(2015 – Stronghold Games)
Battlestar Galactica was (and in many opinions, still is) the crown jewel amongst the “traitor game” genre that began to release in the post-Shadows over Camelot years. The ability to successfully meld the television show’s hidden-spy theme with original board game mechanics and elements was a perfect match, and a main reason that the game continues to be reprinted well after the series conclusion on the air.
A few years after its original release in 2008, BGG user Evan Derrick compiled a shorter, stripped down redesign fan variant of the game entitled, BSG Express. Cutting the play time of its original counterpart by more than half, BSG Express kept the tv show’s theme and certain elements in tact, while providing a more streamlined and mechanically different gameplay experience altogether. For over four years, although popular through word of mouth within the board game community, BSG Express was only available by printing the components from a published PDF online and putting everything together yourself. However, fans are finally able to enjoy BSG Express through a published edition from Stronghold Games, albeit with a redesigned theme and updated rules/components entitled Dark Moon.
In Dark Moon, players form a team of scientists/miners on Saturn’s dark moon of Titan. In an attempt to mine a pocket of rare plutonium, some of the team has become infected by a pathogen, though it’s not clear who is infected and who isn’t. At the beginning of the game, each player is secretly given a card, face-down, that reveals to them their affiliation, whether they are an infected player or part of the uninfected team. The infected player’s goal during the game is the sabotage the team, while keeping his infected status a secret as long as possible. Sabotaging all of the team’s outposts, shields, or life support systems before the uninfected team can complete a series of events will win the infected player the game (there may be more than one infected player depending on the number of overall players in the game).
Actions are taken during the game by submitting dice to the game board. Each player has dice that have both positive and negative valued facings (for example, -1, +1, -2, +2, etc). With most of the actions, players will roll their dice secretly behind their player board, then will submit one of them to the board. Depending on the facings, this may either help or harm the team as a whole. But with die rolls being random, it can be hard to tell whether that result was played on purpose by an infected player attempting to sabotage the team, or if it was simply a unlucky roll. This is where the game earns its marks. Players will need to pay more attention to the player themselves, more so than their submitted die roll results. Dark Moon becomes of game of social awareness and deception. How well are you able to talk your way out of a bad die roll in convincing others that your are an uninfected player? How far can you take things as an infected player before the rest of the team begins to doubt that your results are consistently “bad luck”? Combining these elements with the 80’s themed science fiction horror movies such as The Thing, makes Dark Moon one of the most realized “traitor” games to release in the last few years.
Players are then randomly dealt a Status card. This will reference whether they are on the Uninfected team or the Infected team. Obviously, these affiliations are kept hidden from all other players. The number of Infected Status cards used in a game directly depends on the number of players in the game. In a 3-4 player game, only one Infected Status card is dealt out. In a 5-6 player game, two Infected Status cards are dealt. And finally, in a 7 player game, three Infected Status cards are dealt.
Each Fatigue token references a different Character in the game. At the beginning of the game, a player will reveal a Fatigue token, one at a time, until he has come across one that matches one of the player’s Characters in the current game. This player will start the game as the Commander and is given the blue Commander die and Commander card. The Fatigue tokens are then shuffled back together and placed near the main board to be used later in the game.
The main game board is used essentially as a hub to house the various tracks, events, etc during a session of the game. The top section of the board contains camera three spaces for the regular Event cards and 4th camera space for the Final Event card. In order for the Uninfected team to claim victory, they must complete all three regular Events and the Final Event successfully. At the beginning of the game, a random Final Event card is drawn and placed on the 4th camera space. The rest of the Final Event cards are removed from the game, as they are no longer needed. A regular Event card is then randomly drawn and placed on the 1st camera space. The rest of the regular Event cards are kept in a draw deck near the main game board to be used later.
The next section of the game board houses the Shield Station, the Outpost Station, and the Life Support Station. At the beginning of the game, two Shield tokens are placed on the Shield Station track. If all six of these tokens are placed during any point of the game, thus filling the track full, the Infected team has won the game.
