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Thinking Out Loud

Monday, February 20, 2006

Battlestations >> Fielding Questions

Since I'm such a big fan of the boardgame Battlestations (Gorilla Games) and have been a vocal advocate for the game in forums and GeekLists over on BoardGameGeek.com, I've had quite a few of my fellow geeks drop me a line asking for more information about the game. How difficult is it to learn? How long does it take to teach new players? Is there a lot of replay value?

I've written so many responses, that I had started to save snippets and repost them to various users. It's a long enough series of responses, though, that I thought it would make good sense to post it here, as well... Enjoy/ignore at your leisure.

Is Battlestations hard? Is it a "light" game? Heavy game?

I'd say Battlestations is light-to-medium mechanically for the players, but medium-to-heavy for the gamemaster running the missions. While the players only need to be familiar with a fairly small ruleset (such as the skills of their character and a rough idea of the skills of their comrades), ideally the gamemaster will have a better understanding of the overall system so he can answer questions as well as handle the bad guys.

How hard is it to learn? Can we get started with a game in 15 minutes? I'm concerned my gaming buddies might be intimidated.

I think it's realistic to get a group of new players up and running in 15 minutes or so, but the gamemaster will need to invest far more time for the first mission. I'd strongly recommend playing with pre-generated characters the first time, so you save time answering questions about character generation or asking players to make decisions without knowing the system...
There's a great introductory mission named "Boot Camp" in the core rules that helps players run through most of the mechanics during the course of a mission. It's a great way to introduce a lot of the elements in an organized, structured setting rather than trying to cover everything at the outset. All players really need to know to start is what the different ship modules do and how to resolve skill checks.

Then, once you get underway for the first mission, you can offer suggestions to the players for the first round or two to encourage participation. Soon, most groups will pick up on this and start taking the initiative, planning together and otherwise getting into the flow of the game.

How much replay value is there? Do all the sessions/missions start to feel the same after a while? How repetitive is the gameply?

The game has incredible replay value. The core boxed set alone has 36 different missions, with a wide variety of puzzles, conflicts and encounters to keep players on their toes. And as players improve their skills, expand their ship or possibly gain/lose new crew members, it doesn't take much to shake things up so each session feels fresh and new.

I'd say the majority of the missions don't "replay" well based on the fact that the core mission might revolve around a puzzle or mystery (which, once revealed, isn't always easy to mask). But that doesn't mean there's little replay value.

Many of the missions are fairly simple to modify -- change the number of enemy ships, face a different type of alien race, clutter the board with more asteroids, introduce a small hiccup or wrinkle to spice things up... And suddenly, some of these missions feel very, very different despite a relatively minor change.

And who's to say you can't revisit one of the puzzle missions several sessions later -- after going up in rank and flying a larger ship, the mission might play out differently when you're facing a massive Silicoid warship armed with veterans than that teeny Xeloxian ship manned by some space cadet wannabes.

Is the Galactic Civil War expansion necessary? Is it worth adding?

Oh yeah. The Galactic Civil War expansion introduces 36 more missions, again, many of which can be replayed numerous times with minor tweaks. GCW also adds tons of new options to customize missions to your liking -- recurring villains and personalities, a very neat campaign system to link larger story arcs together, new skills, items and even some new modules to kit out your space ship with. It's an incredible value and can dramatically extend the life of the game.

Yeah, but... is Battlestations worth it?

I can't recommend the game strongly enough. It fills such a novel niche that no other game comes close to filling for me. A quasi Star Trek: Next Generation/Paranoia sci-fi setting, incredibly neat "dual action" system with the onboard ship actions on the one hand and the space map with ship-to-ship conflict on the other, it's got character advancement/development, lots of neat customization options and most important of all -- it's a heckuva lot of fun to play!


  • I'm one of the victims of your battlestations propaganda and I'm on the virge of buying it.

    From your discriptions, I have no doubt that the game is fun and worth the purchase. However, if I buy it I'll be the gamemaster 99.9% of the times. My question for you is: how fun is this game for the gamemaster?

    By Blogger zorg, at 9:55 AM  

  • I have yet to play as a crew member, only as a game master -- and I love every minute! It suits my personality well; I enjoy the host/monderator role, and like having surprises in store for the players.

    I also "win" no matter what. If the crew succeeds and enjoyed the scenario, I win because I presented them with an interesting challenge and share their feeling of success. If the crew fails or succumbs to the alien forces, I feel a nasty sense of pride in foiling their plans. It's a great situation to be in.

    By Blogger Jason Little, at 5:32 PM  

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