Serenity – Leaves on the Wind #5 & 6

You know what’s a good day?

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The day you get the new Firefly RPG book AND all the latest Firefly figs.  So who wants to play?

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Well until then, let’s take a look at the conclusion of the Serenity comic.

Issue 5

A great, action-packed issue that is probably my favorite of this run… it’s mostly fighting.  River against a similar student, Operative against Operative, Browncoats against… hang on, this is almost entirely a “_ vs [evil double of]_” issue.

Well it’s still entertaining and the flashbacks in the issue all pay off pretty well.

There are two main complaints I had here. (Sort of had a problem where Jayne gets his arm broke by someone that weighs less than the barbells he probably uses for curls but that could be artist fault not writer.)

1) I was disappointed some with River’s fight.  Sure I could see her or her opponent defeating opponents because their psychic ability should give them an advantage but what would happen when two psychics fight each other?  River seemed to transform into just another ordinary human being in this fight with no sign of the slaughter storm she unleashed on the Reavers.  I was hoping the fight would be more of an action packed stalemate with everyone else in the room getting knocked around as the two girls tried to figure out some advantage over the other.  Or maybe have the psychic soldier that was unleashed be a big muscular guy like Jayne that can work on cornering and just sheer overpowering River.  One kind of wonders why the Alliance is only picking psychic girls to fight at the moment. (Hmmm… wouldn’t the Alliance maybe be interested in having said girls be used for a kind of eugenic breeding program?  THAT would be evil.)

2) This may change when I sit down and reread the entire series in one go but the revelation about the browncoats didn’t have the impact I felt like they wanted.  The Alliance guy had a point (disorganization is a big advantage for the BCs) but I couldn’t figure if he was comparing the current independents to those in the first war or in the period after the war (because of everything we saw, the independents seemed pretty darned organized the first time around).

Issue 6

On the whole not bad and I greatly appreciate that they set up several potential threads for future stories.  The “interrogation” of the Alliance man was also awesome – though it does set up terrifying implications should any of the crew get captured by the Alliance (like Zoe this time – hey wait).  However, there were some pretty big flaws in this issue:

  • When Zoe is escaping, the biker-guards sent after her end up being an innumerable horde.  1) How do they have that many guards at a prison like that?  Especially when the idea of putting a prison at a hostile location is so you don’t have to have as many guards as usual.  2) This makes about the 2nd or 3rd comic (and +1 times now) where the big, on-screen, climatic flight was the crew vs a large number/horde of foes.  It kind of gives you the sensation that the story is getting into a rut.
  • Zoe vs Operative – Zoe wins?  After not only giving birth but after being in jail on an inhospitable planet?  While the Operative (a superb fighter) has barely strained himself recently?  No, I call foul on that.  Although not having to see it does give it a lot of wiggle room as any of the following could explain it: 1) Zoe is a cyborg. 2) Wrecked with guilt the Operative let her win. 3) The Operative turn and ran and Zoe was in no condition to chase him.  Well it’s also possible that Zoe has wrestled “mary sue” status away from River but I prefer to think it was 2.
  • Jubal’s revealed to barely be alive!  Meh, like I’ve said before, I don’t care about him.  Some might consider this a plus for the issue.
  • “You can fix her, Simon.”  This is, by far, the biggest deal.  We might have been able to overlook it before but in one panel the comic reveals: Simon now has no point.  In the show Simon had a plot arc: Fix River (with “screw Kaylee” being a second, competing arc).  Given that we only had one season, some of the other characters were denied arcs: Zoe, Wash (well he had 1 episode arc at least), and Kaylee.  Zoe/Wash’s arc was hinted at in “Heart of Gold” and embraced with the comics (parenthood).  In the lost episodes we see arcs that Kaylee might have had but ultimately all she’s really been given is: “be with Simon”.  Even a potential arc over having to deal with Jubal was resolved in issue 3.  Now that Kaylee & Simon are together, and River is “fixed”, there is nothing for them to do now.  Cure others that were operated on like River?  That can now be done on an outpatient basis.  There’s nothing really for Simon & Kaylee to do any more other than each other.  And not that they don’t deserve it, but they need something now to push their characters forward.  Those two are my favorite pair, let’s see something. (Heck an arc of Simon asking, “Now what do I do with my life?” would be a good one even if it was meta.)

