Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters 

From: Gale Force 9

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters is a new board game expansion from Gale Force 9.

As I have mentioned previously, the Firefly base game has virtually no in-game player interaction. Admittedly, you can occasionally snatch a Crew card from another player or steer the Alliance Cruiser or Reaver Cutter towards them under the right circumstances, but otherwise it’s multi-player solitaire all the way. The Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion seeks to provide options in that regard.

From the back of the box:
Aggressive new leaders specialize in anti-social strategies while Lawmen reward those bringing justice to the ‘Verse.

At the heart of this expansion are the mechanics for Boarding Tests and Showdowns. A boarding test allows a player to use a Work action to gain access to another ship on the same space. This involves making a tech or negotiate roll of six or better (the former reflecting the hacking of the target’s security systems, and the latter reflecting bluffing the target into allowing you aboard). Once aboard, a showdown is initiated by both players rolling the skill of their choice. Though not explicitly required, players should probably be encouraged to come up with a rationale on how some of the more unusual skill combinations interact. If the boarding player gets the higher result, he takes what he came for. If the defending player has the higher result or there’s a tie, the boarding player risks getting crew killed.

Before you commit any piracy, an appropriate Contact card must be possessed. Depending on which contact it was obtained from, there may be restrictions on what sort of ships it can be used against. Once you’re in the same space as an eligible target, a boarding test followed by a showdown can be attempted. If successful, the pirates may take the amount of goods listed for the job. However, the smash and grab nature of a pirate raid means that anything kept in the target ship’s stash is off-limits. Not only is this thematically appropriate, but it also gives the stash a real purpose. In the base game, the only time the stash would come into play was with a Customs Inspection encounter, and that could be ignored by simply being Solid with Harken.

Bounty hunting is more varied in how it can be conducted. Throughout the game, a set of three Bounty cards will be on display to indicate which crew cards have a reward being offered for their capture and is reset whenever the Alliance Cruiser card is drawn. The most risk-intensive method occurs when the fugitive is part of another ship’s crew. Capture requires a successful boarding test and showdown. If the target happens to be in a Supply card discard pile, you must go to the appropriate planet. Once there, all that is required is a successful showdown against the target’s best skill. The easiest occurs when the fugitive is part of your own crew. Simply go to the Drop-Off location and collect the reward. However, this method comes at the price of all your crew becoming Disgruntled (how would you feel about the possibility that your captain might turn you in if the money was good?). However the capture is made, the bounty card is claimed and replaced with a new card in the line-up. It’s then all a matter of getting to the listed drop-off location and collecting the reward, at which point the crew card is removed from the game. Until you make it there, though, other ships may attempt to jump your bounty by successfully boarding your ship and engaging in a successful showdown. A successful bounty jump also provides the option of having the fugitive join your crew (assuming there’s an available space) without having to pay the hiring cost.

From the rulebook:
If boarding rivals’ ships, stealing their stuff and bushwhacking their crew, sounds like fun to you, read on! A pirate’s trove of shiny bits and dirty deeds awaits. If these cut-throat methods don’t appeal to your delicate sensibilities, you may want to put this rulebook down and crawl away like an itty bitty bug.

It’s not just new mechanics and cards that are included. Two new ships are introduced in the form of the Walden and the Interceptor (which appeared in the TV episodes Out of Gas and Objects in Space, respectively) for those bored with a plain old Firefly. The Walden is geared towards piracy, as it has lots of cargo space for looted goods. It also comes with a special ability allowing for the collection of additional goodies from a successful piracy job. However, the sluggishness of its drive core makes it a real tub speed-wise. What’s more, it can’t be swapped out for a better one. The Interceptor is blindingly fast and fuel efficient, as well as having an easier time making boarding tests. It also has fewer crew and ship upgrade slots, cutting back on potential versatility. Even more limiting is the minimal cargo space, making most delivery and piracy jobs infeasible. Anyone flying in this ship will be sticking to crime jobs and bounty hunting.

In conclusion, the multi-player options provided are very much geared towards players comfortable with regular backstabbing. If such an aggressive approach doesn’t turn you off, Pirates & Bounty Hunters is one of those relatively rare expansions that manages to enhance the base game as well as add to it.

