Monday, August 19, 2013

Firefly GenCon 2013 Review


So just back from GenCon, and am feeling it is my moral obligation to review Gale Force Nine's upcoming Firefly boardgame.  Here we go:

Basics

In Firefly, 1-4 players take the role of ship's captains, moving their ships around space to different systems to do jobs for money, buy supplies/crew/upgrades, and be the first to achieve the game's goals.  In the game I played, the goals were to "become solid" with each agent (characters who give jobs), and perform two other tasks at different locations.  Along the way players will have to deal with the Alliance (when in alliance space) and The Reavers (when not).

Gameplay

Each turn you get to take 2 actions, which can include moving, getting jobs with agents, starting or finishing a job, buying goods/crew, or aiming to misbehave.

Every time you move to a new space you flip a card from the appropriate deck (alliance space or Reaver space) and resolve the event if any. Most of the cards just say "keep flying" and have no effect, but occasionally you need to make a skill check (based on icons from captain + crew + items and upgrades) to avoid losing items/money/crew/fuel.  It's fun to flip the cards for about a minute before you realize that it takes forever to resolve them and most of them do nothing.  It's an extremely tedious stealth "roll to move" mechanic, so it's pretty much terrible. There's also one card in the Reaver deck that automatically moves the Reavers to your location and causes you to lose a lot of resources randomly.

Starting jobs requires specific skill icons, so not every job is doable by every captain, but you get a selection of them at the start of the game to pick from, not unlike initial route selection from ticket to ride.  You'll spend most of the game doing jobs, which basically consists of going to one location, starting the job (so long as you have the prerequisite skill icons) and finishing the job in a second location.  Because of how tedious and frustrating resolving movement is, this winds up being not a lot of fun.

Dealing with agents and buying items is very similar, you basically just look at the entire discard pile for each agent or buy location and buy up to three of them.  If you're not going to consider 3 cards in the discard, you can draw fresh cards from the deck and consider those. Either way you're looking at 3 cards maximum that you can consider taking from either the discard or each deck for the location. Because they're random, there's no real way to get exactly what you need for jobs unless it's in the discard, so it seems not terribly worthwhile to go out of your way to go and buy upgrades or hire crew. Again, you have to move to these locations and use actions to do it, so more likely than not you'll just do it when it is convenient .

Aiming to misbehave is just taking tests against a random event deck.  Some jobs require you to successfully complete multiple of these in a row, and it just boils down to a random number generator that gates whether or not you get to continue playing the game or not.

That's how you'll spend your time.  Making skill checks against pass or fail mechanics that decide if you get to keep going or not.  I'm just not a huge fan of mechanics that basically invalidate your whole turn half the time.

Components

The game comes with a board, 4 player boards, 6 ships (4 for players, 1 each for Reavers and the Alliance cruiser), a pile of paper money, and a bunch of tokens and cards.  The componets are of nice quality, but the card layouts are amateurish and inconsistent between card types. Also, maybe it's just me, but I find that licensed games that rely heavily on still images from television shows look extremely tacky.  Maybe it's too much to expect a whole game full of hand-drawn Firefly art, but that doesn't make the game any less ugly. The main board and player boards are attractive enough, and the money and card backs look nice (especially the aim to misbehave cards), but everything else looks terrible.

Problems

This game is extremely non-interactive. Aside from occasionally getting to move the Alliance or Reaver ship one measly space (which never mattered), nothing you do in the game matters to your opponents. It matters so little that the GF9 rep actually encouraged us to start taking our turns before our opponents had finished theirs.

The game is extremely long winded. We played for two hours and only one of the four of us had even completed the first of three goals necessary for victory. Granted, we did take about half an hour to learn the game and get going, but it seems like a very long time to play a solitaire game.

I have a hard time imagining a scenario where I would want to play this game again. There is no absolute loss condition, so even though it is playable solo it is just a grind to roll well enough on skill tests to complete the game's jobs and goals. Playing against other players isn't much better, since you're just playing individual games of solitaire to see who wins first.

My guess is that GF9 acquired the license and started the design in a top down fashion, giving the game a Firefly paint job without fully fleshing out what the actual point of the game was supposed to be.  A better approach would have been the one that FFG took with Chaos in the Old World, with each player controlling a completely different faction (e.g. Reavers, Alliance, Smugglers, Browncoats) with completely different win conditions and play styles. Instead, the game is a boring grindy mess that feels like a chore to play, and is a reminder that games based on licensed properties often wind up just being cash grabs that feed on the fandom's nostalgia.




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