Archive for November, 2010


Battlestar Galactica. The remake, not the original one. If there was one twist Ronald Moore’s gang did with their new version was add humanoid cylons from the get go. An ingenious plot device that introduced (for much of the first season anyway) a lot of paranoia. Fantasy Flight Games came up with a boardgame that reflects much of this situation during the first season of the show.

You’re working together in a rag tag space fleet trying to escape a horde of machines bent on your extinction. To make matters worse there could be humanoid cylon agents and you can’t tell the difference. Heck, you might be one yourself and you don’t know it yet.

That’s the crux of the boardgame and it delivers! A four to five hour game, it captures the show’s theme quite well. You play a character from the TV show and must ensure humanity’s survival… Or its destruction. The fun part is you don’t know who is on your side and halfway through the game you may be forced to switch.

There is a game board depicting the battlestar Galactica and six sectors of space surrounding it. Also shown is the President’s ship: Colonial One. There are spaces as well for game resources and other information tracks. There are small stands with the characters you play in the game to designate their locations and the space units as well: Civilian ships, Vipers, Raptors, Cylon Raiders and their Basestars (mother ships.)

The human fleet must reach Kobol through a series of FTL jumps. Each such jump consists of a number of game turns the players spend moving and activating spaces on the board or their own cards. At the end of each turn the fleet may or may not have advanced their calculations to prepare for a new FTL jump. If they reach the end of the jump track they get to execute such a jump. How far they move depends on the destination card they draw and play. A jump will usually average 2 distance points. Though some jumps will have 1 or 3. To reach Kobol the humans must accumulate 8 points. Over the course of the game there will be four to six jumps. The last one being the one that jumps away from Kobol and wins the game for the humans.

But while the humans desperately try to escape they face many obstacles. To begin with they have limited resources for this trip. A series of dials mark them as points. Fuel, Food, Morale and Population. If any one of these reaches zero the humans lose. Each turn the humans face a crisis of some kind that will require them to play skill cards in their hands to meet the challenge. If they fail to do so some resource will usually take a hit. Other times it will be an event. Among the humans there are players designated as special leaders: the Admiral and the President. An event will usually force one of these characters to choose an outcome they will have to deem as the lesser of two evils (lose 1 food or 1 morale? Decisions!) The crisis can also be a cylon attack, putting those pretty space ship pieces on the board around Galactica. That’s another obstacle: cylon forces can destroy civilian ships reducing resources (most notably population). They can also destroy Galactica or board and capture her with Centurion troops. Those are also game ending situations.

All players will pick a specific character from the show to play. This character has a skill set of five cards the person draws on his turn. The character also has special abilities and weaknesses. It is important the crew pick a balanced set of characters. There are five different skill card types shown by color. Yellow (Politics), Green (Leadership), Purple (Tactics), Red (Piloting) and Blue (Engineering). No one character draws every color, many emphasize two or three. Since the challenges may require playing cards from any of five colors, it’s important for the human team as a whole to have a little of everything. The cards are not only worth points. All of them can be used as an action or an effect on the game. So there’s a balance to be made in spending cards as points to pass challenges (skill checks) and using them for game functions.

There is a lot of player interaction in this game. The humans must work together to face the cylon threat. But some of the so-called humans are enemy agents. Secrecy rules prevent players from freely sharing knowledge about their hand of cards. They also prevent them for giving information on what they learn (scouting crisis cards, destinations). And when playing cards during a crisis all players put cards face down. This means you have to decide to trust what other players tell you they have played or know.

Players have loyalty cards dictating which side they play for. Only certain events and abilities allow another player to see loyalty cards. Since you can’t verify what players claim it quickly comes breaks down into he said, she said.

The game has many details and can seem daunting to pick up at first glance. But after a few turns, everything starts becoming second nature. And then the guessing game begins… Can you discover who the cylon is before they backstab the fleet?

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A short while ago Canada celebrated Remembrance Day (a.k.a Armistice Day, Veteran’s Day). Lots of Canadian families (and American ones) paused to celebrate and remember those who fought for their country in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m from Venezuela. My family has no particular military history in the tree. The closest I can get to are one great uncle who served as a dentist in the military rising to the rank of Colonel and another great uncle (passed away a couple of years a go) who was a professional and had risen to the rank of a two star general. These men served in the Venezuelan military.

There’s a certain disparity on how the military is viewed in Latin America and the northern hemisphere. There is a tradition of military service in the north as respectable, honorable, an obligation even in certain quarters. Where I come from… not so much. As a matter of fact, the military has been often used as a tool of control and repression rather than protection and service far too often. This had led many intellectuals and knowledgeable people to be decidedly anti-military or even call for the abolition of the military all-together.

For me, it’s more of an issue that our military heritage in the south is rooted in the strong men of the 19th century who fought over power rather than serve the country. Yet, I would not call for an abolition of the Venezuelan military, especially with so many para-military groups and insurgents operating freely and threatening the frontiers. Rather it needs to be molded to fit the needs of the country rather than the egos and pride of the so called professionals. I find it nonsensical that there are far far more generals than there are brigades and divisions. Too many commands are desk jobs or bureaucratic in nature. The Venezuelan armed forces really need to be molded like the Colombian army. Rather than buying jets, frigates and tanks to show off in a parade and nothing more, time and money should really be spent on training and equipment for counter-insurgency and jungle warfare.

Now I go back to my great uncle who passed away. Unlike the strong men of yore or the egos of today, this man was an intellectual. His library was second to none on all sorts of historical topics. A professional officer who sought to serve his country rather than exploit it. He became a teacher after retiring to continue to mold and shape young minds in the military academy to follow his example of how a proper military officer should behave and defend his country.

General de Division Carlos Celis (ret). you will be missed. You may not have fought wars and you certainly served with distinction throughout your career. I will use Remembrance Day to honor you.

The Roman Empire of South Africa

The Roman Empire of South Africa

I’ve been a big fan of the Civilization series since the very first game came out. I distinctly remember being introduced to it by a high school friend. He was playing the Romans against two other computer civilizations. I. Was. Hooked. I played it for hours and hours and hours. The first incarnation of Sid Meier’s classic could also be played to conclusion in one long day… or sooner if you went all Genghis Khan on your opponents. I’ve been playing the latest version since it came out. There’s been quite a furor in the civfanatics forum and other fan sites on how Civilization V has been “dumbed down”. These people expected to play Civilization 4.5 and were disappointed. The game has shifted focus and has been streamlined. It is simpler than the Civilization IV, but whether that constitutes the game being “dumb” is up to the individual gamer.

Personally I like this incarnation (how can I not, it has HEXES!!! YES!) and I’m quite taken with trying to get most of the achievements. Lately I’ve been playing the Romans in a huge Earth map and about halfway through the game it occurred to me to try to secure a cultural victory and I invested heavily into that despite having a largish empire of several cities. The game deposited me on what is now South Africa. I was relatively isolated. The Arabians spawned on what should be the Ivory Coast, that’s not a very a good start location, but if you focus on a small empire the Niger river is a big boost. My current problem are the Babylonians. The began in Egypt’s starting location but have really carved themselves an empire throughout the Nile, most of North Africa (Arabians caved in) the middle east and most of India, so far we’ve been fighting along the western coast of Africa around what should be Cameroon. The deep jungles and mountains in the center of Africa have provided a cover of sorts and a geographical barrier to a more broad invasion by Babylon, so they’ve been channeled west.

I haven’t dedicated myself to really hurting Babylon because they are so huge and I’d rather focus on the cultural victory. We’ll see if fighting this war one handed will cost me, but so far I’ve held my own…