Thursday, November 7, 2013

Let's Go Be Bad Guys - "Firefly: The Game"

Since I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon's long-defunct sci-fi western Firefly, I was pretty jazzed to hear that Andrew had picked up the recently-released board game based on the show. Although I'm very leery about licensed products, a few things about this one seemed promising:
  • Designers Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski and Sean Sweigart were responsible for last year's surprise hit Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery. Whatever critics have to say about that game's overall entertainment value it certainly honors the show's theme can't be accused of being a cheap knock off designed to bilk fans out of their hard-earned shekels.
  • It was published by Gale Force Nine, who clearly know a few things about producing decent-looking game components. If you don't believe me then have a gander at some of their ludicrously-gorgeous gaming tables and battlefield terrain.  *DROOL*
  • If this game was crap then hordes of enraged Browncoats would storm the Gale Force Nine offices like a pack of pissed-off Reavers. 
In an effort to get in solid with fans, here's GF-9's slick little promotional vid for the game:


If'n yer lookin' fer the full skinny on this ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng, click on the following link to read the full rules

***

As soon as Mike heard that Andrew had procured a copy of Firefly, he offered to prep the game for his turn. So, a few weeks ago, the three of us strode into Dean's hanger bay, climbed aboard our respective Firefly-class transports and then launched ourselves into the black for a spate of misbehavin'.

STORY CARD

"The King of All Londinium"

THE CAPTAINS

Andrew...Womack
Me...Malcolm 
Mike...Monty


In a move which surprised no-one, Andrew decided to select the decidedly-Immoral Womack as his Captain. He stumbled out of the gate at first, failing to complete a Job in the Red Sun district due to a Bungled Misbehavin' roll. This required a rinse, wash (no pun intended) and repeat sorta deal in which he had to re-acquire Horses in order to fulfill the Transport requirements of that failed Job. Things went much better the second time around and Andrew started to funnel those early profits into expanding his Crew.  

Pretty soon he'd assembled a rogues gallery that was half honorable, half reprehensible. In addition to recruiting medical prodigy Simon Tam and ass-kicker supreme Zoë, he also procured the services of such colorful characters as Stitch, Scrapper and Skunk, who, if I'm not mistaken all served as reserve members of Guns n' Roses at varying points in time. Because of this bloated roster, he barely made any profit on his first few Jobs because his payroll costs were sky-high. 

Although this looked like a motley and disparate bunch on the surface, they all had pretty solid Fight and Tech skills. Naturally Andrew choose to lean heavily on Jobs with those requirements, using Zoë's incredibly valuable "Dust Devil" ability to re-roll Fight Tests. As a result, Andrew quickly polished off some key early Jobs, keep his Crew well-paid and managed to bank some major coin in the process.

After meeting his $7000.00 Credit prerequisite, he took a run at the "King of All Londinium" Story Card, beginning with the "Takes the Master's Touch" Goal. Thanks to Womack's Negotiation skill, Andrew had little difficulty clearing this first hurdle. 

Meanwhile, Mike took a more conservative approach to Crew acquisition, hiring a generic Scrapper, Enforcer and Gun Hand. Because of his low overhead, he banked a lot more Credits from his first few Jobs. Instead of hiring more retainers, however, he sunk $1400.00 space bucks into an Osiris Shipworks Transport. Between his lack of (sub)human resources and a spate of terrible luck, Mike Botched a few mid-match Jobs and ended up with more Warrants then Suge Knight.

And whereas Andrew's Captain was a complete and total reprobate, Monty proved to be a sensitive and fragile soul. As such, Illegal and downright Immoral Jobs such as "Swipe Settler Rations" quickly made Mike's sensitive Skipper a tad Disgruntled. Actually Mike had a lot of ship-board strife. I lost count of how many times one of his peeps were killed because of some horrendously-Botched-up job. 