Outpost tokens will block particular actions from being performed, such as not allowing repairs to the Shield Station. At the beginning of the game, two Outpost tokens are randomly drawn and placed on their corresponding spaces in the Outpost Station. These tokens will remain on the board and remain active until they can be repaired. As with the Shield Station, if all six of the Outpost tokens are present at one time in the Outpost Station, the Infected team immediately wins the game.
There is no initial setup for the Life Support Station at the beginning of the game, but during the game, this station will house the revealed Fatigue tokens. If a Character’s matching Fatigue token has been revealed and placed in the Life Support Station, that Character can not use his special ability. If all Characters have active Fatigue tokens in the Life Support Station at the same time, the Infected team immediately wins.
Right below the three Stations is the Difficulty track. Some of the Task cards will contain a difficulty level that players must match in order to complete it. A blue marker will represent the overall difficulty level of the current task and a black marker will represent the teams progress towards that level. At the beginning of the game these two markers are simply placed near the track to be used when needed.
The lower section of the main board consists of the Task area. The left side is where the active Task cards are placed. There are two different types of tasks in the game; Malfunctions and Complications. As ordering a task is one of the actions a player can do on his turn during the game, no Task cards are placed on the board at the beginning of the game. However, the type of Task deck used is determined by the number of players in the game. The silver-colored Task cards will be used in a 3, 5, or 7-player game, while the black-colored Task cards are used in a 4 and 6-player game. The particular deck needed is shuffled and placed near the game board, while the other deck is removed from the game.
At the beginning of the game, the red marker is placed on the first space of the Voting track. Some Task cards may trigger “suspicious activity”. When this happens, the marker is moved one space forward on the track. When the marker reaches the final space, players must hold a vote to either quarantine a player or release a player from quarantine. When a player is quarantined, he receives a Quarantine token, which decreases all of his die rolls by 2. Players can also choose to call a vote separate from the Voting track triggering.
To the right if this area, players will submit their strong and weak dice during the game to perform various types of actions. These dice are placed in the “spent resources” section of the main board. After resolving the dice, they are then moved to the “available resources” section. At the beginning of each Round, players will retrieve dice from this section before doing anything else.
Finally, all remaining components are placed within reach near the main game board. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
Characters & Special Abilities
Each Character in the game contains a special ability that the player may use as long as they have not become fatigued. Taking a look at the two characters below, we can see that Chaya’s ability that she would draw 3 Task cards instead of the normal 2 during the Task Phase. Steve’s ability allows him to retrieve a die after attempting to take a Repair Shield action.
Strategies will vary in Dark Moon depending on whether you’ve been given an Uninfected affiliation or an Infected one. Because of this, gameplay can differ per player. It is in the best interest of the Infected player to keep himself hidden by deception and trickery as long as he can. While powerful actions are available to him if he has been revealed, it is much easier overall for the Uninfected team to earn victory if the Infected have been uncovered.
A majority of actions use a dice rolling mechanic in which players will roll a certain number of available dice behind their screen, then submit these dice towards particular actions. Die facings can be positive or negative numbers, helping or hurting the overall cause. Since all dice have positive and negative numbers, it can be hard to evaluate a player’s affiliation solely on his submitted die. He could have had full intention of submitting positive numbers, but rolled all negative numbers. However, since you only have knowledge of the player’s submitted dice, you never can be quite sure if he was lying about rolling all negative numbers or not. A pretty neat traitor mechanic.
A Round consists of each player taking all steps of a turn, then play passes to the next player in a clockwise rotation. During a player’s turn, he is considered the “active” player. It’s important to note that the active player and the Commander player are not necessarily the same. Each turn is split up into various phases that the player will complete in order, starting with the Dice Phase.
I. The Dice Phase:
There are three different types of dice in the game. Red dice are considered “weak”, Black dice are considered “strong”, and the blue die is the Commander die. All three types have four negative facings (three “-2” and a “-1”). The Red dice however, have a +1 and +3 facing, the Black dice have a +2 and +4 facings, and the Commander die has a +3 and +5 facing.
Each character has a limit to how many dice they can have at any one time. This is referenced on both the player’s screen as well as his character card. At the beginning of the player’s turn, he will collect dice from the Available Resource section of the game board, up to his maximum die limit. He can choose any combination of dice to take, however only the player that is currently the Commander can choose the Commander die.
