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Legendary Encounters – A Firefly Deck Building Game review

“How do Reavers clean their spears?”
You know what? No! It’s still too soon…

Legendary Encounters Firefly board game

Legendary Encounters Firefly board game

Aah, Firefly! What more needs to be said that someone else hasn’t already said better? Well, in case you’re not familiar with the series, a quick recap!

Firefly was a “Space Western” drama created by Joss Whedon, in the deep dark long ago of 2002. The show is set in the 26th century, in a new planetary system after humanity outgrew “Earth-that-was” and had to move out for pastures new. The story focuses on Captain Mal Reynolds, a veteran of the Unification Wars between The Alliance and The Independents. Mal and his crew of misfits and vagabonds now live on a Firefly-class spaceship called Serenity. All I can say is that, if you haven’t, you should watch at least the first episode. Or the film, but that takes longer. Go on… I’ll wait for you to come back!

Legendary Encounters – A Firefly Deck Building Game is the latest instalment in the Legendary Encounters series (others so far include Aliens and Predator). Each of the games is based on the Legendary card system. In Firefly, you play as one of the members of the crew, through episodes that closely follow the events of the TV show. Be careful however, for while you aim to misbehave, the game will punish you for trying!

What’s in the box? A book, a mat, and a Legendary number of cards!

Legendary-Encounters-Firefly-board-game - Box Content

This box has plenty of room for expansions…

For those that don’t yet know, Legendary is a deck-crafting game. This means that it has, you guessed it, decks! Firefly contains 500 cards (not an approximation, though at only 500 cards it has the fewest cards of the series so far), some card dividers, and a neoprene play mat to help lay out your games. Oh, and a rulebook – useful even for Legendary veterans, because of the new mechanics!

As you can see from the above, all of the Firefly cards, fit into around half of the box…plenty of room to spare for storing your legendary games together to save space if you need to! (or maybe for future expansions?)

Making a start – let’s do the Set Up Shuffle!

Fear not, dear reader, it’s not necessary to shuffle all of those cards at once! Firefly breaks down into around thirty decks, and you don’t use all of them in a single game. Firefly missions are split into fifteen episodes, with around eleven cards each. Usually when you play Firefly, you’ll arrange three episodes in order, and try to survive them. There are also player character decks consisting of “Shiny” (just a title, unfortunately) and “Misbehave” cards that represent the buying and combat power of your Main Characters. Each of the crew of Serenity also have their own deck of 14 cards, and these are used to represent the NPC crew of Serenity in the game. More on this later!

Legendary Encounters Firefly board game setup

Set up for a three-player game – Kaylee and Book are also considered Main Characters, even though they aren’t controlled by the players

In addition to the character and episode decks, there are “status” cards. These are upgrades for Serenity, and Ship strikes that damage her, as well as Crew strikes that damage the crew (in a variety of non-fun ways), and 5 brown-coat cards that can be used to bolster your crew. The brown-coats are a guaranteed way to get a “coordinate” card into your deck. This is a very useful mechanic that lets you help out other players on their turn; they can use the card as if it was in their hand. Finally, there are Talent and Flaw cards – you start with a talent in your deck, and you’ll need to start praying to Book’s dear and fluffy lord if you get too many Flaws…

Episode decks are expanded with Side Jobs, based on the number of players. These apparently provide a good bonus for completing them (I’ve only completed one so far – I am not Legendary(!)) and a pretty hefty penalty for failure. These are randomly shuffled into the episode decks. There is also an Inevitable card. This acts as a timer on the episode, and increases the tension if you get through the deck without completing your mission – a nice tweak that stops an episode petering out as characters snuff it or the cards run out!

We have our ship, let’s build a crew…

Legendary Encounters Firefly board game - character cards

“I always wanted to be the captain of a rusty piece of goushi…”

One of the changes in Legendary Encounters: Firefly is the Main Character mechanic. There are always five Main Characters, regardless of the number of players. These are usually those characters that were most prominent in the Firefly TV episodes, but you can choose any combination you like. From these Main Characters, players select their character and the others remain on the Bridge.

The other four characters provide the Crew deck. You shuffle each supporting character’s cards into one deck, and this is the deck that you recruit cards from throughout the game. In this way, all nine Firefly crew members are involved in every game, whether they are a played character or not. It does feel a little odd, when playing as Jayne, that there are none of his cards in the game. You need to remember that you are taking Jayne’s role, and the crew deck is effectively just picking up the supporting characters’ “lines”.

When the game makes reference to a “Main Character” (This is usually something like “If River is a main character…<do something suitably heroic>”), this means any character that is being played, or is on the Bridge. If you get knocked out, however, you no longer count as a Main Character until you’re revived!

…And now we have a crew, let’s get flyin’!

This is where things get truly Legendary! And by that, I mean that if you have played a Legendary game before, you probably know how this is going to go. In Firefly, a player’s turn consists of four phases; Episode, Action, Strike, and Cleanup.

In the Episode phase, you draw an episode card, and advance other cards in the ‘verse along to the left. If a card falls off into the Combat zone, things are going to get hairy in a hurry!

In the Action phase, you get to perform all the actions that your hand of cards allows – this could be buying from the crew deck (there are always five cards to select from, refreshed as a card is purchased). It could be scanning zones in the ‘verse to see what cards are coming towards you (costing less as the cards come closer), or fighting revealed cards. Or, after the first couple of turns, it could be using cards that you purchased earlier, that have special abilities to boost the rest of your hand.

