Like most good geeks I’m a Firefly fan, and have been searching for years to find the perfect game. Something shorter and with better interaction than Firefly the Board Game, something cheaper and less ugly than Legendary Encounters: Firefly. Something less Fluxx than Firefly Fluxx.
Firefly Adventures: Browncoats and Brigands is the jumping-off point for a new line of games, a cooperative miniatures skirmish, which sees the crew of Serenity planet-side working a job, with targets to steal and goons to avoid. It bills itself as light and easy to get into: Could this finally be the Firefly game I’ve been looking for? Let’s find out!
Firefly Adventures – what’s in the box?
The component quality in Firefly Adventures is pretty good: you get 2 miniatures each for the core crew of Serenity – Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Kayleigh and Wash, as well as a selection of Thugs and Cowboys for them to face off against. There are character cards and assorted decks of equipment, as well as various tokens which you will place on the map, or use to mark things acquired or interacted with during the scenario. The miniatures are nice and (not always a given in a Firefly game) the art actually looks like the things it’s meant to represent!
One unusual aspect of Firefly Adventures, is the boxes. When you open up the game, you’ll see lots of the components sorted into various different boxes – the twist is that these boxes, as well as being storage also function as terrain for the game itself- these are the buildings you’ll be exploring and breaking into.
I decided to read the rulebook: I’ve been sane a long while now, and change is good
There is also a book in the box for Firefly Adventures. It claims to be a rulebook. This is broadly true, in that most of the rules you might need to play the game can be found in there – however, they have been arranged in an apparently arbitrary order, and you certainly won’t find anything useful like a “setup” section, or even an index.
Lastly, there are 4 scenario sheets, each of which supposedly give you the information you need to set up and play the 4 missions available in the first game (additional missions on the website are referred to in the game, but none have yet materialised). Sadly, these fail to cover the shortcomings in the rulebook, and there are noticeable, if not necessarily crucial, typos littered throughout.
Ok: so how does it play?
Well, there’s the question! When I sat down to play this game for the first time, I couldn’t even figure out how to begin!
There’s no “set-up” section in the rulebook, and the section on getting your starting gear is buried somewhere near the back. The line-of-sight rules are fiddly and a lot of things are counter-intuitive, to the point where in the first scenario I picked, it was virtually impossible to set up your characters in a starting position that wouldn’t immediately trigger everything kicking off into a massive brawl.
The 4 scenarios which come with the base game each have their own objectives, but things are left very vague, and there’s a lot of work left for you to do in working out how you move from the actions you are physically allowed to perform, and the objectives you’re trying to complete.
The fact that there isn’t a Tutorial scenario also means there’s essentially no opportunity to get used to a “default” way of playing the game before you start to introduce the scenario-specific complications.
When? In the Heat of the Moment
If Mal moves twice (1 moment each) he’ll get another turn before the Thug. 2 shots with the gun though, and he’ll be moving 10 moments forward
The key element of Firefly Adventures is the “Moment” – every action that any character (player or enemy) can perform takes a certain number of moments, measured along a time-tracker around the outside of the board. Each turn the character furthest back on the time-tracker activates, and does 2 actions, moving their marker the appropriate number of spaces forward. This means that those who focus on long actions (generally more powerful or safer) will get fewer turns than those doing shorter things.
Each hero in Firefly Adventures has their own hero board, showing the actions available to them, and how long they take – these actions are tied in to the character narratively: Wash and Zoe can move each other, Mal can influence any crewmember, Kaylee specialises in mechanical tasks, and Jayne beats stuff up.
Play it Casual? Or time for some Thrillin’ heroics?
The hero boards are also double-sided, differentiating between when your hero is in “Casual” or “Heroic” mode. When you’re being casual, you have a grey miniature that moves around the map, and doesn’t attract too much attention. If you decide (or are forced) to be heroic, you swap in a more dynamically posed green miniature, and get to do extra things (most fight actions are heroic), but you’ll attract the attention of the various goons on the map.
The Heroic vs Casual divide is probably the core unique feature of Firefly Adventures, and it’s a nice little hook. It does still feel quite abstract though, the notion that it’s completely binary whether or not a crewmember is being Heroic/suspicious, and random events that cause your character to suddenly switch to Heroic mode can cause significant problems – I think something where you accumulate attention gradually would have been a better choice.
Look out for Goons – they fight back!
You can treat the Thugs as generic (far row) or use their special abilities (front row)
Firefly Adventures comes with miniatures for 5 Thugs and 5 Cowboys. At the start of most scenarios, any goons in play will either be just standing around doing nothing, or patrolling from one point on the map to another. However, this all changes when they catch sight of a Heroic crewmember- at that point, they suddenly become “alerted” and will try to attack you.