It is now the beginning of Player A’s turn. He currently holds a strong and weak die, though his character has a maximum limit of four dice. Therefore Player A can choose two more die to add to his screen during his Dice Phase. Since he is not currently the Commander, he can not choose the available Blue die. Player A then chooses to take two of the strong dice and adds them to his screen.
II. The Action Phase:
A player may choose to take one action on his turn. As mentioned before, the Outpost section of the game board lists the various actions that the player can take. Therefore, as long as that action space at the Outpost has not been damaged, the player can perform the action. Let’s briefly take a look at each of these actions and how they resolve:
When sections of the Outpost are damaged during the game, those actions are unavailable for players until they can be repaired. On a player’s turn, he can attempt to repair one of these damaged Outposts, by rolling up to three of his action dice behind his screen, and submitting one to the “spent resources” section of the game board. If the die facing is positive, the player can choose which Outpost to repair by simply removing the damage token from it. If the facing he submits is negative, the repair fails.
A repair action can alternatively be used to repair the Shield or Life Support systems (when their outposts spaces are not blocked by damage). If their outpost space is damaged, one player would need to take a repair action to remove the damage token, then another player could then take a repair action for the Shield/Life Support system itself. These repair actions are treated in the same way as repairing an Outpost, in which a player will roll up to three dice behind his screen, and submit one, passing if it has a positive facing and failing if it has a negative facing. When successfully repairing the Shield system, a Shield token is removed from the Shield’s damage track. When successfully repairing the Life Support system, the player can choose to remove a Fatigue token from the game board.
When a player’s Fatigue token is active, they are not allowed to use their Character’s special ability and are limited to submitting only one of their dice during certain Tasks (which we’ll discuss in a bit). If all Fatigue tokens are active on the board at one time, or all Shield tokens have filled the track, the Uninfected team automatically loses the game.
Placing a player in Quarantine will severely hamper their ability to perform actions. Therefore, placing a suspected Infected player in Quarantine will limit his ability to derail victory for the Uninfected team. In order to successfully place a character in Quarantine (or release a character from Quarantine), a vote must take place amongst the group. Initiating this voting process is one of the actions available to a player on their turn. When voting, players will place a single die in their hand (or no die at all) and simultaneously reveal their die, resolving the vote in the following way:
– A player with a red (weak) die has voted to send the character to Quarantine, or keep the character in Quarantine if they were already in there.
– A player with a black (strong) die has voted to not send the character to Quarantine, or to release the character from Quarantine.
– A player with no die in their hand has chosen to not vote, either because he had no available die to use, or because he simply chose to stay out of the vote.
Once all votes have been accounted for, the majority goes through and all players will return their die behind their player screen. If there is a tie, the current Commander player will choose how to break the tie. If the Commander player was successfully sent to Quarantine himself, he relinquishes the Commander title to the player that initiated the vote.
Player A is part of the Uninfected affiliation and feels quite strongly that Player C has been making damaging decisions to the team all night. He decides that it is time to send him to Quarantine to limit his abilities before he can cause further trouble to the team. After announcing that he will use his action to perform a vote and attempting to convince the other players of his reasons, all players choose a die from behind their screen and hold their fist out towards the central play area.
Player A & B both reveal a red die, hoping to send Player C to Quarantine. Player C & E both reveal a black die, attempting to keep him from being sent to Quarantine. Player D reveals an empty hand with no die, suggesting that he would have voted with a red die, but he did not have one to vote with. But who knows if this was really true.
The final vote tallies two for sending Player C to Quarantine, and two for not sending him. Since Player E is currently the Commander, he chooses to break the tie by not sending Player C to Quarantine. If he had sent him, Player C would have been given a Quarantine token, limiting his maximum dice held to two instead of four. He also wouldn’t be allowed to take any repair or lone wolf actions (I’ll take a look at the lone wolf action next), and would not draw any Task cards after taking his normal action.
