Thursday, August 25, 2011

Game Brains - Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive

I mentioned a few episodes ago that I was looking forward to trying out the new board game from Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast called Battleship Galaxies. This game was released in 2011 and is a spin off of sorts of the classic game Battleship. I was very excited about this game because it was designed by the same guys that developed the game Heroscape - one of my all time favorite games.

As you can probably tell from the title this game is Battleship IN SPACE, except that it’s really not. Well, it is in space, but it is not the game you think of when you hear the name Battleship.

Gone is the double sided secret board. Instead, while you do have a screen to set your fleet up in secret, the game is played on a large hex grid with nice star field graphics. Each ship includes a flight stand that has a base the size of 1 hex for small fighters, a double hex for your standard spaceships, and large 7 hex base for the huge battleships. Movement works just like it does in Heroscape.

Gone is randomly guessing hit locations. Instead you get a pair of dice - a d8 with the number 1 though 8 and a d10 with the letters A though J. When your ship fires a weapon you roll both of the dice to get a classic pair like B4 or G6. Instead of one big grid with all your ships on it each ship has its own hit grid with a silhouette of the ship on it. After rolling your combination you check the grid of the ship to see if you hit or miss. An awesome yet simple mechanic that I really love.

Gone is marking your damaged ships with tiny red pegs. Well, that’s not true. While you don’t track the exact place that your ship was hit, you do track damage with tiny red pegs. Each ship begins the game with a certain amount of shield points. These are represented by tiny blue pegs that you place in the holes on the base of the ships flight stand. When you take damage you remove shields, once those are gone you start adding those tiny red pegs, once you have a number of red pegs equal to the ships hull rating the ship is destroyed. Another great mechanic that is very intuitive.

The best way to describe this game is a mix of a tactical wargame with resource management. You start the game with a certain amount of energy and gain a certain amount each turn, everything you do in the game costs a certain amount of energy. There is also a deck of cards, these include actions you can play, as well as new equipment, systems, and crew you can add to your ships. You begin with a few and draw one each turn.

The game sells for around $60 bucks, but for the amount of stuff you get in the box that is a steal. There are only two armies, but you can play a team game with 4 players. It took us a good two hours to finish a game but a lot of that was set up as we had not done it before. If Heroscape is anything to go by we can probably expect to see either additional armies or at least more ships for the existing armies, especially since the first set had the subtitle “The Saturn Offensive”.

I really wanted to pick this game up but was hesitant for a few reasons. Mostly I was not sure how often I would get this game to the table. If it’s too simple then my gaming group won’t want to play it, if it’s too hard then I won’t be able to play it with my kids, and if it’s not a lot of fun then I won’t be able to play it with my non-gamer friends. Lucky for me I have an awesome local game shop and they had a copy for in store play.

I met my brother at the shop after work and we fought for a little bit of a game table to set the game up on. There is a lot of stuff in the box, but the box control is awesome, there is a space for everything, including a spot for each ship.

I do want to issue one caveat: we only played the introductory game - so our fleets and decks were pre-determined, and our only goal was to destroy the other fleet - so there are bits of the game that we did not experience.

There are two factions, the Humans and the Wretch - which are some sort of alien baddies. So of course I picked those guys. Each side had their huge battleship, two ships, and one squad of 3 fighters. There was another ship and another squad of fighters for each side we did not use. What is cool is that each ship has three cards representing three different versions - when you are building your own fleet you can pick which version you want as each version has a different cost associated with it.

I got to activate first and decided to add a hero to one of my ships and a new weapon to another. The hero increased the damage of my ships normal weapon by one and made it harder to blow them up. The weapon had a strength of 1 at a range of 5 but increased in damage the closer you were. I launched both of those ships into my deployment zone. My brother had his battleship and one of his other ships on the board. Overall the Wretch seem to have better shields but the Humans make up for it with much stronger hulls.

I had my fighters docked into my Battleship, that meant that I could launch my Battleship and then later on launch the fighters from it rather than into my deployment zone. Normally it would be a secret as to what you had docked but since we were learning we didn’t hide anything. The Human battleship was big enough to hold their fighter squad as well as the other ship. The humans may have been a bit faster than the Wretch because they were in the middle of the board before we were in firing distance.

This is where the game got a little bogged down, once you get in to firing distance there seems to be not a lot of reason to maneuver. Rather than the cinematic Star War type battles it is a bit more like Star Trek where the ships close the distance and then sort of drift around firing at each other.

I launched my Battleship and played a card that doubled her range for a turn so I was able to fire on the Human Battleship from my starting zone. The cards are a really cool component of the game that are a big plus. The hero crew that I added to one of my ships saved my bacon twice in a row - the special ability was that if the ship would be destroyed you would roll the d8 and if you got a 7 or 8 you ignored the damage. I was somehow able to pull this off twice in a row before finally blowing up. Lucky for me I had another copy of the card and so played it like my hero jumped into an escape pod and was picked up by my Battleship. I think playing this was would be the most fun but unfortunately after an hour we were both down to just a few ships and the game turned in to “Shoot this with this, A1” “Miss” etc.

Overall I really like this game, and I will probably pick it up eventually, but for the moment I think I will pass. Don't get me wrong, I would totally play a game any time someone asked me, I just don’t need it in my collection right now.

There just seems to be too much of a random element for it to be a “gamer game”, I could tell that my brothers poor rolls were bugging him. The humans had 3 copies of a card that let them shoot a nuclear warhead, the first two totally missed and the second one took out one fighter but managed to miss the splash damage on every other ship around it.

The game might be a bit too hard for my kids, I think with help my daughter could play but I don't know if she would find the game interesting. There is just too much reading necessary for my son, but in a few years I can give it a shot.

I don’t know if the game would be something that my non-gamer friends would be interested in playing. The play time might be just too long to hold their attention, that is something that will need to be tested out. Also I’m not sure if the army building/deck building aspect would be something they would want to mess with.

So overall, great game that will probably pick up eventually, I just have a lot of other games I want to play more often first. If you know someone that has it or have a game store that has a store copy I would definitely recommend playing a few times to see how you like it.

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