Rating: 18

Product Summary

Firefly: Pirates & Bounty Hunters

From: Gale Force 9

Type of Game: Board Game Expansion

Game Design by: Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill

Design Direction by: John Kovaleski

Graphic Design by: Gale Force Nine Studio

Game Components Included: 30 Supply cards, 25 Contact cards, 20 Bounty cards, 2 Leader cards, 2 Starting Drive Core cards, 2 Ship cards, 3 Story cards, 5 Cargo/Contraband tokens, 5 Passenger/Fugitive tokens, 5 Parts tokens, 10 Fuel tokens, 4 Disgruntled tokens, 5 Warrant/Goal tokens, 7 Haven/Destination tokens, 1 Walden model, 1 Interceptor model

Retail Price: $29.99

Number of Players: 2-6

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 2 hours

Website: http://www.fireflythegame.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Firefly: the Game

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Over the decades, there have been a plethora of shows which failed to last more than one season. While most are quickly forgotten, a few have managed to maintain a cult following. Of these shows, none have quite inspired the fanatical devotion that Firefly has garnered. Eleven years following its untimely cancellation, an official board game has been released.

From the back of the box:
“After the War, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggled to get by with the most basic technologies; a ship would bring you work, a gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple; find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

My own feeling in regards to Firefly could be considered somewhat mixed. The space Western motif was a huge draw, since I’m a sucker for Westerns with a weird twist (as my fandom of Deadlands will attest). Not only that, but the theme of struggling to get by and keep your ship running injected a free trader element which had been mostly restricted to literary science fiction up to that point. On the negative side, the whole Academy subplot with its conspiracy undertones struck me as being old hat, and I felt it clashed badly with the space Western side. So I guess it was inevitable that I would find the 2005 movie to be a disappointment, as it jettisoned most everything I had enjoyed about the show while emphasizing what I disliked. Having said that, the above quote gave a positive initial impression of the game by indicating that it would concentrate on the aspects which attracted me to the show in the first place.

Much like the characters from the TV show, a player’s goal is to take jobs and earn money to keep his ship running. On a player’s turn, up to two actions may be taken, so long as the same action type isn’t repeated. The four possible action types are Fly, Buy, Deal, and Work. Frequently skill checks will be required during these actions. This involves rolling a die and adding bonuses provided by the relevant Supply cards. Should the die come up a six, a second die is rolled, with the result being added to the total as well.

Of course, a ship isn’t a proper ship without a captain. There are seven different leaders from which to select. As well as providing some skill bonuses, each leader has a special ability which will either reduce the cost of purchasing certain Supply cards or provide an additional benefit from completing certain types of jobs.

Flying moves your ship around the game board and comes in two varieties. When you Mosey, your ship moves one space. While there’s no risk or expenditure of resources involved, it’ll also take forever to cover any significant distance. To make some real progress requires Full Burn. By expending one unit of Fuel, the ship may move a number of spaces up to the Range of the currently equipped drive. However, each space moved during Full Burn requires a draw from the appropriate Nav deck. This potentially provides a variety of encounters for good or for ill. Good ones usually provide an opportunity to scavenge derelicts or otherwise gain resources. Not so good ones can inflict breakdowns or even draw unwanted attention from either the Alliance or the Reavers.

Buying Supply cards is necessary to be able to complete all but the most low paying jobs. At a Supply planet, a player may take up to three cards from the appropriate deck, drawing from the top and/or selecting from the discards. Of these, up to two may be purchased. Gear and Crew cards provide skill bonuses and will often possess an additional ability (though some of the cheaper Crew cards may have a disadvantage). Among the most expensive are the Ship Upgrades, which provide a variety of ways to pimp out your vessel and improve its performance.

Dealing with Contacts at one of the Contact planets allows a player to obtain jobs to earn cash. Drawing Contact cards works the same as drawing Supply cards (draw three, keep up to two). Successfully completing a job results in becoming Solid with that Contact. In most cases this allows a player to sell scavenged cargo and contraband to the Contact at specified prices. Most Contacts will also provide some additional benefit when you have a Solid status with them.

Jobs are key to getting ahead and come in two varieties. Deliveries require that you pick up something at Point A and take it to Point B, which can be legal or illegal. Crime jobs require you to perform a task at the specified location and are always illegal. All but the lowest paying jobs require that you possess a minimum amount of certain skill bonuses and/or specific forms of Gear to complete. If these conditions cannot be met, the job cannot be taken. When a job is successfully completed, the listed amount of cash is received. At this point, each of your crew will expect to be paid an amount equal to their hiring cost. While you don’t have to pay all of them should you have some reason not to, this is a poor long-term strategy.

