Review: Unfathomable brings classic Battlestar Galactica board game to life
Just as modern board games made their appearance in the late 2000s, so did the modern era of premium television. These two worlds collided Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, designed by Corey Konieczka. Sadly, it sold out years ago, with even battered versions now selling collectibles at a higher price.
But the brave folks at Fantasy Flight Games took the leap at the end of the year, reinventing that style of play with an entirely new theme. Unfathomable is outstanding and deserves your attention in an area cluttered with excellent new board games.
Unfathomable has a simple premise: you and up to five of your friends try to keep a cruise ship, its crew and its passengers alive. Conspire against you the gruesome Deep Ones, a mother-and-father team of colossal sea monsters, along with their brood of wet, dripping monsters. Everyone is on deck to push back the residents, keep the engines running, and weather the storm to reach a safe harbor.
There is just one problem. One or more of the three to six people at the table conspires with the Deep Ones. As a traitor, it’s easy enough to keep a low profile. The many challenges of the game can only be overcome by throwing cards into a common pot. If enough of the right combinations of cards appear, you’ve reached the goal. Cards are randomized before being revealed so no one knows who put which cards. All you have to do is put in the wrong cards, which compromises the efforts of other players and makes the disaster worse.
Alternatively, traitors can choose to reveal themselves. Do it just at the right time, and the damage can be irreversible. On the other hand, if you play these cards badly, you will spend the rest of your journey in the ship’s brig.
Just like in the original Battlestar Galactica, there are several locations all around the ship that allow players to perform special moves. You can power the boiler on your turn to make the ship move faster, or search the hold for weapons and special items. Slowly but surely, the Deep Ones will begin to invade the ship, shutting down these powerful systems one by one. They can even damage the ship, bringing you ever closer to defeat.
In this way, Unfathomable is a huge upgrade from the original. In my experience, the Cylons rarely got on the Galactica, and once they did, it was pretty much the game’s end. Meanwhile, in this 1920s Cthulhu-inspired version of the game, the Deep Ones are constantly in your face. Unfathomable also has a smart mechanic that endangers other anonymous passengers who take the cruise with you. That, added to the subtly redesigned seascape layout all around the ship, greatly enhances the gameplay.
It’s not just a reskin of a classic game. It’s an extremely well-designed upgrade, and designer Tony Fanchi is to be commended for the job.
The only complaint I have is the art direction and the graphic design of the cards themselves. There’s a huge amount of text in this game, and the tiny little cards you have to hold in your hand could use up more space – room for, say, graphics of all kinds. Instead, players are asked to absorb a stack of words written in an 8 point typeface. Likewise, the backs of the cards don’t look consistent and they don’t scan well from a distance on the table.
These baffles aside, Unfathomable actually benefits the quarterback. As a seasoned gamer familiar with the rules, it’s easy to step on the pedal and keep the game on track during its long playing time of two to four hours. If you have a group dedicated to board games or an ambitious team of newbies looking for a good time indoors, I can’t recommend this one enough.
Unfathomable will launch on November 12, but is available now in select friendly local game stores. The game has been revised with a final copy of the game provided by Asmodee. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find more information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.