Firefly: The Game Review

Firefly:  The Game Review GrandCon 2013
By Pat Reynolds
 
Firefly: The Game (designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski and Sean Sweigart and published by Gale Force Nine, LLC) was one of the hottest, and fastest selling, games of Gen Con 2013. It shares the same design team as 2012’s Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, which is one of my all-time favorite thematic games. Firefly is at heart a pick-up-and-deliver game, set in the universe of the cult TV show of the same name. Each player (it plays with up to four, or five if you own the promo ship available in the August issue of Game Trade Magazine) takes the role of the captain of a Firefly class spaceship, and must complete jobs to earn money, which in turn is spent to add crew, gear and upgrades to his ship. Fans of the show will love this game – everything about it draws heavily from that source material. Non-fans should find something in the game to enjoy as well, but I think it really does help to have at least a basic working knowledge of the characters, locations and events from the show. 
 
Components: The components are a mixed bag – mostly good, but there are some areas that could have been improved. The board, cards and miniatures are all very nice. The tokens used for cargo, passengers, fuel and spare parts, as well as to mark disgruntled crew members could have used another pass at the graphic design stage – they’re very bland, although they serve their purpose and are easy to differentiate on the player boards. The huge amount of cards – there are 13 different decks – use images from the TV show, with loads of screen captures depicting characters, equipment and places featured on ‘Firefly’. The card design is very good – they are easy to read and keywords are clearly marked in bright colors. The board is very large and for the most part, easy to read, although when a couple of ships are on the same planet, or the large Alliance cruiser is in certain spaces, planet or location names can sometimes get covered up. This isn’t really a big issue during gameplay, though. The money is a high point – it’s paper money, which isn’t usually ideal, but it’s nicely designed, on high quality stock and very colorful. The miniatures are also worth mentioning – each player gets a plastic Firefly model. These are nice miniatures with good detail. There’s also the Alliance cruiser, which is pretty large with a lot of detail and a Reaver ship, which is molded in bright red and also nicely detailed.

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Gameplay: Most of what you’ll do in Firefly is travel around the map, taking jobs from various contacts and then fulfilling them to earn money. A lot of these jobs are of the pick-up-and-deliver variety; to complete them you’ll need to travel to a certain planet and load cargo or passengers and then fly to a specific destination and drop off the goods to get paid. This is the core gameplay mechanic to Firefly, and the entire game revolves around it. Without successful jobs you won’t have money, and without money you can’t improve your ship and crew, which is the key to actually winning the game. Fireflyhas a lot of randomness and luck involved, and if you’re the kind of player that really dislikes that sort of thing, it’s almost certainly not a game you’re going to like. It’s possible to do everything right, and still get mercilessly brutalized (usually by the Reaver or Alliance ships), but more on that a little later. 

At the start of the game, each player will choose a ship and a captain. The ships are all the same, but the captains each have some skill icons, some keywords and a special rule. Skill icons are incredibly important in this game – you’ll resolve all sorts of things during the game with checks against one of the three types of skills – fighting, technology and negotiation. The more icons of each skill you have in your crew, the better prepared you’ll be for anything the game can throw your way. I have to mention here that some captains seem to be quite a lot better than others – namely, the ones with either the “pilot” or “mechanic” keyword. One of the absolute worst things that can happen to you in this game is being attacked by the Reaver ship. If that happens, you will lose any passengers you’re carrying at the time, plus either one or two of your crew – unless you have both a pilot and a mechanic (and some fuel), which lets you simply avoid the encounter altogether. So, by starting the game with a pilot or mechanic you’re 50% of the way to safety from the Reavers, which is pretty huge advantage.

On a turn, a player can take two different actions from a total of four different types. Players cannot take the same action twice on the same turn.

The “Fly” action is how players will traverse the map. A Firefly can either move one space completely risk-free, or move as many spaces as the number on its drive core (5 at the start of the game) by spending fuel to go “full burn.” When traveling under full burn, the player must draw the top card from one of two navigation decks (depending on whether they’re in Alliance space or border space). Most of these cards simply say “Keep Flying” and let the player do just that. Some navigation cards will force a skill check or bring the movement to a stop. Some will let the player make an optional skill check to pick up supplies or ignore it and keep flying. The worst cards will bring either the Alliance cruiser or the Reaver cutter to the player’s location and force an encounter. As long as the player isn’t engaged in any kind of illegal behavior (carrying contraband, fugitives, wanted crew members or warrants) the Alliance will mostly leave him alone, although they might still put an end to movement for a search of the ship. The Reavers aren’t so forgiving, and will murder any passengers and probably a couple of crew members unless, as I mentioned before, you have the requisite crew types to safely evade them.

