REVIEW – FIREFLY: THE GAME

   Firefly: The Game provides 2-3 hours of gameplay for up to 4 players, including a solo version. Each player picks a leader and a Firefly-class starship and competes to accomplish the goals of one of the game’s six ‘stories’ first. The stories are all different and goals can involve completing jobs, gaining money, or completing difficult skill tests, always accompanied by hilarious flavour text. Each game usually begins with players taking legal jobs (making deliveries of cargo or passengers) before moving into the more rewarding but riskier illegal jobs (like smuggling fugitives and contraband, or committing heists and other crimes). Once they have the resources, players can buy gear and ship upgrades or recruit additional crew, as well as progress through the story’s objectives. Crew and gear often give you bonuses to any of your three main skills (combat, mechanical, and negotiation), which you’ll need to pass the game’s harder skill tests, as well as occasionally giving you a free pass when you draw certain cards.

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Eleanor:

   Loving this game at first sight was incredibly easy. The humour inherent in the design, the text and the overall ambience of the game matches that of the show perfectly; at times I just couldn’t help laughing out loud. There are a great many references to specific scenes and episodes from the show, and fans have the experience of seeing how many they can spot. What’s more, the characters feature prominently in the game as crew and contacts, and an exciting aspect of the game is competing with the other players to hire the crew from the show’s canon. That said, it was obvious from the get-go that this game will not be as enjoyable for people unfamiliar with Firefly. If it wasn’t clear from the title, a very large focus of the game is dedicated to the show, and while it is still a good game, the majority of the appeal comes from knowing the TV show.

Pat:

   Firstly, any game that lets me buy something called a bad-ass space jeep gets a thumbs up in my book, bridging my love for tabletop gaming with the sad realisation that most games generally don’t involve nearly enough hoverbike chases. And that’s just one of many homages this game pays to its source material: every card you turn over, whether it’s wares you’re buying from one of the game’s five shops or a “Misbehave” card (which represent the antics your crew will get up to while doing something illegal), contains some reference to the show, while still maintaining its own sense of humour. It’s a testament to the designer’s clear love for the show that such humour never feels out of place in this game. The game has a casual, jokey tone that matches what fans will remember of Firefly without expecting you to laugh out loud at anything – basically, it works. But I have to agree with Eleanor, since while it all feels wonderfully familiar to fans of the show, I’m not sure newcomers would understand a lot of the in-jokes that are peppered everywhere.

   Another point on the references in this game: a problem you come across when you’re adapting a show that only ran for 14 episodes, is that you run out of major characters to reference. Because of this, of the six leaders you can choose to be your ship’s captain, only Malcolm actually appears in more than one episode. And this is indicative of a lot of the references in this game: you’d have to be a serious browncoat to recognise half the characters that come up. Strangely enough, even while the game stretches to find meaningful figures from the show to include, it’s utterly devoid of any material from the movie. Part of me is saying they’re saving it for a future expansion; the more rational part says they just couldn’t acquire the rights to Serenity.

If you intend to play this game, make sure you have a big-ass table ready because as you can see, it does take up a lot of room.

If you intend to play this game, make sure you have a big-ass table ready because as you can see, it does take up a lot of room.

Eleanor:

   I loved the way that ship travel is conducted in the ‘Verse. In order to move anything more than a single space, you have to draw a Navigation card for every sector you travel through, putting yourself at risk of customs inspections, general unwanted attention and (my personal favourite) family dinners. When travelling through Border space, there is a chance at any time of drawing the Reaver card, which automatically brings the Reaver ship down upon you. If you don’t have a pilot AND mechanic (to execute a ‘Crazy Ivan’) at least one of your crew is pretty much dead, and that’s if you’re lucky.

Pat:

   I’m in full agreement here, especially on the way the board is split between Alliance space (dominating the centre) and Border space (around the, y’know, border). Travelling through Alliance space is by far the quickest way to get around, and so long as your ship’s not up to anything shady, it’s also the safest. But if you’re engaging in illegal activity (like having wanted crew onboard, or smuggling contraband) you’ll often have to make the difficult decision whether to fly the shorter path and risk the authorities catching you and confiscating your goods, or take the longer way round through Border space, safe from the Alliance but risking that oh-so-small chance that Reavers will show up and kill everyone you hold dear. It’s a nice risk-reward mechanic that matches the tone set by the show brilliantly.

