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Subject: Why I'd love to love the game - a casual gamers review rss

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Maddock Krug
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Hi everyone,

during the last week I had the "great" opportunity to play the "Firefly" boardgame twice. And by "great" I mean great in terms of great on the one hand, but also great in a more or less opposite understanding.

Ok, ok, ok ... Maybe some of you may think: "That is not enough to give a full review." And guess what: You. Are. Right. This won't be just another oppinionated review; this will be different. Also I won't get into detail regarding the rules or special game-items; so, if you don't know how the game works, then this "review" will remain "alien" to you. You need to know the game (by having played the game actually) in order to understand my mind about "Firefly"; else you will draw only little helpful things from this one ...

I will write about the things I really, really like, those things I did not appreciate so much, and finally as well as especially the things I would like to love about the game ... The first two things will be a shortly commented list, the third part of it I will discuss in much more detail ...

I. Prologue - the first two game sessions

On the first game session we were four gamers (Krisch, Thom, Tan, and me); we played the starting scenario suggested in the rulebook. The game took us like 6 hours of gameplay; and during the first half we had to doublecheck our moves and actions a lot with the rulebook. After the 6 hours of gameplay we had no winner, and only one of us achieved the first two of three game goals. We stopped playing the game, 'cause one of us had a devastating "bad-luck-spree" shortly after another already had something very similar, which threw both of them literally back to the "starting point" of the game; that was kind of frustrating for both gamers ...

The second session we had yesterday (Krisch, Tan, Kat, and me) with most of us already "knowing" the game. This time we played the "easy" game-goal to reach like 12.000 bucks and finish it; this game is supposed to be played for about 2 hours of gameplay; we played roughly 5 1/2 hours. And we had one-and-a-half winners. This game-session - like the first one - produced a similar situation for one gamer like on the first game session, another one of us put a lot of effort into "working" "deals", but failed to ever get beyond the 4.000 bucks mark, although she had a good crew, was well euqipped, and tried good deals ...

Ok, now you know about my gaming experiences so far, at least you should be able to draw a picture about what I encountered on the game and what level of experience I have.

II. What I really, really like about the game

(1) The game-material is strikingly awesome! Really, the cards, the tokens, the miniatures, the dice - all nice, except maybe for the board, which is "ok", but could have been done better. The rulebook will be covered later ...

(2) I enjoye the basic principles of the game - on each turn you have like two different actions out of four possible; the major part of the game is about getting and managing your crew, "working" "deals" (ie doing missions), getting past threats of all kinds, having the opportunity to choose a lot instead of being captured in a tight game-structure.

(3) The theme - and here I agree with Tom Vasel from the DiceTower - the theme of the TV show "Serenity" is very well incorporated and mirrored in the game. Basically it is you with your ship and crew doing all kind of freelance businesses - legal, illegal, moral, and immoral ones - competing with other freelancing groups constantly on red alert about the Alliance Cruiser and the Reavers ... Sweet. But there is something missing - (see later on). And what I enjoy very much is that on all those many, many different game cards you have plenty of cool quotes from the movie. So I say: Yeah, the game designers did many things right.

III. Now. Where there is light, there is shadow alike

(1) The game leaves a "huge repetitive feeling". Now, what do I mean with that? And isn't this the same with most (all?) games - the repition of things? Yes, all games ask the gamers to repeat game mechanics. But not all games start feeling like you do the same thing over and over again. I have no idea if this feeling comes up in shorter game sessions of "Firefly". But in as long game session as I had them so far this feeling is strikingly strong: You keep doing things like you do the treadmill; and you do and do things all day long, and the outcome may be pointless to a certain degree; it's like fighting the windmills. For each "deal" you "work", you also have costs on a regular basis - crew and fuel on the one hand or hiring crew and buying stuff to get better chances during the game; you may counter that by trying the illegal jobs more often which earn you a lot more money, but doing so means: you run much higher risks - no matter "how strong" your crew or you are. Then every now and then bad luck strikes you and you loose a lot of stuff and get thrown back again and again. So basically the game runs a high risk for you to achieve little to nothing although you put a lot of effort into it. The game mechanics are kind of unforgiving, whch I will write about more a little later ...