Now how much longer until our next issue?

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews

Serenity – Leaves on the Wind #3 & 4

Episode 5 will be reaching the rough draft point by the end of this week, so in the meantime, let’s resume our spoiler examination of the Serenity comic.

Issue 3

I admit I was nervous about this one as River “dived” into her memories to uncover new secrets about the Alliance.  Were we about to get a big revelation?  Would I have to junk most of episode 4 to stay in canon?  Thankfully Zack did not overplay the revelation hand this issue but made it a confirmation of what was hinted at in the movie and “Objects in Space”: there are more like River.

It is now an official running gag that we’ll never get a fight between Jayne & Jubal (which is fair as I don’t think you’d have an outcome that would satisfy the fans) but I did enjoy Kaylee blind-siding the guy.  I’ve never been that fond of Jubal as a character and thought he was, not too unlike Boba Fett, a bit overrated.

After a trip into her mind and back out, it seems also confirmed now that River is pretty much as close to “normal” as she’ll ever get, with maybe just enough mental damage to keep her Mary-Sue possibilities in check.

The final page does show one of the problems with the artwork as I was unable to tell who the last panel was supposed to be (heck he was drawn similar enough to Jubal I thought it was a clone at first).  Once the next issue confirmed who it was supposed to be… well it does make rereading the comic a treat.

Issue 4

First I just have to say that THIS:

Is one of my favorite comic covers of all time.  It’s just… gorgeous.

A plan and set up issue, this one is great for watching a lot of characters bounce off of each other – you know, what made so many of us fall in love with Serenity in the first place.

I do find Zoe’s fighting in the prison a bit hard to swallow.  I mean how long after the birth is this supposed to be?  I know she’s strong and all but… still.

A lot in this issue does feel like a tribute to some of the “what might have been” seasons of Firefly.  If you’ve read any of that, you’ll recognize a lot of touches in this issue, though a few things have been streamlined from a script for an hour-long show to a comic book.

This issue is far more straightforward than the previous but it is great to see all the pieces move into place for the climax we’ve been waiting for.

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews

Serenity – Leaves on the Wind #2

Thoughts on issue 2 of the ongoing Serenity comic series.  Again, assuming at this point you’ve bought a copy.

