Tuesday, February 4, 2014

You can't take the sky from me

It should be pretty clear that we tend to favor adventure board games, and that we also seem to like games based on licensed properties and/or with well developed storylines and settings (just wait until we get into the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek games). We like games that immerse us in a different world, and it's even better if that world is one we're familiar with through TV, film, books or comics.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that licensed games are mediocre products with a popular logo stamped on them in a bid for some quick cash (see most of the Doctor Who games on the market, for example). I try to approach new licensed games with cautious optimism, but it does sometimes seem like I am disappointed as often as not.

Which brings us to Gale Force Nine's Firefly: the Game, which is (thankfully) one of the most well-designed adventure board games we've ever played, and it perfectly reflects the tone of the television show.

Each player chooses a captain from among various characters who have appeared on the show (sorry, you can't all be Malcolm Reynolds) and a Firefly transport ship. The ships are differentiated by color, but they are all equal as far as game play is concerned (Serenity is orange, in case you were wondering). Scenario cards provide different win conditions, most of which revolve around either travelling to a series of destinations and passing dice tests, or amassing a pre-determined amount of cash.

The real fun of the game, of course, is in moving your ship around the beautifully illustrated board and interacting with characters from the show. Certain planets are trading destinations where you captain can buy from randomized decks of cards representing equipment and crew, from minor background characters to series regulars like Jayne, Zoe or River. Other worlds are are home to contacts such as Badger, Patience, or the dreaded Niska, who offer jobs for your crew to do in order to earn money and keep your ship in the sky.

Jobs tend to fall into one of two categories: deliveries, which require picking up cargo or passengers (or occasionally contraband or fugitives) at one location and delivering them to another; and single location jobs, which usually require some misbehaving (more on that later). At the same time, the Alliance Cruiser and the Reaver ship wander the board making a nuisance of themselves. The Alliance will stop your ship, seize any contraband or fugitives you may be carrying, and try to arrest your Wanted crew members. The Reavers, on the other hand, will simply try to murder and eat everyone on your ship, stressing the importance of having a pilot and a mechanic in your crew so you can get away from them.

Some jobs require one or more draws from the Aim to Misbehave deck. These are the unforeseen adventures that the crew runs into while trying to get the job done, and usually require that your crew pass a skill test, which involves rolling a die and adding your crew's total in a particular skill such as Fight, Tech or Negotiate. Often, there will be an alternative way to get out of trouble, such has having a Companion among your crew, or a fake ID, or a firearm.

Another fun detail that really reflects the source material well: when your captain and crew complete a job, you are supposed to pay them out of the job's proceeds, but you don't have to. Not paying a crewman gives them a disgruntled token, but you may not want to do this too often, as your opponents can hire away your disgruntled crew if their ship is in the same space as yours, and if a crewman ever gets a second disgruntled token, they leave your ship and go back to the planet they came from. You can get rid of your crew's disgruntled tokens by paying to send them on shore leave.

With all this open-ended depth of game play, it is very easy to forget about the scenario's win condition and just get lost in the game, travelling from place to place and seeing what jobs you can do and what interesting crew you can hire. One of the things I particularly like is that even if you are completely broke and have no fuel, you can always drift one space and you can always do "make-work" on any planet for some quick cash, so you're never out of the game, and you never have a turn where you can't do anything.

The game is complex, and the rule book can be a bit of a slog to get through, especially if you don't have much experience with this type of game. But the game's publisher has some helpful resources on their website, and if you're a fan of Firefly and/or adventure board games, you'll love the way this game transports you into the show's world.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) We occasionally question why we need any other games now that we have this one.

Date played: January 25, 2014 (and many times before and since)

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