Sunday, December 29, 2013

Firefly: The Game by Galeforce Nine

Playing Firefly feels a great deal like you'd imagine being in the 'verse with Mal and the crew would - resources are only scarce when you need them, money comes and goes freely, and the good luck to avoid crime lords, Reavers, and the Alliance lends a great deal to your prospects for survival. 

Before I begin, a short synopsis: this is a good game that becomes a VERY entertaining one if you're a big fan of Joss Whedon's incredible and tragically short-lived show. 

First impressions: The box is heavy! There’s a ton of material here for a game that retails for the same as most standard-size board games, and in this way it reminded me of Small World; but, instead of a bevy of tokens, there are 381 game cards and a Ticket-to-Ride-sized game board. The box is roughly the same size as Betrayal at House on the Hill (same width and length, a little shorter) and will fit on any shelf on top of your standard-sized games. The cover art is about what you’d expect – a planet, Joss Whedon’s name, FIREFLY, and CAPTAIN MAL REYNOLDS and his lovely (I’m looking at you, Inara) crew. 9/10 (I freaking love FIREFLY, they could have just taped a cutout of Nathan Fillion to an empty milk carton and I’d have given it a 7/10)

Box Control: The box is well-designed to hold the game components, though the cards wouldn’t fit in the box if sleeved. It’s a tight fit once each of the tokens are poked and bagged, and to be honest I’m not sure why GF9 didn’t increase the box dimensions by an inch on each side to allow for a little extra room for these things. Aside from this I’m extremely pleased at the presentation, and the way the components are divided makes for reasonably easy setup and take down. 8.5/10

Rule book: The rule book is about 15 pages of actual rules (with some breakdowns of cards and such to go with it). It’s very effective at describing how to set the game up, what actions can be taken during a turn, and what players can do to advance (and ultimately win) the game. The rule book definitely falls short in describing specific interactions – it left me with the feeling that the rule book was printed before heavy play testing, and Amy and I ran into a couple situations that we had to interpret for ourselves due to no mention in the rule book. It’s adequate, we were able to play the game, but there were a few too many times where we were digging for info for 5 minutes during play. There’s no index for game terms (though they’re highlighted on the pages) which made things a little harder than they needed to be. 6/10 

Game play: The box says “Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying.” This is 100% descriptive of what game play feels like, and that’s a very good thing. Each player starts with a ship, a captain, and a few jobs to do, and everyone is competing to finish the same set of goals first. The goals are tough and require that players accumulate resources like crew, equipment, fuel, spare parts, and CASH MONEY before attempting these goals, which sets players in motion as soon as the game starts. Because of the variety of jobs available and the ways in which they’re acquired, players are often zooming around, burning fuel and barely passing skill checks, with little-to-no interaction with each other. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as there are still some opportunities to trade with each other, but those feel a little forced. For the most part, it feels like you’re in space with your ship, avoiding the Alliance or the Reavers (or both if you’re unlucky) and trying to keep enough fuel in your ship to make it to the next planet. Crew cards lend symbols (there are three types) that are needed for skill checks, which have to passed often, and are occasionally very difficult. For the most part you can plan ahead and hire crew to meet the requirements of expected skill checks (like when you need to finish a job or complete a goal) but there’s enough random encounters and skill checks that it keeps the game lively. 

Mechanics: The thing you do most often in the game is fly around, and you’re spending precious fuel to do it. Each fuel costs $100 (you start the game with $6000 and 6 fuel, and there’s only 5 spots on a 50-spot board to buy more). You spend two actions per turn to acquire new crew, or new jobs, or attempt to complete jobs (both legal and less so), or fly around space. SPACE. The game does a great job of making you feel like a glorified space trucker with a gun, and a weird sense of morality. Back to mechanics: Kaylee is a mechanic, and is in the game, therefore the mechanics are sound. But really, there’s a lot of looking through cards, a dice roll every other turn or so (not strictly awful, because a lot of cards let you modify rolls). There’s a bit of “press your luck” involved when you get low on cash and fuel, because it’s entirely possible you could get stranded in space if you have a bad encounter, and the game is basically a race to the finish line (to finish the shared goal first) so losing actions or whole turns to float to a base to refuel can really put you behind. There’s nothing super special here, and there weren’t any mechanics or rules that made me stop and redefine what a game is/does… but, on the flip side, the rules were easy to understand (for the most part) and game play flowed pretty intuitively in most situations, which indicates a well-designed set of rules/mechanics. 6.5/10

Flavor: One of the coolest things about Firefly, and one of the things that made the show really compelling, was that, despite Mal’s insistence that he and his crew were free to do as they pleased, it felt like they were always beholden to somebody else… a crime lord, a stowaway, a bride-turned-assassin, or whatever – there was always somebody or something else forcing the crew’s hand, causing them to push their luck in situations they wouldn’t have preferred. This feeling really comes across in the game – you’re always juuuuuust a little short for that cool thing you want to do, and it always costs a liiiiittle more than it feels like it should to get things done. That, combined with the random appearances of Alliance and Reaver forces, and the impact of failures in skill checks, creates a kind of natural drama that fits the flavor of the show really well. 9/10

Overall: If you’re a Firefly fan, this game steps up two notches. It’s not the best game – it’s really hard to be great – but it’s good enough to buy and play and enjoy. If you’re not a Firefly fan, then I’d say play this one before you buy it, and give it a good chance. I definitely recommend staying away from a 4-5 player game for your first time, as the game moves pretty slowly as players are getting used to it. A 2-player game took Amy and I 2 hours, and we didn’t finish it. This isn’t Battlestar Galactica, possibly the best co-operative/competitive game ever made (if not, it’s Betrayal) that also ties theme perfectly into game mechanics. BSG is a 10/10 in this genre, and I give Firefly a solid 7/10. The game is interesting, if not compelling, and there’s enough going on that it seems massively re-playable. I’m really curious to see if there’s a line of expansions for this (INSERT JOKE ABOUT FOX CANCELLING EXPANSIONS), because I think there are some things that could be done better, and certainly we could use a set of errata for the rules. 7/10

Find a crew. Find a game. Keep playing.

Note: This review was originally posted in the DFW Nerd Night Facebook group. For the post and fantastic comments, click here. 

JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.

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