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Sunday, August 13, 2017

FIREFLY: The Game

          "Find a crew... find a job... keep flying!"
                                   ~ Box Tagline

          Pretty much everyone alive who I know is aware of Joss Whedon's series Firefly, sabotaged by its network after one partial season.  Fewer are aware of Gale Force Nine Games' Firefly: The Game.  We played a session today, my wife, my daughter, and I, and a great time was had by all.
          The Firefly game is based directly on the short-lived series by the Master, and is as true to the source material as any follow-on media I've ever seen.  I chose to show the back of the box below, as its photograph shows the game all set up and ready to play.  It consists of the map of the area of space where Firefly takes place, multiple card decks that represent items you can buy on supply worlds such as Silverhold and Persephone, and jobs you can get from such personages as Badger, Patience, and Niska.  Up to four can play, each captain taking a Firefly class transport represented by die-cast plastic models, and cruising around space looking to hire crew, pick up jobs, and complete them for cash.  Cruising the black can be a dangerous proposition, and two decks of cards are included to produce chance encounters in Alliance Space, and out in Border Space, away from the central star.  Yet another deck controls the "misbehavin'" it is necessary to do to complete some of the riskier, but higher paying jobs.
          This is the back of the box, shown large to clearly include everything in a legible fashion.  What it doesn't show is the Blue Sun expansion that we include in our games which adds another board half the size of the one you see to the left side of the map with Meridian, Mr. Universe's station, and Miranda with its dangerous reavers and their attendant mysteries, plus more card decks to support them.  By the time you include space for discards, money, and marker tokens, this game has the largest footprint I've ever seen, with the sole exception of Avalon Hill's The Longest Day, a battalion-level simulation of the Normandy Invasion.  This ain't no joke!  To play this with enough space to be comfortable, we have to rearrange our living room.  It's worth it!  This is the expanded board:

          Shown here are a few sample character cards.  You can see how each character, and they are all people seen in the show or the Serenity movie, brings certain skills and talents to the captain who hires him or her.

          Skills can be enhanced by purchasing gear at the various spaceports one visits, and with crew in hand, and all the fine equipment you can cram into the hold, its time to go looking for work.

          You visit the various nefarious characters around the rim, and evaluate what work they have to offer.  You look to see what the job requires, and choose jobs whose requirements can be met by the skills of your crew.  Legal jobs are usually straightforward fetch-and-carry affairs, but illegal and/or immoral jobs require some "misbehavin'," usually accomplished through a series of die rolls modified by the skills you possess in order to succeed, and the consequences of failure can be grim.

          We like to play the scenario that is most like the show, the simple effort to accumulate cash.  I played Womack, the vicious renegade Fed from the episode The Message, where the old war buddy was smuggling organs inside his own body.  My ship was the Bonnie Mae, which seems fitting, as my wife is Bonnie Gay.  I started in Osiris, just inside Alliance Space, and was able to add Simon Tam to my crew.  He is very intelligent, has two "wrenches" on his card signifying mechanical expertise, and is far and away the best medic in the game.  He is also a wanted fugitive, which made me an outlaw ship and in trouble with the Alliance right off the bat.  You can avoid the Alliance by going "a little farther out," like Mal used to say, but as you leave the Alliance's area of influence, you become more likely to be targeted by reavers, and they don't care whether your papers are in order or not; they're just as happy to eat them,  too!  None of this was helped by the fact that, stopping in for resupply at another planet, I picked up Simon's sister, River.  Womack is the kind of guy who would turn them in at the drop of a hat, but both characters add so much to your skill set (although River's bonuses are randomized on each attempted use) that even a crud like Womack might keep them around.  I sure did, and they were indeed useful.
          I began by doing a couple of legal jobs while tiptoeing around the Alliance's patrol cruiser to pick up some modest but safe working capital.  I delivered three crates of rocks across the breadth of Alliance Space whose weight cost me twice the fuel consumption per burn, then when I got out there to deliver it, I picked up two tons of manure from Patience to deliver to an agricultural planet.  These trips caused me to transit the edges of Alliance Space, and I was accosted by the cruiser patrol on several occasions.  Once I ditched him by deploying the Cry Baby, but I didn't have another one, and he soon returned to his sniffing around...  Thanks, daughter!  Eventually, he discovered River in one of my smuggling bins, and they dragged her off in irons.  Surprisingly, Simon didn't freak out on me, but that's how the game works.  Once I stepped up to doing some misbehavin', I would occasionally slip up, and get a warrant issued.  This makes you even more attractive to the Alliance, and once they catch you, you have to pay your fine of $1,000 per warrant to go your way.  Bonnie got caught repeatedly with something out of order, once with two warrants, and she eventually finished the game with $600 after starting with $3,000.
          I had a run of jobs to do, but running into difficulty on my misbehavin' cost me some warrants, and thus some money, and I finished with $4,200, a modest profit.  Daughter cleaned house after a rough start.  Movement is handled as follows:  You can always move one space without drawing any chance encounter cards.  To move more, usually five, you have to burn a fuel token, which cost money to replace.  As you start moving, you draw cards, and for the first few turns, she would pay the fuel, start to move, and immediately get jumped by the patrol, which even if it doesn't harm you, brings you to a halt, and you forfeit the rest of your turn while they search you from keel to masthead.  Eventually, she was able to gather a few lucrative jobs in a localized area, and rather quickly amassed over $14,000, with $12,000 needed to win.  Luck, as you can see, plays a role, but with several hundred cards in the game, it balances out.  It was in for her this game, but in all likelihood, it will be in someone else's corner next time we play.
          The downside of this game is that there is very little interaction possible.  If I see you about to win, there is precious little I can do about it.  I can try to beat you to a location and swipe a job out from under your nose, but as a rule, I'm trying to make my own money, not interfere with yours.  If you have a "disgruntled" crew member, I can steal him from you by moving into your space and paying his hire price, but the only way I can really, seriously harm you is to move through space out on the rim hoping to draw that magic card that will set the reavers on you, but the odds of me drawing something that will harm me instead are about ten times greater than getting the one that will bite you.  What this means is that this is a great solitaire game.  You don't need other players, you can just go to various planets, hiring crew and taking jobs, until you reach the dollar figure to win, the reavers eat you, or the Alliance bankrupts you.  There are also other scenarios that are based on goals other than money, so there are many ways to approach it.
          The bottom line is that we had a great time, and if you like games, this one has a fascinating combination of mechanics that weave a convoluted tale of conflicting strategies.  If you like Firefly, the show, this game puts you in it, with all the personalities, locations, gadgets, and capers from the series, as well as many, many more that capture the flavor exquisitely.  Finally, if you are a solo gamer, this one is made with you in mind.  No matter the number of players, you'll be living on the black, misbehavin', and keeping it shiny all the day long.  Join the crew, or build your own, and get in on the action.  It's a wonderful way for your local group of Browncoats to spend an afternoon!

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