Cruisers, in Space, Battling
I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried yoga. I’ve tried herbal tea. And to this day, the only thing that helps me sleep at night is the thrill of spaceships blowing each other to smithereens.
Unfortunately, for a game about warships pounding the ever-loving hell out of each other, we’ve discovered that there aren’t all that many explosions in a game of Battlecruisers.
Not that this fact alone invalidates the quality of the game. It’s just that it doesn’t quite operate as expected. In fact, Battlecruisers has less to do with evoking the feel of a space battle and more with emulating the rather-good Libertalia, the game of pirate looting from a few years back. As with that game’s race to grab as many doubloons as your piratical pantaloons could manage, here the goal is to accumulate 15 points as quickly as possible. Sure, you can absolutely win by blowing everyone else out of the sky — just don’t count on it.
The gameplay is simple to parse, making this an appropriate filler title for newcomers. Everyone has an identical hand of cards, and each round sees them selecting just one to activate. As the game continues, some cards become discarded — thus “damaging” your battlecruiser — while one is always stuck on cooldown, preventing you from using it every turn.
While only a few cards are used in each match, the huge variety of options lets each round feel somewhat different, with cards pulling off all sorts of tricks like gaining points, attacking opposing battlecruisers, blasting enemies with disruptors, or repairing your ship and letting you pick up discards. There’s a nice variety to what you can do, most of them slight variations on themes of attack, defense, recovery, points-earning, and so forth, similar to the modular chaos of Coup: Rebellion G54, which encouraged replayability by making every round revolve around new and surprising combinations.
Unlike that game, however, and unlike its cousin Libertalia, Battlecruisers can often feel a bit flat. Much of the time, there isn’t enough information to go on, making each card selection resemble a crapshoot more than a piece of tactical decision-making. Whenever two players lay down identical cards, they’re penalized with “clash” effects that range from lost points to suffering damage. Not only are these effects difficult to read in dim light, but with a limited card pool (and no idea what’s lurking in everyone else’s discard piles), enduring clash after clash can really mess with the game’s tempo. Libertalia confronted the problem of duplicate cards by only allowing each to be played once. That way, as more cards were played, your knowledge of what your opponents could do on future turns was strengthened. Here, cards cycle out of your recovery zone so quickly that all too often everyone’s hand is thick with choices but low on intel, resulting in matches that often feel directionless and can drag on for a while before a victor emerges.
If I sound like I’m being harsh on Battlecruisers, it’s largely because it had so much potential. It’s a fine example of a light filler that can be understood by newcomers in about five minutes, and we’ve had the occasional satisfying match where the tug-of-war between warships had some tinge of drama and excitement. Sadly, those battles were the exception rather than the rule. Fans of exploding spaceships may need to apply elsewhere.