Be careful scanning cards, however – some cards are Ranged, so can hit you in the Strike phase even if they’re still in the Verse. Some others, like Dodson, can seriously impact a character’s ability to do anything on their turn. There’s a constant balance between scanning more so you know what’s coming, and dealing with what’s in front of you, which is then compounded by the need to scan for side jobs. If they make it to the combat zone, you have failed them!

In the Strike phase, the game gets to hit you back! Any cards that are in the combat zone (and any “ranged” cards in the ‘verse) get to damage crew members, or Serenity, by drawing Crew or Ship strikes from the deck. Crew strikes count as damage, and go next to your character card to show your dwindling health. Ship strikes stack up on Serenity, getting more expensive to repair in the “intermission” phase (between episodes – more on this later) and generally making things more difficult for the players.

The Cleanup phase is basically resetting ready for the next round. Discard your hand, and all played cards, and draw back up to six ready for the next player.

Legendary truly is a classy system…

Legendary Encounters Firefly board game - class combo

Class combo cards add a further element to your deck-building

As with other games in the franchise, Legendary Encounters: Firefly incorporates class combo abilities. Several cards in the deck have a class symbol in the upper-left corner (they still look like Hulk’s fist, or Wolverine’s claws, to avoid confusion across different games in the series). When you play a card with one of these symbols, you unlock the corresponding abilities or effects on any other cards that you play this turn.

This can mean increased Attack or Buying power, gaining Talent cards, or other potentially powerful combinations.

In the picture, you can see two cards with the “tech” class. Playing the card to the left early in your turn, will activate the ability of any card with the same class – in this case, Wash’s “Full burn” card. Inara’s Client Selection card will need another card with the matching class symbol, to activate the ability to view cards in your deck

…But it does have some flaws!

Quite literally, because Firefly contains “Flaw” cards! Each character has a “Talent” and a “Flaw” effect. Talent cards can be collected throughout the game (and each player starts with one too, remember?) When you play a Talent card, you immediately draw a card. You also have the option to use a powerful ability during your action phase, however, if you do, the talent card is out of your deck until you can get another.

Flaw cards work somewhat differently – if you have a Flaw card in your hand at the start of your action phase, you have to play them first. Some flaws are pretty brutal – Jayne automatically Strikes every member of the crew, each time he draws a flaw!

Legendary Episodes? And there’s an Intermission?!

Legendary Encounters games are usually separated into multiple story lines (Aliens had each of the four films, broken into chapters) and Firefly is no different. Each game aims to complete three episodes. Between each episode is a phase called “Inter-mission” (you see what they did there?). The success or failure of a episode determines how many Credits the team earns. Credits are an Intermission-only currency,  used for things like repairing Serenity (ship strikes remain between episodes unless you fix them). If you have any credits left over, you can then buy ship upgrades from a nearby supply planet (or the upgrades deck if you’re not in character). Upgrades can make fighting easier, strengthen the ship against enemies, or provide other such bonuses. If you still have credits left (well done you…) then you can purchase extra cards into your hand for the first round of the next episode.

So… how Legendary is it, really?

If you’ve played a Legendary game before, you don’t need me to tell you how the rest of the game works. Legendary Encounters: Firefly follows the Legendary model pretty well, with a couple of new mechanics like the Main Characters. If you’re a veteran of other deck-building games, there’s little here to trip you up, either. The ‘verse track adds a nice bit of tension by keeping a timer ticking, but the basic mechanics are similar. If you’re new to deck-building games, this timer does steepen the learning curve though.

Firefly is, however, not without its issues. The card artwork is a major one. I suppose licensing, or tradition, may have prevented using actual stills from the shows, but some of the cards seem a little…lacking. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what the problem is without singling out cards, and that feels a little harsh. It is fair to say that some cards are far and away better than others. Most of the characters look little like their on-screen incarnations…and some characters differ in appearance across cards in their own deck!

Another pet peeve of the Legendary series is the use of the same icons for the class system, regardless of the theme. I suppose it makes picking up other Legendary games easier, because you’re not learning a new set of icons, but the appearance of the “Wolverine’s Claw” class icon in a Firefly game just feels a little out of place. I don’t know what I would use from Firefly that works to replace the symbols, but an attempt at something thematic would have been a nice touch. However, if I’m getting picky about the little icons, I’m overlooking the rest of a pretty solid game!

Does this game work for people that don’t know Firefly?

It’s a difficult question to answer! If you don’t know the Firefly story, or don’t remember what happens in the episodes, you’ll likely be a little confused with some of the events that come up (and why there’s things like a wobbly-headed doll caper in the side jobs). This might be a little disconcerting, but otherwise not knowing the Firefly universe doesn’t spoil the game-play. If you know and love your Firefly, though, you might be put off by some of the events turning up “in the wrong order”. Randomly shuffling the episode deck means things can show up out of sequence, and randomly adding side jobs (based on the number of characters) means that the side jobs bear little relation to the episodes.

Overall, I think that Firefly is a worthy, enjoyable and polished addition to the Legendary Encounters franchise, and being able to play through the episodes is a lot of fun! Artwork and other niggles aside, it’s a cracking game that keeps all players involved. If you like your games easy, though, you might want to look elsewhere. Legendary is not a game system that it nice to it’s players, and Firefly is no different!

5 (100%) 2 votes
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Chris Cully

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