RogerBW's Blog

Firefly the game 11 January 2014

Firefly is a 1-5 player boardgame of travelling through space, taking jobs, trying to make enough money to keep flying. I played it on the Sunday of Stabcon and bought a copy before the game was over. What's good about it?

First of all it reminds me somewhat of Merchant of Venus in the pick-up and deliver mechanic: you have limited space in your hold, which you can fill with spare parts, fuel, cargo or passengers (the latter two legal or illegal). You can buy ship upgrades.

Where we get away from Merchant is that you can also buy personal equipment and hire crew. These are taken off location-based decks of 25 cards each, with an interesting mechanic: you can buy up to two cards in a single action, but you can choose them freely from the discard pile for that deck (everything that's been used or rejected earlier in the game), or from a limited number of new draws. So there's still some randomness, but you have a reasonable amount of choice about what you get.

Second, the flavour of the show is throughout the game: not just the components, but the sorts of thing you end up doing. (Even if you're scrupulously honest, you'll still come to grief.) This isn't a flavour-only game, though: the core gameplay is still satisfying even if you're not a fan of the show.

Rather than Merchant's commodity speculation, here you're doing jobs, for one of five personalities. These range from the safe and low-paying to the horribly dangerous and generally illegal, which pay well. You select jobs in much the same way as buying equipment, and can hold onto a few that you haven't started yet to give you some choices.

The higher-paying the job, the more difficult it'll be, and this is where your crew's skills and equipment come into play: whenever there's the possibility of some sort of obstruction, you draw and resolve Misbehave cards. There may be a short-cut based on a keyword your crew member or item of equipment might show ("SNIPER RIFLE: proceed"), but otherwise you'll have to make skill tests with your crew. Misbehave cards can be vicious, often leading to crew deaths, and are not recommended until you've built up your capabilities a bit.

Skills are also used when you're travelling: random encounters in space lead to various problems, and you make skill rolls to deal with them. (Equipment upgrades can help too.)

Your overall goal? Varies. The group picks a "story card" before play, out of the several that come with the game, and this defines a series of goals to be achieved, with the first player reaching the end of that track being the winner. The BoardGameGeek community is coming up with more.

I only really have two problems with the game. One, in a five-player game, it can be a long wait for your next turn, and you don't have much to do. The dinosaur marker helps with this: it indicates who's playing, but if your last action in a turn is to go shopping or looking for a job (i.e. riffling through a deck of cards picking the ones you want), you can pass it on to the next player so that he can get started with his turn. The second and more serious problem is that there's an air of multiplayer solitaire about it: there's not much you can do to other players, and if someone takes a lead he may well keep it. Once you've got to the point where you can happily face Misbehave cards, there's little that can be done to stop you.

I'm hoping the promisingly-named "Pirates and Bounty Hunters" expansion will go some way towards fixing that. For now, it's worth staying alert to the things you can do: moving the Alliance Cruiser and Reaver Cutter towards your opponents in order to cause problems, and hiring away disgruntled crew.

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