Boardgame Reviews

Firefly Adventures: Brigands & Browncoats Review – Can we maybe vote on the whole murdering people issue?

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Designed by: Aaron Dill, Andrew Haught, John Kovaleski, Sean Sweigart
Art by: Katie Dillon, Steve Ellis (I), Charles Woods
Published by: Gale Force Nine
Players: 1-5
Playtime: 90-120 Minutes

Review copy supplied free of charge by Asmodee UK.

Y‘know, it has been a while since I professed my undying and eternal love for Firefly, a cult sci-fi show that didn’t even get to run for a full season before it was callously canceled by those muppets at Fox, a crime so heinous that I still have not forgiven them. The point is for a show that only ran 14-episodes it still managed to spawn a feature film, various comics and now numerous board and card games. That’s a hell of a legacy.

So, you open up the box and you’re greeted by a variety of smaller boxes containing the various pieces needed to play the game. But here’s the clever bit; these boxes double as buildings for use in the game, scenery that helps create a better sense of immersion as well as making line of sight much easier to judge. Even the main game box itself is a giant building that gets used in one of the missions. This is a fantastic idea, and while I’m probably wrong about this I think it might be the only game to do this. It does, however, come with a few key caveats, the first being that these little cardboard buildings are very, very easy to knock around, especially when you’re trying to pick up tokens from inside them or move the miniatures around. They also don’t always fit properly into the grid, and in one case had an off-balance floor. But these gripes aside it was pretty cool to have instant scenery for the game.

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However, you also only get a lowly four missions in the box. More are promised to be launched online for free, but it’s still a shame to pop open the lid and only have four missions to embark on, even if the replay value is reasonably strong.

Still, as the misfit crew of the Serenity you’re going to rescue a hostage, perform a clandestine drop-off, steal some loot and generally misbehave. Whereas Gale Force Nine’s prior Firefly: The Board Game was a sprawling beast about the big picture of pulling off jobs in space, this is all about the small scale, the things that happen when you land on a planet and have to negotiate with the local goons, hack a terminal or two and get into some brawls.

You don’t get the entire crew of the Serenity to play with, though. Cap’n Mal, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee and Jayne are all accounted for, but River, Simon, Inara and Book are all absent without explanation. Thematically it does make sense since River, Simon, Inara and Book were not part of the core crew who took on the various legal and illegal jobs, but I feel as though we’ll likely see these missing members of Serenity added at some point via an expansion.

Setting up the game is a case of grabbing one of the for mission booklets and then laying down the matching tiles and buildings, as well as any objective tokens and enemy starting locations. It’s a bit of a faff since the artwork depicted in the booklet doesn’t always match the actual buildings, and you have to count squares in order to line everything up correctly, but once you get the hang of it the whole setup isn’t too bad.

Intriguingly there’s no set turn order in Firefly: Adventures, rather it’s the person who is currently at the back of the Moment track that gets to go next. Allow me to explain; on your turn you can take two actions that are listed on your player board, and each of those actions has a cost in Moments, or in other words the time it takes to do them. When you perform an action you move your little token the appropriate number of spaces along the track. Simple stuff. Then whoever is at the back of the track gets their turn, even if that happens to be you again. Enemy tokens will also get placed on this track, and will indeed always get put at the back when the goons first become alerted and will behave in the same way. There’s an intriguing layer of tactics here as it can often be advantageous for one person to take a few turns in a row, but the missions all have time limits, so you also need to keep an eye on how much time you have left.

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Every ten spaces along the track there’s a star, and the first time a player character’s token lands on or passes each star a die is rolled, then the mission booklet is consulted to see what happens.

You always start with your heroes acting Casual, meaning they’re free to amble around the map without any bad guys doing anything to them. So long as nobody draws attention to themselves by doing something daft like punching a goon in the face or blatantly try to hack into a terminal or anything like that, you’re able to go about your business. Since missions typically have objectives where you can negotiate with the enemy in order to get information or even move them away from a location is often in your best interest to stay under the radar as long as you can.

You can, however, swap over to acting Heroic at any time you like, and it doesn’t cost an action or any Moments to do so. When you do this you replace your miniature with a green, Heroic one and then flip your player board over to its Heroic side which lists differing actions for each character. The key is that when you go into Heroic mode any enemy that can see you will immediately enter the alerted state, meaning they’ll now actively come after you with all guns blazing and a stern telling off.

That brings us to moving the bad guys around the map and their mechanics. Now, since the players control the bad guys in the sense that they move them around the game makes a note of encouraging everyone at the table to have the enemies act smartly by using cover and making sensible plays, so let’s just assume we’ll be following that guideline. Alerted bad guys will always move toward the nearest Heroic character in their line of sight, but failing that they’ll go for a stroll toward whichever Heroic hero happens to be closest to them regardless of being able to actually see them because obviously they have x-ray vision. Happily, though, goons will return to a blissfully unaware state if there are no Heroic crew left on the board, at which point they’ll make their way back to the nearest goon token and resume their steadfast guarding duties.

Speaking of which, a player can always return to acting Casual provided they meet these requirements; they aren’t wounded, thus you might need to heal up using a different action; they aren’t in the line of sight of any goons; and finally provided they use an action to spend two Moments. What this smartly means is that it’s actually possible to do something Heroic, then go back to acting Casual in the same turn if you time it right. You can also do that thing I mentioned earlier where one player takes a few turns in a row, letting then do something Heroic before diving behind a building and acting Casual again.

