Back in 2002 a writer by the name of Joss Whedon aired a show on Fox about a crew on board a transport ship just trying to get by in an uncaring galaxy. Uncaring indeed for despite a superb cast, better writing and production & styling that was sublime, it was cancelled after 13 shows. And it went by the name Firefly. And that should have been the end of it. Except it wasn’t. Three years later, after a lot of support from its legions of Browncoats a film was made. Cancelled TV shows don’t get made into feature-length films but there it was all the same. Despite some success it was let down by a truly shocking marketing campaign and it’s creator, cast, crew and fans were let down yet again.
For my part I was only part of the good ship Serenity‘s journey part of the way. The Firefly passed me by completely and it was my brother, a year after the show was cancelled, who convinced me to watch the DVD. I was smitten. By the writing, the on-screen chemistry, the simple beauty of Serenity herself and the tremendous potential of the show. And even now, a decade on I watch the last episode with sadness and frustration. However, I donned said Browncoat and joined the cause to get the film made and promoted. We did do the impossible, and that made us mighty. At least a little bit anyway.
The lack of commercial success of Serenity meant that any hope of the second and third the entire cast had agreed to make, or a revival of the series, was permanently mothballed. Despite that, the fans just wouldn’t let it go. Comics have been written, songs have been sung (probably), and those chaps at Gale Force 9 made a game.
The premise of the game is simple enough. You captain a transport and all you’re trying to do is make your way in the ‘Verse. All you need to do is find a crew, find a job and keep flying. Now, being a colossal fan of Firefly I decided this review needed to be done properly which meant I had Lee & Mat from the site round along with Neil (all of The Chaps) for a 4 player game.
We each have a ship (I threatened bloody murder should anyone dream of taking the Serenity player card before me) and choose a captain from a variety of characters plucked from the series. Each character brings with them certain skills and/or benefits. Such as Nadi from the Heart of Gold episode who gets to hire crew for free. Presumably because she fellates them in lieu of payment.
It’s a bit of a shame that all the ships are Firefly class. Perhaps a pointless complaint considering the name of the game and the fact that fans are going to be buying and playing this game the majority of the time, but still. It wouldn’t take much to produce a few of the other ship types that pop up in the series. But hey-ho. It does avoid the inevitable arguments of who gets to be the Firefly class. Because the answer is: everyone. My only real gripe is the quality of the playing pieces is quite poor. The Fireflies all have some loss of detail, and some had flash. And the Alliance Cruiser is awful. The casting quality is really quite bad, with the towers warped and looked like it was removed from the cast too early as there are areas that look like they were attacked by plastic glue.
However those are my only gripes because the game is superb. It took us a little while to get going as we covered off the rules just before starting play but the fact that you can do that and have the turns running smoothly within 30 minutes goes to show how straight forward the rules are.
That doesn’t mean it’s a simple game. Players are given an objective which is effectively the primary plot. You then have the option of taking on submissions to get ‘in’ with various business associates and ne’er-do-wells which will benefit you both in terms of money and leverage. Being ‘solid’ with people is always a good thing. So, whilst you’re hopping from one end of the board to another you have to weigh up a few things.
The first is that you can only perform two actions a turn and you can only perform each action type once per turn too. So the order in which you do things becomes very tactical. Visit a supply depot or move so you can complete a job or put it off for a turn to try to juice your engines. Equally how you choose to move can have immediate as well as long-term side effects. Moving a single sector causes no problems. You’re pootling along mind your own so everyone else minds there. Go for full burn however, which allows you to move between 4 & 6 sectors, depending on your drive core, and you not only burn fuel but run the risk of attracting unwanted attention. Or breaking down. This is done by drawing a card from one of two decks depending on whether you’re within the core worlds or outer rim. Either way it can spell bad news. It’s just a matter of degrees.
At first I wasn’t convinced about using a deck but it’s quick, it’s simple and there’s no fucking about looking up results on tables that you’d need with a dice based option. And some of the results are nicely in keeping with the show. Equally visiting various planets – again from the show – allows you to trade for certain items, such as ship upgrades, weapons and crew. Rather cleverly players are allowed to choose 3 cards from that deck which can include the top 3 cards on the discard pile. This can means that players can take advantage of a rival’s inability to take/purchase an item. Part of the fun of the game does come from playing the ‘name that dude’ game. And there are fan favourites like Vera, Jayne’s very favourite gun.
Equally hiring crew can be a tough process. Various characters from the show are buried in the decks, each with benefits and skills. However they come at a price and whatever you pay is their fee whenever you complete the job. A good, reliable, crew can mean that your taste at the end of a deal can be a little lean which pushes you towards the shadier jobs to make ends meet. Cut costs and chances are you’re hiring criminals, wanted by the Alliance. And that means they’re gonna be hounding you every step of the way.
Mat and I deliberately went for opposite strategies. I kept my head down and my nose clean, flying beneath Alliance radar whilst still making a decent payday. Mat hired criminals and ran with the likes of Badger and Niska. Initially he was raking in the cash (which is beautifully designed by the way) but being hunted by the Alliance kept him in Reaver space long enough to get attacked by them and most of his crew ended up on the dinner table.
The mission we had to accomplish did require a fair bit of cash and, to be honest, playing it squeaky clean will mean you probably won’t win which does rather push you into playing like cap’n tightpants himself, Malcolm Reynolds. Not that that’s a bad thing mind. Those choosing a life of crime may be making some hefty coin but once the Alliance is on their ass, they’ll be forced to loiter in Reaver territory, and that’ll only serve you for so long…
Firefly The Game is superb. It looks ace and plays like a dream. The board and cards are beautifully produced and the tokens are tidy and set into a single frame with hardly any waste, a lesson that Privateer Press could do with learning for Level 7. The models are its only real let down but you’ll have so much fun you won’t really give a monkeys. It does require 3 players or more though. With just two of you it could get a little stale just because it’s a big board and you can only do so much a turn.
Whilst fans will be all over this game, its quality of game play and styling will appeal to non-fans. Lee has never seen the show but he can’t wait to play again. And that, for me, is as good an endorsement as it gets.
Firefly The Game is available from Firestorm Games priced £40.50 (and worth every gorram penny!).