(2) Although you have plenty of opportunity to manage your things and think about strategies to reach the goal, the luck factor is a brutal black widow always waiting to nearly kill you and your strategy. I have no trouble with luck factors; but the game is not straight about it - on the one hand you always have a two-stp decision-making process on "deals" and "buys" (first you create a small stash of thing you like to "consider" buying or making, and then you decide up to two items from this consideration and get real), and this becomes especially easy, because you are allowed to dig through the discard piles anytime. So basically the game offers the gamers a lot of opportunity to decide things and get control over the game by reducing the randomness and the luck/ bad luck part from drawing most cards of the game. On the other hand there are a few game mechanics which are 100% luck based, and if you are unlucky enough (which is not uncommon!), you will have a huge impact on your game, which nearly eliminates the value of all the planning you did up until then. The game is very unforgiving, which may result in gamers being kind of very, very dissapointed for a short period of times - I encountered this several times during both game sessions. This may also mean that while you may be close to achieving the first goal of a session you may be thrown back so far that you are out of the game, because you only have very small chances to get back into the competition with the other gamers again. And all of this is something I don't like, because after all or in the end a game is supposed to offer entertainment, fun, and joy in the game. You know, there are other very challenging games like Battlestar Galactica or Arkham Horrors, which I enjoy playing a lot, although both games have a very strong nack to give at least some gamers a hard time; but in the end you don't care about loosing the game or having a bad luck series, because you accept it as being part of it; in Firefly it is all about building and evolving in order to reach certain goals, but all your efforts are literally desintegrated because you just draw one single bad card, and pretty often a major part (if not most of it) of your gameplay is rendered absolutely meaningless, and then you have to put like three to five (or even more) turns on "recreating" a similar position, while the other gamers are neraly unstoppable.

These thoughts are things I do not hate; and I won't go as far as to say: "I don't like that." The opposite is true: I like the ideas behind those concepts to give you as a gamer some pressure and tension throughout the game; and I even enjoy the high risk to loose stuff. But I think the consequences from certain things in the game are way to heavy for any gamer to stomach, because the inevitable result is "you are out of the game"; so here the game should be less ruthless or risky ...

IV. Which leads me to the main part of my "review"

(1) The game is not balanced. Especially when it comes to the "Misbehaviour"-cards, you are tossed into a dark pit full of *anything*. You may have luck and you get very easy-to-pass cards, or you may have bad luck and miss the one trait or the one item or the one character, and you WILL fail and eventually loose your crew - regardless of how powerfull you already are in the game. I know, if this sounds like a repitition with what I wrote above, you are right. Which is why I say:
I would love to love the game, if this was much better balanced and if those special cards would consider the "power" of gamers much more ...

(2) The rulebook looks nice; it is very well done in terms of basic structure and explaining the basic game concepts; there is little cross-section referencing, which makes it very easy to find and understand most rules. But: The rules are not complete. Oftern enough you have situations in which you may ask: 'Ok, what now, the rules are not clear about this or that.' There are even things missing, and you have to do a lot of thinking to "find" the "probably right" decision. FAQs and the interewebssszzzZZ may help you, but I would like to play a game based on what is in the box, and not what is available in other places.
I would love to love the game, if the rulebook would be more precise on all things; currently the game feels like being incomplete, not playtested enough, and it really asks for a revised 2nd edition.
(3) During the major part of the game you travel through space. Two things:
a) And while doing so you draw special movement cards for alliance- and reaper-space for each single sector you pass, and sectors there are many. These cards tell you to move on, or to stop for whatever reason; sometimes bad luck is possible. I have no trouble with this. But ...
aa) This means that certain cards of the game are played and used a lot, lot, lot more than other cards of the game; if you don't sleeve those cards, they will be useless sooner than later;
bb) these cards add a huge pile to the "repitive feeling" I mentioned above.
b) These cards are meant to get the gamers involved with the Alliance cruiser (the Dortmunder from the TV show) and the Reavers. But actually: During the game there is little opportunity for those things to become relevant; and if they do so, they may be very, very hard to challenge. There is nothing wrong with the challenge, but I thing the game-design failed to get those game-IQ-elements properly involved in the game.
c) Conclusion: I would love to love the game, if two things were different with those travelling cards - on the one hand there should be a lot less drawing of those cards (like not for each space sector, but only for each move-action as such), and b) in order to get the NPC-ships get involved more frequently, the ratio between "keep flying" and "sh*t hitting the fan" should be dramatically changed (ie increased); only then gamers would care about these things a lot more, and these game-mechanics would feel more like being part of the game. But this does not happen, and so I am not happy with how the game works regarding the whole movement-part ...

