We recently got the anticipated and kick-started game, Firefly: The Game. We got a chance to play it a couple of times, and I thought I would report on some of our impressions. It seems this can be a fairly long game; we finally had to call our first game after two days of trying to finish it, over six hours. I think we were close to the end…
In terms of gameplay, someone remarked that it plays like Munchkin: you collect gear, upgrades, and helpers, to kick in the door, or do missions you have selected. Strategically, the game reminds me of Dominion. You spend the early majority of the game building up your deck – or in this case, ship, crew, and gear – and then at the end, everyone begins a race to get the victory conditions. Going too soon can lead to failure, and put you behind.
However, the thing that this game is most referential to is Firefly itself. Between all the various elements of the game, they invoke not only nostalgia for the show, but the feel of the show. The rules, the activities you undertake – they make it feel like you are doing the same thing Mal and his crew were doing, with the same difficulties. Unfortunately, this can be frustrating, as you deal with having to pay your crew while undertaking jobs, or when your engine gives out in the middle of Alliance space, with an Alliance Cruiser hot on your tail.
Find a Crew. Find a Job. Keep Flying.
The tag line of the game very nicely encapsulates the gameplay. You start the game with one of four identical Firefly-class ships, a leader, some cash, and a handful of jobs to try and complete. There are five hub planets, with a variety of things there to buy – upgrades for your ship, gear and weapons to use, and the all-important crew members. There is a variety of crew, including all of the Serenity’s crew, as well as the various mercenaries and others seen on the show.
Your crew help you complete the challenges that come up, then. You roll a die in a challenge, but also add a raw number from your bonuses to the various skills. That means, if you’re good enough at something, you may just pass the challenge outright without even needing to roll. Not to be outdone, there are weapons and other things (including crew) who have a variety of keywords, that help you overcome challenges outright: say, one where having a medic would make all the difference in the world. Or having Jayne’s hat.
The jobs are interesting, then – especially with having to pay your crew! There are legal jobs, which are generally easy, but also don’t pay well. This drives you towards a life of crime, smuggling or shipping illegal goods or fugitives. Not all of the illegal work is considered immoral, but most all of it requires misbehaving – which almost always requires skill checks of some kind. Often with high stakes.
This is a game with a lot of risks you can take, lots of choices combined with strategy combined with luck. One great feature is you can buy items in the discard piles – giving you a level of knowledge of what you might be able to buy at a planet. Another great feature is that there are six story goals for victory, giving some replay ability. This is the place where I could see an expansion being good: more story missions to give you new experiences with the game. This could be a cheap and easy expansion. Also one fans could produce I suppose!
What Is Missing From the Game
This game is complicated, no two ways about it. We really liked it – we like complicated games, like Arkham Horror. So they did a good job. The ability to have the trump abilities, to automatically pass skills, or give you access to better options in the face of a bad situation is a fun element. It is both luck and strategic – because you can aim to try to get your hand on as many keywords and abilities as possible, to have a well rounded crew and supplies.
However, this is also the source of the greatest weakness in the game. Because there are all these keywords, all these special and unique rules. And they make sense! Everything from bribery to shore leave. But what’s missing is a glossary or index.
Maybe their thought is that they wanted to keep the rule book as short as possible? Maybe they overlooked it? Didn’t feel like it? Whatever it is, this game needs some support, either in the form of a glossary, or, easier still, an index.
For instance, you can be issued warrants. So there are rules about the warrants. They are paid at the Alliance cruiser, so there are rules there. It’s part of the definition of an Outlaw Ship, so it applies there. It’s a fail condition on a Misbehave card, so the rules come up there. There are elements of this rule throughout the rule book – and without an index, finding an answer to a question takes a lot of digging.
As we move forward and know the game better, know the basics, this will continue as the main problem with the game: not being able to quickly look up an answer for a simple question on a term definition.
Advice for a First Game
Alright, so you have the game, you’re getting ready to play it. They have advice about a first play through, and I thought I would expand on it.
First, they say the game will take 2 hours. Your first game WILL NOT take 2 hours. Our six hour game may be on the high side, but it may not be. Set aside plenty of time. By the end of our 6 hours, we had had fun, and felt like we had a pretty solid handle on the game.
Second, they recommend a specific story goal for a first game. A lot of the reason we think our game took as long as it did was because of that goal. There was a huge entry requirement – you need at least $5000 on top of being able to pass a lot of skill checks to do the first of three goals, and then two very difficult skill checks as the other two goals. I think I get why they chose this one – it makes you learn how the game works, makes you do jobs and get a crew together and learn the game. However, there is another goal which does the same. We therefore recommend playing Harkin’s Folly as your first game. Instead of a dollar threshold, there is a complete-jobs-for-people threshold, which accomplishes the goal of learning the job completing system.
And finally, something we missed, that would also probably have helped. On the back page of the instructions are a handful of tips to get you started. Read these tips. They are hints on good things to have (like a pilot and a mechanic… which let you outrun the Reavers), and on good planets to go to for them. Also, yes, make sure you have fuel. Limping through the universe can set you way behind.