Two new games promise their share of spaceship adventure and science-fiction fun: Firefly: The Game, from Gale Force Nine, and Damage Report, from Break From Reality Games. How do they play? Let's take a look.
Firefly: The Game
Based on the popular Joss Whedon sci-fi/Western TV series, Firefly: The Game lets players captain a Firefly-class spaceship around the ’verse. A sandbox, open-world board game, players must take on a crew, find contracts and jobs in order to get paid and must avoid the long arm of Alliance law and the ever-present Reaver threat.
Two to four players select a Firefly spaceship to captain, as well as the character from the TV show who will captain it. One player can choose to fly the Serenity with Malcolm Reynolds as its captain. On his turn, a player can take two actions. A player can move his ship from one sector of space to another in a mosey, or he can spend fuel to initiate full burn. Full burn allows players to move several sectors but must also draw nav cards for each sector they enter. These nav cards can mean nasty surprises in the form of an Alliance cruiser or a Reaver cutter appearing suddenly.
Players can buy goods or recruit crews from some star systems that will give them certain advantages. They can also make contacts and get jobs in the hopes of making money. Once jobs are accepted, players can work those jobs, attempting to fulfill the conditions of the contract.
Some jobs may require you to do something illegal, such as smuggle contraband or fugitives across the universe. If the Alliance cruiser finds you doing something illegal, there will be penalties. Also, you may sometimes have the opportunity to make a large payday by doing something immoral, such as stealing supplies from settlers or robbing a train. Moral members of your crew will become disgruntled, however, and may leave your ship.
Many jobs will require you to “misbehave,” drawing special cards that require skill checks. If you successfully pass all of these skill checks, you can collect your payday.
At the beginning of a game, a unique story is selected with its own victory conditions, and the first to achieve all of the story's goals wins the game. Many of these conditions will require you to complete special jobs and pay a lot of money, making fulfilling contracts very important.
First of all, Gale Force Nine knocked it out of the park as far as production goes. This is just a beautiful game from beginning to end. The spaceship models, the great game board and the photography from the TV series on the cards are all first-rate. Though most modern games have moved away from paper money, the paper money in this game is durable and beautiful as well. Everything about this production invokes the theme of the TV show.
Game play is generally fun, though there are some problems. This is not a structured game — essentially players are allowed to do what they want throughout. This means that if players are not focused, they will fly around the board having adventures but not getting any nearer to their goals. Additionally, there is not a lot of player interaction, though Gale Force Nine has already produced expansions that promise to address this issue. In many respects, this game is very similar to Z-Man Games' Merchants and Marauders and Flying Frog Productions' Fortune & Glory.
Fans of the TV show will love this game as it absolutely draws players into the Firefly universe. Experienced gamers will appreciate this as a storytelling game rather than a highly competitive one.
Playing time for Firefly: The Game varies with scenarios, though four-hour games are not uncommon. It is recommended for ages 13 and up.
Imagine you are a member of a spaceship crew in the deepest regions of space. Now, imagine that something goes horribly wrong with your engines at the worst possible time. If you don't fix the engines quickly, you'll be torn apart by a star's gravity or destroyed by an alien vessel. Your crew's only hope is in working together.
This idea is at the heart of Damage Report. In this cooperative game, two to six players represent members of the ship's crew, taking on roles like medic, robot, soldier, scientist and more. The ship itself is made up of tiles representing rooms for ship's systems like shields, hyperdrive engines, lasers and more. Each scenario offers a unique setup diagram for the ship.
The game is played in real time — players don't take turns. Rather, each player's player board has four different colored spots for a 15-second sand timer. Where you place the sand timer depends upon the ship's life-support systems. When your sand timer is turned over on the green spot, you may take an action like inspect a ship's system by drawing a card, moving and carrying tools and items, or repairing the system.
A digital timer is also used, as most scenarios take exactly 45 minutes to play. Every three minutes, however, the timer beeps and you must draw a damage report card. The damage report cards indicate which ship's systems are affected and if any of the corridors suffered a hull breach. If you can repair your engines or fulfill the other victory conditions before the 45 minutes are up or your ship is destroyed, you all win the game.
Damage Report is undoubtedly an intense game. The real-time aspect heightens the tension and ensures that players are always on their toes. Players will be shouting at their friends to bring needed items one minute, then racing to help other players repair systems the next. All the while, everyone will be dreading the next beep of the timer and dreaded call of “damage report!”
The artwork and components of this game are nothing spectacular, though they are functional and serve game play well enough. The game is similar in many respects to Rio Grande Games' Space Alert, another real-time space simulator board game. In the long run, however, with its engaging timing mechanic and frenzied game play, Damage Report may prove to be the superior game.
Damage Report is recommended for ages 10 and up.
Cody K. Carlson holds an MA in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, you can check out his blog at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org