He was still doing damage control at the end of the game, working on a perfectly-legit cargo run, trying to cheer Monty up, cooling down his rampant troubles with the law, and getting in tight with both Patience and Badger. Although he'd collected about $5,200.00 Credits he was still a long way off from bankrolling a reliable shot at the first Story Card Goal. 


Like any prudent small business owner I made sure not to over-staff Serenity at first, only taking preacher Shepherd Book on board before blasting off on my first adventure. I started with a simple, low-paying cargo run for the Alliance, which put me in solid with Harken and earned me nothin' but pure profit. I then traveled to the Osiris Shipworks where I installed a $1200.00-Credit Modified Radion Accelerator Mark II Drive Core which gave me more range on every Full Burn. I also added a random Gun Hand to the roster for some added muscle. 

Not long after I got into Badger's reasonably "good" graces by completing a lucrative deal with him. Unfortunately I started to get preoccupied with completing a few high-paying assignments like "Haulin' Military Scrap" which required some Tech-heavy cohorts. In order to accommodate this I searched all over the known 'verse for Mechanics, hitting up Persephone on several occasion with no luck. Eventually I managed to hire a generic Scrapper for $200 Credits and tackled a few less-stringent gigs. 

I also had a devil of a time dodging complications during my Full Burns across the board. On several occasions I was forced to jettison Parts, burn excess Fuel or Disgruntle my illustrious Captain. Here, then, captured for posterity is Sad Mal:


But at least he wasn't putting down homicidal crew-members like rabid dogs every ten minutes. Whenever I glanced over to Mike's side of the table, Monty was putting another one of his deck hands in the dirt, presumably because of a heated argument over what toppings they should get on their space pizza.

On two separate occasions my transit was seriously curtailed because of bad timing. Not once but twice I was zooming across the galaxy en route to my next destination when I suddenly found myself faced with the unenviable task of drawing the last card in both the Alliance Space and Border Space Nav Decks. Neither if these options were particularly palatable. 

If I got stuck with the "Alliance Cruiser" Card, the purple bellies would board my ship, grab my Spaceballs in their gloved mitts and then order me to turn my head and cough. The "Reaver Cutter" Card was even worse. In that case my nards would probably end up in a bouillabaisse. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Reaver's call them "Border Oysters".

Since both of these options were less then ideal, I was forced to cut my Burn short and then Mosey one space after another until I made it to my destination. This took a lot more time but it was better then getting violated, eaten and skinned. Or skinned, eaten and then violated. Or eaten, skinned and then violated. Or...well, you get the picture.  

In fact, I started to use the Mosey option more often. Poor Mike was so riddled by Nav Deck disasters, Moseying became his default method of locomotion there for awhile.  

After buying Mal a 4WD Mule I finally had the much-needed Transport required to undertake some of those big, high-paying capers. After amassing a small fortune of $6200.00 Credits I set off to Persephone to begin the "Gun Running: Three Hills" Job. If I cleared this one I'd have more then enough cash to finally make some inroads with the "King of All Londinium" Story Card. In preparation for this endeavor I also hired Emma, who effectively doubled my ability to fast-talk.


But, alas is was not to be. 

On the far side of the table, Andrew was having an excellent string of good fortune. After successfully navigating the first Goal the Bonanza blasted off to Londinium where he triggered the "...and Knowing is Half the Battle" Goal. Despite having three points of Mechanic Skill from Simon, Scrapper and what I'm sure was a legally-obtained Security Interface Pad, one particular Misbehave Card tripped him up with an unexpected requirement. This resulted in a Botched attempt and an outstanding Warrant. A second attempt on his next turn worked out a lot better. 

Armed with seven Fight Skill points, the final Goal: "Two Card Monty", was a veritable cakewalk. Although most of the Misbehave Cards he drew were Fight-related, one challenge required Fancy Duds. Fortunately Womack was already gussied up in Kaylee's Fluffy Pink Dress which allowed him to clear the obstacle, complete the Story Card and claim the win!  


