Friday, May 30, 2014

Tommy's Take on Firefly: The Game

Apparently it's Firefly Week on the blog, as I now tackle the board game by Gale Force Nine.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Firefly: The Game is a board game retailing for $50, and playable for 1-4 players (5 if you have the promo ship, The Artful Dodger). It includes a board (a map of the 'Verse), a bunch of punch out tokens for Fuel and Cargo and Parts and Passengers. It also includes fake currency (based off of the design for the currency in the TV show), four identical Firefly-class vessels (Yun Qi, Bonnie Mae, Bonanza and, of course, Serenity), five Contacts (Badger, Niska, Patience, Amnon Duul and Harken) with card decks featuring Jobs for each Contact, card decks with Equipment and Crew for each major location on the map, Aim to Misbehave cards (for the mishaps that show up on Jobs), and Alliance Space and Border Space cards that you flip over, depending on the part of space you're flying in. The game also includes some Story cards (with a really basic one available for free on the website) and ship figurines for each Firefly ship, as well as one for the Alliance ship and one for the roving Reaver vessel.

The first thing you do is pick a Scenario (the basic scenario on the site pretty much requires you to get right with all the Contacts in the game). Some scenarios are very detailed: Harken's Folly involves infiltrating an Alliance conference. Another Scenario involves counterfeiting and stealing the crown jewels of England. Another starts off with everyone wanted by the Alliance and in a race to make a crapton of money before going to ground. There's even a solo scenario.

Next, you need to pick a ship and Leader. There are seven available: Marco (a Gun Runner and fit for violence), Monty (a smuggler), Burgess (a scumbag, but a well-off one), Corbin (a Mechanic), Nandi (a Whore with a Heart of Gold), Womack (a ruthless soldier) and Malcolm Reynolds (a Big Damn Hero).

Regardless of the goals of your Story, you gotta make money, and that's where Jobs come in. All five Contacts have a variety of Jobs open at any time...some legal, some not...some moral, some not (and that matters, as some Leaders and Crew have issues with sacrificing their morals for money). Niska may hire you to transport a cult leader, haul slaves or infiltrate the Trade Ministry. Patience may have you rob a mail delivery, haul cattle (illegally) or even haul fertilizer. Badger may need someone for a bank robbery, make a simple shipping run or even shake down Patience! Amnon Duul has a variety of shipping jobs for you, some of which include smuggling hot supplies for freezing settlers. You can even work for The Alliance, like helping settlers relocate, dropping off relief supplies or "forced relocations". Each Contact gives you benefits if you get on good terms with them, though some (like Niska) do not take failure lightly.

Sometimes jobs are as simple as pick ups and deliveries. Sometimes you have to Aim to Misbehave, where you draw cards (the number based on the job) and need to complete the troubles before you. You may need to Kill the Alarm. If you have a Mechanic, you may be able to hack it, If not, you may need to shoot it. If you have a Hacking Rig, you bypass it automatically. Bar Fight? Fight it out or threaten your way out. If Wash is part of your crew, he has a knack for these things. Heck, you may hit on a Formal Affair. If you have Fancy Duds, you're good. If not, you best be a fast talker..or have a Companion on the Crew. Having Companions, Soldiers, Mercs, etc. on the team also comes in handy as some jobs may pay more with the right kind of crew.

You can hire generic crew or named members of the cast (the latter are more expensive), in addition to weapons, equipment and ship upgrades. The upside is that the crew members can give you more options for completing Jobs...the downside is that they cost money, and some may become disgruntled if you take on jobs against their morals. Shepherd Book works for free and has false ID that gets him past some troubles, while Crow is a vicious SOB when armed with a knife. Wash is the best Pilot in the game, and Simon can help you get the very best out of River. Christina Hendricks fans take note: All three of her character's aliases are in the game, and if you have Yolonda, Saffron or Bridgit on your crew and one of the others come into play, she has bailed on your crew. Some crew also begin the game wanted by the authorities, so you will really want to avoid The Alliance in those cases. Equipment you can score include knives, grenades, horses, hacking rigs and sniper rifles. With your ship, you can upgrade your Drive Core, increase your storage area, or even add Cry Babies, which can be used to evade The Alliance.

As I noted above, while you are flying around the 'Verse, you will want to avoid by The Alliance and The Reavers, because the Alliance will try to board you and the Reavers will try to kill your crew. This is handled by flipping over cards for the region of space you're in (the Reavers won't enter Alliance space and the Alliance won't leave Alliance space). Most cards tell you to keep Flyin'. However, some Alliance cards may mean the Alliance Cruiser shows up out of nowhere, or you may be able to send them after an opponent, or you might have the option of having a "Family" dinner with the crew to boost morale. In Border Space, you may have to navigate debris fields, run across derelict ships and, of course, deal with the Gorram Reavers (you can fight, or you can run, and no matter how you fight, someone is dying). The more you push your ship, the faster you run out of fuel and the more likely it is to break down (though a good Pilot can help with the former and a good Mechanic with the latter).

The downside to the core game is that there's not a lot of player interaction between turns, just a race to the finish line. You might passively aggressively screw with your opponents by sending the Alliance or Reavers after them, and you can hire away disgruntled Crew members, but there's otherwise not a lot of interaction. From a thematic standpoint, it is literally impossible to recreate the crew of Serenity in-game, due to Crew size limits, and it would break your back financially anyway.

WHAT WORKS: A lot of work has gone into making the characters feel like the characters, with Wash being a great Pilot, Shepherd Book's mysterious elements, River being a complete wild card, the three cards for Saffron, Bridgit and Yolonda, etc. Each Contact also having their own flavor of jobs and special effects is nice as well, to say nothing of the Story Cards, which can provide a dedicated group with plenty of variety.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The competitive nature doesn't "feel" like Firefly, and it not really being feasible to actually field the Firefly crew within the bounds of the game is a little disappointing. The downtime between turns can be bothersome, though the turns played quickly for us once we got into the game.

CONCLUSION: I found the board game to be a very fun game experience, and one completely different than the card game (which scratches that cooperative itch I was talking about, at least a little better). You will get an emergent narrative even in the basic scenario once all of your hired Mercs turn on you, Reavers kill your Mechanic, the Alliance confiscates your stolen cattle and River carves up some poor bastard in a knife fight so you can steal a donation to an orphanage for Niska. I give it a strong recommendation, as long as you are aware that you're spending at least two hours at the game table each go around.

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