This photo shows off some of the miniatures included in the game - the Reaver Ship (red), a Firefly (blue) and the Alliance Ship (grey).

This photo shows off some of the miniatures included in the game – the Reaver Ship (red), a Firefly (blue) and the Alliance Ship (grey).

Eleanor:

   However, some of the other mechanics of the game were a little odd and steered the game in somewhat of an odd direction. First, I found it a little unbelievable that instead of dying like regular crew, captains can only become ‘disgruntled’. It’s a relief that the most important characters can’t be removed from the game, but it’s seems a little odd that players can choose their unkillable characters to be injured in fights or not-killed by Reavers (often the character that is affected is player’s choice).

Pat:

   That was a bit weird, yeah. For those playing at home, the ‘disgruntled’ mechanic normally applies to the non-captain portion of your crew. Usually it happens when you have moral crew getting sent to do immoral jobs (like swiping settlers’ rations). Just like in real life, you can cure them of their sullen mood by giving them money (devoting one of your precious actions to going on shore leave), but if a disgruntled crew member becomes disgruntled again before you can buy their happiness, they’ll quit. Furthermore, disgruntled crew can be hired out from under you by other players, but the opportunity came up so infrequently that we never tried it. For obvious reasons, your captain can’t quit. They’ll just fire the entire crew if they become overly disgruntled. Which is often painful, but bizarre that you can choose for it to happen instead of people being killed.

Eleanor:

   Exactly. Secondly, due to the mechanic that players can sell contraband or cargo to contacts they are ‘solid’ with (solid means having completed a job for them), there is the possibility that a player can get more money by selling cargo or contraband straight back to the contact that gave it to them instead of using it to complete the job it was meant for. If the contact wanted it delivered to a client, it seems a little odd that they will buy it back off the player straight away.

   And thirdly, some of the skill tests and Misbehave cards had an option to succeed straight away if the player had a certain character or item, e.g. ‘Fake ID’, ‘Jayne’s Cunning Hat’, ‘Wash’. When this became apparent,  the game to an extent became about who could get the most free passes, which was a little disappointing.

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Pat:

   After playing it we agreed this comes down very solidly under the American style of boardgame design – glossy and heavy in theme, but very little room for strategy. Once you’ve gotten the hang of the game’s primary mechanics and can remember the main cards to watch out for, there’s not much strategising you can do. Some more ways to undermine other players besides buying stuff they wanted or occasionally moving the Reaver/Alliance ship towards them would have been nice here. With so little strategy or player interaction going on, once you know what you’re doing it kind of just becomes a game of ‘get all the trump cards then steamroll through every challenge.’ It actually takes less time than you think to kit out your crew with enough gear that even the toughest skill tests become trivial.

   I feel like we’ve been rather hard on the game so far, but in truth we had a lot of fun while playing it. Sure, to an extent we were playing our own separate games, but the thing was we were all there to laugh in the face of providence when anything went wrong (like the third consecutive time Alliance operatives or Reavers blocked my progress in the middle of an important mission, or when one captain’s first job was to ferry fugitives through Alliance space, promptly getting caught by the authorities and firing their entire crew in a huff). These are genuinely funny moments in the company of a good group, and what Firefly: The Game does well is enable moments like these. So for all our nitpicks about it, it is a fun game, at least for fans of the show. We’ll probably be playing it again soon.

Eleanor:

   I really enjoyed playing this game. The presentation, artwork and general thematic-ness was incredible to me as a fan of Firefly and boardgames generally. Presentation is second only to the Battlestar Galactica boardgame (oddly enough another one based on a TV show – I think I see a pattern here). The lack of player interaction was somewhat disappointing, emphasised by the recommendation in the rulebook that players overlap their turns to speed up the game. That said, it was a lot of fun to see Pat repeatedly get stopped/massacred by Reavers and/or the Alliance Ship mid-flight. This game is a must-play for fans of Firefly.

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One Comment
  1. December 5, 2013 | Reply

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