  • They should have called this issue “reunion” as it’s a lot of people coming together.
  • Although Zoe is torn away from the crew.  While I liked that moment (and think this may be foreshadowing of Mal becoming unmoored from his personal compass as Zoe was always his anchor) I was disappointed we didn’t see any effort by Zoe to mislead the Feds.  Then again this could be seen as a sign of just how disgusted she is with the Alliance that she can’t even feign working with them to save the crew.  So the narrative move is allowed, but there is a flag on it.
  • Jayne is back with the crew!  And… I’m not sure why.  No, not why he’s back but why he was ever away in the first place.  Right now it looks like it could be entirely because the story needed to get the rebel girl (I’ll remember her name if she survives two more issues – until then she’s just R.G.) on board Serenity but then why not have her rescue Zoe and let the girls arrive on Serenity that way?  So far it looks like Jayne is undergoing a slightly longer replay of his final minutes in the episode “Ariel” which I find disappointing.  It looked like after that, especially after the movie, that Jayne had grown at least a tiny bit beyond the man who looks after only himself – by the end of Serenity it looks like Jayne’s actually doing something for the greater good!  So I’m torn.  On the one hand, I’d like for them to just end this storyline and move away from it less it repeat a previously great moment.  On the other, part of me says that if you’re going to bother doing this kind of rollback on Jayne’s character, it better be worth it.
  • Speaking of R.G. I do hope she survives on Serenity for awhile and fills in the character gaps that are now left by the deaths of Book & Wash.  The only problem is that with River unlocking her “mary sue powers” in the movie, she not only has lost the role of “ship mascot”, but has taken the roles of Wash’s piloting, Book’s fighting, and possibly Book’s wisdom & knowledge.  Wash’s humor is the biggest gap in the crew (though River’s trying for that now and then).  However given that the whole series is taking on a darker tone, there’s little room for that position to be around at all and there’s no telling when (if ever) it will be filled.  So all things considered, R.G. looks to be set up to filling Zoe’s sidekick/advisor role.
  • Plus I wonder, is R.G. going to be in a love triangle with Inara for Mal’s heart, or an advice triangle with Zoe for Mal’s ear?  Is she going to get with Jayne romantically or will River win the big guy’s heart?
  • Speaking of River I’m not sure how I feel about this “look for more secrets” move.  It feels too much like an effort by the writers to try and reset the narrative clock back to zero with “River knowing something she shouldn’t”.  We’ll have to see if next issue she still has her wits about her or if something goes wrong and she ends up regressing back to her pre-Serenity mode.  Well I hope they don’t.  Even though I said she’s mary-suish right now, I’d rather see her grow with this and for the crew to face appropriate challenges to having her on their side than to have everything else undone by the superb movie.
  • Is that a more advance model Firefly?  Since Serenity is a mk 3, I’m guessing the ship we see is a 5 as it doesn’t seem quite right for a mk 4 to be that much larger when building.  Unless it’s an early mk 1 before the ship’s were streamlined.  I’ll have to dig around for that.
  • Hey Jubal is back!  I really don’t care.  Yeah I know from interviews and all he’s pretty much “Boba Fett” that Joss tossed in to spice up his “Objects in Space” plot but you know what?  I consider Fett to have the same problem: A lot of tell, very little show and when they do try and show how badass these guys should be (like in this issue), it comes off feeling very contrived.

Still, it’s great to have this series and it’s killing me having to wait for the next issue! (especially as I want to make sure nothing I write steps on any canon)  What did you think and which cover did you pick up? (or did you get both?)

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews

Serenity – Leaves on the Wind #1

Yes, the Firefly-‘Verse lives again in comic book form.  I’ll assume that if you’re reading this by now, you’ve probably already picked up a copy.  Or I doubt my review is going to influence anyone on their purchasing decision of this issue, so be warned: here be spoilers.

I will admit, though my efforts, that Whedon’s ‘Verse is very much a visual work (hence why I’m now trying to find an artist).  TV/Movie is the best form for it, but comics are a worthwhile third choice (an animated TV/Movie series – the mix of the two – would be the 2nd).  A quick refresher on all the comics:

  • Those Left Behind – The transition between the series & the movie.  Not bad but being only 3 issues hurt the narrative, especially with the revelation of the Hands of Blue.
  • Better Days – An “extra” story of season 1, again only 3 issues but with a lighter, self-contained story the pacing is much improved.  However some parts of the story might be offputting to some fans.
  • The Shepherd’s Tale – The backstory of Shepherd book which was released in graphic novel form first thing rather than individual issues.  This is… very debatable.  Like some, I’m content with leaving Shepherd’s story unknown.  However if it must be told… I must say I slightly favor the “what if” episode 217 origin over this one – but that’s a discussion for another post.
  • Miscellaneous issues – There have also been 4 single issues released in either digital or print format.  The one that was an extended funeral for Wash (Float Out) is by far the must read.

Leaves on the Wind is the first real story post-movie (even Float Out was more flashback) so of course we’re all dying to know what happens in the ‘Verse after the signal got out (*cough*).  So far the first issue is just set up.  We see where the crew, other characters, and our crew are at this moment.  Inara and Mal are together… Zoe is having her baby… all groundwork this issue.

