Firefly: The Game – my initial impressions
Anyone who even kinda knows me knows that I’m a Browncoat. (Even if they don’t know that’s the word for it.) I’m an enormous fan of Joss Whedon’s ill-fated show Firefly, the follow-up film Serenity, and the subsequent comics that accompanied the show/movie. And in addition to this, most of you probably realise I love board games. So when I’d heard there was a Firefly game coming out, I got pretty excited (this is a mild understatement). I hadn’t realised there was going to be a Gen Con release of it, so my wait to get it in my greedy little hands was a bit longer (although I have friends in town who’d procured a copy that way, and had a bit of a tinker-play with it before my purchase). After a half-learning game, a solo play and then a 2-player session with Adam, here’s my impressions so far.
The Look of the ‘Verse
Gale Force 9 did a bang up job of how this game looks. Little minis of ships rather than tokens to move around was an important choice, if you ask me. Makes you really feel like you’re zooming about out in the black. The cards have wonderful design, with a retro feel, almost. The supply planet cards are especially great, as they remind me a bit of this Blue Sun travel poster series – very kitschy and in keeping with the look of the universe as portrayed around the show/movie. Images from the show are used for character cards and gear, so when you look down at your crew you see who they are all laid out – last game I had Mal, River and Wash and it was kinda great for a big fan like me to have the big damn heroes included in the game, not just background extras and one-episode folks used as imagery. (It’s a bit sad the IP for Serenity couldn’t be included, but licensing is what it is.)
Overall, no complaints with the look of this game. Really nice quality and in keeping with the theme.
The rule book is utter rubbish. There, I said it. I guess they rushed it to be done for Gen Con. It’s a stupid mistake to rush a rule book for a fairly complex game, because it leaves the customer with a lot of unanswered questions, little clarification, which ends up bloating gameplay the first couple of times you crack out the game. The first little bit about setup and whatnot isn’t so bad, but the rest of it is a bit of a mess and not necessarily organized logically, making it frustrating to quickly reference stuff because for many things I’m not sure where to look. For instance, they suggest a story card to use for your first game which I grabbed to sit down and play solo, not even looking at the rest – unfortunately, the rule book mentions nothing specifically about solo play (just that some cards will require a different setup sometimes) so I didn’t think to look specifically for the one solo-play story card.
They’ve since had to release an official FAQ to clarify a lot of issues that came up from fans on Boardgame Geek. They really missed the boat with not including a player aid, too – to have to keep flipping through the rule book while taking turns isn’t the greatest. Maybe in subsequent printings it’ll be revised, but until then I’ll keep looking for more FAQs. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is.
Despite the rules contributing to the time spent understanding how turns play out, etc, the gameplay is pretty straight forward. You have two actions, and you can spend them to either fly, buy, deal, or work. It’s simple to look at, and it’s in keeping with how the crews of Firefly class ships roll in the ‘verse. Get jobs, get paid, stay flying. You can visit contacts (Niska, Patience, Badger, Amnon Duul & the Alliance’s Harken) to get either legal or illegal jobs to work. Working jobs means smuggling, doing some crime, just transporting stuff or outright misbehaving. Visiting supply planets allows you to gather more crew and gear. Flying comes with its own risks – you could bump into the Alliance or the Reavers out there. All of this helps you work toward reaching the goals set out on the story card which you pick at the start of the game – a variety of stuff like being solid with contacts, being the first to earn a certain amount of money, or even just gallivanting around the ‘verse, misbehaving to get through.
If you’ve played the game before, it’ll likely pan out to be around 2 hours to play through a game of 2 – 4 people – but with learning and getting used to the game, it can add 30 – 45 minutes on top of that. It’s an engaging game though, and I feel like it wouldn’t work at a shorter time. You have to put in the effort to improve your chances of reaching the story card’s goal, and you can’t do that in one swift circuit of the ‘verse. Despite the rules, there’s nothing hugely complex about the game just as long as you pay attention to the text on cards etc once you understand the basic mechanics of how turns go, and skill tests work.
EDIT: I realise I didn’t go into detail about solo play. The way they set it up works well, with a timed game. Only thing that bugged me was the uselessness of the navigation decks. Not much threat when you’re the only one moving ships. Otherwise it’s a great adventure!
You’re gonna need a bigger boat. And by that, I mean you’re gonna need a big-ass table to play this game. Our square Ikea table with both leaves extended is about right, if you have two players on each long side of the table and everything else (cards, tokens, money) spread out on the short ends of the board. Holy smokes it’s a space-eater, this game. Make sure you set aside 10 – 15 minutes to get it all properly laid out before you launch into the actual game set up with players.
Theme-wise, this is a joy. I was a little concerned that the point could be missed, but it’s been thoroughly integrated throughout. Dealing with Niska as a contact can be a dangerous thing. If you have one aspect of YoSafBrige on your crew, when someone else hires one of her alternate identities (Saffron, Bridget or Yolanda), then she vanishes from your crew. How awesome is that! River can be really useful for skill checks, but she’s just as likely to wander off back to the ship as be offering mechanical help when you need muscle. (She’s a little crazy, our dear Mei Mei.) Even Jayne’s cunning hat turns up as gear. If you’re a fan, but not a board gamer, I think the richness of theme will draw you in to try this game – even if all you’ve ever tried is Settlers of Catan! If you’re a board gamer who has even a passing interest in space adventuring then this is a no-brainer to try out.
There’s a lot of potential to expand on this game. Although I think the 5th player addition is a bit of a mistake (this is long enough to play with 2 or 3, let alone the max of 4, or 5 with the expansion), I love that they have already made a proper introductory story card to download and that there’s potential for more story cards and extra adventures. I believe there’s an expansion in the works, so I hope that’ll address the rule discrepancies and add some shiny new things.
Overall? With some reservations re: rules and learning curve, I heartily recommend Firefly: the Game! I can’t wait to get it back to the table once I’m more at home with rules/gameplay.