There’re many different styles of boardgames that exist in the world today, from cooperative games like Pandemic where it’s you against the board, or competitive style games like Catan where it’s everyone against each other. However, I personally enjoy no board game style better than those containing subterfuge; a kind of fusion of the two. Being a descendant of the Battlestar Galactica board game, Dark Moon definitely falls into this category.
Dark Moon is a high quality re-skin of the BSG Express game – and as the name would suggest, it’s non-copyright infringing express version of the original Battlestar game. In BSG, you’re a crew trying to get your space ship to earth, but with the introduction of loyalty cards at the start, you’re unsure who is human and really trying to help, and who are Cylons trying to sabotage the humans.
Dark Moon has taken this model but repurposed it well to give you a somewhat different experience. I’ve never played the BSG Express version of the game, only the original, but I don’t think that put me at any kind of disadvantage – in fact I don’t think you need any prior experience of the other games to understand Dark Moon; it’s a strong stand alone in its own right (although having played any other subterfuge type game beforehand will definitely help you pick up the intricacies of bluffing in this game a lot quicker).
Set in the unknown future, you and your crew mates have been posted on the outpost of Titan, the distant dark moon of Saturn, and during an incident, some of you have been afflicted by some kind of virus. This virus is a ‘The Thing’ type infection, were anyone can be affected but have no visible signs of contraction. Once infected, that member of crew are no longer themselves; they are re-inhabited by an alien being that takes over their consciousness.
Starting with a console board (very nicely designed, I might add), as a team the humans must work their way through 4 missions to complete the game, all the while making sure to repair any consoles that have been damaged on the board. As the infected, your job is to run interference with the humans, thwarting their attempts to complete missions, damaging consoles and generally trying to sabotage their attempts to win the game; all the while remaining undetected. Humans win when all 4 missions are completed, and the infected win if either the Outpost, Shield or Life Support console stations have been completely damaged. Damaging any of these posts also causes extra problems for the humans as it can restrict their actions until repaired.
Each player is given a set of 4 dice, each with 4 negative numbers and 2 positive numbers on them; a character card, each with their own speciality; and an infection card, telling them of their loyalty. During each turn, the team must resolve a task card, which generally requires a dice roll check, requiring that the group submit dice with the combined number greater than that asked on the card. A player can opt in or out of each dice check; if they opt in they can roll and submit as many times as they like, however they must roll at least once and every time they roll they must submit at least one die.
This is were the subterfuge element comes into play within Dark Moon. Each dice roll by a player is done behind their character card so no one else can see what they rolled. For a human this is a very simple process – you roll, and any positive numbers you put into the task. If you only roll negative numbers, which is more likely, you are still required to submit at least one die, but there’s no lying involved. As an infected, you roll behind your character card in the same manner, but regardless of your results, you can lie and pretend you only rolled negative and submit that to try and disrupt the task. The issue that arises for the crew, is that because you can’t see anyone’s rolls, when playing with a group of great bluffers, it’s impossible to tell who’s a human and who’s infected. You can also reveal yourself as infected which opens up other actions during your turn. As an infected, I found this not to be better or worse than being hidden, rather just different. Overall the game is much more fun to play hidden though.
Humans also have another means to protecting themselves which is quarantining. If the humans suspect someone of being infected, they can call a vote and if successful, the chosen player is quarantined and their amount of maximum dice allowed are restricted to 2. The only way to get out of quarantine is to call another vote (which sometimes works if the team start to doubt you’re actually infected), or to reveal as infected (but doing so in this state cancels out your reveal power). This is why, whilst it’s more fun to play as hidden, for strategic measures you might want to reveal to use your infection power before you think you might be quarantined. Quarantining can also cause problems for the humans, as if they quarantine the wrong person, they could make an ally weaker by mistake.
It should be noted that a lot of these procedures feel very similar to the BSG game – the task checks at the end of every turn are much the same in each game, only the players are using dice in Dark Moon instead of skill cards, which helps to simplify the process. As humans in BSG you can also vote to put a player you think is a Cylon in jail, limiting the amount of cards they can carry and preventing them from revealing as Cylon and using their Cylon power, quite like how suspected infected can be quarantined and gain less dice. It’s also interesting to note that Dark Moon follows other recent attempts to simplify and abstract the influential traitor system of BSG, most notably the immensely popular deduction game Resistance. This may reduce the impact Dark Moon has, depending on what you’ve already played.
Also like a Cylon in BSG, as infected in Dark Moon the entire game relies heavily on your own ability to bluff, but if you’re good at it, it can lead to a devastating effect for the human crew. In one of my more memorable games as an infected, I managed to convince 2 human crew members that I was also a human, until a task that’s pass check was for a team member to show the current player their loyalty card. Assured I was human, they asked me to do so, I refused, they failed the task, I revealed as infected and proceeded to gave them a bad time.
I still lost, but it was by far one of the most fun games for me, although I’m pretty sure my friends still haven’t completely forgiven me for it.
Overall I think that Dark Moon is an incredibly enjoyably game when played with a good sized group of people that love subterfuge type games. It can take one or two play throughs to really get the hang of all the rules, but once you’ve got them, the game itself is relatively quick and easy to play, with one play through taking roughly an hour (rather than the three hour play time of Battlestar Galactica). If you like bluffing or think you know your friends well enough to tell if their consciousness has been taken over by a blood thirsty alien, then this is the game for you.
Designer: Evan Derrick
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Playtime: 60-75 mins
Number of players: 3-7 (best with about 5)