Firefly: The Game is a board game for 1-4 players (you can add a fifth with the promo ship from Game Trade Magazine) designed by Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill and published by Gale Force Nine. It will be officially released this month but I managed to acquire a copy at GenCon. Only four people were trampled in the rush. According to the box you should be able to finish a game in 2 hours, but I found they usually required closer to 3 given ramp up times.
Of the games I acquired at GenCon this year, Firefly is likely the one I’ve played the most of thus far, if for no other reason than everyone wants to play it. If you’re a fan of the show you will greatly enjoy this game. The designers did an excellent job of merging the flavor of the Firefly universe with the game’s mechanics, such that you really feel like a crew of a Firefly, constantly working jobs to keep flying, on the lookout for Reavers and – if you’re a less than legal ship – the Alliance.
There are a few different win conditions, adding to replayability of the game, but for the most part they involve gaining a large sum of money and possibly misbehaving a few times on different locations (more on misbehaving later. Yes, you get to misbehave. Don’t worry, you’ll be doing it a lot.) Hopefully an expansion will provide more options for victory conditions.
So, how do you get large sums of money? Jobs. There are five different Job Providers (Niska, Badger, Patience, Harken, and Amnon Duul) each with a different location to acquire jobs from and a different deck of missions to pull from. Once you complete a job for someone, in addition to getting a nice payday (after giving your crew a cut) you also become “solid” with them, giving you a chance to sell them goods and a unique benefit to future dealings with them such as Badger’s ability to get the law off your back. Jobs have lots of features to them – some are legal, some less so. Some are also immoral (this may annoy your crew – don’t do immoral jobs if your crew is moral.) Generally they come in two flavors: Delivery jobs for not a lot of money but you don’t have to pay much crew, or Misbehavin’ jobs where you go do a few misbehavin’ cards for a much larger payoff – but since the misbehaves are difficult you’ll almost assuredly have to pay off your whole crew to complete them, cutting into your profit margins.
As for Misbehavin’, there’s a special deck for that. Every time you misbehave you’ll need to do some number of Misbehavin’ cards based on the job or objective. Each will present you with two or three options to bypass it, based on gear/crew acquired or a skill check. Thus, the more crew/ gear you have the better your odds of passing your misbehaves. In addition to passing the Misbehave, there are two ways to fail: Attempt Botched means you messed up kinda bad, but you can try again later. Warrant Issued means you messed up so bad you can’t do the job anymore, you lose solid with the contact it was for, and the Alliance now wants a piece of you.
To accomplish these Misbehavin’s, and the jobs they entail, you’ll need a crew, likely outfitted to the nines with some nice toys. To do this there are five different supply planets (Regina, Silverhold, Persephone, Osiris Shipworks, and the Space Bazaar), each with a deck of cards with crew you can hire, gear for them to play with, and upgrades for your ship like a better drive or more room for your crew. Once you hire them, they’re yours until you piss them off and someone else hires them (think how Jayne joined the crew).
To get around the verse, you have two options: you can just mosey a bit, not going far but also not attracting attention. If you really need to get somewhere you can spend a little fuel and go a good distance across the board, but this will likely lead to some attention, or maybe just a breakdown of your ship. Each time you move like this you flip a card over to resolve the movement: one deck covers the inner sector with Alliance entanglements a concern, and the other covers the outer sector where Reavers can just show up and ruin your day. (Both have a mini, like your ship, that shows where in space they are at any given time)
As you can see, there is a *lot* of flavor injected into the game. As long as you like Firefly, this is a major plus. The only person in my regular group who doesn’t like the game is also the person who has not yet been forced to watch the show (Hi Anthony!) That said, the flavor consideration does sometimes whitewash the clunkiness in the mechanics. Of the characters you can buy, the named ones from the show are just head and shoulders above their nameless peers. If you manage to get River and Simon you will have almost no hard time misbehaving, including at least two misbehaves that are otherwise screw yous, but with River you just bypass no problem.
This segues nicely into the main flaw I found in the game: the Misbehavin’ mechanic. Short version: most of them are difficult, but with outs, leading to a large, well equipped crew being necessary to pull them off with any regularity. Combined with the steep cost often involved in failing, you need to do a bunch of junk jobs until you can afford a crew to misbehave. The problem comes in that, once you have that crew, very few are any real difficulty. This leads to sort of an anti-climax at the end game where you just flip two or three misbehavin’ cards, make sure you don’t get the magic screw card, and then do math to see how much money you have left after paying out your crew. You quickly go from not being able to misbehave successfully to misbehaving being a cake walk.
This randomness of Misbehavin’ shows the general problem in the game: the randomness. When buying cards you could get River and Simon and basically win the game right there, or you could see A Fancy Hat, The Mule, and Kaylee’s Fluffy Pink Dress, none of which you can afford because you desperately want people early game. Or, you’re flying along, just trying to get to Patience to get a new job, when Reavers attack you and kill half your crew because don’t have the crew to fight them off/get out of their way. This is the other problem: The snowball. Make a few mistakes, or just get unlucky early and you might be badly screwed. Generally the flow of the game is to build up early – until you can misbehave successfully – at which point you just misbehave until you can win the game based on the victory conditions set at the game’s outset. Another aspect of this problem is once you have your crew set up, you can do anything. Short of a very few “screw you” cards in the Misbehavin’ deck it’s really unlikely that you’ll fail. As such, the last few turns of the game are often just a chore of doing the last few requirements, with either a race between a few who are set up, or more likely an inevitable winner who you’ll have to wait a few turns to polish off.
This goes away playing solo as you only have to race the clock. On the other hand, to a certain extent, this is just multiple people playing a solitaire game together. There is not a lot of interaction between the players, and most of it never comes up. Only once have I seen anyone actually pay off someone else’s disgruntled crew to take them. Although the funniest game was one where we got the blue nav deck down to just the card that will drop the Alliance cruiser on the player who flips it with most of the ships being outlaws (i.e. screwed if they flip the card) leading to several turns of everyone doing what they could to avoid the inner part of the board.
That said, those are the only knocks I have against the game, and they are more than made up by the flavor. If you don’t want a luck based game, or more importantly if you don’t want a game you can lose early on due to bad decisions or bad luck this might not be the game for you. But Mal wasn’t afraid of a little risk so long as it kept his ship flying, and neither should you.
As to the physical game, I hope you like shuffling. Those counting at home will have noticed there are thirteen (13) different decks of cards running around, several of which will be shuffled fairly regularly, and a fourteenth card back in the starting cards (leaders and drives) which are not shuffled but rather drafted at the start of the game. There are also minis and boards for each ship/player plus minis for the Alliance cruiser and the Reaver ship, dice to make any checks necessary, some fairly nice paper money, a whole mess of tokens for everything you’ll need to keep track of like passengers/cargo/fuel, a reminder card for how the Alliance cruiser and the Reaver ship work, the board, and a cardboard dinosaur for the turn maker. (At GenCon this had been replaced with a plastic specimen. I suggest doing the same, adds a nice bit of flavor.)
In whole, if you like Firefly and want a board game where you pretend you’re the crew, this is the game for you. Otherwise you likely won’t be able to overlook the flaws in the game.
Overall: Very Shiny.
Good luck, and do what you can to keep the ship flying.