(4) This game takes you on a long gaming session. I have some trouble believing other gamers to play the game in less than three hours; but I think this is a question of practice. Yet, most gamers I know don't play the same game like dozens of times, but rather rarely. So basically this means you don't memorize the rules and drown in the game and practice it a lot; this in return leads to long game sessions. And for a game taking you up to 6 hours of game play the opportunities to interact with the other gamers is way too little in "Firefly". The only things you do are three things in oder to interact with other gamers: Either you hire disgruntled crew from another gamer, or you may trade with other gamers, or you draw one of those very rare cards to unleash mishap on another game; and all three things may only occur if the situation allows it to happen, which again happens very rarely (for the first two things you need to be in the same space sector, the third one requires the Alliance Cruiser or Reaver to be in an adjacent space sector). "Firefly" is basically a game in which a gamer plays "his" or "her" game alone most of the time. And if you have to decide things, your turn may take you a few minutes, which again means that other gamers sit around for a while until they have something to do again on their own turn ... (the idea of a 5 gamers game session is kind of a Halloween Horror Scenario) That really is a downer.
Here are a couple of things I would love to see in the game:
a) Add a co-op mode on it - like, you know: a gamer needs to work a deal, but he or she does not meet the requirements; why does not the game offer mechanics to make other gamers join with him or her and then splitting the the money?
b) Add a level of "infighting" to the game - allow gamers to "attack" other gamers, like, you know, fly into the same sector, board another gamer's ship, and steal stuff from the cargo (except the stash) or capture crew!


(5) I would love to love the game, if the gamers in a two-to-four-game would start with a small crew, maybe one or two items instead of starting with 3.000 bucks. The reason is simple: In the beginning of the game you focus on getting that stuff instead on focussing on "working" "deals"; and since you are limited in buying stuff per turn, you will spend "a lot of time" in the beginning of the game doing so. The "buy"-actions have too much weight on the game, and they slow you down - big time, which actually adds a lot to the "repitive-feeling" I mentioned earlier.

V. Conclusion

All that being said:

I like the game to a certain degree - on a scale from 1 (bad) to 10( super) I am somewhere around the 6 mark. In my opinion the game does a lot of things right or at least properly well enough. But the game does not offer all the opportunities the theme literally offers; and I think certain game elements should be tweaked - a lot. The game is incomplete.

Ok, some might say: Houserule it.
My answer to this is: I could; but actually I want to play a game as it is; houseruling it means I get used to "my special" understanding of the game, and when I play with others who play by the rules, my gaming experience will be very different - especially most likely a lot worse than what I am used to get from playing by houserules. So, no: I am no huge fan of houseruling games ...

Edit
Ok. Here is the deal. Regardless about what I have written about houserules so far, I have come up with a couple of suggestions on the rules myself. And I offer them for playtesting and discussion on this forum. You may have a look at this thread:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1068612/rules-tweaking
/edit

Best wishes!
Mad
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Jon Snow
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Your post above is not really a "Review," although I understand that you are staying within the bgg conventions. It is a much deeper Boadgame Design Analysis, with many valid points. I agree with some of your issues and enjoyed looking at some of your specific suggestions in your related 'Variants' thread.

Right now, this early in its history, I do not feel obliged to 'complete' the game to the extent you propose to redesign it. It will be interesting to see in the year ahead whether the designers attempt to 'complete' the game or just expand it as it is written with their eight proposed expansions (and with the expanded FAQ, to which they have already committed themselves here). I kind of doubt they will quickly create a Second Version, which is what you are calling for here. For example, unlike some posters and yourself, my group loves the Navigation Card drawing for each space--it both adds momentary excitement to the episodic incidents of the flight, and makes for interesting decisions about how far you are actually going to attempt to go on one Full Burn.

