Firefly: The Big Damn Game… review

Find a Crew. Find a job. Keep flying. That's the premise behind Gale Force Nine's board game adaptation of the cult series Firefly (and it's movie Serenity). I was lucky enough to play test this at GenCon 2013, where I also picked up one of 1000 GenCon exclusive copies. This game flew off the shelf so fast there was literally a guy standing there with a wad of cash just accepting money as people pulled it off the pile they had set up. So far I've played two games. One with a group, and one solo. Yes, you can play this game alone which is part of its appeal for me. Here's what I think (and just what I think, so don't nerd rage on me!

An overview of the game, and a dinosaur
My first impression was that this game is absolutely beautiful. It's easily on the level of anything from Fantasy of Flight. In fact, when I spotted it Thursday morning I set my Canon to rapid-fire and went crazy taking pictures of the miniatures, cards, and beautiful board. The set comes with four ship cards and their matching miniatures in solid colored plastic, a Reaver ship, and an Alliance ship. The ship cards are heavy weight cardboard and feel really great. There's really nothing flimsy or cheap about this game. Even the paper money feels and looks amazing.

So what's the premise of the game? Well, like the box says you find a crew, find a job, and keep flying. Each player rolls to see who goes first. That person gets first dibs at ships but last choice on Leader (aka Captain). One thing I love is Serenity is no more powerful or special than the other ships. In fact, all of the ships are exactly the same. This prevents someone being really upset that they didn't get Serenity. One of the Leaders is Mal, but the other Leader options are just as good. They all have different abilities. When I play tested I got a random Leader, but when I played the other day I chose Mal. Honestly, I preferred the other guy. Once you all have a ship and Leader you get to decide the goal of the game. This is done by randomly choosing a Goal card, which outlines what you have to do to win. Another nice thing because you can't have one person that stacks their deck to win quickly. You don't know what you'll have to do until after you have a ship and Leader.

Each turn is made up of four actions, of which you get to pick any two you want. Fly. Buy. Deal. Work. These sound exactly like they should. You can fly to a location (either one space at a turn, or spend a fuel to move extra), buy supplies if you're at an outpost, deal with people for work, or work your active jobs. Usually you'll always start by flying. This is done one of two ways. You can mozy, which means you move one space and you're done. Or, you can do a full burn. This requires you to spend a fuel and lets you move the full range of your ship. This is usually 5 spaces, but you can modify depending on your crew, upgrading your engine, or if you're playing the GenCon exclusive ship. The benefit to a full burn is you can get where you need to go faster. The downside is you have to stop at each space and draw a card. The card will usually say “Keep flying”, but you can also breakdown, encounter a derelict ship, or the worse attract the Alliance or Reaver ship.

Buying is pretty basic. If you're at an outpost you can look through the discard pile or draw cards. You get to look at 3 and choose 2 to buy. You can also buy cargo, fuel, and parts, and this is where you'll buy crew. That's right, every crew has a hiring cost. You also have to pay this cost whenever you complete a mission, and if you don't they become disgruntled. So what? Well, that means they can jump ship, or another player can hire them right from under you! Having to hire crew also makes it really rare to have the Serenity and her entire crew on board. There are no bonuses if you did, though. That'd be cool.

If you're at a location with one of the 5 business folk (like Badger or Niska) you can look for a job. This works the same as buying. Pull 3, keep 2. The only restriction is you can have 3 active jobs, and before you can make a job active you have to have the requirements listed on the card. There are two types of jobs, Legal and Illegal. Most illegal cards require you to Misbehave, which is a separate deck of cards you have to draw and fulfill before the job is complete. But, this is also how you get paid. The riskier the job, the greater the reward. Duh.


