Confession time. That picture isn’t from LPB2. I have an inquiry in to the Screenshot Department of Weekly Little Big Planet, and I assure you that we will get to the bottom of this, because it is unacceptable. I’m told the inquiry has been forwarded to the Compliance Department of WLBP, since the problem isn’t with screenshots, but with playing time. Seems the head writer of this column spent all his gaming time this week playing pinball instead of…well…
The staff here at WLBP is on this, I assure you. The investigation so far has yielded little beyond lame excuses that blame the community levels for being cute but empty, too cinematic, decent but bog standard, and in one case too hard.
Preliminary findings suggest the real problem is that a gauntlet was thrown down. That is to say, one of the WLBP head writer’s friends beat his high score on his favorite FX2 table, Secrets of the Deep. By about ten million points. And this simply could not stand. Tooling around with sackfolk is one thing. Having your pinball table score messed with by an actual human being? That’s personal.
Speaking of personal…
After the jump, that’s something else
“You realize you’ve brigged a human, right?”
“I…I…I…” Graham grasped for his next thought. Understandable, as he wasn’t used to this level of lunacy. It wasn’t even a level, really. He didn’t know what it was. Maybe a circle of hell. It was inexplicable.
“I don’t know what you think this will accomplish. Humans in the brig. At this point. Me. I…” Now he was just sputtering, which sounded particularly desperate given his English accent. None of that was what he’d meant to say, and none of it was going to be particularly helpful either. Gus had brigged him. Foolishly. Clearly. Everybody at the table knew that. Except for Gus. And Chris. But Chris was busy checking his phone and was too focused on honoring a GC (Girlfriend Curfew) to really dial in, so he kind of had an excuse. Gus was actually paying attention. Supposedly. So…no excuse.
“What are you hoping to accomplish?” Graham asked, trying to regain his composure. “I’m a human. You know that. I don’t understand what you think you’re doing. I don’t understand.”
“We’ll see. On your next turn. Then we’ll know for sure.”
“But…but…but…” Graham took a deep breath again. “No we won’t. I’ll just stay in the brig and Jack will too and we’ll just flail about like this for another turn. What…what…what…” He was sputtering again.
“We’ll see,” said Gus, projecting a calm he did not feel.
Graham put his head in his hands.
Cameron looked at his cards again. “Uhh. Wait.”
Gus took a deep breath. “Cam…don’t. Seriously. Please don’t.”
“Because I’m least qualified! Come on!” Gus made a noise that conveyed exasperation. Loudly. “You already made me Admiral. Don’t–”
Cameron cut him off by handing him the card to the presidency.
“Crap,” said Gus.
“That’s crazy,” said Graham.
“Awesome,” said Jack.
This all happened only about fifteen minutes earlier, incidentally. Not fifteen hours. It only seemed like fifteen hours. But things were speeding up now, in that deliberate way that a really good board game starts to pick up the pace as revelations occur. That is not to say that a game like Battlestar Galactica plods along. Not at all. But it has a certain pace to it, especially when beginners are playing it. A pace that starts to change by degrees as the folks playing the game become increasingly sure of who in their midst is the Cylon.
Part of what works so well about this game in particular is that it sets up into a sort of three-act structure. At the start the players–ideally five–choose their characters. At this point the folks playing the game discuss those character choices with an eye toward winning the game as humans, together. That is to say, the object of the game is to get the Galactica, and thus humanity, to safety. So total collaboration marks this phase of the pregame.
As the game starts cards are dealt that can turn one or more of the humans into a Cylon. Only the player who is Cylonified knows he has been turned. If he is wise, he hides this fact as long as he can. Therefore, the first “act” of the Battlestar Galactica board game is a rising action of humans (perhaps saddled with human pretenders) doing their best to protect their resources and ward off an onslaught of Cylon ships while starting the jump progression that will get them to their ultimate destination: Kobol.
The Cylon secret agent drags his feet, sabotaging as best he can without letting on who he is. The longer he can do this, the better.
As the game progresses, the folks playing begin to suspect who among them is the Cylon, and accusations begin in earnest, followed by denials. At this point the game creeps into its second act wherein the Cylon works against the humans without overtly revealing himself for as long as he can. He does not direct Cylon Raiders to attack Vipers at this point. He does not move Heavy Raiders into position so that Centurions may board Galactica. He just hinders. He thwarts. In so doing he depletes resources and sows discord.
Eventually everyone at the table knows who the Cylon is and he is outed. This is Intermission, so everybody takes a moment to go to the bathroom, check and send texts, refresh drinks, and point at each other and yell, “CYLON!”
The third act is broken into two parts. How this shakes out in sequence depends on a number of factors, but basically it breaks down into these two parts: A) Another Human is Turned into A Cylon B) The Cylons Win.
What happens is this. When the humans reach the halfway point in their escape to freedom, one of the humans finds out she is not a human after all. She accepts this without a moment’s hesitation or an ounce of remorse and then starts working against the human escape. Just like that. She may do this by revealing that she is a Cylon, as her counterpart–who has been a Cylon for the whole game–has probably already done, or she may work to hinder the humans by a tactic known as “running out the clock” and pretend she is not a Cylon at all. She may, at this point, cast suspicion on other members of the human crew in an effort to slow Galactica’s progress. If she is good, she will slowly bleed fuel, morale, population, and food while pretending to be a human. Whatever she does, this much is certain: she will win. She is a Cylon. And for some reason this game, as awesome as it is, freaking loves Cylons. Probably because Cylon chicks are so hot…
“All I’m saying,” Jack modulated his voice now. A sense of sincerity with a tinge of indignation and just a smidge of self-righteousness. “All I’m saying is that you should pay attention to who wants to put me in the brig. Do what you want. But that’s all I’m saying.”
