**This post originally appeared on February 10, 2017 on BGG.
Thank you for checking out my fourth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
A few notes before I begin the review: we’ve owned this game since it first came out and it was one of the first modern board games we purchased and fell in love with. We own all of the non-ship expansions to the game so far and have played almost every story card at least a few times. We’ve played the base game countless times, and even went back to about ten plays with just the base game last year to get recalibrated to the basic gameplay. It was my wife’s favorite game until last year and remains firmly in both of our top ten. We’ve played with up to four players, but almost all games have been played with just the two of us. I have played the solo card a few times, and hope to get more solo plays over the course of 2017.
That being said, this review is going to focus solely on the base game, so no expansions being considered. Those expansions will, in all likelihood, become future reviews covering what they add and how it improves or changes the gameplay.
An Overview of Firefly: The Game
Firefly: The Game is a game designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart and is published by Gale Force Nine, LLC.. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 1-2 hour play time.
In this game each player has command of a ship and, at the beginning, one captain. The players will be flying across the ‘Verse to hire crew, buy equipment for their crew or upgrades to their ships, and working jobs that are contracted out by the various contacts such as Badger, Patience, and Niska. These contracts range from legal jobs, such as shuttling passengers to planets or delivering cargo, to illegal and/or immoral jobs such as smuggling contraband or transporting fugitives. Many jobs have some minimum requirements for starting them, some being as simple as needing 1-3 of certain symbols on your crew and others requiring specific keywords such as explosives or fancy duds. On top of the building of crew and completing contracts, there is a Story Card used for each game that dictates the overall objectives that each player is racing to complete. This can be as simple as being the first to obtain a certain number of credits or as complex as misbehaving and passing objectives in various locations. This is where the heart of the game resides, usually being an afterthought for the early part of the game but serving as a ticking clock as soon as it becomes clear one player is moving toward the first of the main objectives.
There are a lot of other mechanics involved with this game, which are covered in other excellent reviews. But, at its heart, you are trying to do enough jobs early on to build a sufficient crew and equip them with the right gear in order to increase your chances of completing those main objectives. There is some sense of luck involved, both in the flipping of cards while flying through the ‘Verse and in the roll of a dice while completing cards from the Misbehave deck, but many of those can be mitigated with the right combination of crew, ship upgrades, and items.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
There is almost no change in the setup from two players, although the play time is certainly one that drops down with two players, especially those who are experienced. Even the longer scenario cards are almost always played in less time than they list, which takes this from a long game and puts it into a more medium-long category for length. The one thing different with two is that both the Alliance and Reaver card in the Nav Decks begin shuffled into those Nav Decks. With more players, they begin in the discard pile, so a two-player game could potentially see a very early, and devastating, Reaver or Alliance draw that could set a player back.
How this plays with two players turns out to be fairly similar to gameplay with more. There is more potential for both players to be able to mine through a supply planet’s deck in order to get that perfect crew or item at the beginning, although most often one player will fly as soon as the other person does. But the first few rounds can often play out with drawing three cards, making work for 200 credits. With more players, there is a greater chance of starting on the same planets so not everyone will be able to get that perfect start. There is also a greater chance of someone starting to fly to start a job early, putting pressure on everyone else to wrap up their mining and get started with working contracts. Most games with two end up being very close, with both players racing to get that third goal token or being awfully close to that number of required credits.
This game makes me feel like a Browncoat. I love the show, and this game evokes the theme very well even if you don’t pay attention to the names of the jobs or the scenarios flipped on the Misbehave cards. You start with a ship and yourself as the captain, with just enough credits to start to build your crew and a few contracts that you can start to work in order to expand that crew or upgrade your ship. Some jobs require you to get your hands dirty and skirt around the watchful eye of the Alliance, while other jobs merely require you to stop on a planet and take care of business at that one destination. Some captains prefer to go in guns-a-blazin’ while others might rely more on their ability to hack their way through, yet others might try to talk their way through. A crew has a need to be balanced, with some people who can shore up those weaker areas, yet all ships inevitably have their preferred approach. This is an amazing game that drips with theme.
While there are some random elements, there are also ways to mitigate almost all of them. Don’t want to have a Misbehave card’s success hinge on a dice roll? Stack your crew with the same symbol, especially if you can get lucky enough to nab a crew member who allows you to use that symbol in place of another (such as Stitch). Or load up on items that have key words so that you increase the odds of drawing an Ace in the Hole. Don’t want to get stopped by the Alliance? Get solid with Harken and you’ll avoid all but the cruiser’s card itself, or carry a Cry Baby on your ship. Don’t want to have your crew slaughtered by Reavers? Make sure you always have a pilot, a mechanic, and at least one fuel when you are flying in the border space. Yet for those who are willing to take some risks, there is still a chance you can pull off the miracle even if you need the impossible roll of a 6 plus a second roll to make up the deficit.
Pairing with the previous point, there are always multiple paths to victory. There are certainly some paths that make the game easier, but there really is no right or wrong approach. There have been times when my wife thought she had the game solved with her approach only to suffer defeat when I discovered a new approach that is just a little better. We both have our preferred methods to tackling this game, and they are very different. Yet we still find ourselves trying new things from time to time, especially depending on the Story Card. That, ultimately, determines the ideal approach. On a money-driven card it might be best to run legal jobs with a slim crew or to pick up a few someone like Jayne, who can hold three items, and give him items that add multiple symbols, like Vera. Other times it might be to stock up on a diverse crew with a ton of key words in order to pass all those objectives on a story card while still needing just a little luck to pass one or two of the dice rolls. Even within a single story card, the game can play very different based upon how you build your crew and the contracts you pull from the deck early in the game.