So in a nutshell those are the game dynamics. As you can see, it can be fairly complex. I found it less “complex” and more “busy”. It really pulls in every aspect of the show, even getting into the moral issues between Mal and the Crew. This naturally causes the game to have many moving parts and pieces, but once you get into it it's actually really fun and fast paced. There's nothing like being one system away from completing a job only to pull a Reaver Attack card…

This is definitely a game for fans of the show. Like hardcore fans. If you aren't a fan, or just watched it casually, find a friend to play with that already owns it. Much of the game pulls from the obscure parts of the series, and it has to since the series only ran about half a season. A perfect example is a scenario I saw watching a play test at GenCon. There was a group that was up in arms that every time you encounter the Reavers, someone dies (unless you have a Pilot and burn a fuel for a Crazy Ivan). I thought this was a perfect way to portray the Reavers. You need to be afraid of them. They are savage and ruthless. But, the group playing admitted they'd never really watched it so that's where the disconnect was


The play time is pretty hefty, and goes up as you add players. For a solo game count on about an hour. For 3-4 players you'd better set aside 2-3 (4 if you're not familiar with the rules). In addition, if you have the exclusive GenCon ship the Artful Dodger from Game Trade Magazine, you can have 5 players. This leads me to believe you could add a number of players as long as you have ship cards and tokens. Though the Artful Dodger is the only ship that is different (1 extra crew and movement space, 1 less cargo).

The other thing to keep in mind is play area. This game requires a LOT of space to play. At least a 4 foot by 4 foot area. This is due to not only having a large game board, but also by the sheer amount of decks and discard piles. This is probably best played on a floor.

There is one last, really cool aspect that I rarely saw used. The ability to Co-Op. This isn't really Co-Op like both winning the game. But if you're in the same sector you can trade supplies and cargo. This is a neat aspect that could really turn the game if used correctly.

As a Firefly fan I'd rate this game an 8/10, mainly due to the hefty learning curve. If I hadn't demoed it at GenCon I would never know how to play. For non-Firefly fans, I can really only give this a 5/10. It really does rely on your knowledge of the 'verse and love of the series. Without that, I doubt it would hold your attention for more than a few rounds.


Not Quite a “True” Dungeon: TD 2013 Review

Ah True Dungeon (TD). This is the most epic thing any RPG fan could hope for. An event where you can actually crawl through the dungeon, slay the monster, solve the puzzle, and get the girl. Well, you have to bring your own girl to get the girl. It's held every year at GenCon. And this wasn't my first crawl.


I've done TD several times. Looking back at my cool collector buttons (which you get at the end of the dungeon) I've done it in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013. So I'm certainly no novice. To give you an idea of how popular the game is they run a group through several times an hour. This year there were also several different options. You could choose from Lycans Afoot, Golembane, and True Grind. All but True Grind were also available as puzzle or combat modes, and each had four levels of difficulty. So that's A LOT. This year they sold 7500 tickets at $44 a pop. My group did Lycans Afoot on Normal.

I know this isn't Lycans Afoot...

So the way TD works is you get a party of 10 people. This can be a pre-determined group of people, or you can see if anyone has a slot open and play pickup. This year there were four of us that joined a group of three and a group of two. Once you have your group you're assigned a time. Once your time comes you all assemble and choose your class. I'm generally the bad-ass Paladin, but this year I went Rogue. Once you have your character picked out the DM comes in and assigns your skills and modifiers. You get a character card and start with the typical starting stats for your character. You get buffs by way of TD Tokens. You get a dozen when you buy your ticket, and you can buy more from the store. They're like TCG card packs. All the packs are random, but you can usually trade or buy from other people. There is a bit of an underground economy that's been created over the years and we met one girl that was particularly addicted. There are some tokens that are worth up to a thousand dollars.


So now your adventuring party assembled and you're all decked out in gear. Practice time! Every class has something specific they need to be good at. Fighters, of course, fight. Fighting is done by putting your weapon token into a slider much like one of those things you'd put under furniture to slide it around. There is a slick table with a monster drawn on the end, showing hit points. You slide your weapon at the monster and where it lands determines your hit. It's essentially fantasy shuffleboard. The non-fighters have to practice their skills. Bards, Wizards, and Druids all memorize various symbols. The Rogue opens chests by moving a conductive rod through a maze without touching the sides. It's like Operation but way harder. But guess how much time you have to perfect your new found skills? Yes, it's the same amount of time as a typical coming of age montage.


So now you have the basics. You run through rooms, fight, and solve puzzles. There are usually 6 to 7 rooms and each room has a DM that explains what's going on. There are sound effects, light shows, and often large props. The DM's usually do a great job. You'll get some that dress up and actually act out the role. Then you get the guy in the TD Volunteer shirt, cargo shorts, and combat boots. *sigh*. Most of the DM's this year were great. In fact, all but the last were dressed in character and acted out the story. The last one, well, he seemed like he was over the job and just wanted to get us out. That's sad since the final boss battle is usually really epic. But, as I pointed out in my GenCon blog our Bard decided to start texting half way through the battle. It didn't make us look good.


