The best boardgames are about one thing: Betrayal
“I am not a fucking Cylon! Why wont you believe me!?”
The man screaming was my good friend, Matt. I've known Matt since grade school, and I'd do anything for that guy… except at that moment. Because, I was a fucking Cylon.
The normal human reaction when someone's friend is being wrongfully accused is to step in and help, but Battlestar Galactica The Board Game is a playground for betrayal, a safe space where players can act out their evil side.
Appropriately, I was playing the character Chief Tyrol, who you can see in the picture above pondering the use of a knife. Only I wasn't pondering whether to use it, I was figuring out the most damning moment to stick it in someone's back.
The Battlestar Galactica boardgame mirrors the television show in all the best ways. Most of the players assume the role of the humans. The last of their race, the humans are desperately speeding through the galaxy trying to outrun the fleet of Cylons, an android race that is attempting to hunt them down and kill them. As in the show, the catch is that Cylon agents have already infiltrated the humans' ship, and are now trying to silently work against them to prevent them from reaching their goals.
I'm refusing to help Matt out because the more sure people are that Matt is a Cylon the less likely they are to notice my subtle betrayals. It'd be dangerous if people started to suspect me, so I had to be very subtle in my efforts to undermine their plans.
In this case, I spent a lot of time dragging my feet, making bad suggestions, and being a miser about the rules. The latter part was particularly effective as I insisted that we follow every rule to the letter. Especially when the rule in question would make it harder for the humans to survive. I was taking a gamble that they'd assume I was just being a dick, and not realize that I was taking a metagame approach to being a Cylon.
The great blob betrayal
A week earlier I was playing Betrayal at the House on the Hill with a group of friends, and I got the chance to once again stick the knife in their backs. In Betrayal at the House on the Hill, one player randomly becomes the bad guy of the story in the middle of the game. At that point, one of fifty scenarios can arise and the betraying character gains an evil backstory, an evil mission, and a new rule set. An evil rule set.
My character, much to my extreme delight, became an evil scientist. An evil scientist who experimented on his own flesh and inadvertently found a way to make the flesh grow larger endlessly. It was all a great success until one day a snooping passerby broke the crystal container that kept the flesh under control.
The flesh began to grow and grow and grow slowly engulfing room after room of the House on the Hill. I was a mad scientist, master of the all-consuming blob. I wished only to return to the blob and become one with it again. After all, it was spawned from my own flesh. I only needed to stop these do-gooders (the people I was playing with) from destroying my precious blob.
At this point it should be abundantly obvious that I adore acting evil, and there's nothing that brings out the role-player in me more than a game with the opportunity to stab my friends in the back.
Normally, I like to think I'm a fairly low-key, calm person who strives to do right by people, but in the realm of board games I have the chance to let loose my inner Slytherine. It's a fascinating phenomenon.
I understand the appeal of cooperative games, and I understand competitive games as well. Both of those types of games appeal to things that humans historically really enjoy: cooperation and friendly competition. But humans don't like to betray one another. It's stressful and wracks us with guilt. Betrayal is part of us, but it certainly seems like nature has built a mechanism in our brains to punish us for it and prevent it from happening too often.
The board game setting is the perfect way around that. Games give us the chance to explore betrayal in a safe setting. Taking it out of reality flips the emotions around. No longer are betrayers shunned by the group. They are, in fact, embraced for helping create an exciting game and a memorable narrative. Betrayal is celebrated as a service to the cohesion of the group, rather than denigrated as a destroyer of communities.
These types of board games are more than just a good time. They give us a glimpse into an aspect of human life that we very rarely get to glimpse and that we never get to enjoy.