If I had any complaint, it’s sort of about the artwork.  As I said, this property is one heavily relying on visuals and while the artist is quite good most of the time, periodically one is baffled by what one is supposed to be picking up from a panel.  It’s ironic because Dark Horse’s free comic last year had a Serenity story in it with a very stylized art, meaning that I could often tell characters and action easily at a glance.  This issue, with a more realistic art style, can baffle at times.  The first time we see River, I wasn’t sure if it was her or Kaylee, not even from the dialogue until a page later.  Some characters I’m not sure if I’m supposed to recognize them or if they are new to this “season” of the show.  The art isn’t so baffling as to make the issue unreadable, just enough to shake you a hair out of the story a time or two.

Still, I eagerly await the next issue.  (and will give the entire saga a grade once it’s finished)  Here’s hoping nothing I’m writing has to be junked. 😉

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews

Firefly card game review – Out to the Black

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?

Overview

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.

Pros

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…

Cons

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

Other

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…

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews

Firefly Board Game review

Hooray!  The Firefly board game has finally released!

So how is it?  Well I’ve played a 5 player game with someone who had picked it up at GenCon (as well as the 5th player expansion) and now that I have my own copy, I’ve played two solo games.

In general: My primary rule of game playing is that I don’t like anything which takes as long (or longer) to set up than it does to actually play (hence my general dislike of Fantasy Flight).  This game… closely skirts that line.  If you do a proper job putting everything back in the box neatly you can set up future matches in under a minute.  But that just pushes the equivalent time to the back end, meaning clean up can take up almost as much time as the game itself.  (Really, shouldn’t it be an international game law that whoever wins the game, is the one that has to put it up?)  For multiple players, it can take over two hours to play a full game, while solo can be done in an hour or less.

The gameplay is very well done and a delight overall.  Although the rulebook looks intimidating, it’s size is because it’s fairly thorough.  This is my favorite kind of game design where the rules are an intuitive, basic framework and everything else is spelled out on the game materials themselves.  The ONLY issue with such is that it makes the game more punishing for newbies and gives a pretty big advantage for veterans.  For instance, there’s “skills” on each crewmember you can recruit (guns, tech & diplomacy or something, just think of them as red, blue and green).  You NEED to get your blue skills as high as possible as quick as possible since when you’re flying through the Black, every “problem” card you could hit can be handled with sufficient blue.  Another newbie tip: if you’re out shopping for some gear, always pick up a Sniper Rifle over any other firearm if you have the money (it is slightly more expensive).  The gain you’d get from paying less is not enough to make up for not having that keyword down the road.  So yeah, while the rules will tell you everything you need to know about how to play, there are quite a few unlisted rules you’ll need experience to learn.

The flavor of this game is VERY good.  For example, Christiana Hendricks’ character actually shows up 3 times as a crew card, named Yolanda, Bridget or Saffron.  All have the exact same stats, but if you recruit one of them, the other players have to discard their copy.  Both Badger & Niska have jobs which require you screwing with the other one’s business.  I like that touch and it’s a nice shout out to things that might have been had the show run longer.  The Alliance monopoly money is GORGEOUS and almost worth the price of the entire game alone.  I’m also pleased that in cases like with the job cards, they put info on the front and common back so that there’s very little wasted space in this game.

Do I have any complaints?

