OK, lets clear one thing up from the off; Firefly being cancelled is the single greatest travesty in all of TV history. It is the greatest prematurely cancelled TV show ever! It’s not even up for debate. If you disagree, you are wrong and a Tah mah duh hwoon dahn!* Plain and simple.
Even thought it’s been 14 years since its cancellation, I genuinely have moments when I reflect on its short existence and still mourn its loss. Something that deep, original and gorram well written should never have been stopped from reaching its potential by the corporate powers. I can’t help but wonder about all the what-might-have-been adventures of Malcolm Reynolds and his misfit crew.
As a minor consolation, we live in a world where expanded universes are a thing, and the Firefly franchise has been kept alive through comics, novels, fan fiction and games. One board game in particular stands alone as my favourite Firefly extension; a title released in 2013 by GaleForce9 – elaborately entitled Firefly: The Game.
Before we get into, I feel it’s only fair to issue a few discretionary warnings: Firstly, you are going to need a big ass table to play this game. There is so much to it; a massive game board, over a dozen varied card decks, an abundance of tokens; space really will become a premium. Secondly, this game is not the cheapest. While the base game can be bought for about £40, there is a whole raft of expansions, with many very much must-have additions to the game, which take the cost up beyond the £150 mark. While I have no regrets about dropping such a sum on a game, I know others will be put off. The base game is reasonably priced, but I know that after trying it out you will crave the additions – so it has to be a conscious investment.
Now that’s out the way, what’s it all about? Basically the premise is find a crew, find a job, get paid and keep flyin’.
Less simply? Well up to four players (this game can also be played solo) captain their own Firefly-class ship, travelling the ‘Verse, recruiting crew, buying supplies and equipment and completing jobs to earn money; all while flying low under the radar to avoid the potential wrath of the Alliance, especially should you chose take on the more morally ambiguous jobs. If that wasn’t enough, players have to navigate well clear of the rampaging Reavers.
Playing in around two hours, each player moves around the board by burning fuel and turning over a navigation deck card for each space they move which in turn moves the AI ships as well provide unexpected events. Each player has a unique captain card to begin with and they must move around the grids on the universe board, flying to specific locations to meet job contacts or to shop for supplies and gear. The end goal is determined by a preselected “story card” chosen at the start, which could be anything from achieving a financial goal, visiting certain areas or completing at least one job for every contact. The how and why of achieving the victory goal is very much at each individuals discretion – will you take on riskier jobs for larger rewards; are you willing to outlaw yourself by breaking laws and gaining the attention of the Alliance; will you turtle away doing light delivery jobs; will you dare venture into Reaver space to save on time?
All the cards feature stills from the TV series and follow up film, Serenity, which create a real authenticity to the game, making it feel very much like part of the extended universe. As well as the cards, the other components such as ship miniatures, money and tokens are wonderfully crafted, balancing durability with wonderful aesthetics.
Missions require the players to have the required resources (achieved through crew and equipment cards) to undertake the task, along with utilising augmented dice rolls to meet the win conditions of each job. Occasionally an “Aim to Misbehave” card will need to be overcome, which causes random unpredictable chaos in the ‘Verse and in all likelihood will destroy players best laid plans. Quickly you will learn to over prepare for tasks as the unexpected is very much to be expected.
As well as managing the multiple missions undertaken, the player has to be mindful of their crew, with many options and decisions creating the potential to disgruntle crew members. They also have to manage their cargo ensuring enough room for parts, fuel and anything they have to transport for a missions. Players must be wary that should a navigation card see the Alliance cruiser land on the same square for a spot check, having certain contraband could result in serious repercussions. But above all else, ensuring you stay as far away from the Reavers as possible as they linger in the outer-rim ready to ravage your ship and crew.
The end result? A very enjoyable gaming experience that fans of the series will absolutely rejoice in! With elements of area movement, card management, push-you-luck, pick-up and deliver and take that it is a very well rounded and deep gaming experience. The levels of choice create an open game, with multiple paths to victory depending on the story card – creating excellent replay-ability.
However, that isn’t where it ends. It’s only half the story.
You see, GaleForce9 have now released a total of nine separate expansions for the game, elevating it to new levels and drastically altering the feel and flow of the game.
