In Part 1 of this look at the exciting new spaceship combat game from Hasbro, Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive Game Set, we opened the box and drooled over all the wonderful little plastic ships and high quality components; but now that I’ve had a chance to get those spaceships on the table, how does it play?
The rules to Battleship Galaxies are deceptively simple, but as soon as you start playing you’ll realise there’s actually quite a lot of potential for fun strategies and clever manoeuvring. Of course, there’s a very healthy dollop of luck as well, so don’t turn to this game for a ‘realistic’ depiction of space warfare—it’s in two dimensions for a start! This game was designed to be fun, and I can assure you after my first game that it receives top marks on that score!
But first, a quick summary of the simple rules. When it’s your player turn, you start with the Energy Phase, in which you gain 10 energy and draw a Tactic card (you can hold up to 10). In the Deploy Phase, you launch your vessels by paying their launch cost in energy. Smaller ships can be transported within larger ships; so for example, you could launch the ISN Everest, the largest vessel in the ISN fleet, and then in a later turn pay the launch cost to launch the Blue Sparrow squadron (3 small fighter ships) from its launch bays. When you launch a ship, you place blue shield pegs on its base equal to its shield number.
Then we reach the Action Phase and the meat of the game! One at a time you can activate ships or squadrons (3 small ships) by paying their activation cost in energy, then moving and attacking. Ships can move up to their movement value, and fire the weapons detailed on their ship card. Sometimes weapons have a further charge cost in energy. The only rule to remember when moving is that if you fly adjacent to an enemy ship you may receive 1-3 electronic countermeasure (ECM) damage, depending on the size of the enemy ship.
Attacking is where you get a little flashback to those old games of Battleship, because if your target is in range, you roll the coordinate dice (one has numbers on it, the other letters) and read out the result. Your opponent then looks up the grid on his ship card and cross-indexes the coordinates to see if it’s a hit (grey area within the schematic of the ship) or a miss (white area outside the schematic). You’d be surprised at how much fun this old mechanic still is—and there’s always the chance the dice can hit the one box on your grid marked with a red star—which means it’s a critical hit and your entire ship is destroyed. Luckily this didn’t happen to any of our ships during our first game but the threat of instant destruction is always there, even for your flagship!
Each weapon gives you a certain number of attack rolls, and each successful hit deals an amount of damage. Normal damage is taken by a ship’s shields first (remove blue pegs), and then you start adding red damage pegs until the ship reaches its hull damage value and it is destroyed.
Well, that’s the basic rules system in a nutshell. The addition of an interesting variety of Tactic cards adds a lot of interest to the mix. There are one-time events, heroes, upgrades and weapons that can be ‘attached’ to ships to make them more powerful or give them special abilities, and even sabotage which can be attached to enemy ships. Some Wretch tactic cards even allow the evil aliens to make deadly boarding actions and even take control of a human ship. Give your flagship a nuclear warhead, twin rocket launchers, or a plasma cannon; or let Bronson Skiles take command to add 1 to your ship’s primary weapon strength. In addition, depending on the experience of the ship (standard, seasoned or veteran) you may have access to additional ship abilities—for example, the ISN Torrent, if adjacent to friendly ships, can increase their weapon range.
What I want to know when I read a review, however, is does the game have that special something that makes you want to play it again? Well for me, the answer is a resounding yes, and I’m already looking forward to the next encounter in space, not to mention really hoping for the quick release of expansions sets with more spaceships. Because if there’s one thing that most of the reviews are saying about this game, is that it’s fantastic, but we need more! More spaceships, more tactic cards, and more scenarios. It would be great, for example, to have battles with only small ship squadrons on the battlefield, for intense dogfights.
There’s definitely more stuff on the works, but this being the toy giant Hasbro, they’l be watching the bottom line to see if this first release is successful enough to keep developing the product. Fingers crossed, the game will quickly develop a big hobby following and the expansions will start flowing the same way they did for Heroscape. I can assure you I won’t be able to resist buying up all the spaceships I can get my hands on for this game, and already I’m visualising epic battles between several fleets.
What we have already, however, is a game that I think hits that gaming sweet spot—simple rules that cut off all the fat, interesting options and extensions via the ship types and tactic cards, and most of all a game that is just pure fun to play. You’ll be making laser and explosion sounds, seeing the fighters zip around and through the larger ships and the huge flagships let off volleys of broadsides at each other, and desperately manoeuvring to bring as many weapons to bear as possible on the opposing ships. Battleship Galaxies is definitely what I’ve been waiting for in a spaceship combat game.
Oh, and how did I go as the commander of the human fleet? The humans lost. Say hello to your new Wretcheridian masters …
As usual, I’ve created a rules summary for the game which you can download at Headless Hollow.