Generally, TD is really well done. Honestly, when you walked in the front of the area looked awesome. It made me almost feel like I was actually in a market square at night. It was really well done. The sets, though, not so up to par. This is the second year they had so many different stories, and they did have way more room this year. In the past the game was run in one of the hotel ballrooms, so it was very tight. This year they had an actual hall in the convention center and it seemed like they just didn't have the time or budget to do it justice. There were several rooms that seemed pretty sparse. In the final room the sound and light effects were actually broken. I think the most disappointing part of this year was the story. I chose Lycans Afoot because one of our party loves wolves. What didn't we see a lot of? WOLVES!!! There was a Werewolf in the first room, but every other room they were “chasing us”. Even the last boss was an Ent. Really? An Ent? I was sad.


TD really has a long way to go to step up next year. For $44 I would hope to at least have the quality I had a few years ago. It's popular enough that they could really make it great… like it was. But, like most games it really depends on your party. Like I said, we picked up a group since there were only four of us. Usually, we have a great group that Andrea has been playing with for almost a decade. This group was essentially all newbies. Andrea and I were the most experienced, the group of two had played once before, and the other 5 had never played before. We had a lot of “Too many chiefs” during the puzzles. This was also a promo game as three of the players do a podcast. i.e. they didn't have to pay, so they didn't really care. I believe if you have one of the two components (a great party or a great dungeon) you can really rock TD. This year, we didn't have either.




GenCon Sunday, the funnest Sunday!

The Cards Against Humanity booth on Sunday

Sunday is usually referred to as “fun day”. Not at GenCon. This is the day when all the fun people you've met and all the great games you've played go their separate ways. We usually drive up so it's not so bad, but this year we had to fly. That made Sunday pretty stressful since we had a firm time we had to leave.


Since we were up until around 4am we managed to get moving around 11am. Our first order of business was hitting the dealer hall. I finally got to demo the Firefly game I bought on Thursday. It was actually pretty fun. I tried reading the rules on my own over the weekend and it seemed incredibly confusing. Once you get into it, though, there's just the right amount of strategy and complexity to make it enjoyable. I'll also be doing a full review once I play it a little more. The nice thing is that you can play by yourself, so I don't need to wait to get a party together.

Cutthroat Caverns


We also played a few other games. Flashpoint, which is a cooperative game based around fighting fires and rescuing people from a collapsing building. And Cutthroat Caverns, which is a dungeon crawling card game where you all work together to fight monsters, but you also stab each other in the back. It was also pretty fun and quick, which is good.


As time was running out we ended up heading to the Ram for lunch. We got a seat right in the bar, which was impossible any other time this weekend. You could tell the server was about done with the Con, though. I have a feeling she was run ragged all weekend. But, we told her we had a flight and she was amazing about getting us everything quick. I tried their custom GenCon beer, Steelsoul Red. It honestly was great. It started off well, but as soon as it warmed up I couldn't swallow it. I am really disappointed in the Ram this year. The beer wasn't great. The food was “meh”, and the theme wasn't broad enough to really pull me in. I loved getting a mug every year, but this year I just couldn't do it.



So that's about it, other than our flight home. I am so happy that I was able to meet some new people this year, see people that I missed last year, and validate my thought that this is clearly my favorite convention of the year.


GenCon, the first days

GENCON!!! The self-proclaimed “Best four days in gaming.” This is my journey through the dungeon crawling, dice throwing, beer drinking, celeb gaming weekend. This is such an action-packed Con I'm going to have to break down each entry by day. To check out the pics I took, follow my flickr:


Day 0 (Wednesday)

The day started off on Wednesday and extremely stressful. Since I don't do this full time (yet) I had to go to my real life job which is two hours away from home. So I was fully packed Tuesday night, drove down to work, worked, drove home, then left for the airport. Just as I stepped out the door I had a teleconference with our company “big wigs” which went all the way until I got to the airport. Yay stress!!! I will say, the plane ride wasn't bad. Going from Melbourne to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Indy was pretty smooth. Once we hit Atlanta you could tell it was game time. There were people on their laptops clearly raiding *click click click click curse click*. And there was a faint pre-con funk in the air.


