At last year’s Gathering of Friends game convention, as I was going from game to game & chatting with folks, I kept hearing about “this Firefly game”. I am at my very core a huge fan of Firefly & its resultant spin-offs, so I’m likely to want to get anything related to the intellectual property in front of me to check it out. I finally got a chance to sit down with a few other people to try the prototype of Firefly: Out to the Black. You can read my initial thoughts here.
Fast forward to earlier this year, and the game finally hit the shelves (due to a delay, I believe, in an unsuccessful attempt to Kickstart the game due to licensing, or some such thing). I am lucky enough to have a sweetie who keeps an eye on game releases fairly regularly, and he picked me up a copy from one of our local game stores so we could give the final, published game a shot. There hasn’t been much noticeably changed since the prototype we played – nothing major enough that it stands out to me, at any rate – probably just tidying up of gameplay/copy.
Firefly: Out to the Black is a cooperative card game for 3 – 5 players (recommended with 4 or 5). Play time is approximately 45 minutes. The premise of the game is that you’re a member of Serenity‘s crew, and you have to work your way through a number of jobs with your fellow players, successfully avoiding the Alliance and not losing too many credits or honour. From the very top down, this game is truly thematic – a cooperative struggle to do the job, get paid, make it through together. The art in the game is all promo shots & scene captures from the TV series, so it’s very familiar for fans but shouldn’t be offputting for people who are unfamiliar with the show.
Each crew member has certain levels of skills (fightin’, flyin’ and thinkin’), which makes them better or worse at contributing when the crew is doing a job – this has been thought out fairly well (and each character has fairly low numbers as the crew must combine forces & play cards to reach each job’s goals. So, y’know – Kaylee’s strong with flying and thinking, whereas Jayne is pretty much all fighting, and Mal’s got a bit of everything. Thematically, it works really nicely; it also lets you pick a crew with a diverse spread of skills to ensure you cover all your bases.
When a job is drawn from the deck, the start player (leader) will look at what the job requires skill-wise & pick the appropriate folks for the job. (To the job’s specs – the jobs can be solo or up to the full crew playing, and the leader that round must go.) There’s not a lot of flavour text with the jobs, but it’d be hard to get it on there with the rest of the necessary information: the skill level required, and the rewards/penalties for bombing/mostly succeeding/completely succeeding each job. I quite like this, as it’s not a black and white “succeed or don’t” outcome – it wasn’t really ever like that for the crew in the show, and honestly it was very rarely that they’d come through a job perfectly.
So, if you’re not going to be getting through the jobs by the skin of the crew’s teeth alone, how do you do it? Serenity cards – almost all of these are relevant to jobs, and will add to skill checks and have other benefits. Each player starts with a handful at the start of the game – but there’s no regular draw phase throughout the game so you really have to be sparing with them There will be some other cards or character abilities that will let you draw extra cards during the game, but it’s tough to rely on that. Another way the game compensates for its cooperative nature with some tough choices and rarity of resources – plus, you can’t openly discuss what you’ll be contributing each round, so you need to be really savvy about how to talk about job tactics and playing these cards! A struggle, but not one that makes the game unenjoyable.
But – of course – there’s more to a job than just that. After the crew reveals their played Serenity cards for the job, a ‘Gorramit’ card is flipped over – these have all sorts of consequences. Making cards played not count, upping the skill required for the job, redrawing results, changing characters mid-stream and whatnot. Throwing a spanner in the works. This can often be pretty brutal, depending on how versatile your crew is, what cards you have available, and if you’re just scraping into the job enough that a change in required skills will mean failure. This will be a thorn that sticks in a lot of player’s sides due to the randomness of it – but I think it’s in the spirit of the game, and so far it’s not wrecked the gameplay experience for me. Luck is luck, in a card game, or our in the black.
Alliance cards can come up as a penalty once the job is done, and either have a long-term or finite effect. These aren’t quite so tough as the Gorramit cards to run with – they usually have something to do with amending rewards/penalties for jobs, loss/card discarding conditions, losing credits/honour, shuffling a job back into the deck, and all the sorts of things the pesky Alliance would get in your way with, generally. While these are technically avoidable, they do pop up often, and can take a little tactical discussion to work with it so they don’t inhibit success entirely – depending on their effects.
There’s not much else to the game other than the card playing, so there’s very few extras in the game – but I like the aesthetic of the tokens used to track skills in jobs, and the credit/honour tokens are nice, also. Other than the photos / captures from the show, there’s very little original art, and the design is fairly minimal – kinda spacey/sci-fi, but not overly. I think it all works fairly nicely together. I like that quotes or episode titles are used to give job cards and Gorramit cards at least a little flavour and reference for fans like me. My only gripe is the tone of the rulebook – much of the prose is written in a very slangy kind of way – I know there’s a bit of that in the show/movie, but I think it only serves to stand out here. A little of it is nice, I don’t want it to be devoid of personality, but all the dropping g’s and whatnot can really get tough to read over. Otherwise the rules are laid out well, and cover everything with some FAQs for cards in the back, too. There’s even a quick reference page (pity it’s not on the back cover of the rules).