Artful Dodger, Esmeralda & Jetwash each add a new playable ship and all that comes with it. They also bring in two new story cards each. These ships offer more varied choice, and ultimately different strategies, as well as increasing the number of players in the game by one. While the four base ships are all identical, these three are very different in terms of cargo space, starting equipment and ship range. Fortunately, their is a UK version of the base game which includes with the Artful Dodger expansion for a small price increase. Breakin’ Atmo, The Card Pack and The Big Damn Heroes pack all add new cards to the game – including job cards, resource cards, new crew members and alternative versions of the iconic crew members. These are all nice to have, but in no way essential to the game as a whole.
I can’t say that for the three “big expansions” though, which I personally can no longer imagine playing the game without. First up; Pirates & Bounty Hunters which introduces more player interaction by making it possible to raid opponents’ ships, stealing cargo, money, equipment and even kill crew. Also added is the bounty deck which provides more ways to make money through hunting down people that may be on an opponent’s crew or in a supply deck – they could even be on your crew, giving you a moral dilemma of money vs crew loyalty. If that weren’t enough, two drastically different ships are included – the quick, nimble and light-weight Interceptor with its captain Jubal Early, and it’s polar opposite, the giant, sluggish S.S. Walden salvage ship. What it boils down to is you play the game as a space pirate! I know…awesome!!
Blue Sun extends the game board area by 33% and introduces Mr. Universe from Serenity as a job contact. He offers jobs that act as multipliers on any other jobs undertaken, adding in twists on the completion conditions for each job. The catch? This expansion also brings with it three more Reaver ships and a new navigation deck that causes them to move much more aggressively. New leaders, equipment and supply cards are also included offering even more variation. The addition of Mr. Universe and the extra Reavers adds so many layers to gameplay which enriches the drama of the game.
Finally, the latest expansion released, Kalidasa, which again extends the game board – making the need for a very large table, as mentioned at the start, imperative! As well as adding a new supply deck and mission deck, Kalidasa also adds the fearsome Operative and his ship from the film that will target and hunt down specific players that come into his crosshairs. It also adds new navigation cards, new set up cards and new supply and mission cards.
All bundled together, this is a hell of a lot of game – it weighs over 10kg all together! Collectively there is no denying its expensive, but for me easily worth it – even at £150 for it all you can’t deny the value for money given how much game you get. It feels very much like an open world video game, with the game goal set in the story card almost a side note to the experience. The expansions are perfect examples of what game add-ons can acheive, taking a game that is a solid 8/10 to a 10/10. Blue Sun and Kaldiasa make the game world bigger, deeper, more dangerous and complex, yet offers more opportunities to make money. Pirates & Bounty Hunters is the absolute stand out, pushing player interaction and giving the players more opportunity to screw each other over. The only downside is with four or more players and all the expansions, this two hour game can become a marathon.
Fans of the show will adore this. The little nods to the series and film are brilliant; the freedom of exploring Joss Whedon’s world is excellent. You can’t help but fall into character when playing, and my game group always stick the TV show on in the background for added authenticity. Those bizarre folks that (completely wrongly) don’t hold the franchise in such high regard as merited will love the deep and varied gameplay, and may help persuade them to acknowledge how wrong they are in dismissing the show.
You can basically spend the whole game being a space pirate, attacking everyone!! Tell me that doesn’t appeal to you?!
I have a very decent board game collection these days, and Firefly doesn’t come out as often as its price tag would merit, or as often as I would personally like. Probably because it can be a long game and playing with all the expansions (which is really the only way to play it now) takes a fair bit of digesting for newbies. It’s also so much game that it’s most definitely not backpack friendly for transporting and there is that constant issue of having a table big enough to accommodate this beast. However, that doesn’t take away from the undeniable fact that this is a superbly fantastic and totally immersive game – you will struggle to find anything else in the tabletop games market that favourable compares in terms of scale. Expansions and all, it is by some distant the most expensive game in my collection, but its easily one of the best games too. Of all the games I have ever played, it’s one of only three games that I have scored 10/10 on boardgamegeek.com!
Its a game I love owning, its has real pride of place in my collection and is a deliciously fantastic game! Firefly fans, open world gamers and, well, any decent human being really, need to try this game. If you play this and don’t like it you are most definitely a Bun tyen-shung duh ee-dway-ro!*
Not only will it not disappoint one bit, but it will keep the majestic Firefly ‘Verse very much alive with an engrossing experience you and your friends can share. And that is arguably the most beautiful thing about this game.
(* of course I don’t think that really…all the wonderful readers are awesome no matter their tastes. Just insulting you in Chinese for poetic effect!)
Next week 0n Tabletop Tales, I will be supplying all you need to know on a hilarious fun-for-all game that will unquestionably assist you in any future job interview you may face…