I was excited to attend this game demo. I am a fan of all things Firefly, and actually have a copy of this game but hadn’t had a chance to play it yet. So when a game got underway in the gaming room, I dropped by to check it out.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived too late to join in. (For whatever reason, there can be only four players, which is pretty limiting.) Set up took awhile — as one player observed, “This game sure has a lots of fiddly bits”. There are ship cards, player cards, equipment cards, jobs cards — five separate decks of each. There are two decks of movement cards; paper money in various denominations; tokens for fuel and parts; tokens for cargo and contraband; tokens for passengers and fugitives; tokens for signaling having a warrant out for your arrest and tokens for indicating crewmembers who are disgruntled; and tokens for the actual Firefly ships, the Alliance cruiser, and the Reavers. And, of course, two dice. It’s a lot to keep track of, though the designs make it relatively straightforward.
It took a little while for the players to settle into the game mechanics. I’m glad I got a chance to watch because play can get a bit complex, though never approaching Third Reich levels of insane detail. After an hour or so, one pair of players had to bail out, so I did get to sit down and play about half a game by taking their spot.
I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but the game shows a lot of dualism: things that have different names but similar mechanics. Your jobs can be legal or illegal, and (separately!) moral or immoral. Some crew can only take moral jobs (or they become disgruntled). There are two distinct regions of the map, Alliance space and the border worlds. Movement through each requires drawing a card, but from two different decks — each of which has similar events, including an encounter with a ship (Alliance cruiser or Reaver cutter, respectively). Cargo can be legit or contraband; passengers can be legit or fugitives. In both cases, the seedier side is literally a side: you flip over the chit to show the illegality. I’m a little surprised that the warrants and disgruntled tokens weren’t made obverse to each other. There is just the barest hint of role-playing in the game, as you build a crew with particular skills and quirks.
One of the fun parts was seeing how the designers took the admittedly-paltry source material (14 episodes, one movie, a couple of graphic novels) and spin it into the game mechanics. It’s amusing, in a fannish way, that all guns add combat bonuses, but Jayne‘s Vera also aids in negotiations (one assumes by intimidation). And of course the not-quite-legal things you often need to do to complete jobs requires that you “aim to misbehave“.
It’s actually quite a good game. The turns move along quickly, the game mechanics are fairly logical (no obvious gamebreaker holes popped up in our session), and the play does capture the feel of the TV series. It’s clearly an act of love combined with some laser-sharp professional game-making. Now I’m eager to get back and give it a go, probably by organizing some sort of Firefly weekend for Resident Life. 😛