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I was late to the party with Firefly—by the time I watched the TV show, it had already been canceled, fans had rallied, and the followup movie Serenity had already been released. But, eventually I caught up with the rest of the world and discovered why everyone loves Mal and his crew so much. It’s kind of like that with Firefly: The Game, too. It was released back in 2013 and already has four expansions out, but I didn’t manage to play it until just recently. But just in case you’re like me and still wondering whether you’d enjoy it, here’s a review to help you decide.
At a glance: Firefly is for 1 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, and takes about 2 hours to play. (At least, that’s what the box says. Actual playing time depends on how much time players take deciding what to do on their turns, and also the specific scenario you choose to play, so I’ve heard of games taking much longer.) The game isn’t terribly complex, but because of its length and the content, which is based on the TV show, I think the age rating is about right—if you let your kids watch the show, then the game’s content is equally appropriate for them. Firefly retails for $49.99.
Okay, normally I tell you about the components, how to play, and then give you my verdict on a game, but I think it’s worth making an additional comment here. If you’re a fan of Firefly (or are at least familiar with it), then the game will make sense to you. If not, then there are a lot of things that will simply seem odd, and the game doesn’t really explain things.
For instance, the reason there’s a cardboard stegosaurus to mark the active player is because Wash (the pilot in the show) has some plastic dinosaurs that he plays with. The reason the “disgruntled” tokens are a weird blue sad face, seemingly out of place compared to the rest of the artwork, is because they’re from the Fruity Oaty Bars, also from the show.
If you’ve watched the show, then you’ll already have a visceral fear of the Reavers. You don’t even need to know what that red ship does in the game; you just know it’s bad and you should avoid it. Haven’t seen the show? The rules tell you what happens when you encounter the red ship—but doesn’t actually explain what Reavers are or why you should fear them.
Before I played Firefly, I’d heard from a lot of people that fans of the show tend to enjoy the game, and for people who don’t know the show it’s just a pick-up-and-deliver game. I think the reason that’s true is because the game rules don’t explain the show—they assume you already know it. This isn’t a game that will make anyone into a fan of the series; it’s a game made for existing fans.
- 1 game board
- 4 Ship cards
- 6 plastic ship pawns (4 Firefly pawns, 1 Alliance Cruiser, 1 Reaver Cutter)
- 6 Story cards
- 125 Supply cards (25 each in 5 decks)
- 125 Contact cards (25 each in 5 decks)
- 80 Nav cards (40 each in 2 decks)
- 40 Misbehave Cards
- 11 Set Up Cards
- 150 paper bills
- 167 Tokens (cargo, passengers, fuel, parts, disgruntled markers, goal tokens, 1 stegosaurus)
- 2 custom six-sided dice
The components are pretty nice—you’ll spend a lot of time punching out all those 167 cardboard tokens—some of them are pretty tiny, and they didn’t always separate very easily. It is nice, sturdy cardboard, though.
The dice are standard-sized six-sided dice, with a firefly icon in place of the 6; they’re engraved and painted so the faces won’t wear off. The ships are made of a soft plastic (or maybe it’s a hard rubber?) with hard plastic stands—there’s a post on the stand that fits into a hole in the bottom of the ship. It looks fine, but sometimes when you pick up the ship the base doesn’t come with it.
Paper money. What can I say? When I opened up the game and discovered it had paper money, I felt like I had stepped back in time. Don’t get me wrong—the money is actually gorgeous. The bills, in $100, $500, $1000, and $2000 denominations, are double-sided with the same full-color artwork on both sides, and have that Chinese-sci-fi mash-up you’d expect from the show. But it’s paper money, and you’ll be handling it a lot.
The board is enormous, and almost everything except the Nav decks and discard piles are stored off the board, so you’ll need a big table for this game. I think the board could have been smaller without affecting gameplay (the spaces are plenty big enough for lots of ships each) but I guess in a game about traveling through space you want the physical board to reflect that. So I can’t fault the big board, and I know plenty of people will love it, but I had trouble making room for the four players to have their ship boards and cards on the same table.
The cards use a lot of photographs from the show, so you’ll see a lot of familiar faces and names. The illustrations (for the card backs, for instance) are excellent, looking like travel posters for the various systems where you can stop to buy goods or do business. The artwork on the tokens is pretty minimal.
The rulebook isn’t great—there are some misspellings and grammar errors, and it doesn’t always feel really well-organized—but it gets the job done. I did find it helpful to print out a copy of the FAQ from Gale Force Nine’s website as a supplement.
How to Play
The goal of the game depends on which “story” you play—each story card explains if there are any differences in setup and also tells you the various goals you’ll need to fulfill in order to win the game.
The general setup can be modified by the story cards. You shuffle each of the Nav decks (Alliance Space and Border Space) separately, placing the Alliance Cruiser card and the Reaver Cutter card in their respective discard piles. The Alliance Cruiser token starts in Londinium, and the Reaver Cutter token starts up in the top right corner of the board.
The players get to pick ships and leaders. Everyone gets a Firefly-class ship, but only one of them is named Serenity, and only one player is going to be Mal. Work it out. Everyone puts their ship on the board. Each player also gets a standard drive core card, $3,000, 6 Fuel, and 2 Parts. Also, everyone gets some starting Jobs from the Contacts decks—usually one from each contact. You can discard any or all of these jobs, but may only keep up to three of them in your hand. The top three cards of each Supply deck are revealed.
On your turn, you get two different actions, choosing from the following: Fly, Buy, Deal, and Work. Basically you’ll fly around the board, picking up and delivering things to fulfill various contracts—but the ultimate goal of the game depends on the story card you’re using. For instance, in the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair,” recommended as the starting story, you need to be “Solid” with two contacts (by fulfilling contracts for them), have $6,000 on hand, and then get to Niska to pay off your debt.
