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.


  1. Amazeballs!
    Looks bad ass! Sign me up for materials when/if you are ready to share them. (Dead World too!) No rush though, I probably won’t be able to run either until this time next year.

  2. Sean,

    FYI: Eric Ullman was the 4th player, not Matt Klein.

    This version was so good. I’m glad you’re going to go back and polish it, but you should know that what you put together was fantastic.

    I thought you handled character creation okay (and I think that Eric and I were both familiar with AW). You’re right – between the love letters and the Battlestar there are a lot of playbooks. But it was all fantastic! I can’t imagine not having any of those elements.

    I thought the order you did everything was good. A couple of the document formatting issues made it a little more confusing, so I think if you can fix that (e.g. bold the ‘Pick 2 out of 3 of the options below’ on the love letters & Battlestar playbooks. Maybe put the empty selection boxes so they can be checked off?) then it will help.

    I think your idea of cutting the love letters down to make it more digestible could work. Maybe the opening paragraphs of the love letters can be transposed as the flavor/descriptive text on the playbook like what the AW playbooks have? Also, maybe take out the roll and the selection of plot hooks and just use those as possible existing fronts for the convention game?

    I think it’s amazing that the only civilian was the first to level up. It really shows that the game is just as much about the social/political moves as it is the fighting.

    I would have loved to see the clocks come into play more. I still think they’re a good idea, maybe let those clocks (since they are also existing fronts) guide the hard moves. The oxygen clock should have advanced in the first scene alone. Then the fiction could have been adjusted so that we needed to get oxygen scrubbers repaired instead of the FTL or the weapons. Just an idea.

    Loved how Hx was handled. I think I may use this for Dungeon World instead of how bonds are now. It was really great. I would maybe even go a step further and define 2 relationships Fiasco-style so there is some more possible character interaction.

    For a longer game, I might favor cylons being advanced moves so they don’t go to the first 2 people to advance. I like the cylons as playbooks. I can’t stress this enough. This was such a great way to handle them.

    It was a toss up between this game and Smallville: Crimson Skies as best game of the con. I’d love to play this one again, and I think I’d really like to run it too. I might try to run it at one of the LA Strategicons next year. I wish I lived up north so we could play more games together!

    Thank you for all your work, and thanks to Karen who put a lot of work in to this hack. I am really looking forward to seeing the polished version.

    • David,

      Thanks, I’m really glad you had such a good time. Remus and Lorna were to total rock stars of the group. Your interactions were just awesome, even before revealing! As soon as Lorna revealed, the game instantly felt like it was an episode right out of the show. Especially given the setup she had done BEFORE revealing.

      Yeah, I think the clocks will be a good optional component. Want to run a game based on love letters? Do that and focus on the specific and immediate threats they present. Want a more pickup style game? Advance a clock and talk amongst the group about what that means. Want to run a long term game (or feel comfortable with lots of disparate threats)? Do both.

      There were formatting issues for sure, especially in the love letters, they were copied into In Design literally 30 minutes before I had to get on the road, so I printed them out with very little cleaning up. Next time they will be much easier to read.

      Yay, my game tied with Paul’s! That is a huge compliment for me, Paul is a fantastic GM.

      P.S. Woops, sorry Eric. Mistake corrected!

      • Apocalypstar Galactiworld was better than most published games. Srsly.
        I am still digesting the amazing experience that this game was. Now, I haven’t played in one of Sean’s games before (or played with him at all), so I didn’t have any expectations. As such, here are a few bullet points that sum up my first impressions:

        Just walking up to the table and seeing all the playbooks laid out told me that this was going to be something special.

        Opening the playbooks and taking a glance at the contents (but not the love letters, mind you!) confirmed that this was indeed something into which Sean put some love and attention.

        Apocalypse World is perfect for BSG, one of the most F’ed-up post-civilization settings in existence. If BSG isn’t all about scarcity and relationship triangles, then I don’t know what is. Having a popular TV show that so well represents the basic tenets of AW really helps players who are unfamiliar with the game get a feel for the game earlier on.

        For an Apocalypse World fan, the playbooks and love letters were pure gold. Did they add a few minutes to character creation, yeah, but who cares! (I’d love to see EndGame offer a 6-hour slot, in addition to the standard 4-hour slot, especially for games that can be as rich as this one.)

        Personally, I think that seeing the clocks out on the table helped set the stage. The MC could advance them as needed to apply pressure or prompt the players, but I don’t think that was necessary with our group. Looking at the way the story played out, we had totally different clocks going that just didn’t make it onto the table, and Sean just did what good GMs do by accommodating the players without missing a beat.

        As I said earlier, I’m still thinking about the game. It was *that* good.

        Sean: Thank you! I look forward to sharing your creation with my regular group.

        Antonio, David, and Xander: It was a real pleasure sharing the game with you gents. Thanks for making it a memorable experience.

        • Eric, from the subject line of your comment alone, thank you. I’m really glad you enjoyed the game and I would be thrilled to hear about it being run again.

          I think I could have shaved a good 20 minutes off of character creation by being a little more involved (and prepared, I had to pull those clocks out of my butt last minute and it showed), but yeah, other than that, having a longer session would probably allow for more of the drama and action to unfold, especially if we started in the middle of the ambush.

  3. Count me in on both the polishing efforts and playing in the next time you run the game!

    • Just sent you the google doc I worked out of. It isn’t complete (some things were done last minute in In Design), but it is the 99%.

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