Monday, July 11, 2011

Board Game Review - Battleship Galaxies

Vapor's Fate dropped out of orbit just outside Saturn's orbit, right on top of the ISN Everest. Captain Skiles of the Intergalactic Space Navy raised the alert and began mustering his forces, but the Wretch battleship was already launching ship after ship from the bowels of its nightmarish hull. The enemy ships closed for battle, firing cannons and missiles and lasers as fighters circled like hungry vultures and flame began to erupt from ships on both sides. The Wretch fleet hammered at the Everest, blasting the ISN battleship's shields to ribbons and blasting huge pieces from its hull. The Everest gave as well as it got, and the Wretch destroyer So Bwa Tet tore into pieces with a powerful explosion.

Then the Wretch fired its powerful primary weapon right at the heart of the Everest. The Wretch captain called out, 'E5!'

'Dammit', said Skiles. 'You sunk my battleship.'

I would be lying if I said I was a space combat aficionado. I haven't played a whole lot of space games, mostly because every time I look at one, it looks like a ton of accounting and petty rules. I have played a few that I enjoyed, but to say I was familiar with the sub-sub-genre of space battle games would be a lie.

But I do love the space battles in Star Wars, so I consider myself an expert in nerd awesome, and I can definitively say that Battleship Galaxies is a pretty awesome game. It's got all the stuff a great space combat game should have, in my opinion. Really cool model spaceships - check. Fast turns and huge amounts of tactical options - check. Opportunity to make laser sounds with your mouth - check.

I don't see much reason to describe all the rules for Battleship Galaxies in a review. For one thing, other reviewers have already done that. For another, it bores the pee-pee out of me to read those reviews that summarize the rulebook. For yet one more, this is a review, not a rules summary. So I'll just hit the high points.

Battleship Galaxies sets two opposing intergalactic forces against each other. In the red trunks, we've got the very unfriendly Wretcheridians. They're mighty angry because someone gave them a pretty silly name. In the blue trunks, the Intergalactic Space Navy. They're just kind of giggly because they came up with the silly name. Both have a bunch of spaceships with guns all over them, and they're just itching to blow each other to pieces.

You'll have a box full of tiny plastic spaceships mounted on plastic stands that let your ships look like they're banking. Why you need to bank in space is not entirely clear to me, but they still look cool on the board. The ships are uniformly bitchin' in appearance, and fun to put on the board just so you can imagine all the screaming engines and roaring cannons that you couldn't actually hear in space.

You have energy, which you have to spend to do stuff with your ships, like launch them and add nukes to them and move them around to shoot other ships. You also have cards that you can use to mix it up and surprise your enemies, stuff like heinous boarding parties and Tom-Cruise-caliber flying maneuvers. Many of the cards are specific to various ships, and since you get to customize your deck for each fight, you won't want to include cards that let you fire your vecton fields if you haven't included your red fuvus. Everyone knows that only fuvus have vectons.

There's even a really good reminder that Battleship Galaxies is the great-grand-stepchild of the original boring game called just Battleship. When you shoot at an enemy ship, you roll two dice with letters on one and numbers on the other, and then you tell your foe what you rolled. He'll check the grid with the picture of his ship, and if it's in the gray part of the grid, he'll take damage. If not, he'll grin and go, 'Ha! You missed!' and then you'll play the card that lets you re-roll misses, and then you'll hit, and he'll say, 'Well, crap.'

There's a bunch of stuff in the box you get. There are two big space maps (quick aside - there is almost nothing less interesting than a game map of space. Terrain? Yeah, not in space. In space, there's... well, a lot of space. Otherwise it would be called something else, like clutter or stuff or something. Literally - it could be called 'something'. But then your giant spaceships would probably run into trees or barns or outhouses, and you would feel stupid.). You also get asteroids and alien artifacts and space debris, which you'll put on the space maps to make them slightly less boring. Let's face it, naval battles have rarely been fascinating for their exotic locales. If there was land around, you wouldn't need the navy, would you?

Anyway, with all the stuff in the box, there are lots of interesting things you can do to enjoy Battleship Galaxies. You can have scenarios with asteroids in the way. You can have games where there's debris in the way. You can put alien artifacts in the way. And then you can still do the same thing you would do anyway - blast each other and make 'pew pew pew' noises.