This game has replay value. A ton of it. The base game has one solo story card and six multi-player story cards. Each of those cards feels very different because they require different tasks along the way. Whether it is being solid with certain people to completing a load of Niska jobs or simply enticing you to work illegal jobs, they affect the game and how you approach things. As you pick up expansions, this replay value is multiplied exponentially. My wife’s burn-out on the game had nothing to do with the game itself (it was the fault of her friend, who we were teaching the game to and essentially forced my wife to play two players for the whole game). As mentioned above, we even went back down to just the base game for a while and found it was still a really solid, fun experience. I think she’d have been content keeping it as just the base game, but I like the added variety and variability that the expansions introduce, plus the fact that it can make mining for a specific card take that much longer with the expansions in there. But even if you only ever owned the base game, you could get a lot of plays out of this one before it could begin to wear out its welcome.
A minor thing of note here, but I love how every supply location and every contact is different. Sure, they share some characteristics yet they are also very distinct. Silverhold is the place for a gun-heavy approach. Osiris is for medics and ship upgrades. Niska offers illegal jobs with lots of misbehaves but large paydays. Amnon Duul has a lot of pick-up and deliver contracts. My favorite experiences are the ones where you need to visit several contacts and to mine through several locations to really build that all-around crew.
Some people will complain about the randomness based on card draws and dice rolls. As I mentioned, there are ways to mitigate just about every negative scenario. I love the risk/reward balance at times, especially as a Nav Deck gets low and thus players start taking long detours to avoid flying in Alliance space or mosey along one space at a time so they don’t draw that card. I’ve been on my fair share of those bad draws or rolls, and in the moment I’ve vented about the game hating me. Yet I’ve also had my share of them go my way and help me sneak in a victory against my wife, who is easily the better Firefly player of the two of us. It also enables a player who loses crew members to still have a chance, with a lucky draw or roll, to pull off an upset from time to time. While the better player will usually win, it helps to balance the game as well because you simply cannot carry everything needed to mitigate every risk. Great players will find that balance to make it so they succeed far more often than they fail.
Some people might complain about the low level of player interaction, even though it is never an issue for me. You are certainly not playing a multi-player solitaire game, as you need to be very aware of your opponents’ actions and intentions. You can indirectly affect things by taking the item they need before they can get to it (my wife ALWAYS looks for Kaylee), you can steal their disgruntled crew, you can make them lose Yolanda/Saffron/Bridget by taking one of the other versions of her, you can move the Alliance and/or Reaver ship to block their path or move those directly onto them. You can also put the pressure on them to move faster by starting the main objectives even before you might feel ready. Even without the addition of the Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion, there is plenty of interaction to be had even if much of it is indirect.
If I’m honest, the set-up time for this game is what keeps it from hitting the table more often. While there are games we have that are just as big to set up, this one feels massive because of all the decks to shuffle. My wife seems to think they don’t need shuffled, especially if we hadn’t played for a while, but I can’t fathom not giving each deck a shuffle or two. I think we also need to look at a way to hold the tokens other than baggies, as that might help with its ease of use during actual gameplay. It is far from feeling like a fiddly game most of the time, but there are a lot of things that go into both the set-up and the gameplay. My latest idea for having this hit the table more often? Leaving it set-up on the table over the course of a week. We set the game up on Wednesday and played a round of it, and will hopefully play a few more over the course of the weekend before putting it away. The game is always worth the time spent setting it up, but there are also times when it gets passed over for something with less time invested in getting started.
Some items and contacts can be completely ignored as they tend to be useless. Harkin tends to be only good as a first job before hiring any crew, and even then only if it is a one-stop job close to where you start. Items such as the Horses and even the standard guns tend to get overlooked in favor of the more costly, but more useful, versions. Expansions to add more crew or cargo are often left untouched except in rare circumstances. Over time you’ll begin to notice that there are really a handful of cards in each deck, and only 2-3 contacts, that are really worth your time. But with two players, there are still plenty of worthwhile cards that will never surface simply because you cannot afford, or hold, everything that can be of use.
There is a reason this game is still in both of our Top 10 lists. I was actually surprised at how much I still could enjoy going back to just the base game on this one. I knew my wife would love it, being able to get Kaylee quicker and because she rarely flew to the rim planets on the expanded board anyway. This is a really solid game and I am glad it is on our 10×10 this year because it certainly has a ton of life left in our collection. Browncoats everywhere should at the very least play this one, as the theme of the game can be as immersive as you want it to be. It plays really, really well with 2 players although it is still a blast with higher player counts (at the expense of far more down time and a much higher play time). Gamers who enjoy a pick-up and deliver mechanism will certainly find some things they love about this game, and anyone who enjoys a sci-fi theme should have a fun experience as well, so long as they understand there isn’t any direct conflict with the other players. Once you’ve picked up and played the base game 10-20 times you’ll hopefully be hooked and want to pick up some expansions, which I would always encourage because it adds so much more variety and replay value to the game. It may not be my favorite game in our collection, but it is easily one of the best games in our collection even considering just the base game. I cannot recommend this one enough, especially since it was a game that firmly placed my wife and I along the path to becoming serious about the board gaming hobby and proved to my wife that she can learn, and enjoy, long games with fairly complex rules. Without this one, I may never have convinced her to play War of the Ring and many other long, thematic games.
Check out this Geeklist for other games I have reviewed: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas…