May 232012
 

I Failed

Be glad, fellow Earthlings, that I have not been chosen by the high command to defend the Earth from alien bad guys. I tried, really, but I just got my ass handed to me on a silver plate with a fancy handwritten note saying how much of a pleasure it was to have kicked it.

Also, I think I’ve found a really fun, fast-paced mini-based space combat game. It’s rare that I get stomped all over and actually enjoy the process.

The Galaxy, in a box.

Battleship Galaxies by Wizards of The Coast/Hasbro is a relatively simple, mini-based space combat game. It won’t scratch your itch if you’re into painting minis and wargaming on a large scale, but if you enjoy games like BattleTech, Car Wars, and other combat simulations you will enjoy this. One thing is sure: this ain’t your father’s Battleship. There are a few points that hearken back to the original “You sank my battleship!” game and we’ll touch on them. But first: eye candy. Click the individual images to make them overwhelmingly large.

Sweet, sweet minis

Feast your eyes on that beauty. It’s one of the medium-sized ships in the human fleet. It’s just one of the ways in which Battleship Galaxies stands out.

It’s got a big box for a reason

The first thing I noticed is just how big the box is. You get a lot of stuff with this game, which, to someone like me who’s obsessed with collecting gaming stuff, is a good thing.  Here’s what you get:

  • 2 Game boards
  • 20 Plastic ships with bases and stands
  • 24 Ship cards
  • 2 Screens with side supports
  • 2 Coordinate dice (a d8 and a d10 with letters rather than numbers)
  • 35 Blue pegs
  • 40 Red pegs
  • 2 Energy boards and markers
  • 72 Tactic cards
  • 8 Obstacle tiles
  • 8 Discovery tiles
  • Victory Point tile
  • Rules
  • 2 Quick-reference cards
  • A nifty comic book

A graphical representation of what the heck is going on here

That’s a lot of components! You’ll get a chance to use all of them, as well. They’re all presented very nicely in their large box, which comes with a nice plastic insert for storing each individual ship model. This is okay, but fairly useless after you put the ships on their stands. You probably don’t want to keep putting them on, then taking them off. They are sturdily constructed, but that much wear on the plastic is bound to result in some damage.

The instruction booklet (PDF) is one of the clearer and more concise that I’ve encountered in a long time. Dan (whose arms you can see above) and I sat down and I read through the instructions page by page — which took about 30 minutes. By the time I was done, we had an understanding of the mechanics and were set up and ready to commit our forces to our first battle.

The minis themselves are exquisitely constructed out of plastic. While a single color, the model details really stand out. They look good, feel nice and solid in your hand, and lend a great amount to the theme of the game: space combat.

The ISN Everest, or as I called it: Ole’ Miss A Lot

The maps included with the game are fairly large hex affairs with some interesting deep-space artwork. You’ll also get a bunch of obstacle and discovery counters. These are laid face-down on the map. When your ships move through them, they find either something slightly nasty or something very helpful. You’ll also have two energy trackers, which determines which of your ships can enter the battlefield, move, and fire. Then there are the cards. There are cards to represent different levels of your ships (giving them more abilities as they get more experience) and also cards to give you special abilities, weapons, and heroes to use during the game. Along with all this you also have two cardboard screens, behind which you can hide your ships and cards that have not yet been deployed — one of the bits of this game that recalls the original Battleship.

My fleet, craftily hidden behind HUGE swaths of cardboard

Setup

We played the first basic scenario, where the humans encounter the alien Wretcheridians for the first time. The scenarios in the rule book tell you which ships to use (and what versions of these ships, such as ‘seasoned’ or ‘veteran’), as well as what cards to pick to make up your play deck. Looking at the cards tells you everything you need to know about your ship: how much it costs to deploy on to the field, how many hexes it can move per turn, how much power it takes to activate (allowing it to move and fire its weapons), the weapons’ range, damage, its hit grid, what (if any) other ships it can carry, its relative size (small, medium, or large), any special abilities it has, how many upgrades can be added to it, and how many additional weapons can be added to it.

This is your ship. There are many like it but this one is yours.

It sounds slightly complicated, but after about 10 minutes of play, we had the hang of it. The iconography is actually quite easy to decipher; the designers managed to cram a lot of useful information onto the ship cards.

Now that we had our card decks constructed, our ships picked and hidden behind our shields, the map laid out with some turned over obstacle/discover tiles on it and a keen desire to blow each other to ever expanding clouds of base atoms, we were ready to begin!

Gameplay

Each turn is divided into three phases.

  • Energy Phase
  • Deploy Phase
  • Action Phase

In these three phases you’ll set your starting energy, deploy ships and cards, and then attempt to violently end the fictional lives of the humans/aliens on your respective ships.

In the Energy Phase, on the first turn, each player sets their energy level to 15. The player who goes first increases this by 5 on their turn. Every other turn after that, you start the energy phase by increasing your energy by 10. So, if the counter is on 7, then at the end of your last turn, when your turn comes around again, you’ll set it to 17. Next, you draw a card from your deck and add it to your hand of cards (which starts at 5). Lastly, you decide how many (if any) cards you wish to discard. For every card you discard, you can give yourself an energy boost of 1 point.

Even if you’re miserly in your energy spending (which is a really hard position to take in a game filled with energy-hungry spaceships), you can never save more than 40 energy. You also will never fall below 0 energy.

In the Deploy Phase, you pays your money and takes your ticket. Each ship has a deploy cost (with smaller ships for my fleet at 8-10 points, and my big fella at 15) which you pay from your energy to put the ships on the map. Ships can be deployed in one of two ways: you can start them off at the edge of the map on your respective side, or you can load smaller ships up into larger ships and later deploy these next to the ship that’s carrying them. You still pay your deploy cost, either way.