Allowing players to start with some crew, as in the solo scenario, is certainly an easy fix to game length in general, and does not necessarily require a lower initial income. Best of all, it simply changes the story card elements, rather than require rules changes as such.

I feel so far that the player interaction issue is best resolved with the early fan made Bushwack option, although that thread sometimes seems to have disappeared from the boards here, and I have not had a chance to test it--I want to get through all the scenarios first with the rules as written.

I enjoy your input, and hope you will let us know what results you will have as you modify the game, although you seem to be saying that you won't have the opportunity to try out your changes, which is too bad!
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Maddock Krug
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Hi there,

thank you, John, for your kind response. I tend to agree with you - even with what you write about the movement. I have little trouble with playing the game along the rules as they are right now. My movement-suggestions is only about keeping the cards away from wearing down too fast, and about reducing the repitive elements to a certain degree.

Eight expansions in the piepline? That is a lot ... Really a lot ... I need to check the offical website. Haven't been there - yet. In fact, I don't own the game, and I just happened to play it twice. So I took cahnces for this "special" review.

If I get the chance to play the game again - and then with some optional rules and testing - I will keep you updated. Promissed!

Best wishes!
Mad
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Danny Baverstock
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Thanks, mate, for this review. It really helped in my decision to buy this game. Despite the downsides you mentioned, i think i can either live with them or houserule them. I do that a lot with games that have rules that are too restrictive or game breaking. Or even ones i just dislike.
I will be getting this game for sure, now. As a fan of the show it would be hard for me to stop myself from getting it. But i did want to see if it was going to be truly worth it.

Once again; thank you!
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Dan Smith
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Nice review.

I was also put down by how long the game is. And the movement mechanic would need to be tweaked.

I think it would have helped if either the map was slightly smaller or if there was a way of getting some kind of free movement. Maybe not flipping a card on your forst move or at least reward players every X jobs with items that can grant free movements.

I felt the game wasn't balanced, as one player had the captain that can hire crew for free. Based on his description of the game, I assumed at the start that this was a better ability than other captains. I seemed to have been true.

He could go through the pile and empty them of characters, thus gaining most of the traits he needed, and did things much faster than most of us since he didn't waste as many actions, movement or money gaining a crew. Which allowed him to succeed his misbehaves easily, and thus achieve his goals faster.

If you compare that to buying upgrades or weapons at half price, it's not nearly as useful. Especially since you're getting lots of crewmembers during the game, but will rarely buy more than 4 upgrades if that.

And the game would have been even longer if we had contantly been buying off disgruntled crew off other players or sicking the reavers on them.
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Kain
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I'm sorry, what, 6 hours? 5 hours? Good god, I had no idea this game was going to be such a beast. That's kind of insane. Makes really reconsider buying this game, I don't know if I can convince anyone to dump a day into board game of this...relatively simple ... concept. Good review though!
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Roger BW
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My first game (five players, two of us new) took three hours. And we mostly weren't doubling up on turns; using the dinosaur we'd probably have been done in two.
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George Krubski
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I think some of the reviewers comments are fair, but they're only part of the story.

The game CAN take a while -- especially your first few games. My cousin and I can play a 2-player game in probably an hour, and have been able to do so since about our third game together. There's a punishing (but relatively quick) learning curve.

Same applies to his comments on the brutality of the Misbehave cards. People who complain about the horrible randomness of Misbehave cards? They're Misbehaving before they're prepared. They don't "get" that you need to prep to successfully Misbehave.

I've "trained" one single player and one group of friends for the game, and our experience was good. First, I played a number of solo games to get a feel for the game myself. Then, I asked them to at least review the instructions before we played so they had some idea of the basic concepts. At "game time," before we played, I walked through the rules (30-45 minutes). First games took a long time, but no one had major complaints and subsequent games were more rollicking.

This is a great game, but it is unfortunately a game that is not kind to newcomers.
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Dan
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I understand what you mean about luck vs. strategy in this game. The game that I played with my friends today, I made a gamble in the early parts of the mission, and I lost. Pretty quick I ended up with a modest crew and no money. I had to start over working the low-paying jobs, and I was struggling to keep working and keep finding fuel. As I'm trying to build back up (which is harder than starting off, IMO) I get hit with warrants and I lose contraband when I'm almost at the drop-off...but the point is, luck hit me hard.