  • The player interaction is still kind of thin so far.  Currently there’s only 3 major ways players will butt heads: 1) Indirectly screwing over others by getting the jobs/crew/gear/etc that those others wanted.  2) Moving the Alliance Cruiser/Reaver Cutter closer to opponents.  3) Players can also trade directly with each other if their ships are in the same sector.  Of course, given as I said – that resources are limited and that the other person may have to put their own trips and goals on hold to meet you, the chances of convincing someone to trade are challenging.  You can also swipe crew IF the crew is disgruntled AND your ships intersect, again a long shot on both accounts.  I’m hoping that future expansions (yes, there is already one planned) will introduce options to allow players to raid one another, or perhaps swoop in and steal a job from someone.
  • So the rule on death is that a character suffering from it gets removed from the game all together (the rules tell you to just toss them back into the box).  The only problem with this is that if you run with a large group (4-5 people) the crew can get thin, so if everyone has some bad luck, you can all find the game in an unwinnable situation where nobody can do anything.  The only exception to the crew issue is that each buy location has a generic “gun hand” which is only discarded, not killed, but it only has a single gun “skill” icon.  I’m hoping they put in generic tech and diplomacy eventually so the game doesn’t get dragged down by a series of bad luck.
  • Sometimes you get to feeling “confined”.  There are only 5 locations on the board where upgrades, crew and gear can be bought.  Two of those locations are also where you can deal with someone to get a job and two more “job spots” are next door a third purchase spot.  Meaning that you and your friends can practically wear a run in the board from all places you’ll be running back and forth to.  So sometimes I wish there were more things to do elsewhere around the board.  I mean, sure there are jobs involving those, but you’ll typically pass over them for jobs heading to the same old same old to keep your route efficient. (hmm… how like a firefly captain)  Maybe if they… had a generic crew/gear deck that you could purchase from if you ever stopped at another planet?
  • I know the legal reasons why they didn’t, but I’m kind of disappointed there’s no Miranda on the board and that you can’t play an end game of “get the message from Miranda and get it to Mr Universe”.

Although… you know what?  It is hard for me to be too angry at some frustrations as “frustration” could very well be called the main theme of the show.  So you do get the sense that the ‘Verse is against you, but it’s not to the point of “hopeless” as I’ve seen in some other challenging games.  I’d almost call this a “role playing-lite” game because you really do feel like you’re running a crew in this.  So if you love Firefly/Serenity and you DON’T have a general aversion to long, drawn out games, I definitely recommend picking this up. (by clicking on the below and through Amazon, please? I get just a few nickels if you do so)

(details on the games I’ve played after the ad)

Now if I can just get a SPN-Verse tie in expansion… XD

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So the first game I played, with 4 other people, I was having fun just participating (wasn’t even that worried about winning) right up until I hit a snag during a job.  The consequences were simple: I had to hit a skill value or else all my crew died.  With all the skill I had on hand, I only needed to roll a 2 or better on a 6-sided die.

I rolled a 1.

Thankfully I was close to a buy planet so I limped there, only to see that all the crew at that location had been picked clean.  I hired what I could, then tried to finish the job I was on earlier.  The 2nd crew died even faster.  I’m glad one of the other players ended the game shortly there after as there was nothing else for me to ever do.

Now speaking of long odds…

The solo game gives you 20 turns to try for 1 of 3 possible goals, and you get to start out with up to $1000 worth of crew.  I checked.  The ENTIRE Serenity crew would cost you $1600. (also, that would be 8 of them when the game only allows your ship to have 6)  So for the inagural game I choose Mal as the captain (note: captains are free in both $ and crew count), Kaylee (because I love her), Wash (because HE’S STILL ALIVE!), Two-Fry (he can help on later jobs) and Saffron (hey, I already separated one married couple, figured somebody on the ship should have their wife).  This time I went for the “1 of each possible job” route of victory.  My last job?  I picked Niska’s “screw with Badger” task.

Now I have a bit of a rep with my friends.  That is, if a game has a 1-in-a-million rules question or weirdness or whatever, I WILL end up triggering it; and not always deliberately.

See, there’s a rule that if you get a crew member on board the ship disgruntled twice, they abandon you immediately when over a planet.  If your captain gets disgruntled twice, EVERYONE leaves you.  So I was doing that last job, when I hit the last “misbehave” card.  The consequences of it got my captain (and several crew, actually) a 2nd disgruntled token.  So… did they all jump ship right then or is the job finished first?  Because the answer determines whether I actually won the first game or not.

Oh and the 2nd time I tried a solo game?  I tried for the “get $15k” goal and my last job on that one (on my last turn, and needed to hit the goal) was Badger’s task to screw with Niska.

Yeah, so far those two fighting have always led me to profiting in the ‘Verse.  I think Mal would be proud.

(btw: 2nd game I went with the Yellow-Eyed Demon Burgess as a captain)

By natewinchester Posted in Reviews