Wednesday night at GenCon is usually uneventful. We got in so late we went straight to the hotel and went to bed, missing out on the mini-Wednesday gaming events.


Day 1 (Thursday)

Thursday was a whole new ball game. Running on about 5 hours of sleep, GeekFitGirl and I woke up around 630 to get our workout in. Gotta stay in ConShape, and for us that isn't “round”! Luckily, our workout is only 25 minutes.


Today was the only day I did a costume, and it was my super easy Nerd Herd costume (from the TV series Chuck). Then we rushed down to the press room to get our press badges (yay press badges!). This let us get into the dealer room an hour early, which was amazing. We started off finding some killer possible decor for the Cloak and Blaster (our gaming pub). I picked up the new Firefly game, GeefFitGirl got to interview the developer, and then we went to meet the designers of Dungeon Roll. I was really impressed with the hall this year. There were so many amazing games and dealers, artists and crafters. We also found an amazing new game called Drunk Quest. Basically, the drinking version of Munchkin where you have to drink to defeat monters, and you can pass your drinks to other players. We met our friends Crystal and Chad then headed to Scotty's Brewhouse (our GenCon home base) for lunch, where we played our first game and got slightly tipsy.


I have to say that I LOVE Scotty's for GenCon. The GM @indydavscottys does a wonderful job with theming. You get a free die every day (different color per day), Pathfinder posters by Paizo were hung all over, and custom GenCon beer. Not to mention the GenCon menu and geek movies playing in the background. The best part is that it's just far enough away that it's never tremendously crowded. As opposed to the Ram which is usually an hour wait at minimum. The Ram is also decked out and this year they had two exclusive GenCon beers. But, I have to say I wasn't impressed with their theme this year at all. So anyway, after lunch we went back to the dealer hall for some swag and GeekFitGirl and I got ready for the Dungeons & Dragons: The Sundering press release and party.


I will admit I wasn't too excited about this when GeekFitGirl told me about it. I'd rather find a hole and get my game on! But as soon as I walked in and saw the amazing decor, life size statue of Drizzt and Guenhwyvar, and heard the music I was hooked. There are some amazing things coming from D&D this year, and you'll have to catch my full review for those! But as a teaser, they are changing the entire realm and you can be involved. By playing The Sundering, your actions will shape the world. But the highlight of this party for me was finally meeting R.A. Salvatore and having him sign the print of his new book. I'll admit, I totally fan boy'd on him, geeked out, and had a grin on my face for at least an hour. This all led into the D&D party and murder mystery. We didn't stick around for that part as it got incredibly crowded. No will save will keep you safe from 200 geeks all eating nachos…



After the D&D party it was straight to the Mayfair block party, where we got to sample our first taste of the official GenCon drink, Flagon Slayer. This was a Braggot by Sun King Brewery and was increibly addicting. I did get a few minutes to talk to Wil Wheaton about it, which was a cool experience. My ultimate goal as fellow home brewer and future bar owner is to get him into my bar playing a D&D campaign while enjoy one of my brews. IT WILL HAPPEN!


So GenCon day 1 had two amazing parties, but this wasn't all! Crystal, Chad, and I decided to go see if there were any open slots for True Dungeon. On the way we ran into a very stressed out man looking for three people to join his NASCRAG game. Basically, a custom campaign that runs in three year blocks and based on the Pathfinder rules. I want to say this was a great experience, but in truth it was awful. Our DM didn't have any idea what the campaign was about, so there was horrible flow. The group we joined with was really awkward. There was the typical guy-wants-to-be-a-girl and, of course, my character was romantic with his. So I spent the game playing the exact opposite! Though my Rogue did spend most of the night without pants. Anyway, we did this campaign for about three hours and, after the exhaustion set in, decided to head to the hotel. It was about 0130 Friday morning by this point.


We walked into the hotel and saw a group of people drinking around a table, having fun. One happened to be Wil Wheaton. The other, GeekFitGirl. Apparently, Wil got her drunk on cosmos all night. That's one story she isn't going to live down for a while 😉 So rather than be awkward we all went back up to the room and passed the heck out.


End, Day 1.