The Lone Wolf
Later in a player’s turn, the group will attempt to resolve a Task (unless the current player is in Quarantine). Successfully completing these Tasks will allow them to increase the team’s progress on the current Event by adding an Event marker to the current Event’s card. If you’ll remember, completing all Events including the Final Event is how the Uninfected team wins the game. As his action (before drawing a Task), the player can choose to go “lone wolf” and attempt to increase the team’s progress on the current Event all by himself. To resolve the action, the player must roll up to three dice, choosing to submit two to the game board. If both die have positive values, he succeeds and an Event marker is placed on the current Event card. If only one or neither of the submitted dice have a positive value, then the player fails and nothing happens.
Going lone wolf is an effective, additional opportunity to increase the progress on the current Event, since the team will attempt to increase it again as a whole during the upcoming Task. At the same time, it can be an easy way for an Infected player to throw away an action on his turn without really accomplishing anything.
There may be times when a player doesn’t have the necessary dice, or doesn’t feel comfortable with the dice they have to successfully complete a particular action. In this case, the player may choose, as his action, to issue an order to another player. The ordered player may then choose to do one of the following two things:
Keep in mind that a player in Quarantine is limited in which actions he can perform, so issuing an order to that player will result in a smaller pool of actions. It’s also important to note that when an ordered player is performing these actions, his character’s special ability can not be used. Players can only activate their Character’s special ability on their own turn, and since performing ordered actions are during another player’s turn, these abilities would not apply.
The final action available to all players is to reveal themselves as an Infected character. The player will reveal their Infected card and immediately perform the ability listed on the card (unless they were in Quarantine at the time of reveal, in which they will skip this step. After performing the ability, the player will roll any and all dice behind his player screen. If the cumulative result is a positive number, they will be allowed to perform this ability again.
Worried that he will soon be thrown into Quarantine on the next player’s turn, Player C decides that it is finally time to reveal himself as Infected. Since he is not currently in Quarantine, he is allowed to immediately resolve the ability on his Infection card, which is to draw two Outpost tokens, choosing one to place on the board.
After performing this ability, Player C then rolls the three dice behind his player screen resulting in a -1, -2, and +2. Since the total equals a negative value, Player C will not be able to perform his Infection ability again. If he had rolled a positive value he would have been able to do this ability an additional time.
The Infected player will then keep two dice, placing all extra dice into the “available resource” section of the game board for other players to receive on their turns. They also will switch out their regular player screen with one of the infected player screens, and will discard their Character card and any Quarantine/die tokens. He can no longer vote during a vote action, will not draw Task cards at the end of his turn, though he can still participate in the malfunction tasks (which we’ll talk about soon).
He also can no longer be placed in Quarantine. The Infected player will now have a whole new set of actions that he can perform on his turn that include sabotaging the shield, outpost, and life support systems, being able to filter through and discard the easier Tasks cards from the draw deck, forcing the Commander to roll positive dice (or risk team members receiving damage tokens), as well as requiring the team to switch out their strong (black)dice with the red (weak) dice. For the most part, these actions are more disruptive and powerful than the actions available to the Uninfected team, however now that he has been revealed, the Uninfected team has the advantage of teaming up against him to minimize his destruction.
III. The Task Phase:
After the player has completed his action, he will then draw two cards from the Task card draw deck, choose one to play face up on the board and discard the other. Players currently in Quarantine or those that have been revealed as Infected will not draw Task cards on their turn, however they will be allowed to participate along with the rest of the group when resolving Tasks on other player’s turns.
There are two types of Task cards; Complication Tasks and Malfunction Tasks. Complication Task cards will simply state what conditions need to be met in order to succeed. Usually it is a choice that must be made by the player or amongst the team. For instance (as seen above), with the Acceptable Loss complication task card, the active player must choose a damage token (shield, outpost, or fatigue) and add it to the game board.
Malfunction Task cards are a little more involved and are open to all players in the game, even those in Quarantine and Infected players. Each Malfunction Task card lists the location where the malfunction is taking place, its level of difficulty, the negative consequences of failing the Task, and the rewards for successfully completing the Task. For instance the malfunction task card seen above list the malfunction occurring in Life Support with a difficulty level of 6 and a consequence of 1.
During a Task, the team will try to match of exceed the difficulty number of the Task. What adds in a bit of a twist is that players can choose whether or not to participate in attempting the Task, and those that choose not to participate are awarded with additional dice. Once a Task card has been chosen, players will flip over their Participation markers to show whether or not they are participating. Each player that is not participating in the current Task gets to acquire two Dice from the “Available Resource” section of the game board (as long they do not exceed their die limit).
