Name: Firefly the Board game
Type: Board game
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Size: 39cm x 26.5cm x 8cm
Playtime: varies by mission but around 2 hours on average.
(4.0 / 5)
This review is for the UK edition of Firefly which includes the first expansion ship The Artful Dodger.
“Find a crew. Find a Job. Keep flying“. I think Gale Force Nine (GF9) have nailed the tagline for this game as it perfectly encapsulates everything you need to do to succeed when playing Firefly. As soon as I opened the box the first thing that hit me was the quality of the contents. The back of the various decks of cards, the style of the money, even the sides of the box itself are lavishly decorated with custom artwork, mostly in an art deco style that reminds me of Bioshock and the front of the cards have high quality images from the film and tv series.
The game takes a little while to set up due to the number of decks that need to be shuffled and the selection process of Ship, Captain and Starting position. The game also takes up a substantial amount of space and so a large table is required or, at the least, adequate extra space for the cards etc to be placed so that each player has access to every single deck whenever they need it. Ideally you will want at least 5 foot by 3 foot table to play this on and probably more if you want space for the all important snacks, this is a game that likes to make it’s present known and would certainly appeal to the hardcore gamer.
The premise is simple and, as I said above, is perfectly described by the games tagline. During set up the players pick a ship, all of which are Firefly class vessels and have the same ‘stats’ (cargo and stash space plus your starting engine, maximum number of ship upgrades and maximum number of crew members) except the Artful Dodger ship which is a little different. Players also pick a Captain all of whom have special abilities and skills along with selecting a starting location on the board. Then the Mission is chosen and there are a number of missions that come with the game, these describe the victory conditions such as get X amount of Money, become ‘solid’ with x amount of contacts etc.
The board is a space map of the majority of the Firefly universe up to the borderworlds on the edge of Reaver space but not going as far as Miranda (I understand that the Blue Sun expansion includes an extra board that does include Miranda, a world from the movie). The board is split into sectors, one for each star system and within each star system are planets that can be visited by the players as they fly around the board. Each board space can either be empty space or a visitable location but regardless, unless players move very slowly, there is always the chance that something might happen in any given space which is something I’ll get into in a moment. Each planet can be either basic and so just be worked or used to start/hand in a mission or it can have a contact or shop on it or both in some cases.
Players can take 2 actions on their turn and the actions are ‘Move at hard burn’ which is full speed, ‘Mosey’ which is move one space, ‘Deal’ which allows them to obtain missions from or sell to a contact if they are on the correct space, ‘Buy’ which allows them to buy from the shop on that pace, ‘Start a mission’, try to ‘Hand in a mission’ or ‘Work’.
Moving at full speed requires a player to spend fuel and allows them to move a number of spaces dictated by their ships drive. Doing so means a player must draw a card for each space they move from either the Alliance Space deck or the Border Space deck, dictated by where the player is moving to on the board. These cards can either allow the player to just carry on or can reveal events for the player to interact with which can be anything as simple as finding a derelict ship to salvage or as horrific as being set upon by Reavers who may eat all your passengers, destroy your cargo and kill your crew! By contrast taking a Mosey action only moves you a single space but doesn’t trigger a draw from the decks and so is significantly safer. In firefly it’s all about risk vs reward.
The other actions allow you to interact with certain locations which in turn lets you get more jobs, find more crew and upgrade your ship. It’s fairly straightforward to perform each action, although I think calling the deck that you primarily search for jobs/crew/equipment the discard deck is a little misleading. I also feel that the system of ‘consideration’ is a little clunky. All of the shop and mission decks are split into 2, a draw pile and a discard pile and players are always able to look through the discard pile at any time to see what’s there. When you want to buy something the system states that you can ‘consider’ 3 cards and buy 2 or accept 2 in the case of missions. To initiate this you can search the discard pile and take up to 3 cards to consider and then you can draw the remainder, up to 3 from the draw deck before finally deciding which to buy/accept. It’s simple enough in practice but it just feels a little convoluted within the confines of the game.
Missions are the bread and butter of the game, they are the way you get cash, which lets you hire more crew, upgrade your ship and ultimately keep flying and they are also the way that you can win the game. Missions are the jobs obtained from contacts and they tend to follow a couple of basic themes either ferry people or goods from one place to another or go to a place and complete a task, which generally involved ‘misbehaving’ a given number of times and then succeeding on a check of some kind. If you succeed at the mission you get to hand it in for the amount listed and you become ‘solid’ with that contact if you aren’t already.
When completing missions the task of ‘misbehaving’ is pretty important as it forms the obstacles that you must overcome. Each mission tells you how many times you must misbehave and that is basically the number of cards you must draw from the Aim to Misbehave deck-
Each card has a task that must be overcome and is titled to give you a bit of narrative as to what has happened to you and your crew. When you get to the point of Misbehaving you have to decide which crew are going along and what equipment they are taking as it is the skills of these crew members that will be used to pass the challenges posed by the Aim to Misbehave deck. This part of the game reminds me a lot of the old Shadowrun CCG as skills are denoted by little symbols on the crew members and each Aim to Misbehave card feels like the challenges that you put on the runs in that game. This is no bad thing however, as borrowing mechanics from good games shouldn’t be frowned upon, after all it’s very difficult to come up with 100% unique mechanics.
Most of the Misbehave cards have 3 ways to pass the challenge, either the ability to walk straight through if you meet certain criteria or a dice roll, augmented by either your combat or social skills, depending on whether you want to fight or talk your way through. This allows you to customise your crew depending on how you like to play and depending on the captain you have picked.
Overall this is a good game. I’ve covered the basics of the mechanics here but there is significantly more to the game right out of the box as every captain plays differently, the Artful Dodger ship runs differently, the different missions pose different challenges and have different success criteria. All of this is before you even consider the morals of the crew members or just how bad it can get if you suddenly run out of fuel in the middle of Reaver space.
There is little else to dislike about this game, it’s not particularly original but as I’ve said, that’s no bad thing if it’s done right. My main criticism is that the miniatures provided are very poor by comparison to the rest of the contents-
It should also be noted that despite the great artwork, the actual quality of the cardstock used for the cards isn’t exceptionally high and so while they will certainly stand up to normal play, caution should be exercised is you have drinks near the play area as I have a feeling that spilling liquids on the cards might damage them.
This is a great game for hardcore gamers and one that should definitely be checked out but I think that the multitude of cards and actions might make it inaccessible to casual players unless they are really devoted to the source material and prepared to put in the time to learn the game. It’s not a complex game by any means but there is quite a lot to take in initially and that might make it seem more involved than it actually is.
As my group mentioned while we were setting up the game, it’s so surprising that a show with such a limited run and just a single movie have managed to spawn such a loyal cult following that continues to produce high quality merchandise, be it props, cloths or in our case gaming material, but I for one am really happy that they do, not only do I love the setting but this is a fantastic game.
As a final note, if you have looked closely at the picture of the board above you may have noticed the stegosaurus at the top. This is Wash’s stegosaurus and is used in the game to denote who’s turn it is. One of the very best things about the game, to me at least, is that the game recommends that you buy a proper plastic one to replace it although it’s a shame that they didn’t just provide a plastic one in the box….
At the time of writing there are 3 expansions available for the game.