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Let’s get back to the goons, though. They come in two distinct flavors; the punchy thugs who like to get up close and personal with your face, and the cowboys who much prefer to riddle your backside with a selection of bullets, preferably while they stay in cover which makes it harder to be hit. Both types come with a card that lists what they’ll do, but the basic idea is that they’ll always do two actions on their turn and will attempt to get into range for punching or shooting. The only bit of confusion is that the Cowboy is listed as trying to move into a range of six squares at which point he’ll take a shot, but it’s a bit unclear as to whether he is meant to stop as soon as he hits that range or will use his movement to get as close as possible first, which is what my group assumed as that just made more sense unless there was cover that the Cowboy could take advantage of.

This brings us to fighting since both the players and the enemy use the same system. Provided you have the Brawl or Shoot symbol on your character or on a piece of equipment you can do a bit of fighting. For some fisticuffs it’s simply a case of getting next to the enemy you want to smack around and then rolling the amount of dice shown. The enemy gets to roll as well, hence the fact that the dice come in two different colors, and whoever has the highest total dishes out a wound on the opponent. Simple stuff.

Shooting can be done at any range in theory, but to hit you need to able to roll a total that is equal to or higher than the distance between you and the unfortunate person, thus if your gun only lets you roll a single die the maximum distance you could shoot is six squares. Or at least, it would be, but to brawls and to shooting you also get to add any of the matching skill icons on your character card and equipment you’re using.

There’s a small twist, too. If you roll the Serenity ship, which counts as a six, then you immediately get to add another dice to your roll, and this applies to rolls for challenges as well. However, for every symbol that pops up a Serenity roll is negated, and if there are more of these symbols than there are ships you automatically fail.

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I love this Casual vs Heroic system that underpins as it can create a lot of fun moments in the game where one player suddenly pulls out a gun and starts drawing the attention of the bad guys so someone else can saunter up to the objective unhindered. You can go in all guns blazing or focus on sweet-talking your way through the whole mission, or a bit of both. It’s also really satisfying when things get screwed up, so you fight a few goons, duck round a building and go back to acting casual like nothing ever happened, sauntering down the street while whistling a jaunty tune. Sure, it’s a bit daft to think that the enemies suddenly don’t recognize you despite the fact that you just punched one of them in the face, but from a gameplay standpoint it’s a lot of fun to pull off.

I also like how the system encourages forward planning. At the start of the mission you’re given a chunk of cash that’s either based on the previous mission’s earnings or just a set amount of $3000 to play with, and you can use this to purchase gear from a selection of five cards, with cards being replaced as they’re bought What gear should you take in? Should you spend big on guns, or maybe go for things that help negotiate? And which characters should get which piece of equipment? Some characters, like Kaylee, for example, can’t initiate a brawl without a weapon that lists the brawl action, so is it worth giving her a knife or just trying to ensure she keeps out of the way of fights entirely?

Dead bodies play a part, too, because every time you beat up a goon or shoot one in the face you leave a corpse, and if an enemy can see that corpse they’ll be alerted. See? And you thought your mum was just being annoying when she was always nagging you to tidy up after yourself. It’s okay, though, because you can lug these bodies around and hide them behind corners or in buildings.

Along the way you’ll need to perform a variety of skill checks. Both negotiations and tech challenges mean drawing a card from the appropriate deck and then taking one of the two options listed there. Once you’ve decided you just need to roll and then add any matching skill icons you’ve got to the total. Succeeded and the card will give you a reward, fail and it’ll hit you with a penalty, perhaps forcing you to act Heroic or lose a piece of gear.

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Each of the four jobs all boast their own special rules and events surrounding these challenges and other things, too, bringing some nice variety to the escapades. For example, in one game you can perform negotiation challenges on goons to get them to move away from their positions at the door, letting you hopefully break in. In another mission negotiations and hacking terminals slowly narrows down the location of a hostage, or you could just barge through the various buildings until you find the person in question.

As a bonus, the rulebook does include a variation where one person gets to take on the role of the enemy goons. It’s a pretty nice diversion but it also removes the Casual/Heroic mechanic and thereby removes what makes the game stand out in my mind.

By far the game’s biggest potential weakness is the reliance on luck that stems from the dice rolls and the cards. Sometimes no matter how carefully you position your crew or what gear you take into the game it just doesn’t go your way due to bad rolls or awful draws.  Luck isn’t an inherently good or bad thing in board games and when used correctly a hefty dollop of chance can help spice things up, but I’d be lying if me and my friends didn’t sometimes get frustrated by how often our plans were decimated because Lady Luck is as fickle and cold as the person behind the Subway’s counter who won’t give you a little more mayo. God damn you.

The other issue is that the rulebook really isn’t great. In fact, the online FAQ is a must-read since some rules need clarification. The lack of an index is also a baffling oversight. Yes, the rulebook isn’t huge or anything, but having to flip through it to find something specific

So, if you happen to be a fan of Firefly then this an easy sale, though I would say that compared to Firefly: The Board Game this doesn’t capture the feel of the show as much. But if you aren’t a Firefly fan then it’s a slightly tougher sell. This is a light skirmish game with plenty of emphasis on luck over skill that can create some really fun moments. It’s not a must-have game that you absolutely must rush out and buy, but if you need a light skirmish game to fill a gap in your library then this is a nice choice with a couple of great ideas layered atop some bog-standard combat.

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