In order to resolve a Task, all players participating in the Task will roll their dice and submit at least one to the Task, moving clockwise around the table. On a player’s turn, he will roll his dice and must choose to submit at least one of the facings to the “Spent Resources” section of the game board, though he can choose to submit more than one. After submitting at least one die facing, he can choose to roll his dice again, however each time he rerolls his dice, he must submit at least one to the Task. After he has submitted at least one die and has chosen not to reroll, play passes to the next participating player.
As positive and negative dice are added to the Task, the marker is updated on the difficulty track to show how far the team is from completing the Task successfully. Once all players have submitted at least one die, the totals are checked to see if the team has passed or failed the Task. If the team passes, a marker is added to the current Event card and the team is rewarded any additional bonuses listed on the Task card. If they fail however, they will have to do the following according to the location of the Task:
– If the Task failed was a Life Support malfunction, a number of fatigue tokens matching the consequence number on the Task card are drawn and added to the game board. Remember, characters with active fatigue can not use their special ability, and also are limited to submitting only one die during a Malfunction Task. If all six fatigue tokens are active on the game board at the same time, the Infected players have won the game.
– If the Task failed was an Outpost malfunction, a number of outpost tokens matching the consequence number on the Task card are drawn and added to the game board. These tokens will prevent players from taking certain actions until they are repaired. Remember that if all outpost tokens have been placed on the board at the same time, the Infected team immediately wins the game.
– If the Task failed was a Shield malfunction, a number of shield tokens matching the consequence number are added to the Shield track. Each space of the track shows a failure condition to the right of the last placed shield token. After tokens are placed on the track, the player will roll a die. If the facing matches the conditions icon (for instance, the icon was a “-1” and the player rolled a “-1”) the player must choose to either draw a new fatigue token or draw a new outpost token to add to the game board. Remember that if all shield tokens have been placed on the shield track, the Infected team wins immediately.
Some Task cards (malfunction and complication) may have “Suspicious Activity” listed on the bottom of the card. When a Task with the “Suspicious Activity” brand has been resolved, whether it was successfully completed or failed, the Vote marker is moved to the next space on the voting track. Once the markers has reached the end of the track, a new Vote will take place in the same way it would if a player had chosen to take a Vote action, with the current active player choosing who to vote on.
After completing his turn, Player D draws two Task cards and decides the keep the one seen above. As a Shield malfunction, if the team fails this Task they will need to draw and add two shield tokens to the shield track, since the consequence number is “2”. If they pass this Task, the active player will be allowed to remove a shield token from the shield track. The card also lists “suspicious activity”.
After revealing their participation tokens, we see that Player’s A, C, D, and E are participating. We already know that Player C is an Infected, as he previously revealed himself, so he’ll be attempting to sabotage the Task. Player B states that he had only one red die behind his screen, therefore would rather accumulate more dice to help out the team later. Who knows if he’s really telling the truth or not, but either way he is allowed to grab two dice from the “available resources” on the game board, and grabs two black dice.
According to the current task, players will need to have a cumulative total of +8 to be successful. The blue marker is placed on the #8 space of the difficulty track and the black marker on the #0 space.
Player D begins the process by rolling his dice and submitting a +2 and a +4. A great start! Though everyone knows that Player C will try his hardest to deal out some negative numbers to the pot. Player D decides that he doesn’t want to chance submitting any negative numbers to the game board, therefore decides to stop his turn.
Player E then rolls his dice, submitting a -1. He only had two dice to start his turn, so it is risky to roll again, but he decides to do so, resulting in a +1. The total score is now +6, and they will need +8 to succeed.
It is now Player A’s turn. After rolling his dice the first time, he submits a +2. This puts the team at +8, exactly at what they’ll need to win. However, Player C gets to go last. Player A decides to roll again and rolls a -1.
With the total now at +7, and with one more die left, Player A is almost forced to roll again. On his final roll he gets a +3!
The total is now set at +10 going into Player C’s final turn. He needs to lower the total by -3 to fail the Task. Rolling both of his dice behind his screen, he submits a -1. The total is now at +9.
