By CHEE YIH YANG
Battleship was one board game that I never received when I was growing up. There was Scrabble and Monopoly at home, but my family somehow skipped Battleship, and it never dawned on me to ever save up for one.
Unwittingly, though, I’ve actually played it in school using the grid-filled pages in exercise books. I’m quite sure the rules were improvised, but the game of calling out random grid coordinates was a wonderful school recreational activity.
Today, the game lives on in not only everyone’s mobile device or phone (under varying names and iterations, licensed and unlicensed), but also as the classic boardgame that first came into being 80 years ago.
Hasbro updated the classic game last year, by introducing a hexagon-based board, “island” spaces, and “captured men” pieces that are placed on the islands.
Recently, they’ve even made Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive Gameset (TSOG), another significant redesign of the classic game.
Action and detail
When I first got the box from Hasbro Malaysia, my thoughts were: “Okay, I’ll give this a couple of quick plays and then leave it in my local game shop.”
However, my expectations started to change while opening the package.
Here’s the complete list: Two space-themed gameboards (mostly black), 20 detailed and painted plastic ships with bases and stands, 24 Ship cards, two screens with side supports, two coordinate dice, 35 blue pegs, 40 red pegs, two energy boards and markers, 72 Tactic cards, eight Obstacle tiles, eight Discovery tiles and one Victory Point tile.
There’s also a rulebook, two Quick-reference cards, and a “bonus” 48-page comic book which details the background story for the game.
There are two factions in the game – the human Intergalactic Space Navy (ISN) and the alien Wretcheridians (I kid you not!). Basically, the aliens launch a surprise attack, while humans scramble a space fleet to counter-attack.
After ploughing through the story and finding out how corny it was, I felt my interest level dip. But the detailed ship pieces, game aids and accessories all had me curious. I mean, there are only 20 ships in the whole set, but they look awesome!
There is some fancy detailing that makes the ships cool. For instance, the snap-on standees are ball-jointed, so you can adjust the ships to a certain angle or direction.
Each of the ship standees have slots for you to mount the coloured pegs. The red pegs are your hull damage markers, while the blue ones are your ship’s shield markers.
The rest of the accessories and components are solid and sturdy stuff. The gameboards are made of thick cardboard, while the cards are printed on premium threaded cardboard.
Still, perfectionists may want to invest on some plastic sleeves to ensure that the cards stay “mint” new.
Each ship has its corresponding card. There are three ship sizes – small, medium and large. And each ship has three levels of “experience” (or battle-readiness?): Standard, Seasoned, and Veteran.
The ships naturally have a whole bunch of statistics and abilities. Generally, the Standard ships are more plain, hence cheaper to launch and activate, while the Seasoned and Veteran versions have more equipment (such as additional weapons) but at greater launch and activate costs.
I should also mention that each of the ships’ cards has a grid. This is the only original Battleship feature left in TSOG.
Into hyperspace, flyboy
TSOG is scenario-based, and there are five different scenarios for two to four players in the game.
Each scenario utilises specific ships and Tactic cards, and different board arrangements.
Every turn in TSOG is broken into Energy, Deploy and Action phases. In the Energy phase, each player gains 10 Energy and draws one Tactic card. The player that goes first gets only five, though, in order to minimise the first-turn advantage.
Deploy is when you spend energy to launch ships and stick Tactic cards on them. Some of the larger ships can carry the smaller ones, which saves energy since you don’t have to activate them separately.
If the larger ships are destroyed by your opponent, the unlaunched ships will be destroyed, too. Action is where the action’s at! Again, players spend energy to activate and move ships, and hopefully, initiate some good old-fashioned butt-kicking.
This is where TSOG comes alive. Apart from attacking using weapons systems onboard the ships, you can also fire and use the variety of weaponss and even Heroes, using the Tactics cards.
The ships themselves really get to do cool stuff if you utilise the Tactics cards properly, some of which are powerful enough to influence a particular scenario. You can re-roll the attack dice, ignore fatal damage and boost your die rolls, using different cards.
In order to attack, you just move the ships within range, roll the appropriate number of attack dice, and match the roll results to the target ship’s grid.
The game is a bit strategic up till the part where you blow things up. Your best-laid plans can be undone by a couple of bad misses, and believe me, it’s awfully easy to miss.
This for me is the most fun part, yet I can also foresee some people getting annoyed endlessly. I mean, spaceships that can’t shoot straight? Reminds me of so many movie and comic book franchises.
Each ship hit is recorded using coloured pegs. All ships start with different numbers of shield pegs, and naturally, the large ones are the ones that can take the most beating (with the drawback of being slower usually), while the small fighters are the most fragile, but fastest ships.
Every successful attack removes the number of shield pegs equal to the attacker’s attack stat.
Once all shield pegs are gone, you then start piling on the red hull markers. And when your hull markers equal or exceed the hull rating, that ends the said ship’s stay on the gameboard.
The game seems a little daunting at first, but I suspect that this might have to do with the occasional dodgy copy editing job done in the rulebook. It took about 30 to 40 minutes of dissecting the rulebook in order to get the first game going.
The individual ships really shine when you understand the different strengths and abilities, both on the ships as well as the Tactics cards. The ISN Torrent, for instance, is great as it increases the attack range of all other adjacent allied ships.
On the surface, the bad guys seem to activate cheaper, and are a little more fragile, while the good guys are more expensive with the more impressive hardware (the nukes).
I’ll be giving TSOG a couple more whirls to try out further scenarios, and even look into doing some of my own. I recommend it for the gamer that’s keen on face-smashing action, and not bothered with finesse.
I played the short-lived Wizards Of The Coast’s (Wizards is a subsidiary of Hasbro) Star Wars Miniatures Starship Battles back in 2006, and actually observed a couple of similarities between that and TSOG. The new game does very well in translating key Battleship elements (the pegs, and the grid system for the different ships) into a quick-and-dirty sort of space skirmish game.
I love this product. Perhaps the fact that this has been a pretty low-key release helps Hasbro’s cause, but I’m also keen on the fact that the game has plenty of spin-off potential.
I predict that while Hasbro mulls over possible expansions, fans will start crafting additional downloadable ship and Tactics cards to tide over impatient TSOG fans.
Could the first “dream expansion” be based on the Battleship motion picture slated for release next year? We’ll see!
Battleship Galaxies: The Saturn Offensive Gameset is available in specialist game stores only, at a recommended retail price of RM199.90. Games take at least an hour to finish.
Chee Yih Yang thanks Hasbro for providing him with a review copy of the game. He is now itching for revenge on behalf of the nefarious Wretcheridians.
E-mail the esoteric gaming nut at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have comments, questions, hot gaming news and tips, and trading lists and deck ideas, for both Magic and World of Warcraft.
Check out his blog at https://rage.com.my/category/cards-and-boards, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/arcturus_ mengsk.