Recap: BSG Express First Impressions Plus Fleet and Castles
This week, I had the chance to try out BSG Express. Express is a free Print and Play game available to all that seeks to provide the same feel as Battlestar Galactica in a much shorter package. While it succeeds in shortening game length, I’m not sure it captures the feel of BSG. Also, I got in a two player game of Fleet and trotted out Castles of Burgundy for some three player love.
BSG Express. Express keeps many of the elements from BSG. You have a hidden traitor element, cylon ships invading, the Galactica receiving damage, and communal checks. The major change is that instead of adding cards into the check, the players roll dice secretly and then contribute those dice. Contributed dice generally don’t return to a player until their next turn.
I liked Express, but it’s only okay. There were two major problems. The first was that it seemed very slanted towards a human victory. Although the cylons won in our game, it was really a lucky shot. Plus, the Admiral was a cylon and was able to keep the fleet from jumping any significant distance. There are only two raiders at the beginning of the game and they were both killed on the first person’s turn. With no real harm to worry about, the player selected “prepare for jump” and the jump icon moved more quickly.
But the other major problem was that it didn’t feel like BSG. The problem was that dice were contributed openly. While a cylon could feign a bad roll and put in bad dice, a human player could put in their good dice. If a human happened to roll well and got a +6, they could throw that in as basically an announcement that they are on the human team. In BSG, the cards are added in secret so, even if one person does contribute mightily, the other players are never sure who did that. That adds to the paranoia and suspicion. In our game, after a few rounds, it became pretty clear who was on which team. Once that element is known, it’s basically just a dice game.
I’d play it again, but I would definitely rather play the big guy. Even if it has a longer time commitment.
Fleet. I introduced Fleet to a friend and we played a two player game. The first licenses to come up for auction: Processing Vessel and Shrimp. Because of the ability to generate income, these are perhaps the two best licenses in the game. Remembering how powerful the Shrimp was last time (especially when launching boats), I bought that one. My opponent secured the Processing Vessel License. That turned out to be a tragic mistake.
Shrimp, while definitely helpful, is only fantastic after you get your economy going. And nothing jump starts that economy like the Processing Vessel license. The PV license (as its known to its friends) not only gets you a card, but also generates income. While it does so at the theoretical expense of points, an early license doesn’t have that drawback. Since a boat can only hold four fish anyway, early boats will certainly produce more than that so it makes sense to process.
It didn’t help that it turned out to be the only PV license in the game. The other three were all removed randomly at game start. At first, I was concerned about the power of the PV license. It seems to be much better (especially early on) than any other license. But I think the game is more like Princes of Florence. There, the Joker is wildly overpowered and if you get several cheaply, you will win, so the key is to make sure your opponents are paying dearly for them in the auction. If they pay enough, then the wind is taken out of the Joker’s sales because they don’t have enough left over to make good use of him. The same is likely true for the PV license. In future games, an early PV will need to be substantially bid up so that the winner doesn’t get to use it first turn.
The Castles of Burgundy. I’ve been talking this game up with my group for quite a while, but somehow it always misses the table. Well, this time we had three players and I got it out and started setting it up while one guy was on the phone and the other was getting food. By the time they got back, Castles was ready to be played.
Normally, I like to focus on the buildings. With the variety of special powers that they provide, they are a highly attractive set. This time, though, I left them almost entirely. I built one Boarding House for the early bonus points, then didn’t build another one until the last action of the game – when placing a City Hall allowed me to place my last mine and get bonus points.
Having learned my lesson from Trajan, I decided to focus on Castles for the extra actions. I built all three of mine within the first two rounds and used the extra actions to acquire and place other tiles. I also created quite the lovely pig farm. My opponents were concerned with chicken and cows, so my pigs were grabbed unopposed.
Well, that’s not quite true. One of the tactics I took was to maintain an edge on the turn order track. In the first few rounds, one opponent fought me for it, but I always saved my ship until the last turn of the round. That way, I’d be on top for the next round and get the first choice of tiles when they were placed. That’s how I was able to secure pigs and castles. I also got a knowledge that gave me four workers instead of two, and one that gave me a silverling as well.
After having played Castles again, I think I know why I like Feld games so much. They all have puzzle or puzzle-like elements. I love looking at my dice and trying to figure out what I need to do to accomplish my goals. Use workers? Grab alternate tiles? Sell something? Use a special power from a building? Nine times out of ten, there is some way to accomplish what you want and the trick is just figuring it out with the numbers you rolled.