Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I Spent a Three Day Weekend in the 'Verse. by Mike Fatum

Take my love,
Take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand...

I'll stop before I sing the whole song, I promise.  Firefly - the late, beloved TV show by Joss Whedon, cancelled almost ten years ago, has a cult following that's hung on for longer than any cancelled show I can think of, save maybe Star Trek. And while the desire for more Firefly content will soon be fulfilled by an official new "season" from Dark Horse Comics, fans are always salivating for more. After years of silence, Fox finally began licensing the show out for merchandise about five years ago, leading to an upcoming video game, roleplaying games, and finally, the official Firefly board game.

I was a bit skeptical, spending my $50 on a licensed board game. Gale Force Nine the folks behind it, didn't have a proven track record, although I'd heard their Spartacus game was very good. But the game was so well loved that we'd included it on our Holiday Gift Guide, and honestly, any chance to play in the 'Verse was an opportunity I could pass up. My heart sank even further when I opened the box and saw the complexity of it - six sheets of tokens! 15 different decks of cards! While some people, the Twilight Imperium crowd especially, salivate that this sort of board game, I feel like the magic of Firefly lies in its simplicity. I didn't want to spend three to twelve hours playing each game, and that's exactly what the box looked like.

Well, I was right. My wife and I's first game of Firefly took five hours. But I was wrong - it only took five hours because we were enjoying playing so much, we forgot to attempt to win.

The game is literally a Firefly simulator. Instead of playing individual members of a crew, each player captains a Firefly-class transport. There are five in the game, including the Serenity. You choose a captain, each with their own special abilities, and then you go around the universe, picking up jobs, avoiding the Reavers and the Alliance, trying to earn credits and eventually complete the game's "story". Depending on the scenario, or "story", that's chosen, you can be stealing the Crown Jewels, trying to earn the most cash, or just trying to keep Niska off your back. All the contacts, crew members and planets are places from the show, giving the whole thing a labor of love. Even Saffron is in there. And Yolanda. And Brigit. Yeah, that gets complicated.

What Gale Force has accomplished is a game that really makes you feel like a Captain in the 'Verse. You get your ship, and you keep her flying at all costs. Sometimes, you gotta do things you or the crew don't like, and then find a way to make it up to them. Every job is different, sometimes they go smooth, but most times they go south in a hurry. And you always gotta watch over your shoulder for the Alliance or the Reavers to come swooping in and ruin your day. Everything I just described has a rule for it, and is only one of many things that can happen over the course of this game.

Here's an example: My wife, my friend and I were playing a game on Saturday night. (I played at least three games this weekend.) The wife was down on her luck, but high on crew -all of whom were pretty moral folks. In order to get some cash flow, she had to take a job from Niska, which left her whole crew Disgruntled. I'd had a disaster that left me without any crew, so I sailed up alongside her ship, gave her whole a better offer, and left her drifting with just a captain. Dick move? Certainly, but the fact that there was even a mechanic for it shows the endless possibilities in this game. A lot of board games introduce complications to keep you playing. This one produces possibilities.

Firefly also has one of the better designed rulebooks I've ever encountered. For a game with this many aspects, I honestly didn't feel like I was ever lost. Which is more than I can say for, for example, the Game of Thrones board game.

There are a few things I found annoying in the game. Some of the random job complications can only be finished in your favor if you have River, making every game a mad dash to get to Persephone first. The way the game functions can make it a very quiet game, instead of the table talking that I usually like in my games. But all in all, if you want to feel like you're a Firefly captain traveling the edges of the 'Verse, this is the closest you'll get. I can't recommend it highly enough.

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