There’s plenty of variety with the enemies – on the most basic level, Thugs want to Brawl, and Cowboys want to shoot you from distance, but once you’ve played more than a couple of games, you can flip the generic card over and reveal specific enemy-abilities.
Look out – Exploding Dice!
As a rounded character, Wash gets +1 for each type of test
Firefly Adventures comes from Gale Force 9, the company who made the original Firefly the Board Game. Players who have played it will find a lot of the iconography in this game very familiar, along with the broad division of interactions into Mechanical, Fighting, or Negotiation.
Lots of things you need to do in Firefly Adventures require tests – opening doors, hacking the core, persuading people, or good old-fashioned brawling. You will generally need to roll dice, add any bonuses your crew-member or equipment give you, and reach a specified total.
Another thing that people might remember from the original Firefly game is that instead of 6s on the dice in Firefly Adventures, you get a little picture of a Firefly, meaning that you add six to the total being rolled AND you can roll an extra dice. To balance this out, Firefly Adventures brings in a Disgruntled face instead of a 1 – not only does a disgruntled face not add anything to your total, if you have more disgruntled faces than Fireflies, you automatically fail the test.
This felt like a bad move to me – you always get a certain amount of randomness in a dice-based game, and that’s central to a lot of skirmish miniatures games. However, the execution here felt off: the fact that a single dice-roll can go anywhere from auto-fail to multiple 6s makes the game excessively random and very swingy (there is technically no upper limited to the total you can roll!) – I’d have much preferred it if there was some kind of cap on the range, or a way to reign in the variance a bit.
Keeping Track. Oh, hang-on
It’s in one of the buildings, somewhere.
There are a lot of moving parts to Firefly Adventures. For one thing, the game is only really scaled for 5 heroes (maybe 4 at a push), and the “1-5 players” on the box is a bit disingenuous, as the solution for solo play is “control 5 characters yourself.” The overall feeling that I got from introducing this to people was “Fiddly” – moving things around, looking for tokens, looking for different tokens then mixing up the rest and putting some back.
Dinosaurs. Because Dinosaurs
The 3D terrain seems like a cool idea when you first get the game, but in practice it means a lot of time not being able to see where things are, and constantly having to stand up in an attempt to get a top-down view.
Obviously any game comes with a bit of a learning curve, and once you aren’t having to constantly reference the (awful) rulebook, things will go a bit quicker, but the overall awkwardness of the game was a definite negative for us.
This ain’t the way it goes
“Sweetie, we’re crooks. If everything were right, we’d be in jail”
Firefly Adventures puts this quote up fairly prominently, and this game is definitely about engaging in some of the crew of Serenity’s shadier deals.
Some people juggle geese. I don’t think Wash is one of them (card from Legendary Encounters: Firefly Adventures)
That said, the actual play doesn’t necessary feel much like an episode of Firefly to me – let’s look at an example. One of the 4 scenarios in Firefly Adventures is “Goose Juggling” [a throw-away line from Wash that has taken on a life of its own in assorted spin-offs]. Goose Juggling requires the players to infiltrate a crooks’ compound to use their core-link: this should be a sneaky job, possibly involving disguises, fake IDs and misdirection.
All too often you just end up with stacks of bodies
In reality though, the simplest way to win is to shoot everyone before they can notice you. Admittedly, some might argue that, as with other situations, the key seems to be giving Jayne a heavy stick and standing back, but the hero of Canton is not always the best crewmember to choose as the group’s moral compass.
Firefly Adventures – Final Thoughts
I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you
Firefly Adventures is a game that’s packed with thematic references. You’ll find quotes all over the place, and you can equip characters with all the trademark gear you could want – Vera and a Cunning Hat for Jayne, Toy Dinosaurs and an Aloha shirt for Wash, even Kaylee’s Fluffy Pink dress (there is no restriction on which character gets what so, in the absence of a pretty floral bonnet, you could give Mal the fluffy dress instead…)
Despite all that though, the game just doesn’t feel very Firefly. Most scenarios descend into an all-out brawl, and it feels suspiciously like a generic skirmish game with the Firefly branding pasted over the top. All-in-all, Firefly Adventures feels like it was rushed to market (how can you be rushed when making a game about a TV programme that finished 15 years ago??) The lack of a usable rulebook will doubtless put a lot of people off before they ever really get started, and even for those who do manage to get their heads around the rules, the scenarios are limited in number (4) and littered with inconsistencies either thematic or mechanical.
There are some people out there who are very fond of this game, and I suspect that if you have the time to really work at it, you could eventually craft something that was good fun from the pieces in this box. Right now though, it just doesn’t feel like a properly coherent game in here – 5/10.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.