Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 120 minutes
Play Time (Goof): 120 – 180 minutes
Producer: Gale Force Nine
Designer/s: John Kovaleski, Sean Sweigart & Aaron Dill
Gorram it, I love Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The night I stumbled onto the movie Serenity I cried (tears of joy), but not half as hard as the night I discovered Firefly. Yes…I watched them out of order, and that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
I’m a Browncoat. For those of you who don’t understand the definition, what in the suo-yo duh doh shr-dang have you been doing with your life? When I hear that guitar intro I can’t help but belt out “take my love, take my land” to the detriment of the neighbourhood dogs.
I have the shirts, the comics, the action figures and the manuscripts from both the show and the movie. I know the history of the ‘verse. I know the reason River tore the labels off the cans and the background of Shepard Book.
I don’t often wish ill upon people. Quite the opposite; I’m a live and let live, ‘leaf on the wind’ kind of guy who got no grudge with most people. However, I do hope the person who’s decision it was to cancel Firefly burns in a special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre.
So if I’m so head over heels in love with the show, do I unconditionally love everything Firefly? Do they stamp a Blue Sun logo on something and I’m all shiny? Not exactly. It attracts my attention, but if the game’s an inverted mutated cow fetus then when the compression coil busts and I’m left drifting, reminiscing on the moments that got me to this point, I hang the game over the volcano to find out who the game truly is.
So what is the verdict? Is the game go se or does it have a bit of slink? Time to do the review and find out.
The first thing which kind of bugged me when researching the game before I bought it, was that it was being referred to as a ‘sandbox’ style of board game. This was appealing to me on some level, I’m a huge consumer of sandbox video games like Grand Theft Auto and Shadow of Mordor. But I wasn’t entirely convinced it would hold up in a board game. I was very happy to be proven wrong.
Firefly: The Game is very much about travelling across the stars, doing odd jobs and trying to ensure you’ve got enough fuel, crew and equipment to keep you in the running. Where the sandbox element comes into it is the different approaches you can take to reach your goal. I’ve seen players focus on doing up their ships, getting a small well equipped crew to complete crime jobs. I’ve seen people play with ships and extended crew quarters bursting with expendable crew, and complete transport jobs. I’ve seen players never take a single illegal action and come out on top. I’ve seen those moments were players are forced to switch up their strategies, maybe completing just one immoral job so that they can get enough money to move on with more work; which disgruntles their moral crew. All are valid strategies, and make for some really intense and memorable moments.
Gameplay usually moves very quickly, with players taking 2 out of 4 types of actions each turn. This means that when playing with up to four players, your turns can come around very quickly. However, each turn you tend to feel like you’ve accomplished something significant, whether that be setting up to complete a job, doing the job, dealing with contacts and so on. Something which I thought was very clever to include in the rules is the suggestion that if you are using a buy or deal action as your second action, you can allow the next player to start having their turn while you’re taking your time to consider. This is beneficial to both the other players and to you, as you can take longer considering what you would like to claim, and the others don’t have to sit there and stare at your ugly mug while you do it.
Not really a positive or a negative, but something that is definitely worth noting, is the fact players can get immensely unlucky. I’ve only seen it a handful of times out of the dozens of games we’ve played, but every now and then the Reavers can develop a taste for a player who gets raped to death, their flesh eaten and their skin sewn into the Reavers’ clothing. And they’re never lucky enough for them to do it in that order. Most of the time, the Reavers may screw someone up once or twice in a game and players do have the option of getting upgrades for their ship to attempt to get themselves out of this situation. But it’s not always possible. I have seen a friend of mine mercilessly beaten into submission by the Reavers to the point where it wasn’t worth him continuing to play. And to be honest it did take a bit of fun out of the session. But by the same token, it means the threat of the Reavers’ Ship is real. And players can use it to aggressively take down each other while they fly through the ‘verse. I’d recommend every ship make it a priority to have a pilot and a mechanic. Crazy Ivans are your absolute best bet to avoid being eaten alive. Although, and not to harp on a point here, but an alternative strategy is to upgrade your ship in a way that you can deal with the Reavers without the help of Ivan.
The Crazy Ivan part of gameplay leads me onto another aspect I absolutely adore – Options. Every single event card has multiple options which can be taken to get out of a situation, and even some of the equipment has multiple ways it can be used. Some of these options are clearly better than others, such as not being eaten alive or being eaten alive. And some of these options come down to your preferred outcome, or the way you’ve geared your unique crew. Sometimes your crew will be better at negotiating its way out, but maybe overwhelming your opponents in a fight will lead to not having to share those much needed credits. Options in this game make the world feel a lot more fleshed out, like you are responsible for the consequences of your decisions.
The storyline missions are the way you win the game. In the base version of this game, the storyline missions left a little to be desired. My biggest gripe here is that the storyline missions are essentially races, with little-to-no player interaction.
Player interaction takes place in a number of ways, although they are all very small. If a crew member on an opponent’s ship is disgruntled, you can purchase the crew member off of that ship by paying their cost to the bank. This causes the crew member to join you and become no longer disgruntled. Another player interaction involves the Nav Card deck. When a player “full burns”, a method of movement in the game, they flip a corresponding Nav Card for each new sector they move in to. On several of these cards are opportunities for the player on your right to move either the Alliance Cruiser or the Reaver ship. I liked it was the person on the right of the player who made these decisions, as play passes to the left. This gave the person moving either ship the potential to block someone who would be playing in the next few turns. And, of course, you can always deny your opponents crew or equipment they want simply by purchasing it. This does unfortunately result in some players feeling like this is a solitaire game- you do your thing and wait until your next turn. I didn’t feel this way, but I can see what those people are saying.