The “Buy” action lets the player purchase crew, equipment and ship upgrades as long as they’re stopped on one of the five supply planets. The player can take three cards from either the discard pile or top of the deck associated with their location, and choose to purchase up to two of them. Crew members bring the all-important skills to a player’s ship, and often have some keywords and special abilities. Crew members expect to get paid whenever you complete a job, so in addition to paying to add them to your crew, you’ll be paying them every time you complete a job as well (you can choose to stiff them, causing them to become disgruntled; two disgruntled tokens and a crew member leaves the ship permanently). Gear cards are items that can be added to crew members to give them additional skills and abilities, and ship upgrades improve your ship, usually by increasing crew or cargo capacity, or upgrading the distance it can travel. Players can also always buy fuel and spare parts during this action.

The “Deal” action lets you pick up new jobs from a contact as long as the player is stopped on an appropriate planet. Similar to buying, players can look at three jobs and take as many as they want (up to the hand limit of three). Once a player has completed a job for a specific contact, he is considered to be “solid” with that contact. Solid relationships give added benefits when dealing; players can sell cargo and contraband to most solid contacts, in addition to some specific boons – become solid with the Alliance contact, for example, and you can buy fuel directly from the Alliance ship whenever you’re in the same location.

Finally, the “Work” action is how players complete their jobs. As long as a player is at a location specified on one of his job cards, he can take the Work action and complete the appropriate stage of the job. Sometimes this means loading or dropping off cargo and passengers, and other times it just means doing some dirty deeds in the form of misbehaving. A lot of the crime jobs simply require that a player go to a location and misbehave a certain number of times. To misbehave, the player draws cards from the “Aim to Misbehave” deck and completes the objective shown on them, if possible. Usually there are a couple of options as well as an instant success requirement listed on these cards. For example, one card might require either a fight skill check (the player must roll a die and add the total number of fight skill icons he has) or a negotiation skill check (indicating that the player has opted to attempt to talk his way out rather than fight). Additionally, the card might list a specific crew, gear or keyword that will let the player proceed without having to make either skill check. If a player fails at carrying out part of a job, he can try again on his next turn. If he fails so badly that a warrant is issued for his ship, the job is lost and he’ll have to move on to something else.

The goal of a game of Firefly is selected from one of six different “story cards.” Basically, these cards list a series of jobs that must be completed sequentially. The first player to successfully complete all of the goals on the story card is the winner. This essentially makes Firefly a race game – every player is working to improve his ship and crew to the point that he can complete the story goals. Once one player starts working on these goals, everyone else either needs to start as well or risk being left too far behind to catch up.

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Play Time: Firefly is a long game, especially the first couple of times – expect it to run anywhere between three and four hours with four players. Although it’s possible to play with five players if you have the GTM promo ship (which is significantly better than the four identical ships included with the game) I don’t think I’d ever want to do that; as far as I’m concerned, three players is the sweet spot for this game. If everyone knows the game and has played a couple of times, it’ll take around two hours.

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Bottom Line & Score: There’s a lot to like about this game, especially if you’re a fan of the TV show. The designers drew exclusively from the series, without adding any “expanded universe” style content, which means that if you’ve watched the show, you’ll get all of the in-jokes and nods to events from Firefly. You’ll know why it was hilarious when, in the first game I played, one player added the pilot Wash to his crew, only to have him be killed by the Reavers on his very next turn. The game positively oozes theme; the designers knocked it out of the park as far as creating a game that captures the feel of the TV show. If I have one complaint about the game, it’s that Firefly is for the most part very much a multiplayer solitaire sort of affair. Aside from buying from the same decks, there’s not much player interaction to speak of here. Whenever a player is stopped on a space with another player, he can steal away disgruntled crew members by paying their purchase price to the bank, and can also freely sell goods back and forth (although there’s almost never a good reason to do that). I would have liked to see some sort of player combat – stealing jobs or cargo from one another; maybe even an alternate route to victory by playing purely as a space pirate, preying on other players to earn money. It would certainly be in keeping with the theme of the TV show. I give Firefly: The Game an overall score of 7/10 (Good). If you’re a fan of the show, like me, then it’s a 9/10 (Excellent). Being a fan really does make the gameplay experience that much better.

You’ll like Firefly: The Game if you like: Sci-Fi, Westerns, Pick-up-and-Deliver Games, Firefly and Serenity, Joss Whedon