The tactical options available to you are not immediately apparent when you flip through the rules. You'll launch your ships and then shoot at anything close enough to kill. But by the time you finish your second turn, you'll realize that every single thing you do is both a gamble and a really tough decision. Every action you take means another dozen you can't. Moving into position might let you blast your opponent before he can react - but it could also leave you a sitting duck without any support. Adding an upgraded cannon means you won't be able to get your destroyer out of range of the enemy nukes. Spend all your resources on a desperate assault, and you won't be able to save up for a devastating surprise attack.

Another thing you won't get from the rules is what an exciting story you'll be telling with the game. That first paragraph was almost a blow-by-blow transcript of the first few turns of the first game I played, including the ridiculously lucky shot that let me blast the ISN Everest into metal toothpicks. Other stories include daring boarding party raids that crippled the enemy fleet, or the failure to act that caused my fighters to be destroyed in the bellies of my destroyers because I failed to launch them in time. Desperate battles, last-minute saves, and unbelievable twists of fate make Battleship Galaxies almost as much a story as it is a game.

This is a big box full of fun, but unfortunately, there's not enough in the box. There are rules that let you customize your fleet, but not enough in the box to have much variety in the ships you pick. If you want a swarm fleet with lots of small ships, you're out of luck. If you want to send a handful of powerhouse tanks into battle, too bad, because they're not in the box. It's been a long time since I played a game that needs an expansion this badly. If Hasbro has any sense, they'll have the first expansion within weeks. They'll need it, too, because right now, there's just not enough variety to keep people addicted to Battleship Galaxies once they play it a dozen times.

However, Battleship Galaxies also reminds me a lot of HeroScape, and that's good. I foresee a big online community that will band together to find cool spaceship miniatures at affordable prices and create reams of custom ships. In the absence of the greater variety I already crave, I think fans will start making all manner of homebrew ways to love this game.

There is one more drawback to Battleship Galaxies that I noticed every time I played (and I've played five times since Friday night). This game is not for clumsy people. You keep track of shields and hull damage by putting colored pegs into the ship bases. The problem is, all these ships are kind of small, and so are the bases, and so are the pegs. We tried to put the pegs into the bases without moving the ships, and made a mess. Then we picked up the ships to put in the pegs, and couldn't always remember where they were. I love that the accounting is right there on the board in front of you, but I did get tired of hearing myself ask, 'so where was this guy?'

That one little drawback isn't a big deal, honestly. We just sucked it up and got over it. If you ever played Squad Leader, this sounds like a petty little whine, because in that game, you actually kind of do need tweezers. Compared to a lot of big-battle-on-a-map games, Battleship Galaxies is downright user friendly. Put my complaints up against how much fun I've had playing and Battleship Galaxies comes out far, far ahead in the win column.

Battleship Galaxies is the space-combat version of HeroScape, which means that in six months, there will be a huge online fan base, and two years from now, they'll make the board look like sparkly water and the original sets will be going for $200 on eBay. If you liked HeroScape, you'll like Battleship Galaxies. As long as they don't make a sixth general and add D&D monsters to it, Battleship Galaxies is going to have a nice long run. I can't wait.


2-4 players (more than 2, though, and you'll be in teams)

Fast play
Strategic and tactical depth that will leave you in awe
Really cool plastic spaceships
Comes with a full-length comic book that actually does not suck at all

Considerable luck factor - sometimes the dice just hate you
Tiny bits will make you wish you could hire a small child to move the pieces for you
Needs an expansion, and I mean right now

If you ever wanted to play those big space fights from Star Wars, or you just like making whooshing noises and space explosions, you should get Battleship Galaxies. It's very fun. And you can save a bundle off retail, right here from Noble Knight Games:


Anonymous said...

GREAT review, Matt. Better than that other not-as-funny douche wrote some time ago.

I agree about the lack of variety. The first 5 times I played it I was OK with it.

The second 5 times, I was getting a little disenchanted.

The last 5 times, I was downright begging to have more ships.

~That not so funny other douche. :)

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