I have deployed my ship! Now what?

Ships come in two flavors when you’re deploying them: Solo ships, which are very large and dangerous, and Squadron ships, which are comparatively small and still dangerous. Squadrons deploy three at a time.

Lastly, we find ourselves enjoying the Action Phase. This is where you’ll spend the majority of your game. Here you spend your activation cost in energy (ranging from 2-6 energy points) to enable your ships to do things. Two things, actually, all for the low price of one activation cost. When you activate a ship, you enable it to both move and then fire. Most primary/secondary weapons require no further activation cost.

Also in your action phase, you can take advantage of that hand of cards you’ve been holding onto. For instance, you can pay a few energy points to deploy a new weapon or an upgraded feature on ships able to carry such things. Or, you can deploy a hero onto a ship, giving that ship the ability to do new things. There are also event cards and sabotage cards. All of these can greatly effect the game outcome, so pay attention to them!

Energy, turn order and action cards oh my!

Now that you’ve activated your ship, you can take a look at the movement (5-6 hexes for small ships, 4-5 for medium and 3-4 for large) and then start hauling around the game board in a complicated cat-and-mouse play. Solo ships or squadron ships, you have to pay the activation for each mini you have on the board even though squadrons can be deployed for one low cost.

Get close enough to another ship and you can fire on it, with weapons that have ranges from 1-5 hexes. Should you get within range of an enemy ship and fire on it, you roll two dice: your coordinate dice. There is a standard d8 and a d10 faced with the letters A-J. These give you the coordinates through which you’ve managed to pass your lethal beams of death and exploding missiles. Hopefully, your enemy also occupies those same coordinates. You call out B7, then your opponent checks their card to see if B7 is empty or occupied. If occupied, you’ve just done damage to the ship.

Some ships are harder to hit than others

Ships have two values listed on their cards relevant to taking damage: Shields and Hull. Shields are represented by blue pegs, hull by red. Once all of your shields are depleted (removed from the base where they plug in) you start adding red hull pegs. When you reach your hull number (say, 8 pegs), your ship is destroyed. With these pegs and the way the coordinate dice work, you can see another nod back to the traditional game of Battleship.

Move too close to a ship (or a debris field) and there are other consequences. You can take EMC damage by moving adjacent to an enemy ship, which depending on the size of the other ship will be between 1-3 points. Some ships have built-in abilities to ignore this, and sometimes cards play in your favor when it comes to moving close to (or even boarding and capturing) enemy ships.

That’s essentially how the game is played. Add energy, spend energy, play cards if you can, move, shoot.

The game is won when you achieve one of several victory conditions. You can always win the game by eliminating all of your enemy’s ships. Some scenarios also have victory points built in. Score the requisite number of victory points and the game is over with you the winner.

This isn’t going to end well

Thoughts on this game – is it worth it?

The bottom line: both Dan and I really enjoyed this game. It’s crunchy enough in mechanics to satisfy the tactical gamers in us, but simple enough in execution that our game lasted perhaps an hour and a half. I imagine future games would be as long or slightly shorter (depending on the scenario) now that we know what we’re doing.

The designers have struck a very nice balance between the human and alien forces. Adding the cards and energy management into the mix makes for a pretty challenging experience. The physical game is very well-constructed and just plain fun to play with.

I’d heartily recommend this game to anyone with some light or moderate board gaming experience. It’s a great introduction to tactical war games. With one experienced player guiding even a board gaming newbie, this would be a fun game to play. Several reviews on Amazon and other places are critical of the rules’ complexity, but I have a feeling these were casual shoppers looking for a traditional Battleship experience with a space theme. This game is not that.

What this game really did for me was scratch the itch to play traditional hex based combat games like BattleTech. The mechanics are vaguely similar, requiring the balance of energy saved vs. expended rather than heat and ammo vs. damage output.

I can say that this game is just yearning for an expansion. There’s a limit to what they could cram into this already large box and I respect that. If they throw a few more ships our way, and a few more scenarios, the replayability would be greatly increased and I just want to get my hands on more stuff for this game!

Pros

  • For a wargame, it’s got a very fast setup and play time: 1.5 hours from opening the box to finishing a game.
  • Simple enough to jump into the game, complex enough to offer a real challenge.
  • The components are top-notch.
  • Attention has been spent on the theme of this game, from components to a comic book — it feels and acts like simple space combat.
  • It’s fun! A good mix of strategy and luck, relying more on strategy.
  • Gamers, don’t let the Hasbro logo turn you off; it’s quite a good game.

Cons

  • Each of the two sides are very clearly defined in what they excel at. Not terribly flexible.
  • Replayability may be limited once you’ve mastered the strategies of each side.
  • The box is really, really big!

At the time this article was written, Noble Knight Games has a fantastic price on this – just $30.60. I don’t know how long this price will stay that low, but check ’em out! NK does sponsor this blog (but not this review) so by way of disclaimer, keep that in mind. Having said that though, I’ve used them for years being just a plain old customer and they are great!

I couldn’t squeeze in all of the photos I took of our play session and the game really does look great, so here’s a gallery with everything in it!

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

  3 Responses to “Battleship Galaxies – Defending the Earth from alien invaders with a Hasbro twist”

  1. I can’t wait to get together again and try out some of the other scenarios.

  2. Well… you know where I live! Some time next week maybe?

  3. I live in Las Vegas.. looking for a person to play the game with.

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