With one more dice left, he must roll it in an attempt to get another negative number. After rolling his final die, he is forced to submit it. A +2! The team finishes the Task with a +11, successfully completing the card.
They add a marker to the current Event and also gain the bonus reward from the Task card. All dice that were submitted to the game board during the Task are now placed in the Available Resources area. If the players had failed the Task, they would have had to place two Shield tokens on the Shield track. There was also a “Suspicious Activity” title listed at the bottom of the card, so the Vote marker will have to be moved forward a space after resolving the Task.
Event cards with blue text are considered regular events, while the cards with yellow text are the Final Events. Each Event card contains text that will resolve at some point while the Event card is active. Some of these effects may happen a single time, immediately after the new Event becomes active, some may have effects that remain active as long as the Event card itself is active, and others may have effects that only resolve when the Event has been completed. Let’s take a look at a couple of these Event cards and what effects they contain:
– Rescue Crewman is a regular Event that requires two Event tokens for completion. Once completed, the active player must draw two fatigue tokens and add them to the Life Support area of the game board.
– Await Rescue is a Final Event that requires three Event tokens to complete. When Await Rescue is the active event, whenever players have to draw Shield tokens, they must draw an additional one. If the Uninfected players are able to complete the Final Event card, they have won the game.
If the Uninfected team can complete the Final Event before the Infected players have either placed all Shield tokens on the Shield track, placed all Fatigue tokens on the game board, or placed all Outpost tokens on the Outpost stations, they win the game.
As a game with a traitor mechanic, Dark Moon works as well as its Battlestar Galactica predecessor. Both games include design elements which at times will force a loyal player to look like a traitor, and help to assist a traitor in being able to take actions that would disguise himself as loyal. In Battlestar Galactica, this was done with the active player having to make certain decisions between bad and worse options. Missions in BSG asked for players to meet an overall numeric value (similar to the difficulty number on Dark Moon’s tasks cards) and also included a set of colors on the mission card. Players could secretly submit action cards from their hand with color/value combinations on them to the mission. If the color of the submitted card matched one of the colors on the mission card, its numeric value was counted as a positive number. But if the color did not match, it was counted as a negative number. After all players had submitted cards, two random cards were added to mix things up and all cards were revealed at the same time. In this way, player’s had a bit more control in their loyalty or disloyalty. In Dark Moon however, this becomes a bit more difficult.
Because players will need to roll dice when they want to participate in tasks and various actions, an Uninfected player can have every intent of rolling something good, have a terrible roll behind his screen, and thus submits a dice that makes him look like an Infected player. It’s a nice twist that wasn’t necessarily found in BSG. At what times did the player have an unlucky roll, or is he truly attempting to sabotage the group? How easy is it to convince the rest of the team that you’ve had 3-4 bad, unlucky rolls in a row before they catch on? The combination of hidden agendas with the randomness of die rolling is unique, and keeps everyone second guessing and on their toes. I can understand the inclusion of die rolling and the randomness it brings can be a turn-off for some, but in a game where players have no knowledge of who’s infected and who isn’t, any lack of control felt over the way a particular die rolls seems misplaced.
A big part of ongoing BSG’s success was its inclusion of theme from the television series. Fans of the show were able to dive in and experience the emotion of being a character of the series, and not knowing who was a Cylon and who wasn’t. They may not even know they are a Cylon themselves until later in the game. The theme of the game and how the mechanics were designed fit perfectly with the theme of the show. Since Dark Moon is not necessarily based off of a television series or movie, a bit of this is lost. However, the theme of Dark Moon instead attempts to pull in a wider audience, specifically those fans of science fiction films, Alien, The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, etc. In this regard is works brilliantly.
Originally a fan submitted variant to the ever-popular Battlestar Galactica board game, known as BSG Express, Dark Moon provides a unique footing in the “traitor game” genre. Rolling dice in an attempt to submit the results you want can work in your favor, or completely backfire. This makes it all the more important to be able to convince your fellow crewmembers of your Uninfected affiliation, as your actions won’t always relate to your overall status within the team. One of the great print and play variants can now be enjoyed in full production form.