I will point out another flaw in the base game which is very lacking. The base game comes with four ships, and each of these ships are completely identical except for colour. I’m someone who likes to play asymmetrical games as it gives me more options to choose a strategy I like- but what’s the point in picking a specific ship if it’s only about the colour? I’m sure it won’t bother some of you reading this. But this bothered me a lot when I first opened the box.
There’s a lot to be said for Firefly: The Game; I can continue on about how I liked the fact you considered up to 3 of the items in a relevant discard pile such as a store or a contact; and took cards off the top of the relevant pile to make 3 if you took less. This meant over time the stores and contracts would offer more and more variety. I could mention how I like making a decision about what goods should go into my stash or my cargo hold. And while all this is true, I really think you should get the game for yourself and see just how awesome it is.
Pros: +variety of strategies, +gameplay moves quickly, +pass turn while considering, +options on cards, +stores sell more over time, +fun micromanagement
Cons: -bland storyline missions, -lack of player interaction, -symmetrical ships
The Firefly television show featured a small crew who travelled from planet to planet, dodging Alliance law and attempting to make their own way in the ‘verse. Some people complain the game doesn’t feature enough of those unique character to character moments that the show was so famous for… and yeah,they have a point. The show pulled it off wonderfully. But you can’t capture every single detail of a show in one board game. To make something that’s fun and not bogged down in needless mechanics, you need to pick some things to focus on. And I feel this game has done a wonderful job of that. It focused on the captain getting a crew, and it focused on you out in the black.
I’ve been a roleplayer for a number of years now. I’ve been the Dungeon Master at our Dungeons and Dragon’s campaign for the better part of four years. And theme to me is strongest when it allows you to take the game further. To talk about how the events in the game make sense. And I’ve found this to be the case with Firefly. Let me explain.
“There I was, on Santo in the Qin Shi Huang system. Working this casino Badger felt he had a sure fire way of beating their system. Suddenly, an Alliance Patrol was giving one of my crew a hard time, but it’s alright because we’d managed to fake our papers. We thought their automated anti-cheat detection system was onto us for a moment, but Bester rigged us a bypass. Suddenly, River next to me started to whisper some nonsense. But whenever she’s done it before there’s been trouble. And I’ve learnt to listen. We made haste with the job, and got back to the ship in one piece, money in tow.”
My friends and I tell little stories like this whenever we work a job. It’s four cards, and it turns into something we’ll remember (especially when someone gets kidnapped by hill folk in the middle of a city). Sometimes they’re smaller stories, but the game lends itself to being able to do so nicely.
The ‘verse feels full and fleshed out. Locations from the show can be located on the map. Characters from the show can be interacted with on some kind of meaningful level (if you use your imagination). You start to know when to avoid Alliance space, and when to play it safe within the bounds of the law.
Some jobs are considered ‘legal’ yet ‘immoral’ and also ‘illegal’ yet ‘moral’ (sort of) and this is completely in keeping with the theme in the show and was one of the first things I smiled at, knowing the ‘verse I loved was in good hands.
I usually crank up the Firefly Original Soundtrack when I play. And it takes me right back, to every laugh and tear shed with the crew of the Serenity. The game lends itself perfectly to that mentality. I only wish they’d included the sound track with the game. That sort of encouragement would have been ideal.
Pros: +captures the feeling of the show, ++encourages storytelling,
The production quality in this game is exceptional. Which again lets you dive right into the world of Firefly with as minimal an interruption to your imagination as possible.
The ships are made of plastic, which is fine. The Australian heat apparently didn’t agree with their decision but so be it.
My biggest gripe is the colour of the ships. Sure, they’re colourful. They just feel a little on the bland side. It’s a case of function over style though. They’re certainly easy enough to determine who is who. And Gale Force Nine do sell ships you can paint yourself. So…you know…maybe I’m just complaining because I’m lazy.
Each token is double sided (always the same thing on the other side to help with locating tokens) to make great use of the multitude of tokens they have. If they hadn’t have done this, then the price of this game would have skyrocketed, as there are an unbelievable amount of tokens needed. The tokens are artistically functional. They look good, and they represent what they need to clearly.
I HATE paper money. I feel that most games do it because it’s cheap to produce. They were always the first components to be damaged in our old Monopoly games. But the beautiful artwork on the Firefly currency really lends itself to the paper money in an antique kind of way. It’s the one place the game seems to sacrifices practicality for design. We are always super careful with the money and after two and a bit years, we still haven’t had any tear. I’m just not confident the same will be said in ten years’ time.
While I admitted I enjoy the production value of this game, I will say something I really dislike is that they use photos in the game. It makes me sad.
I can’t stand it when designers use photos instead of artwork. Having said this, it actually isn’t too bad here. The photos they’ve chosen are generally isolated enough you don’t feel like they’ve just taken a bad screenshot. But I still wish they hadn’t. It may be a personal preference. But there have been occasions where I will stop looking at a game, simply because the photos they used make me cringe while looking at the back of the box.
Pros: ++design choices are functional, +artwork, +good use of double-sided tokens
Cons: -paper money, -photos
I want to point out the game’s expansions fix a lot of the issues from the base game. Additional and varying ships, a better variety of story missions, a lot more player interactivity, more space to explore and the Reavers become way scarier, which I adore. I should mention that I own every expansion so far except Kalidasa, and I don’t have the Jetwash or Esmeralda ships (this game has sooo many expansions).
I give Firefly: The Game:
Is this game fun? A resounding yes. But I should mention the target audience is those of you who like games that take about two or three hours to play. Those who like the idea of a relaxing game with moments of real intensity. If you like the idea of taking a stroll through the Firefly universe which you may not survive, then this game is absolutely for you. Don’t expect every turn to be on the edge of your seat, but you can expect to feel like you are exploring, surviving and thriving in this beautiful game.