From Bad to ‘Verse: The Firefly Board Game

I got Firefly: The Board Game for Christmas. I’d asked for it because although I’d heard good things, I wasn’t sure enough about it to just outright buy it. It’s not just that it’s a game based on a licensed property; those aren’t always bad. It’s that it’s a game based on Firefly. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the show well enough. But I’m not an uber-fan who still gets angry that the show was poorly treated by FOX and considers it the pinnacle of television entertainment. I wasn’t sure how much of the game was for fans and how much was for FANS.

When I got it and read the rules it seemed okay. Standard pick-up-and-deliver game with some thematic spurs and lasers added, no problem. It took a while for it to hit the table, but last Sunday at game day it finally did, to less-than spectacular results.

We went through the rules, which took about a half hour or so. They’re not very complicated, and once you know them you can explain the game in 15 minutes, probably, but it was new to all of us. Then we played the “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” scenario found on the game’s website and we were done in 20 minutes. That’s right. One player got two jobs that required no specialized equipment and easily sailed a straight line from start to finish with no trouble. Another player moved 3 spaces in as many turns due to unlucky card draws. Me, I was somewhere in the middle. Sure, this scenario was meant to be introductory but wow. It was clear that we’d been bonked with an unusual combination of cards and hadn’t really had a chance to see what the game offered.

Thursday evening I tried again, this time with just one other player, Matt. He hadn’t been in that previous oddball game, so I explained the rules to him (much faster this time) and we got started. Everything went fine for the first two-thirds of the game or so, but then we hit some major snags.

The object of each game is to complete the scenario, which means hitting specific goals, in order. So it’s a race along a given path. How you approach each goal is up to you, but you have to do them, and in order, so you always know where you are in the game. In our game, at the end, I was trying to complete goal #3, the final one. Matt was still working on goal #2. It was highly unlikely that I wouldn’t win, but what do you do, just give up? I failed twice to gain goal #3, Matt failed twice on goal #2, but then I completed mine and that was the end. It was a disappointing, irritating, and anticlimactic ending.

Part of what you’ll encounter is the “Misbehave” deck. These are basically criminal tasks that you have to undertake to complete a job or a goal. You draw cards one at a time from the Misbehave deck and try to get past the skill checks on them. These cards vary wildly in both their requirements and threats, and there’s no real way to prepare for them. At first the randomness of the deck was kind of amusing but before too long it became tedious. It was clear that this was where the designers packed most of the game and just threw in whatever they felt like, without rhyme or reason. The worst was discovering two Misbehave cards where you fail unless you have River Tam in your crew. No River? Tough, you fail. Considering that you often have to get through multiple Misbehave cards to complete a task and if you fail one you have to start over, having one that just plain kicks you out because you don’t have a single card in the game is maddening. (For me this was exacerbated by the fact that River Tam was hands-down my least favorite character on the show.)

Naturally, the fan wank doesn’t end there. There’s also Jayne’s Hat. Because of course there’s Jayne’s Hat. How can there not be? It was on the screen once; it would be criminal not to include it. Jayne’s Hat costs $0 to buy. It doesn’t take up a gear slot. Anyone can wear it. It allows you to re-roll any 1 you roll while misbehaving. It’s a phenomenally powerful item in the game with no cost, no drawback. It pretty much won me the game and all I had to do was come across it in the deck first. Also, the nearly useless current player marker is a cardboard dinosaur. Why? Because in one episode the character of Wash played with plastic dinosaurs. (The rulebook suggests you awesome up your game by replacing the cardboard plastic dinosaur with an actual plastic dinosaur, which would epically increase the amount of win by over 9000.)

When all was said and done we’d played for a little over two hours with two players. The Reaver ship did nothing the entire game and the Alliance ship did very little as well. With more players they’d probably do more but then you’re talking about a longer game that still has other issues. If I’m playing for three hours anyway this is not the game I’m going to play.

I already own Merchant of Venus which is a space-themed delivery game that does the job without me having to think River Tam or Jayne’s Hat are awesomesauce. There’s also Merchants and Marauders, a pirate-themed game that handles a lot of the same material as Firefly in a much more fun and flavorful manner. If I didn’t have time for either of those, I wouldn’t play Firefly instead, I’d either make more time or play something else.

The game has gotten some good reviews, but there are some folks who have expressed similar disappointment. The responses I’ve seen to those opinions (and mine, posted elsewhere), fall into two general categories: 1) “Not everyone owns Merchant of Venus” and 2) “but…but…Firefly!!!

Firefly has already flown into the trade pile, I’m sorry to say. Perhaps it will find its way to a True Fan who will appreciate it more.

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