Soon after playing the Firefly board game, I went back and revisited the great TV series for the n-th time. I couldn’t help myself. Playing the game caused some kind of pop-culture nostalgia I didn’t know I had. So to answer the first question one has when confronted with a licensed product: does it stay true to source material? Yes. Sort of.
See, whoever did the art design for Firefly deserves a round of applause. I hate paper money in board games, but I make an exception for the money here because it’s beautiful and perfectly Firefly-esque. This design excellence extends to the cards backs, certain card interactions, and even the way the rulebook is written (an actual action available to you in this game: “moseying”.) The cards themselves use stills from the show, which work well. It’s in the extraneous details (like the aforementioned money) where the art shines.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, the gameplay design isn’t amazing. At its core, Firefly is part of the most literally named game genre: Pick Up and Deliver. You’ll start off with a Firefly-class ship and a captain who gives you a unique ability that helps shape your strategy. You will also begin with a small handful of jobs you can perform for cash. You can then spend that money at various locations in the galaxy to hire more crew, buy equipment, or add upgrades to your ship. The jobs will either consist of going to a location to “misbehave” (i.e. face off against some random skill checks) or, as you can probably guess, picking up cargo or passengers at one location and dropping them off at a different location.
The way the game handles skill challenges is simple and clean. There are three different skills in the game: fighting, technology, and diplomacy. Crew and equipment cards will have between 0-3 skill icons on them. When confronted with a challenge, you roll a single die and add that number to however many applicable skill symbols you have, and compare it to whatever number is required to succeed. One of the best touches in the game is that a roll of 6 always “explodes”, which lets you roll again and add the new number also to your total. So in theory, no matter how bad of a crew you have, there is some chance that you can succeed at any given skill check.
The Cold Unfeeling Darkness Of Space
The most significant issue I have with this game is the sheer amount of randomness present. Let’s take, for example, what it looks like to perform one job. First you need to acquire the job from one of your criminal contacts. When you are at the proper location you choose 3 cards to consider from the discard pile or the deck, and then you can keep up to 2 of them. The jobs might be near your location or might all be horribly inconvenient. If they are, you’re probably best served waiting to draw more job cards next turn and hope for better luck. Once you find a job you like, you travel to the specified planet to pick up your goods, then go to the drop off location. Sometimes you need to misbehave to complete the job. So you reveal the top card of the misbehavin’ pile. This card can be anything from a lucky happenstance that gives you free money or goods, to a card that causes you to fail the job, lose one of your crew, and receive a warrant for your arrest (which will cost you money and time later on in the game.) Most egregious of all is a card in the misbehavin’ pile that only allows you to succeed if you have River Tam as part of your crew. If she’s not in your crew, about half of the crew you do have will die.
Oh, and every single time you move to reach these planets you have to draw a card to see if some event happens. This can be avoided by “moseying” only one space on your turn, but if you did that all the time someone else would win the game before you completed your first job. Over half of these event cards say that nothing happens. So much time in this game is spent moving a space, pulling a card that says “continue”, moving another space, another uneventful card, another space, another card, etc etc etc. Riveting. The cards that do have events on them are only slightly less variable than the misbehavin’ cards.
I get it, though. I completely understand what they were going for. The ‘verse is a dangerous place. One wrong move or bad beat and you could be boarded by violent scavengers, face an unexpected Reaver attack, or find yourself in a bar fight you underestimated. This game should have push your luck elements and randomized encounters. I think the designers just implemented too much of that, or they put it in the wrong game.
This might have worked in a smaller, shorter game. But Firefly looks like a game of epic adventuring when you set it up. There’s a very large game board full of planets and 13 separate decks of cards. Playtime can be up to 3 or 4 hours long. But in reality this is a casual game. The rules are easy to grasp and the decisions you make are never particularly grueling.
How Can I Hate It?
The amount of strategy in the game does increase a bit with multiple plays. Each one of the depots where you can buy equipment and hire crew have their own character and tendencies, so experienced players will know where to go to have the best chance of picking up ship upgrades or high powered guns. Experienced players will also know that having a pilot and a mechanic on your crew makes Reaver territory substantially safer. That kind of knowledge mitigates the randomness somewhat, but ultimately the game still often comes down to the luck of the draw.
That can be fine! If you want to spend a couple of hours adventuring and don’t want to agonize over tough decisions, this is the game for you. I don’t think this is a bad game, just one where I had to temper my expectations. If the cards go your way and you get a great crew and start completing difficult jobs, you really do feel like a rogue captain sticking it to the Alliance. If you scrape along, spending every last bit of money you can earn, and then finally hit it big with a risky job, that feels exciting. The problem is that if the cards don’t go your way and you find yourself without a crew, money, or prospects, you’re not going to have a very good time slowly building yourself up while someone else eventually wins the game. There are no catch-up mechanisms and all of the varying win conditions (picked at the beginning of the game) are more or less races. So once you fall behind, you’re probably stuck there.
Firefly’s an odd one. If you’re not a fan of the show there’s nothing here to interest you. If you are a fan of the show, it might be worth checking out, but be sure to know what you’re getting into. For me, I do enjoy the game, but I need to be in the right mood before I pull it out and start moseying, misbehavin’, and seeing how the cruel fates of the ‘verse shape my adventure.
+ Feels like the Firefly universe
+ Building up your crew, ship, and equipment is fun
– Heavily luck dependent
– Can be very long
– Once you fall behind you probably will never catch up
Length: 2-4 hours
Learning Curve: 2/5
Brain Burn: 2/5
More Info At BoardGameGeek