Sci-fi is a commanding presence on the internet. In general, along with fantasy it is one of the central pillars of 'nerd culture'. Sci-fi has a few IPs that really stand out from the rest. Star Wars, Star Trek and of course Battlestar Galactica. While BSG never managed to attain quite the level of popularity of the other two IPs, it none the less has a place in the hearts of many sci-fi fans.
Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles takes the world of BSG and boils it down into dogfights in space. Designed by Ares Games, it aims to capture the feeling of fighting in 3-dimensional space in a similar vein to games like X-Wing and Wings of Glory. It also does this while providing realistic models of the spaceships featured in the TV series, in a way that will almost certainly please any fastidious fans out there.
The main thrust of the gameplay revolves around attempting to outmaneuver the opponent and blast them out of the sky. The first player to destroy all of their opponent's ships is declared the winner. At least, that's the basic form of the game. In reality it isn't that simple beyond your first game or so. Once you master the basic form of the rules things start to get more complicated, with the addition of different win/lose scenarios and new ship mechanics such as kinetic energy, speed, and elevation.
Each turn of Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles follows a similar routine. Players plan out their movements in secret. Once both players have selected their movements they are all revealed at the same time. Then once both players have moved they may attempt to fire their weapons at each other. When you get into advanced rules this movement phase is actually split into two, allowing players to move, fire, and then move again in various combinations.
As with X-Wing, the rules suggest a large area to play the game in. In fact, the book states that a 30 inch by 30-inch play area if advisable. While this might be the case for certain later game missions or any game with multiple ships, it makes the first few turns of the starting scenario incredibly dull. In a large play area players have to spend turn after turn making their way towards each other. Less than ideal. Honestly, you can play within any area you want to and still have a good time. In fact, it might even make it more interesting if you're limited on available space.
The basic rules for Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles are actually pretty simple to follow, but they're not exactly the most interesting. When you play your first game or so you're unlikely to find it very enticing. This is what we'd call a slow burner. Once you get into advanced rules sets and have to take into account your momentum and height things start to get a bit more interesting, but it also becomes 1000 times more complicated.
The level of complexity on display is actually pretty impressive. Actually having to assess your position in 3D space instead of moving on a single flat plane makes the game feel more realistic. Or at least, it makes the game feel as realistic as a board game version of space battles could possibly be. The only issue is with the complexity is the fact that it feels like it will really only apply to a niche audience. If you're a fan of BSG who also likes wargaming then you might be in luck.
The element of surprise is a big factor in the game and honestly is what makes it enjoyable. The fact that you don't know what the opponent might do right up until he does it turns the game into one played between the minds of the two players. If you know your opponent well you might be able to guess what they're going to do. I can imagine that if two players had an extended campaign against each other, by the end they'd probably have to try evermore outlandish tactics to try and outsmart their more familiar opponent.
As if that weren't enough, Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles also comes with even more optional rules and features you can use. This includes setbacks such as fuel consumption, asteroids to avoid and even different pilots who effect the game in their own ways. Once again, this adds a new layer of rules and mechanics to think about in the game. On the plus side, the way the rulebook is structured you add these levels of complexity one at a time, so as long as you feel like you'll enjoy the game after your first try, you are slowly introduced to the more interesting concepts. They also go a fair amount of the way towards keeping the game interesting for longer as well.
The different pilots and their flaws are perhaps one of the most interesting parts. This counts for both fans of the source material, and people who want to make the most out of Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles. A lot of the pilots are recognizable characters from the series, so if you're a fan you get to play as some of your favorite pilots. If you're just in it for story, you can use these pilots and their various flaws and advantages to add flavor to the different scenarios. The rulebook even suggests doing this, citing the option of adding a 'Concentration Loss' flaw to pilots in a scenario in which the pilots are supposed to be sleepy.
This is what makes the game so polarizing. While the scope of the game's audience may not be overly large, it will be very, very attractive for certain people. The way the game expands in complexity as you play it means that it takes a long time for anything to feel repetitive. When you start adding scenarios, optional rules and in-flavor traits for the pilots into the mix, this is a game that can keep itself interesting, for the right person, for an almost infinite amount of time. Or at least, for long enough that Ares will have released the next expansion packs.
The only real negative about the game comes from how it is packaged. Each ship has it's own entire deck of hexagonal cards. These cards are used to select your ship's movements in total secrecy. They also act as measures for how far and at what angle you need to move. This is all well and good, but there are so many cards that they don't really fit in the box properly. If at any point between games the box is anything but perfectly flat then the cards will be all over the place when you open the box. This is made more annoying since the decks for two identical ships are themselves identical. So if they are all mixed up be prepared to spend ages before a game sorting through all the cards before you can actually play.
The Bottom Line
Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles is a very complicated game that will appeal highly to the right type of person. If you're into space combat or wargames and want to play one set in the BSG universe then you're in for a treat. For anyone who doesn't have the time to learn all the complex rules and sticks to their most basic form, you're probably going to be underwhelmed. The basic rules are great for teaching a new players before they dive into more complex stuff, but if that's as far as you feel comfortable going then the experience is shallow. Certainly one for the BSG or complex miniature games enthusiast.
Get This Game If:
You love BSG and want a game based on it.
You enjoyed X-Wing but want something new.
You like the idea of a game that gets more and more complex and interesting as you play it.
Avoid This Game If:
You're looking for a slightly more casual gaming experience.
You don't enjoy miniature or wargames.
You want a game that won't require loads of time sorting cards before each session.