9 Dec 2013

First Time Playing: Firefly: The Game

This game was a definite yes for my gaming collection the very minute I learned of its development. I'm a huge Firefly fan. I've met most of the cast (and recurring people) from both show and movie, gone crazy in the merchandise department (official and not so official), written fanfiction and made fanvideos. I desperately wanted to join the kickstarter campaign, but unfortunately they weren't taking non-American pledges (big frown). Best I could do was pre-order Firefly: The Game the minute I got the chance, which I did, and I was so excited when it finally arrived in the mail that I instantly wanted to play it - even though my friend, who was with me that day, had no knowledge of the show, whatsoever. You can probably imagine how well that went...

Because playing any game for the first time, when there are no one around with experience to explain it is always going to be an experiment in and of itself. And I will gladly admit that I took on way too much by including my friend, whom I've played some simpler games with, but nothing coming close to this magnitude.

First of all, this game has a lot of cards. There are the five supply decks that represent five different places in the 'verse where you can hire crew, buy ship upgrades, weapons, technology and so forth (and also stock up on fuel and engine parts, although that comes separate from the five decks). Then there are five contact decks, which represent five people spread across the verse, whom you may deal with to get the jobs you need in order to keep flying. Then there are the two navigation decks, one for Alliance space and one for Border space, which determines how eventful (or non-eventful) your flight across the verse gets. Finally there are the misbehaving cards, which contain skill tests challenges for whenever you take on crime.

Then there are all the different components to keep track off, like cargo and contraband tiles, passenger and fugitive tiles, disgruntled tokens (for whenever your crew gets upset with you, whether you failed to pay them, did an immoral job, or something else), warrant and goal tokens (for when you either get flagged by the alliance, or you complete one of the goals), as well as fuel, parts, and let's not forget; money. Then there are the firefly ships and their separate boards, complete with cargo spaces and hidden stash compartments. And let's not forget the Alliance cruiser and Reaver cutter moving across the verse in their separate sectors.

For once I can say that the set-up picture is actually my own!
This game comes with several different scenarios that you may play (even a solo one, which I fully intend to play to gain a better understanding of the game mechanics and quirks), but at the core of all of them you play as a captain of a firefly class ship (there are many different ones to choose from). The captain (and any crew you pick up throughout the game) come with some kind of skill set; fighting, technology and/or negotiation - signified by symbols on the individual cards. In the game you have to balance out obtaining crew, items, ship upgrades, etc. with the jobs you take on (items and supplies cost money, and your crew will expect to get paid). In some scenarios the goal is simply to earn up to a certain amount of money, in others you need to complete certain missions in a set order (outside of your regular jobs) to win the game. But either way, you need to find yourself a crew, take on jobs and earn enough to keep yourself and your crew flying.

There are different kinds of jobs that you may take on. Jobs that are legal tend to be risk free, but they also pay less money. Jobs that are illegal pay a lot of money, but you could easily find yourself becoming a wanted ship by the authorities, or some of your crew might even get killed. Jobs may also either be moral or immoral. If you take on immoral jobs, but have moral crew onboard, they will not be happy with you, and might end up leaving you because of it. There are two main category of jobs you take on - transport or crime. Transport jobs mean picking up cargo/contraband or passengers/fugitives and dropping them off at a different location. Crime jobs require you to travel to a specific location and successfully misbehave a certain number of times.

If you complete a job for a contact, you become solid with them, and you may gain favours from that contact, like selling them cargo or contraband whenever you deal with them, or have them help you get rid of warrants, turn a blind eye to your operation within their sector, or simply allowing you to consider a bigger pool of jobs when dealing with them. However, be warned that this beneficial relationship may be lost if you get into too much trouble.

Playing this game for the first time, and with my non-gamer, non-fan friend, even, was doomed to fail. We did manage to stumble through it, mostly with me repeatedly explaining the game, essentially playing her side of the game for her (but to be fair, she did make her own decisions as well, so it wasn't just me playing myself). She even ended up winning the game, which probably helped her first impression of the game (not only that, we managed to round the game off in more or less exactly two hours, which was the suggested playtime for the scenario we had chosen). I wrote down the questions I had from playing through the game one time, and looked up the answers in the manual, and believed myself to have found the answers I needed.

The second play-through actually turned out to be even more of a challenge. This time the gameplay was less streamlined, I had to explain every action to two fellow players instead of one, I wound up with more questions, and we didn't even manage to finish the same scenario in the almost four hours we played.

My conclusion is that this game require two important things from a player for it to work. Firstly, this cannot be an inexperienced gamer. There are just too many things to keep track off, and it will lessen the experience for the new gamer and teacher alike. But most importantly, the players really should be Firefly fans. It is possible to enjoy the game without the context, but this is a game that was built with the fans in mind. The terminology, the characters, the items, the references... they are not just there for flavour, they also help players better understand their purpose. We understand how fancy duds can come in handy on a job, we get why dealing with Niska can be a dangerous thing, why Yolanda, Saffron or Bridget will disappear if one of the other is hired onto another ship. And because we understand, it's more fun for us.

So, that is the most important thing for the game to catch on, but if you are not a very experienced player, you may need a couple of rounds to really, truly get into it (getting the references does make it a bit more intuitive). There are going to be questions, some misunderstandings, and you will need to confer with other players of this game in order to figure out all the answers. The manual of this game goes to a certain degree, but it does leave some things left unexplained. But if you are patient, and enough of a fan, I fully believe this game is going to be really shiny.

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