On the other hand, the two players who did well got to the point where they were virtually untouchable. They had 5 or 6 crew and 4 or 5 items, and skill checks were basically "Okay, I'm guaranteed to win option 1 or option 2 without the die roll, or I can use the ace because I have that, too". Every once in a while they would hit a wall where they were required to stop, but that was about it.

What it boiled down to was for me, the skill check mechanic became a scary barrier that I didn't dare go near, but for the players who had an engine, the skill check mechanic became a counting game of "do I have enough or do I roll the die?" The problem is there was no way for me to catch up, because as you said - the reavers and the alliance ship are largely ineffectual; the further ahead you are, the less effective they are.

Overall, I think it's a fun game, but how quickly you can get the gap between "I can do anything without worry" and "I hope I can make enough money on this job to afford fuel when I get there" is what hurts it.
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Troy Terrell
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It seems to me that mitigating risk is the key to this game.

If you do not want to risk losing crew or passengers to reavers you have at least two valid options:
1. Do not travel faster than mosey in boarder space.
2. Have pilot and mechanic (along with extra feul) on the ship.
Take either of those to actions and you mitigate the risk of reaver attacks.

If you do not want to risk losing crew/contraband/fugitives to the alliance you have at least two valid options:
1. Do not hire wantaned crew or carry illegal goods.
2. Alway have at least one crybaby upgrade available.
These (and likely others) mitigate the risk of alliance contact.

Similar things can be said of most other risks in the game, from breakdowns to misbehaves.
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J B
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The first 5 or so times you play this game really should not count against it for "average duration issues": it takes longer as you keep referencing the rules or plotting your path/job/shopping strategy and so on. It gets faster and faster as you become familiar with it. Our first games took a "while" and now they take an hour, hour and a half, not bad, Ive played longer chess games.

Other things pop out of the thread--
yes, it is not well balanced, but not for the reasons given. Free crew saves you less than 1000 bucks over a game. 1/2 priced guns or ship upgrades is on par with that. Smuggling and immoral job perks are difficult and the reward is not substantial.

Then there is the "big crime problem". An expert player knows that for a money grab game, mal with a skyhook doing crime jobs is a simple but tough to beat combo. You get 500 per crime for being mal, 500+ per crime again in goods -- easily 1000 more than anyone else per job on a regular basis. That makes 1k one time for crew costs or the occasional smuggler's bonus pale in comparison. Piracy can keep up, but in the standard edition game, nothing else really can, all things being equal.

Killing your crew? I almost never have crew die. You kill your captain if you get really bad luck, which morphs into a disgruntle and is easily fixed (if annoying). It should be ultra rare to lose a crew anyway -- a death means either extreme bad luck (early reaver cutter?) or misbehaving before prepared.

Map too big? Its too small: you can traverse it on the diagonal in 2 turns if you don't get stopped. And being stopped should be rare: a few crew with wrenches stop breakdowns and the other cards are rare or profitable. Solid with harken takes 1 turn to do a dumb job and you pass 2/3 of the alliance sector aggravation cards. I agree flipping a card per space gets old, though. If you dislike it, flip 1 card per turn instead. When that becomes too easy (it will), remove the keep flying cards from the decks and flip 1 per turn. Or work up your own fix to that rule.

co-opt? Why not, if the other players agree, DO it. You don't have to follow the rulebook 100%, do what is FUN. Starting with crew or gear? Sure, do it, that is even in the solo play rule set. Attack each other is covered in the pirate expansion if you are into that. Even if you don't buy the expansion, those rules can be used/adapted to fit (you wont have piracy jobs but you could just let people take up to 3 items after a fight).

The game does have issues, but time to play a session is not one, or maybe it is for the younger crowd but most of the "classic" games take longer than this one (this one builds up steam then BAM its over fast). Monopoly, life, talisman, chess, --- pick your favorite classic game, all take longer than firefly does (once you learn it). The balance issues were improved with expansions but even so, there are some major problems there for sure. And luck is just part of it -- its not a pure strategy game (equal start, winner is best player) but a luck/strategy game (equal start, but luck decides the winner amongst good players). Kinda like poker or something, once you reach a certain skill level, the cards often determine the winner.


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