|Battlestar Galactica | Published 04 August 2009|
Over the past several weeks, we’ve previewed Cylon Leaders, the Pegasus board, and the New Caprica board. This week, we bring you a designer diary from Daniel Clark, one of the developers in the team responsible for bringing you the Pegasus Expansion to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game this fall! So without any further ado, we present “When Failure is not Really Failure.” Enjoy!
As I’m writing this, the Pegasus expansion for Battlestar Galactica is undergoing final editing and approvals. Looking at a calendar, the design cycle for this expansion went by fairly quickly – at least as far as my involvement went. But when I think about all the iterations that the project went through, it seems like it’s been a long, strange trip.
The design element that I think has changed the most from initial concept to finish product is certainly New Caprica, and my experiences there have me thinking. To put it delicately, not every version of New Caprica that I designed was well-received by playtest groups. In fact, the final version of New Caprica that is going out the door as I type these words does not bear any strong resemblance to any of the designs that I submitted prior to moving on to Project: PHOENIX [an unrelated new project – ed]. One could argue that each of the designs of New Caprica previous to the final were, in fact, failures. So was that time and effort wasted? Does it mean that I’m a failure as a game developer? (Well, I certainly hope not, especially since many other elements I did design survived to the final version!)
When I began work on Pegasus (cleverly code-named PEGASUS before its announcement to the public), BSG designer Corey Konieczka already had fairly detailed notes on what would be in the expansion and some rough ideas of how each element would work. The New Caprica phase was probably the least well-defined, with the only known features that it would be played on a new board, that it would occur at or near the end of the game, and that humans and Cylons would both have reasons to interact on the New Caprica board.
Story-wise, we knew that the New Caprica phase would be representing the early episodes of Season 3, during which time the New Caprica Resistance fought a desperate (and rather morally grey) guerilla war against the superior Cylon Occupation Authority. Galactica herself would not be present for the first part of the New Caprica sub-game, as she had jumped away when the Cylon fleet appeared.
The first design had the human players splitting up between Galactica and New Caprica, having to manage dwindling resources in both areas until such time as they could be reunited and New Caprica could be evacuated. A special crisis deck was designed that had a mixture of “Galactica” crises and “New Caprica” crises. Players in the wrong location when a crisis was drawn had a reduced ability to contribute to the crisis, as if they were in the Brig. Meanwhile, the (known) Cylon players would move down to New Caprica and command battalions of Centurions to harass the Resistance.
There were a number of problems with this initial design. For starters, the division of crew into two pieces was messy, complicated, and led to a wide variety of rules confusions and lessened interaction – and a hidden Cylon could derail the whole process. (Leaving just Admiral Adama aboard Galactica? Whoops, turns out he was a Cylon! Humans lose!) Secondly, the locations on New Caprica were, at least in this version, mostly weaker re-treads of existing locations either in the Cylon locations or on Galactica or Pegasus. No one wanted to go down to New Caprica! Finally, the whole experience was overwhelming to the players with no obvious payoff. Simply put, there was no compelling reason to go down to New Caprica except that the rules said to do so.
Now, the design goal for New Caprica was an exciting, climactic finale to the game – something more gripping than “one last jump.” This had a number of corollaries, such as the entire phase being neither too long (which would make it boring and too hard on the humans) nor too short (which would make it seem pointless), having meaningful things for both the Cylons and the humans to do, and having a definite progression to an endpoint.
The next iteration of New Caprica saw a tightening of the location design and the addition of a Centurion “patrol path,” where the Centurions marched across the board locking down locations. The humans, then, had to destroy the Centurions to allow them to use the locations beneath them, which would give them the tools they needed to escape the planet safely, while the Cylons would be ordering more and more Centurions onto the patrol path in the hopes of capturing Resistance members. This gave both the humans and the Cylons some clear actions to take, short term goals to enact, and ways to interact with one another more directly than was typical in a normal game of Battlestar Galactica.
It was slightly more successful as a design, but was fairly repetitive for the Cylons and brutal for the humans. Back to the drawing board.
Another draft removed Galactica from the game board entirely, only to have it reappear for a massive final battle as the fleet jumped back into orbit! There were a number of really exciting mechanics and components tested out during this stage that made the space combat more intense than ever! Sadly, under that design the final battle lasted for only a few turns – not even necessarily one complete round around the table. Those mechanics will have to wait for another day to shine.
By a few iterations later, we had a workable, moderately exciting appendix to the Battlestar Galactica board game in the form of New Caprica…but an appendix was all it was. On reflection (these things are much easier to see from a remove, which is a big part of why playtesting is so important and why working in a design studio environment like FFG is such a joy), the New Caprica phase as presented had just a little bit too much complication for a little bit too little payoff, and most damning of all it did not smoothly connect past performance with future success. Performing well or poorly in the early stages of the game didn’t necessarily reflect on your success in New Caprica.
Then Corey Konieczka turned his red-tinted Cylon-vision to New Caprica and, in a display of humbling game design talent, turned what we had into the elegant, clean, well-integrated and exciting version you’ll find in the box very soon.
So the road to New Caprica is paved with failures. Discarded game mechanics, some of which I hope to see return when the time is right. Failed concepts that were either flawed from conception or flawed in execution. (No joke - I have a piece of notebook paper that reads “New Caprica hidden roles - get pregnant, +1 population!” Let’s all be thankful that never made it to the prototype stage.)
But from each failure rises a new idea. When a concept or a design fails, we as designers are obligated to ask ourselves: why did it fail? Was it too complicated? Did it create too much downtime? Were the abilities too weak to be desirable? Once we can answer those questions, we can take another crack at it. The patrol path concept failed in its first iteration because it created repetitive gameplay for the Cylons for too little payoff. As you’ll see, that didn’t mean that there was nothing of value in the idea, and identifying the how and why of the failure gets us that much closer to success…
Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite board games, and it was a privilege and a pleasure to work on Pegasus. I think you’ll agree when you see the finished product that all that failure was worth it…
Enjoy the game!
Thanks, Daniel! Pegasus Expansion will be FTL jumping onto shelves soon!
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is a semi-cooperative game of politics, betrayal, and survival for 3-6 players, based on the hit Syfy Channel series.
Looking greatly forward to this! Lords of Kobol, hear my prayer: let this game be released really, really soon!!
@Nilus....last year they busted ass to get 200 copies there via plane from China. I am hoping this year will be more like a Descent expansion or Tannhauser. A big ol' stack of them just waiting to be bought at leisure vs making us wait in line AGAIN at a given time.
hahnarama, If FFG goes there usually route then I bet there will be a limited number on sale there. I plan on hitting there booth first and getting it for sure.
Whoa, that crisis card is nasty!
Hey ANOTHER chance for me to try and get an answer out of ANYONE @ FFG. Will Pegasus be on sale @ GenCon?
We're getting to play as Dee! Too awesome! Now, if that boat could just tug along a little quicker – can't wait!