity interfered with the game's flow, learning curve, and ultimately the entertainment of the title. Conversely, if a game is too simple then there's no challenge to it, and game designers won't have as many hooks to evolve the game over time. There's a delicate balance to these sorts of things, and if the designers don't hit just-right then they they'll end up alienating a large portion of a CCG audience.

Viper.6.23.06.jpgThe Battlestar Galactica CCG seems to do a good job mixing things-up by simplifying certain game elements while adding complexity to others. For instance, there are only 3 types of resources (land types) which are used to play cards out of your hand. Simple. There's also a game mechanic that allows players to discard anything in their hand to add to their permanent resource generation. These simplifications streamline gameplay, and eliminate land starvation potentials.

The combat in BS:G CCG is a fantastic example of a system has been both complicated and simplified (blows your mind huh?) when compared to Magic. After the "Ready Phase" of a turn (in which players draw cards and play resources) the game enters the "Execution" Phase. Here players take clockwise turns (until everyone passes) in which they can either: play a card from their hand, activate an ability on the table, or challenge another player to combat. The simplication is that a player only attacks with ONE unit at a time. In this way players have multiple rounds of combat in a single turn, but there's never a moment when a player gets attacked by 7 things at once, and nobody ever needs to break-out an abacus to check their math.

Things get a bit more complicated in combat resolution (in a good way). Every unit in the game has a Power value which acts basis for both its attack and health. When a defender blocks an attacker with a ship or personnel unit, the two players flip over the top card on their deck and look at that card's Mystic Value (which is printed on a different corner of the card). Each Player adds the Mystic Value of their overturned card to the power of their card in combat. Whichever player's card has the highest total power (Power+Mystic Value) wins the battle. This adds an edge to both combat and deck construction - players might have weak and cheap combat units augmented with a random collection of high mystic value cards in their library in hopes that they get a good draw.

We should also note that combat is on a couple of fronts. Players can deploy personnel and space ships to attack and defend with, but the too types cannot block each other.

A player's wins when their influence reaches twenty (it starts at around 10 or so depending on how they made their deck), or when his/her opponent's influence falls down to zero. Having said that - there are two more cool features to this game that we'd like to cover before going back to playing some more.

One is the Cyclon Attack phase. Every card in the game has a Cyclon threat level, and at the end of a round players add-up the threat level of all cards in play. If the total threat breaks a certain threshold, then the Cyclons attack everybody! Successfully defending a cylon attack boosts your influence, but if a cylon gets through your defense then you could lose considerable face. Cylons - bad.

Boomer.6.23.06.jpgOr are they? Without getting to the dirty mechanics of resolving a Cylon attack (you can read about it here), we thought it was cool that some decks, specifically the Adama Starter Deck, can be designed to provoke Cyclon attacks in order to both cripple an opponent, and to gain influence themselves.

Adama's deck is beefy and military-heavy, and thus his deck is far more resilient to Cyclon attack than say, President Roslyn's. And if (when) the Cylons appear, Adama can show-off his toys to defeat them and gain favor for the grateful civilian populace. So not only can you attack an enemy directly, you can also provoke an attack from the Cylons - and if you have good enough cards, you can boost your own influence while crippling your opponent's.

Well that's it for now. We're looking forward to getting our hands on some more boosters to see what other surprises lay asleep within this original set of cards. Also - the Betrayal Expansion Booster pack is due out in October, which is like, not that far off the way time flies these days.

  • Betrayal covers the action on Caprica, including the initial Cylon attack, Helo’s trials thereafter, Starbuck’s quest for the Arrow of Apollo, and their initial meeting with the Resistance, leading up to Starbuck’s and Helo’s return to the fleet with the Arrow and Sharon.
  • Betrayal will introduce a new mission mechanic called Link.

Sweet. Can't wait.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at June 23, 2006 5:21 PM

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