This is the point when board games truly diverge from computer games. This is the point. The point of personal human dynamics. This is something for which there is no virtual substitute. No amount of typed chat, or headset chatter, can substitute for what happens when humans are all in a room together. This is why a board game like Battlestar Galactica is so beautiful. It lets humans be humans. While they are actually playing robots. Toasters. Whatever.
Cameron, now revealed as a Cylon and actively working against the humans, was allowed to give his remaining is-you-is-or-is-you-ain’t-a-cylon cards to another player. After staring at them intently, he decided to give his remaining cards to Jack. This meant one of two things. Cameron had just made Jack a Cylon, and thus the general suspicion that everyone had harbored for the whole game–that Cameron had originally been dealt both Cylon cards–was true. Or, Cameron was just trying to make everyone think Jack was a Cylon to buy himself some extra time and somebody else at the table had been a Cylon all along and was still acting in secret opposition.
Graham had no doubt. Jack was the new Cylon. There was nothing he could do about Cameron, but Jack, newly Cyloned Jack…him he could do something about. He could put him in the brig where he could do less harm. To him this seemed a no-brainer. Obvious. Jack had to be brigged. But his two other human players would not be so easy to convince. One was just too inexperienced at board games, and the other was distracted by GIs (Girlfriend Issues). Still, he laid out his case. Throwing Jack in the brig would help more than it would hurt. The other two, Gus and Chris, weren’t one-hundred percent, but they helped enough to pass the skill check.
Done and done.
What Graham hadn’t considered was that Gus, the least experienced player, had all the power, because Cameron, the original Cylon, had contrived make Gus both Admiral and President. Why had he done this? Who knows? At a certain point he’d become a kid with an ant farm and a magnifying glass and was just sitting back, enjoying the chaos.
“This is the best,” he said, almost to himself.
Jack sensed this would work to his advantage. So Jack started a campaign to discredit Graham. It was a fiendishly clever plan. All he did was suggest that whomever wanted him in the brig was clearly the other Cylon. He did this by sounding like himself, Jack, the guy everybody likes and trusts. “I’m not saying I’m not a Cylon, all I’m saying is to look at who wants me in jail.” A careful pause. “I’ve already said too much.”
The implication: Cameron had given him cards, but those were “not-a-Cylon” cards. Cameron was trying to fool them. Throw them off. The real Cylon was clearly the person trying to put him in the brig.
“I tell you what,” said Jack, upping the trust ante. “I’m not even going to try to get out of the brig. See? I didn’t even try to thwart Gordon’s skill check that landed me in there. I think you know what I’m saying.”
Gus, drunk with the power of the bestowed Admiralty and Presidency, ignorant of politics since all he’d done all game as Chief Galen Tyrol was repair Vipers, totally fell for Jack’s ruse. He just sounded so sincere. Plus, he was not saddled with Graham’s English accent, which, while cool and strangely sexy, still evoked memories of hundreds of Hollywood bad guys. Sounding almost exactly like Gaius Baltar, in particular, was not helping him. Clearly Graham was up to something. Best thing to do would be to throw him in the brig too. After all, Graham’s justification for brigging Jack had been that the benefit would be high, and the risk low. “If he’s a Cylon, we protect ourselves. If he’s a human, no big deal. He won’t reveal and we’ll get him out later.” After Jack had been sent to the brig Gus had his turn. He was President now. And as President he had a special card, a Quorum card. A card that would enable him to brig anyone he chose.
“What was your reason for throwing Jack in the brig?” he asked Graham.
“He’s a Cylon. I think he’s a Cylon. Clearly. Cameron made him a Cylon.”
“No,” Gus clarified. “I mean, how did you justify us doing it?”
“Oh. That it would out him. And not hurt us that much.”
“So it was a risk/reward thing.”
“Yes,” said Graham, trying hard to keep exasperation out of his voice. “It would help more than hurt.”
“I agree,” said Gus. And with a flourish he dropped his Quorum card. “Using that same reasoning, I’m sending you to the brig too.”
In the aftermath of the humans losing to the Cylons, yet again, all Gus could do was admit he’d been fooled by Jack. He’d been swayed. It was just personal dynamics. The beauty of playing a game in the same room. There was just no substitute for it. Maybe this was a function of giving a lowly support officer like Chief Tyrol too much power. The guy who wants to play support is vital. Incredibly useful. But in the end his need to please will be his undoing.
Gus apologized to Graham. Multiple times. Graham was gracious, but it was clear that this moment would never be lived down. Not ever. Gus had brigged a human when it could not have been clearer who the other Cylon was. What he’d done simply made no sense.
For his part Cameron, the original Cylon, could only sit back and bask. “I just want to say that I have never had a better time playing a board game. Ever.” He leaned back and smiled, his expression a trademarked combination of blissed-out and sardonic, with just enough of a touch of insecurity to make him irresistible.
“I’m serious,” he said, as the clock marked their fifth hour of gaming. “Best…game…ever.”
“You’re just saying that because you won.”
“Nope,” said Cameron, smiling. “I knew it the moment you threw Graham into the brig. Priceless.”
Laughter. A moment. A breath. Then everybody started helping Jack put the game away.
“I’m telling you, priceless.”
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