Firefly has been enjoying a bit of renaissance lately. Last year we got a board game based on the show with its first expansion out earlier this year. Last week, we finally had the release of the Firefly Out to the Black Card Game. So how is it?
While the board game did a bang up job of exploring the verse – the “outside” of the ship – some have remarked that there is little action going on “inside” the ship, and what happened within the ship & between the characters was as much of a part of the show as the wider adventures on the frontier. So how do you fill this gap? Well you could play the Firefly RPG – but since that’s still a month away, this card game gives you a quick filler.
The game engine is largely simple: 3-5 players assume the role of the one show’s characters (main crew only right now). Each character has 3 stats and several abilities. Each turn one of you gets to be the “leader”. After prepping, you see which job you’re going to get and who – if any – are coming along to help you. Ya’ll aim to complete the job, only for things to go sideways, then you see how much of the job you completed. This is a co-op game meaning that you only win or lose as a team. Like most quality co-op games, you have 3 possible ways of losing, and only 1 way to win.
The cards do have a look and feel to them evocative of the ‘Verse. The cards themselves are generally easy to read with few confusions ever arising from the first time any of us played the game.
There is a lot of flexibility in the game set up, you can play on almost any surface and on the whole it doesn’t take up much space (though the board game is a space hog – exceeding a basic card table).
There’s more balance to the game then first appears. For example, Kaylee, Wash, Simon, Jayne, and Mal all have their stats total up to 4. River & Book are the only two with stat totals of 5 while Zoe & Inara have totals of 3. However, they also all have a variable starting hand size: 3 cards, 5 and 7. As you’ve probably guessed, the higher/lower their stat total, the fewer/more cards they get to play with.
The jobs you go on have a neat “completion” chart on them. Depending on how well (or poorly) you do on a job determines how rewarded (or screwed) you are from it. Pass none of the 3 requirements, you’re in for a world of hurt. Pass one of them… slightly less hurt. This led to a few interesting moments in our game where we couldn’t go for a “pass all” (best outcome) and had to aim at deliberately failing a requirement while trying to pass another.
Finally there’s lots of untapped design space in the game, meaning that the makers could release expansions for the game for awhile (heck, the crew of my story could fit in pretty well). Oh wait…
The last pro mentioned above is also a con as the game in general feels very “bare bones” with lots of potential left unused. For instance, one game that I quite enjoy playing with both of my friends is Shadows Over Camelot (in fact, this game feels very much like a stripped down & streamlined version of that game with a FF skin on it). One of the things in the game you can do is look at and rearrange the top few cards on the decks. In this game? No such ability exists on any card or crew.
But when it comes to games, I always have 2 big criteria which makes an analog game worth playing or not to me: Does it take very long to set up? (and does the game play take less time than the set up?) How easy is it for players to violate the rules of the game unintentionally? What I mean by the latter is how easy is it to make innocent mistakes in the game? Yahtzee is a popular positive example as the rules are incredibly simple (roll dice 3 times) and the scoring is all right there on a piece of paper in front of you. Chess would be the popular negative example as it can be easy to forget which piece can move where, how much and the dozen of odd case rules (like castling).
Now this card game takes almost NO time to set up, so it gets a big thumbs up in that regard. However some of the rules and gameplay are unintuitive enough that new players will make lots of mistakes (as I just know we did). Notice earlier that I said the CARDS themselves were easy to read, it’s the game rules THEMSELVES that cause the most confusion. There’s entire rules on when you can and can’t show cards and how much you can tell the other players, but when you’re in a group going up against the game itself, it gets easy to start blabbing. The exact rules on when you get to draw cards or not are also a bit confusing
What hits middle of the road between Pro & Con is the player interaction. Usually if I’m playing a game I want to actually be interacting with other people, not playing a fancy version of solitaire. (otherwise… why wouldn’t I play solitaire? Or on my computer?) See the deal with the jobs is that each one has a listing as a “# man” job. Anywhere from “single person” to “5-man” (obviously you are to take out the number exceeding your number of players beforehand). If you hit a 1 or 2 person job in a game with 5 players, that means 3-4 people can all go take a coffee break while you go through your turn. Yes there’s some cards that allow you to aid your crewmates while you’re not technically helping but there aren’t many & the positive cards in this game (36 total) are as a precious resource as the money and honor. Keep in mind that the job cards break down as 6 1-man, 4 of every other meaning that in a 5 player game, you can have players getting stuck “off on the side”. (in our first game, one player got a 1-man job BOTH times he was leader) Of course if we were supposed to take out 1-man jobs before playing… well that’s just an example of what I said earlier with innocent rule breaking. One can only hope that maybe in future we can get an expansion encouraging more player interaction. Perhaps one where other players could split up to form a competing crew (perhaps an alliance crew hunting them down?) and let two teams get in games screwing each other over?
All in all your enjoyment of this game is going to be very subjective. If you REALLY love Firefly and/or co-op games and you have a few friends who do too, this is a nice, “RPG-lite” filler to fill your FF need. Moderate fans and players not big on math calculations will probably want to avoid or at least wait until a few expansions have fleshed out the game and then you can pick it up in a package deal.
You can purchase the games below:
Now if ToyVault could only hold a contest for fan-creation crews to be added…