I still find the same fun and excitement in the cooperative nature of this, combined with the theme of a show I am very fond of to make a great package. I think this would be easy to learn for anyone who’s gamed before but might require a run-through for newbies to make sure they’re getting everything right (mostly with the specifics of order of phases, that would be the most important part to have down). If you’re into the show, it’d be worth it (and a much quicker play time than the other Firefly game that’s on the market – a full board game with lots going on). I think with the variety of characters, plus the amount of job cards in the deck (plus expansions already – which I have and look forward to trying!), this would have a decent replay value, as well.
Will folks who don’t know/like the show enjoy the game? Well, if you would be interested in playing a cooperative card game where a ragtag bunch of space folks are banding together to try and complete missions without failing and having “the man” catch up to them, then I think so, yeah!
So, about the giveaway?
At this year’s Gathering of Friends convention, I caught up with Ed Bryan, the designer of the game. He gave me a copy of the game as a thank you for being one of the people who had sat down with him last year to play test the game in its mostly final stage. I’d been so excited to own the game when it came out that I have my own copy, plus the copy that Ed gifted me. It’s still in shrink, and brand new – and I’d like to make sure that it goes out into the world to someone who might appreciate it! I’ll keep this fairly simple, but please read the below carefully.
I have one (1) copy of Firefly: Out to the Black to give away, and I’ll post it out anywhere in the world. To enter to win, please comment (only once!) on this blog post telling me your favourite episode of Firefly, and who you would pick as your character to play in the game. At 11am EST (i.e. Toronto time) on July 23rd I’ll stop taking comments. I’ll assign each commenter a number, plug the numbers into a random generator to pick a winner and contact that winner to organize logistics of getting the game to you.
Obviously I’m going about this casually, as it’s really just out of my own interest that I’m doing this giveaway. Any posting of the game will be at a surface rate, unless you’d like to chip in to have it get to you faster! Please don’t try to spam me with multiple entries, as it’s really not in the spirit of what I”m doing here.
Thanks for reading, and taking part in the giveaway if you’re so inclined!
Although I am pretty consistently posting stuff to Instagram, there are still always bunches of photos that collect themselves on my phone and never make it off until I think about doing something like a photo roundup. So here we go!
And now to finish with a few games that have hit the table (out of many) this year so far.
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.
- That we’re getting some new stories in the Firefly-verse, post-Serenity, too! I love those characters so much, and while the fallout from Serenity will make for some tough stories to tell, I’m so into it. I want it now.
- Speaking of things Whedon-y.. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (what a mouthful) is delightful! Loved the first episode & already want the rest ALL NOW PLEASE. Okay, so I get a bit grabby when it comes to this stuff..
- I love hearing passionate people speaking about important issues that ring true with my beliefs and personal/social politics. I attended a panel last night all about youth & technology, and the issues of cyber-bullying & slut-shaming, and it was amazing to hear the ideas coming up and stories shared. Truly awesome!
- Planning for travel is the best thing. I love searching Google Maps, Yelp, Happy Cow and generally poking the internet for Good Stuff. I have a great list of stuff to check out in Montreal! Coffee, baked goods, fine dining, board game related stuff! Woo! We even got a decent looking independant hotel through Hotwire, hoping it’s a good one. (…And they have cable to watch Breaking Bad on Sunday night.)
- I had my first pay day! Having an income again is SO AWESOME! I got excited about budgeting last night, you guys. It feels great. I don’t want to say I love money and have $$ for eyes, but it makes me feel functional again, working for a living.
- I love how I get to spread out my birthday over two days each year; from late morning on the 25th I start getting birthday wishes from the future (Australia), and then it all spills over into today in the time zones much closer to me. Take that, constructs of time!
- And speaking of birthday awesome: getting to sleep in this morning, snuggle with Jake, and be surprised with breakfast in bed from my sweetie was an awesome start to the day. I love that mister of mine. And pancakes. I looooove pancakes.
Short ‘n’ sweet!
Firefly is one of my TV loves. Board games is another. Bring the two together and SMASH – Firefly: Out to the Black. I played a prototype of this at the Gathering of Friends earlier this year and it was a fun, challenging co-op with the theme really richly integrated. Great card game. I suggest you get your greedy hands on it as they’re Kickstarting it now! Good luck to Ed Bryan 🙂
And speaking of TV.. I still love Spaced so much, even after many rewatchings. I have seen a lot of Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright on Twitter lately as they’re promoting The World’s End, so I burned through half the first season of Spaced this afternoon and was so great.
When I hear about friends making big life decisions and doing awesome things, it makes me happy. I love that our friend Kris is gearing up to move home to Halifax to open up a board game cafe. Obviously it sucks our friend is leaving, but he has so many exciting adventures ahead of him with this business – I think he’s a smart and lovely dude and will do well with it. Plus, it gives us a nice excuse to head out east sometime!
I love making treats for friends and having them work out nicely and seeing everyone be so excited to enjoy them. So good! These were a hit with my fellow boot campers after our last class of the month yesterday evening. I’m looking forward to making them again and throwing in some variations for flavours.
And finally, I love not moving house. I know it’s kinda esoteric for this list, but at the start of the month when I see folks struggling in and out of our apartment building, trying to get everything into the elevators and just knowing all the extended stress involved with moving.. I’m just really glad to have been settled in one place for a little while. I know it’ll happen again sometime but having had this place with Adam as my home base for nearly two years has been the longest I’ve been in any one home since I left Australia back in 2007!
Enjoy your Thursday evenings, folks!