Review: Exodus – Battlestar at its Best, and Worst
In the beginning, there was Battlestar Galactica. Taking place during the reimagined show of the same name, BSG was very fun, but not without flaws. Then came Pegasus, the first expansion. Pegasus added a lot of wonderful elements to the game, but wasn’t necessarily a “must buy.” Like the original, it had several strong points, but also introduced some complicated elements.
But now we have the latest iteration: Exodus. Exodus contains three modules, like Pegasus did. And, in a single box, you have the best module one that fulfills the promise (like finally finding Earth) of the base game and creates an amazing experience. But you also have the worst module – one that (like watching Starbuck disappear for no good reason) leaves you with doubt about the designer’s intent.
The Basics. Exodus isn’t a straight expansion that must be added all at once. Instead, it offers three independent modules that may be combined with the base game individually, together, or in any combination. And, in addition to the modules, it adds a few extras, such as new player characters (Gaeta, Anders, Tory, and Cally). Anyone concerned about show spoilers should know that this expansion updates the game through the third season of the series.
Okay. Lets take these in order from worst to most awesome.
Module 1 – Ionian Nebula. This module adds two elements to BSG. First, characters are given three trauma tokens at the start of the game. Then, all through the game, there is a system of NPC agents. Players must then interact with them when they enter those rooms. A lot of the minor characters (such as Doc Cottle) are represented, so fans of the show may have some fun role-play opportunities. As players interact, they have the chance to rid themselves of trauma. Then, at game end, instead of leaping to Kobol, you leap out of the nebula. At that point, there is a final reckoning based on the tokens that you’ve amassed. The player that amassed too many of the wrong type is out of the game. Then, a final jump track is played to see if the humans escape.
Module 1 adds both complexity and player elimination.
Module 2 – Final Five Loyalty Cards. Fans of the show will remember that, during season three, the big question was the identity of the final five cylons. Well, in addition to the standard loyalty cards, there are now “Final Five” loyalty cards. These function effectively like “You are Not a Cylon” cards, except that if a player is forced to reveal one, for whatever reason, a (generally) terrible fate befalls the human players. So this makes the game more difficult for the human team. There is no countervailing bonus for the humans or penalty for the cylons.
Module 3 – Cylon Fleet. In standard BSG games, the cylon invasions tend to be feast or famine. After a jump, everything is calm until a cylon attack card is randomly drawn. This can leave pilots feeling a bit listless and can make cylon attack cards trivial if drawn near a jump. This module adds the Cylon Fleet board. Instead of going away, the cylon ships are merely moved to the Cylon Fleet board. Also, if a crisis card instructs a ship to move that isn’t on the main board, it appears on the cylon fleet board. If that happens enough times, the cylons jump back in around Galactica.
The Cylon Fleet board also includes additional actions for revealed cylons to take. To counterbalance this, the humans are given Mark VII vipers to supplement the Mark IIs. They are harder to hit and allow the players to be more bold. Plus, the humans are given a new CAG (Captain of the Air Group) card and order of succession. This gives additional benefits to the CAG.
The Feel. The three modules bring entirely new feels to the game. Again, going from worst to best…
Module 1 – Ionian Nebula. Worst. Idea. Evar. This module adds length, complexity, and player elimination. Players of BSG know that the last thing it needs is a longer play time and more complexity. Player elimination is one of my least favorite mechanics in all of gamedom. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone thought this was a good idea.
This is basically the answer to the Pegasus expansion’s New Caprica module. Both dramatically change the end conditions and layer on additional elements. New Caprica was fun, but problematic because it basically changed the whole layout of the game. If you were using New Caprica, it felt like you were mostly playing BSG, and then at the end switched to a completely different game. Potentially great for fans of the show, but a difficult transition from a gameplay perspective.
Ioanian Nebula is much less entertaining. First, that plot in the series is far less exciting (not worse, just less exciting) than the conditions on and escape from New Caprica. So fans will have less to get out of it. But, more importantly, the gameplay has a mini-game at the end and a complete new layer of considerations. And those considerations are made with the knowledge that a wrong move might have you sitting out the last 45 minutes of the game. Plus, at least initially, whether the allies provide a boon or a penalty is entirely random. The randomness here is unthematic and detracts from the game. This module feels bloated and un-fun. While I appreciate the idea of what they intended, from a practical matter it isn’t even worth the explanation time.
