Modern Cult Science Fiction. Also known as Firefly. Like being hipster before it was cool, people didn’t know what Firefly was until Fox decided to cancel the series. Only then did it blow up into the intellectual property that is now used as universal cred all over geekdom. When Gale Force Nine announced that they were making Firefly: The Game, many people groaned that their beloved show was going to be sold out into a mass market pile of garbage. Yet, we seem to be at an inflection point for games based on existing intellectual property. Is it possible that Firefly the game could stand on its own? Or is this going to be just what the fans were fearing?
In Firefly each player takes on the role of a captain of a Firefly class ship trying to make their way in the ‘Verse. The goal of the game changes depending on the scenario that is chosen, ranging from stealing the crown jewels to simply making the most money the quickest. As play progresses the players will be adding crew to their ship, obtaining equipment, and most importantly, working jobs.
The central mechanic of the game is obtaining and completing jobs. There are five ‘contacts’ who all offer their own flavor of work to the captains. While Harken’s jobs are straightforward and low risk, they pay a fraction of the amount of Niska’s illegal and, most often, immoral work. Jobs range from simple passenger transport, to riskier smuggling or even getting your crew’s hands dirty with some Misbehaving (more on that later). No matter the job, when it is completed your ship gets paid. First your crew takes their cut, then the rest is given to the captain. After completing a job for a contact, you become ‘solid’ with them, offering a small bonus perk.
Acquiring your faithful (or not so faithful) crew is another key to making it by. There are five ports where players can consider crew and equipment. For both the port cards, and the previously mentioned contact cards, there is always at least a few cards in the discard pile. These ‘discards’ are populated at the beginning of the game, and are replenished if a discard pile is ever depleted. When you go to buy something, you are buying it from the discard pile. This means that you can see what is there before you go to the effort of flying through space to the port. Crew offer skills and special abilities, equipment augments skills and might help with Misbehaving, and ship upgrades gives your ship special abilities.
When trying to maneuver on the board, a full burn action can be taken at the expense of a fuel (another commodity of the game). When moving, players will draw cards from either a Boarder Space or Alliance Space deck, depending on where they are flying. These decks are primarily made up of ‘Keep Flying Cards’ but they also may contain events that may happen to your crew. Some of the nastier events involve Rever Raids, or Alliance Customs Inspections.
What would a game about less than legal activities be without a little Misbehaving? Many crime or smuggling jobs require the crew to ‘Misbehave.’ Players will draw cards from the Misbehave deck and resolve each one, until the required number are completed (normally 1-3). Most Misbehaving cards consists of either two different options or a free pass. For example, you may get into a bar fight requiring you to fight, talk your way out of it or have a transport ready to flee. These options can present themselves as skill checks against the three main skills: fighting, negotiating or technical. Players count up their skill points given by characters and equipment, then make a roll against the number required on the option. Sometimes you just have the right stuff for the situation, like explosives or a fake ID, and will not have to make a skill check. If you fail to meet the requirements, you run the risk of botching the attempt, killing crew, or gaining warrants.
Play continues on until someone reaches and completes the last goal on the scenario card.
Things and bits:
When everything is in the box, Firefly does not seem like that much of a game. There are just some cards and a board. But then as you start setting things up, you realize that you are going to need a bigger table. There are five decks of equipment/crew cards, five decks of contact jobs, one deck of misbehaving, two decks for movement …each requiring a deck and a discard space… and 4 stacks of money. You will then appreciate that there is a bunch packed into a modest box. The overall quality is superb, the cards all have a nice feel and finish. Each player gets their own Firefly miniature and ship board. Setting aside the cards, the game is full of cardboard bits too! Nothing feels cheap.
The artwork and graphic design is perfect. Everything pulls the players into the ‘Verse, while not getting in the way of playing the game. Everything has the same gritty futuristic feel that the fans of the show love. Original artwork is splattered all over the game, from the backs of the cards to the money.
Unfortunately, the rules leave something to be desired. The rule book is incomplete and in contradiction with itself. The first play through required an extra hour of rules referencing, which turned in to online FAQ checking, that eventually turned into house ruling. There are some rules of the game that simply don’t make sense. For example: when flying you have to draw cards for every space you move into. Most of the negative effects of the cards involve you doing something to resist having to stop. This means that drawing a card for the last space you move to has no effect, because you will simply stop anyway. Due to its complexity, the game does take awhile to teach, but the concepts are easy to explain. Most rules are easy to imply by looking at the game pieces.
Game time widely varied. First games took 3+ hours to complete, where now a two player game only takes 90 minutes. Play time can be shortened by streamlining some actions, with some suggestions made in the rulebook. Players can deal with contacts and buy (essentially looking at cards) while another player is taking their turn. The game supports up to 4 players, but due to the low player interaction, I found a two player game was the most enjoyable.
Full disclaimer: I am a Browncoat. I love the Firefly series. When I first heard about the game, I was apprehensive, to say the least, that the game was going to be a mass market empty shell. I went in to the game prepared to be disappointed and was pleasantly proven wrong. Gale Force Nine was able to solidify the theme and feel of Firefly and pull the players into that world. Simple as that. During one play, one of my friends treated every turn like an episode, complete with ‘Previously on Bonie Mae with Captain Monty.’ You find little references throughout the entire box. The current player token is one of Wash’s dinosaurs. Some of the tokens are sad Miranda faces from the Serenity movie. You can find Crowe and his knife, you can hire Jayne and make sure he has Vera. Bridget/Yolanda/Saffron all make appearances. If you like the show, you are going to like the game.
All that glowing praise being said, for people who were not as enamored with the show: you are just going to find a simple pick up and deliver game with a horrible rule book. The things that people dislike about the show are going to be almost as applicable in the game. Yes, there are horses. Yes, there are spaceships. And, yes, there is silly vernacular like ‘ruttin’ and ‘goram.’ Looking at the game without the theme, while there are some interesting game mechanisms, you find mostly a derivation of other space based fly around and deliver stuff games. This may not be your cup of tea.
The way the game treats discard piles surprised me. The fact that players can know what to expect at a given location takes the randomness out of acquiring your crew. The nature of the deck of cards ensures that no two games are the same; but, it prevents one player from constantly getting lucky draws when buying equipment. Same with the contacts. You can see if there are going to be jobs that interest you. Granted, if you are on the other side of the board, getting to Osiris to claim Simon before your opponent can be tricky.
The variation available in play style is impressive. You can play as Womac and gather up the nastiest denizens of the outer rim to dominate the illegal and immoral jobs. Or you can be straight laced and stay on the good side of the law and expect little, if any, trouble. Each time I have played, I have tried to maximize one small aspect of the job cards, and it has lead to very different play experiences.
Don’t expect to deal with other players while out in the black. Firefly is predominantly a multi-player solitaire game. The level of player interaction is basically zero. The biggest thing that your opponents can do is to discard a person or piece of equipment that you need (or take one you want). To this end, I don’t plan on seeking out other people to play with. As my wife is a bigger Firefly fan than I am, our two player games are far more satisfying than larger group games.
Designed by: Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski and Sean Sweigart
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Time: 120 minutes
Ages: 13+Mechanic: Pickup and Deliver, Space Travel, Dice based skill check
This review really could be given from two different points of view. First, for those who don't know about, or dislike Firefly: you can pass on by. There is nothing to see here. Without the theme, the game is mediocre. However, if you enjoy Firefly, even just a little, you are going to be sucked in to your own big damn adventure. I cannot recommend this any higher for the fans of the show. Gale Force Nine gives you a reason to forget that Fox cancelled the show, because you can simply create your own epic stories.