***

REVIEW

THE PROS
  • No two ways about it: this game is Firefly. Even though it features the same "pick up n' deliver" mechanic as Merchants & Marauders or Merchant of Venus, I liked this one better because of the theme and its breezy game play. You take jobs, get in good with your contacts, smuggle goods, earn Warrants, make enemies, Bribe connections, pimp out your ship, hire crew, salvage goods, Disgruntle your peeps, test your skills, dodge Alliance inspections and try to avoid Reavers like the plague. Fans of Joss Whedon's cult hit will be all over this like Jayne's hat all over his pointy, l'il noggin'.
  • Words can't express my relief when I found out that we weren't all going to be playing with our own generic version of Serenity pre-stocked with an identical crew. I like how the game features unique personalities as well as a host of run-of-the-mill schmoes. 
  • Although Mike's the best person on earth to game with, he isn't exactly a rules lawyer. He prepped this one and explained it well enough and we barely found ourselves rooting through the rule-book. But perhaps we should have spent a bit more time in the rule book. In order to do justice to the rich and expansive scope of Firefly there are a fair amount of chrome-y rules to digest. My advice: have at least two participants read the rules so you don't end up shortchanging your experience. 
  • Don't get me wrong: the rules aren't complicated just a tad legion. In fact, I can't even call the rules "fiddly" because everything makes so much gorram sense in light of the game's super-evocative theme. The rules we omitted by mistake didn't really invalidate the game, they just curtailed a few of our options.  
  • The rule book itself is actually laid out really well and we didn't have any difficulty finding answers when we needed them. 
  • Seeing as this was our first game we played fairly nicey-nicey and didn't go out of our way to sic the Alliance or the Reavers on anyone. But the cool thing is: you can. Just like in Survive: Escape From Atlantis, one player can move the Reaver ship adjacent to a run-away leader, giving a subsequent player the chance to do something REALLY, REALLY NASTY.
  • Even if you do play all cordial-like, the "Reaver Cutter" and "Alliance Cruiser" cards at the bottom of the Nav Decks make both of these things a constant, sweat-inducing threat. 
  • Firefly has always been about funny moments, close calls and solid storytelling so I'm pleased to report that this is well-represented in the game. There isn't a single Victory Point in sight, yay! In fact, in order to win, you've gotta engage in some well-timed Misbehavin' and navigate through those clever Story Cards poste-haste. 
  • The game's bits are "right some purdy". The game board in particular is very well designed, forcing you to plot your course carefully. Should I try and shave some time off my trip by cutting across the central systems and risk bumping into an Alliance Cruiser or do I circumnavigate the Border regions, steering well-clear of the Reavers? It's an interesting conundrum that you have to ponder at the start of every turn. 
  • The cool, plastic-y "Credits", Misbehave / Set-Up Cards and ship minis are all top-notch. And, hey, that stegosaurus first-player token is a thing of pure, unadulterated genius. 
  • You can't beat the value of this one. There's a veritable shit-ton of cool components and entertainment value packed inside that relatively-small box! 
CONS
  • The graphic design of the Contact, Crew and Ship Cards are pretty "loud" and the image quality is surprisingly washed-out. This is only a minor quibble, however, and it doesn't impact the game's playability in any major way.
***

With the Holidays coming up, you might find yourself standing in one of those god-awful Calendar Club stores, looking to buy a licensed board-game for the fanboy / fangirl in your life. Should you find yourself in that delicate position please, please, please don't mistake Firefly: The Game for the same, disposable, after-thought, brain-dead dreck you see on the shelves there. This is a smart, engaging, fun, respectful and imminently playable interpretation of the original show and it's sure to be a hit with any Whedonite worth his or her salt. 

As such, I'm giving it five bullet holes outta six with a tilt up towards the black.  


***

Do you have a twisted, burning desire to see your friends get corn-holed to death by Reavers? Click on the link below to order a copy of Firefly: The Game and throw this blog a few hard-earned Credits!  

2 comments:

  1. Imagine if the rulebook had an INDEX section! Then it would have been even better!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, Mike. Indexes should be an industry standard for every single board game rulebook!

    ReplyDelete