Module 2 – Final Five Loyalty Cards. I really like this idea. As the humans, information is critical. As such, anytime the opportunity to look at a loyalty card comes your way, you take it. There are even crisis cards where the penalty for failing is something bad plus look at a loyalty card. As a human player, I (almost) always think it is worth it to suffer the penalty in order to get more info on the table.
But with the Final Five in the mix, things get murkier. Revealing them means you know that they are human, but the penalties make the reveal less rewarding. It adds decisions to the game that wouldn’t otherwise be there and that’s what I enjoy most about expansions.
However, in my own plays, I’ve found cylon victories to be the more likely outcome. Even after I figured out the secret to human wins, I still have about an even win percentage, so I’m not sure that an element to make the game harder for the humans is the right way to go. If your group has a higher win percentage for humans, then this may be a good way to even things out. As it is, I feel like it tips the balance a bit too much. Something that gave a bonus to the humans, or that provided “conflicted loyalty” cards for cylons would have been nice.
Module 3 – Cylon Fleet. Best. Idea. Evar. This, so much this. Fans of the show will remember the very first episode of the very first season (and my personal favorite) titled “33″. In it, the humans are run ragged because every time they make a faster than light jump, the cylons follow them 33 minutes later. The Cylon Fleet board creates this feeling and tension during the game.
Even when things are going well, a quick look at the Cylon Fleet board shows the humans that they are going to have a firefight on their hands soon. It increases tension and makes many decisions more difficult. Plus, the board corrects the feast or famine situation from the base game. Pilots are constantly tasked with escorting civilian ships and preparing for the next fight. There is always something to do and the threat looms throughout the game.
The new actions make things much more interesting for revealed cylon players. The previous choices were effective, but rather repetitive. Now, there are a number of different strategies opened up to the cylon players. To beef up the humans a bit, the CAG actions and the Mark VII vipers make space combat more interesting and more enjoyable.
Components: 3.5 of 5. New Viper Mark VIIs are included as are a whole host of cards and punchboard tokens (it is Fantasy Flight, after all). One interesting note, my Cylon Fleet board was warped when left in the box too long. I have to make sure it’s the bottom board so that the weight will keep it flat. That may just be mine, but it is something to note. Otherwise, everything is good quality.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. While random elements are introduced, overall this expansion brings more strategic choices to the players, not less. More options, more tactics, and more considerations are a boon for BSG. Playing the base game alone can sometimes feel samey turn after turn. Exodus does much to alleviate that and create many different choices. The notable exception is the Ionian Nebula which can add some very random interactions with NPCs.
Mechanics: 1, 3, and 5 of 5. Ionian Nebula gets the 1. Adding length, a long rules explanation, and player elimination is just bad. Bad in general, and bad for BSG. Even experienced players find the new additions confusing and unnecessary. The Final Five Cards get a 3. I like the way they work and I love the considerations they add, but they tip things decisively in favor of the cylons and I’m not so sure that was necessary. The Cylon Fleet gets the 5. It brilliantly adds tension, more choices for humans and cylons alike, and eliminates the draw-an-attack-card-then-jump style of play and the bored pilots problem.
Replayability: 4 of 5. The Cylon Fleet board alone offers tons of replay value. The new and more meaningful choices are a great boon to experienced players. It helps keep the game fresh, not only by distinguishing itself from the base game, but in making each new play interesting. The other two really don’t contribute much.
Spite: 1 of 5. Believe it or not, the expansion does little to enhance the spite in BSG. While there are some nasty moves capable in Ionian Nebula, and the Final Five adds levels of bluffing and trickery, the overall spite level remains about the same from the base game.
Overall: 3 of 5. If it was just the Cylon Fleet module, I’d have no problem rating this 5 of 5. Unfortunately, the Exodus expansion as a whole is a bit cluttered, especially with the addition of the Ionian Nebula.Unfortunately, you have to buy it all, so when I purchased the game, I was extremely happy to get that Cylon Fleet board but I was just as ticked that I had to pay for the Ionian Nebula, module that I would rarely play. On the plus side, though, the perfect game of BSG is as follows:
BSG Base game with the goal of Kobol, Pegasus ship and treachery cards (from Pegasus), Cylon Fleet (from Exodus). Along with the additional skill cards, crisis cards, characters, and the like, this represents the optimum BSG experience currently available. Put all of this together, and the Overall score with that setup jumps to a 4.5. True story.