Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica (10/22/2011)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Xander Matthews, Antonio Morton, Eric Ullman, and David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

Signing up to run this game was a bad idea. Two weeks after Big Bad Con, I was going to have a BSG hack of Apocalypse World ready for showtime? Well, foolishly I thought I could port playbooks over and just change the language a bit. Hardholder -> Commander, Chopper -> CAG, but then some started being a weird mix, Driver/Battlebabe -> Pilot. Savvyhead with some significant tweaks -> Engineer. Then it got even more wonky, as I realized that the troops the CAG commands are the same ones the Commander commands, and that the Battlestar really needed its own playbook, including marines and pilots, etc. And the CIC, that is a move right there. Firing nukes, engaging FTL. Gah!

Thankfully I had a lot of support from Karen Twelves, a fan of the show and experienced Apocalypse World player. She was great at answering questions like “does this move sound fun” and “does this sound like what they do in the show”. Also I had a lot of direction from the board game, as there were elements of desperation built into it (Crisis card and the count downs) that I knew fit AW well and would give me something to bounce off of when I thought about moves and fronts.

The project isn’t complete, but it was as much as I needed for the con. I had:

  • Seven playbooks (Commander, CAG, Engineer, Pilot, President, Visionary and Opportunist), two currencies (Supply and Favor).
  • Love letters for each playbook.
  • Four fronts (aka crises) including hunger, morale, security and fuel.
  • A playbook for the Battlestar including strengths like armaments and weaknesses like a tired crew.
  • A playbook for the fleet .
  • Two Cylon playbooks (which could be taka as part of the advancement “reveal yourself as a Cylon”).

Even going into it I knew there were some things I didn’t like. The Commander was an amalgam of the Commander and the XO. Once I make the XO playbook, I’ll take some things from the Commander and probably be much happier. There were other playbooks I was really delighted with, like he Opportunist and the President, as I felt they both really did what I wanted them to do.

That said, I’m not ready to release the playbooks publicly yet (because they still need more work), but I’ll be doing it soon.

Here’s what the game looked like put together (thanks Eric Ullman for the pictures)

Pitching the game.

Everyone at the table had a at least a passing familiarity with the show, which was helpful, and one player was familiar with Apocalypse World, which ended up being a challenge (see below). People were excited about playing and seemed to accept the “alternative universe options I presented them” happily. The one they picked was that Galatica was destroyed during the attack and their ship, the Battlestar Argonaut was the one to flee with the fleet.

Playbook selection when fast. I told them we needed either the Commander and/or the President played, but as soon as I opened it up, Antonio jumped on the Commander. Xander grabbed the engineer and David the pilot. Eric thought on it a bit and after some strong encouragement from me to take a civilian playbook (I thought the game would lose a lot of tension if the civilians weren’t recognized).

Character Creation

There was some real highs and lows here. It took a long time. Over an hour, which seems crazy with Apocalypse World, but I can think of at least a few reasons why.

  • I didn’t give people instructions of filling out the playbooks. I handed them to them and said “go”, without being considerate that ¾ of them hadn’t played AW before. I should have really gone through each part step by step.
  • There were a lot of choices. Playbook options, battlestar options, love letter options, etc. Just a lot of lists to go through.
  • The love letters were long, some of them a full page. I think that was too long a wall of text. I even wonder if they were necessary at all, given that in BSG there were rarely warnings of bad news, it just got sprung on the cast. Maybe starting a game with bad stuff already going on would work. More to think on that.

One thing that did really shine was the Hx. I’ve always felt Hx was slow, awkward and confusing. The language is confusing but even once you’ve understood it, the process is still a mess. I wanted to make things faster for character creation (clearly the only one place I thought about speeding things up) so I made all the Hx fixed and then allowed each character to change one of the fixed values to +3 and explain to that character why they cared about them. So, for instance, the Commander looks like this:


Everyone introduces their characters by name and playbook. List the other characters’ names and give them the following Hx:

CAG +2
Pilot +1
Engineer +1
President +2
Opportunist= 0
Visionary -1

For one person, scratch that out and write +3. Explain why care about them (I expect much from, I am in charge of, I set an example for, I don’t trust, I am in love with, etc).

That part not only make the Hx go quickly, it also meant the +3 relationships were highlighted, each person had a little story behind them. We got love affairs, love triangles and age old camaraderie out of the process, very happy there.

The Play is the Thing

I’m planning on running this game (more or less as is) again, so I’m not going to go into too many details, but suffice to say the two characters that revealed as Cylons really made the game for me. Not because they were Cylons per se, but because they kept the tension of the game riding right till the end.

Thoughts after the game.

I didn’t give the pilot of a lot of flying around time, which should be addressed. David suggested starting with a dog fight in media res which I may try next time (it wouldn’t change the story much at all), but I’ll need to be very considerate that doing so doesn’t leave the civilian characters twiddling thumbs.

Commander really needs to be split up into Commander and XO.

Using clocks was tough, although I liked having them there as a reminder, it ended up being just one more thing to keep track of. I like it in theory, and would definitely use in a long term game, but for a con I might get rid of it.

There were probably too many things going on. Between the threats in the love letters, and the crisis picked by the fleet, there were fires everywhere. And like you usually find in Apocalypse World, those fires just spread. Now, arguably we had a LOT of missed rolls in the beginning so I was trying to bring the hard moves quite often, but man, by the end, even after a victory, the fleet was a mess.

Many people (those who played and didn’t )said the game should be run again, so I’ll probably do it a few more times.