Fly: You can Mosey by moving your ship one space, which doesn’t use fuel or risk any events. Or you can use a Full Burn—spend a fuel, and then move as far as your ship’s drive core will allow, but as you move you’ll have to draw a Nav card for each space you enter (Alliance Space cards for the blue spaces, Border Space cards for the red spaces.) Some cards let you keep flying and some have events that you’ll need to resolve—sometimes interrupting your flight.
Buy: If you’re at a supply planet, you may stop to hire crew or buy equipment, or give your crew shore leave. You get to “Consider” 3 cards and buy up to 2 of them. The decks are a mix of crew, equipment, and ship upgrades. First take up to 3 cards from the discard pile you want to consider, and then draw from the deck until you have a total of three cards. You may buy up to two of those three cards by paying the cost to the bank. Anything you don’t purchase goes back into the discard pile. For shore leave, instead of buying cards, you spend $100 per crew on your ship, and then you can remove any disgruntled tokens from your crew.
Deal: If you’re in a sector with a contact, you may try to do business with that contact. Again, you consider 3 contracts, and may accept up to 2, but note that you may only have 3 active jobs and 3 inactive jobs (in your hand) at a time. There are various types of jobs, and each one shows how much money it’s worth, whether there are any particular requirements for taking on the job, and what’s involved. Some jobs are legal, some are illegal—and some are immoral. If you complete an immoral job, then any of your crew marked “Moral” become disgruntled—which means other players can hire them away from you. Two disgruntled tokens, and the crew jumps ship.
Work: Use the Work action to start a job, making it active, or to finish off a job. To start a job, you decide what equipment you’ve got for the job—each crew member may only carry one gear, and anything that isn’t equipped doesn’t provide any bonuses while you’re on the job. You also have to confirm that you have the requirements necessary—for instance, enough skill points as indicated on the job card. Then you do what the card says—for instance, load cargo or passengers from a particular location. (Of course, you’ll need to be in the appropriate location to do this!)
For illegal jobs, you may need to misbehave: the job card shows a number of Misbehave cards, and you’ll have to resolve that many in a single turn in order to fulfill that part of the job. Misbehave cards sometimes require a skill roll, and some may be skipped if you have the right crew or equipment.
If your Work action completes a job, then you get paid for it from the bank. Completing a job makes you “Solid” with that contact—you tuck the job card face-down at the top of your ship board. Now it will show a bonus you get with that contact, plus you may be able to sell them goods or contraband when you’re in their neck of the woods. However, if you get a warrant while working a job, you’re no longer solid with that contact and you’ll have to fulfill another contract to get back in their good graces.
Skill rolls come up both in the Nav decks and in some Misbehave cards. Generally, you’ll roll a single die, and then add any of the skill icon needed that you have on your crew and equipment cards. There are three skills: Fight, Tech, and Negotiate. The card will tell you the results of your roll, but generally higher is better. If you roll the Firefly icon (the “6”), you count it as a six and roll again, adding the second result to the total.
That covers most of the gameplay. There are a lot of specifics in the cards that come up and the various story cards, but you take turns flying, buying, dealing, and working until somebody wins the game.
I’d been hearing about the Firefly game for some time and have been eager to try it, but I’d been worried that it was just another so-so game dressed up with a licensed theme. I’m happy to report that the theme meshes well with the gameplay, and even though only one of you gets to be Mal (and it’s unlikely you’ll assemble the original Firefly crew on your ship), you do get a little taste of what it’s like being in the ‘verse that Joss Whedon created.
The people who will enjoy the game the most are the die-hard fans of the show, because they’re the ones who will get all the various references and recognize the characters. But even if you don’t remember everything, you get a lot of hints—from the titles of cards to quotes used as flavor text. Sticking to the theme does mean that it doesn’t always feel completely balanced. For instance, River Tam is a crew card that has a chance of giving you two or even three skill icons based on the roll of the die—and she’s free. Why? Because in the show, she’s smuggled aboard, she is incredibly powerful, but also unpredictable. But purely as a game mechanic, the card seems overpowered.
I’ve only played Firefly with people who already like the show, so it’s hard for me to know how much a non-fan would enjoy it. I do think it’s a solid game that would stand up well to other similar games even if it weren’t Firefly-themed, but I’m doubtful that people who don’t know anything about the show would dive into a long game about a show they know nothing about. If you’d never seen Star Trek, you probably wouldn’t pick up Star Trek Catan.
The game has a nice mix of luck, choices, and “take that,” though in the base game the ability to interfere with your opponents isn’t huge. You can hire away disgruntled crew—but only if you’re in the same space and you have the money and the desire to do so. Chances are, you can hire crew just as easily somewhere else nearby rather than chasing down the disgruntling leader. The biggest thing you can do to other players is send the Reaver and Alliance ships after them, and even then there’s a lot of luck involved in making that happen. There is, however, a Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion if you want to add in more player interaction, but I haven’t played that one yet.
Because of the game length, I think of Firefly as more of an event game—I’ll invite a couple people over specifically to play it, rather than trying to get it to the table spontaneously on a regular game night. I do wish it were something that could be shortened a little, but that’s really my only significant gripe about it. And if you’ve got the time for it, it is fun to hang out in the world of Firefly for a couple of hours at a time.
So, bottom line: If you don’t have patience for long games or you’ve never seen the show, you might want to keep flyin’ on past this one. But if you’re a gamer and you like the TV show, Firefly is definitely worth a try. You can pick up a copy at your local game store, from Amazon, or directly from Gale Force Nine.
Thanks to Gale Force Nine for providing a review copy of the game!