Saying Yes: Firefly RPG

Firefly RPG coverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Firefly: The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum

1 – Prepping

A few weeks before the convention, organizer Sean Nittner was looking for someone to run the Firefly RPG, so I volunteered. Sean puts a lot of effort into lining up a good variety of games and recruiting GMs so that there will be plenty of choice for attendees. He even lent me his beautiful autographed book, then contacted Margaret Weis Productions to ask if I could get a PDF convention kit. Thanks to David Robins and Monica Valentinelli at MWP, I got everything I needed to run a game.

So I had to add my game to the schedule ASAP but I did not have a plot in mind yet, so as for my Atomic Robo game, I went for a title that would sound intriguing, and a generic game pitch:

The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum
They can’t take the sky from you, but the Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng sure can make it ruttin’ uncomfortable. How were you to know this little job would blow up like that?

(If anyone noticed that I had sneaked the Big Bad Con initials in the title, no one mentioned it.)

My first decision to make: use the characters from the television show, or some of the many customizable templates provided in the book? I asked around in my online circles and received much useful advice. In the end, I agreed with the majority who recommended using the Serenity crew in order to build on  players’ shared understanding, but set the adventure a little prior to the television pilot and limit the cast to Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Kaylee, and Inara. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Firefly RPG”

Board Game Day: Firefly

Firefly board game coverA month ago I had a chance to try the new Firefly board game from Gale Force Nine. I had too much other writing to do at the time to write a review, but here are my impressions at last.

The Game

I don’t think I had played anything from Gale Force Nine before. I understand they’re a relatively new company, so I had expected clever mechanics and relatively low-key components. When we opened the box, I was surprised to see really lavish components—board, counters, tokens, etc.—of the kind of quality I see from Fantasy Flight Games these days. Each card makes use of flavour text from the canon fiction that helps illustrate the purpose of the mechanical (rules) elements. The art is beautiful and the entire visual scheme very evocative of the ‘Verse.

The premise of the game is that each player is the captain of a Firefly-class vessel, making their way around the ‘Verse and trying to keep flyin’ by taking a variety of jobs, more or less moral, legal, and risky from different patrons. The game makes ample use of characters, themes, ideas, and references from the cult television show Firefly and the follow-up movie Serenity. If memory serves, it also uses elements from the comic book series that linked the two (but I don’t want to dig up my comics to verify.)

The game is competitive, but no one gets knocked out of the game before the end. Captains need to get jobs from various patrons, do the job, and get paid. To accomplish this, they hire crew, use supplies, buy equipment and upgrades, invest in cargo, and fly from world to world while trying to avoid trouble with the Law or the lawless. In addition, a scenario is picked or randomly drawn for each session, which will give missions and session-specific victory conditions.

Skills favoured include strategy, both numerical and visual tactical sense, resource management, planning how to minimize fuel use versus encounter risk by carefully selecting your routes, multi-factor risk assessment, and a certain sense of the what is “right” in the ‘Verse. Seriously, being familiar with the logic of the setting and how good or bad an idea would be, how dangerous or helpful a specific character is, is pretty darn useful. I count that as a major victory for Gale Force Nine and designers Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart because that means they have correctly translated fiction into mechanics.

In Play

We had four players, trying the game for the first time except for one who had played one phase of a solo game. He is a veteran board-gamer, two of us are regular hobbyists, and the fourth is an infrequent player. We drew a three-goal scenario but we decided we would check after reaching the first goal and see how we were doing time-wise.

Our first goal required us to complete at least one job for each of the five job providers (Adelai Niska, Patience, the Postmaster, Badger, and Harken) and be “solid” with each of these people. The subsequent goals included parleying this into an opportunity to infiltrate a secure, posh location, and liberate some valuable goods.

The system is not as crunchy as, say, Duel of Ages II, but it does have a learning curve because of the number of component types and actions possible. Even as a middling board-gamer, I felt I was “getting” this pretty well after a couple of turns, but the occasional gamer spent the entire session in the kind of component-induced visual overload and analysis-paralysis I had experienced for DoA2.

The rest of us got in the groove, though, and all agreed that we were getting a solid helping of Firefly-like stories. Heck, I had the urge to have a sort of role-playing crossover to play through some of the micro-interactions. I felt like the kinds of decisions we made were the ones that mattered in the fiction and brought relatively similar risks.

I have seen some reviews where people mention that luck plays too important a role in the game. I did not get that impression based on this one session, but it’s possible I just need to play more. In our one episode, though, luck certainly played a part but I felt like skill mattered too, and there were several different ways to build a successful strategy. (And I didn’t even win!)

Because it was our first try and because of the group composition, we were pretty slow. We took four hours to reach the first of of our three mission goals so we decided to stop there. We felt pretty sure the other two goals would have gone much faster, but we were out of time. I was rather bummed, I would have loved to finish the scenario.

The game did a good job of conveying the feel of the show’s typical episodes, the components are nice to use and handle, and thanks to the missions, the replay value is excellent. Clearly, the potential for expansions and additional missions is also huge. I recommend this game for fans to the ‘Verse and gamers with at least a certain tolerance for complexity. This is not ASL but it’s also not Elfland, and I don’t think it’s a terribly good choice for casual or social gamers.

For my part I really enjoyed the Firefly game, I would love to own it, and I’m looking forward to playing again.