Though illegal jobs generally pay better, they also involve drawing and resolving one or more cards from the Misbehave deck. These introduce a variety of complications that crop up during the job. Each card provides 2-3 options that will require either a skill check or the possession of a Supply card. Depending on the results of the choice, there are one of three possible outcomes. Proceed allows you to draw the next Misbehave card or continue/complete the job if it’s the last card you need to resolve. Botch results in the job ending, though you can make another attempt on your next turn. If a Warrant is issued, the job ends in total failure. The Contact card goes to the discard pile and you lose any Solid status you may have with the Contact from whom you obtained the job. While the individual Misbehave cards may look easy to resolve, it can be a tricky matter to successfully do two or more in a row. Therefore jobs requiring multiple draws from the Misbehave deck should only be attempted if you have a large, well-rounded crew backing you up.

From the rulebook:
“Sometimes there aren’t any thrilling heroics to be found and you may need to muck out some stables or bus tables at the local joint.”

Keeping your crew happy is important if you don’t want them abandoning you at an inopportune moment. Certain actions taken can result in Crew becoming Disgruntled. The most common way to Disgruntle a Crew is to not pay them at the end of a job. Should a Crew who is already Disgruntled become Disgruntled again, the card goes to the appropriate discard pile. Though there are many ways to regruntle Crew, the most certain method is to go on shore leave at a Supply planet at the cost of $100 per Crew card you possess (regardless of how many actually are Disgruntled).

If this was all that the game had, it could easily get monotonous. This is where Story cards come in. At the beginning of the game, a Story is selected. This provides an overarching caper to accomplish as you try to keep your ship running. A Story will have one or more Goals to complete. Of all the stories which come with the game, I find the ones with multiple Goals preferable. The single Goal cards essentially boil down to, “Be the first to make X amount of cash.” Multiple Goal Stories give you something to accomplish besides raking in money. The rulebook recommends King of All Londinium as a good introductory story. I personally disagree, as I found the first Goal frustratingly difficult. Harken’s Folly struck me as more suitable for first-timers. There’s also a single player option where your goal is to meet one of three possible criteria within twenty turns.

Opportunities for in-game player interaction are somewhat minimal. If two ships are in the same space, they can trade Supply cards as desired. This is also an opportunity to hire away any Disgruntled crew the other player may have. Otherwise, players just go about their business without interfering with one another. This tendency towards multi-player solitaire can be a turn-off for some gamers.

In conclusion, the Story cards are a major saving grace, as the overall solid game mechanics could otherwise devolve into a cycle of tedium without some overarching purpose. While the lack of player interaction can be seen as a minus, the upcoming Pirates & Bounty Hunters expansion promises to provide options in that regard.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Firefly: The Game

From: Gale Force 9

Type of Game: Board Game

Game Design by: Sean Sweigart and Aaron Dill

Design Direction by: John Kovaleski

Cover Art by: Type Name(s)

Graphic Design by: Gale Force Nine Studio

Game Components Included: Game board, Rulebook, 125 Supply cards, 125 Contact cards, 80 Nav cards, 40 Misbehave cards, 7 Leader cards, 4 Starting Drive Core cards, 4 Ship cards, 150 Money bills, 6 Story cards, 1 Alliance/Reaver Contact card, 40 Cargo/Contraband tokens, 28 Passenger/Fugitive tokens, 20 Part tokens, 44 Fuel tokens, 20 Disgruntled tokens, 13 Warrant/Goal tokens, 1 Dinosaur token, 2 dice, 4 Firefly models, 1 Alliance Cruiser model, 1 Reaver Cutter model

Retail Price: $50.00

Number of Players: 1-4

Player Ages: 13+

Play Time: 1 hour Solitaire, 2 hours Multiplayer

Website: http://www.fireflythegame.com/

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From
: Gale Force Nine
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf is a new Board Game Expansion from Gale Force Nine.

One game that has really impacted me this year is Spartacus, A Game of Blood and Treachery. Not only am I a huge fan of the series but the game itself is great, whether you like the series or not.  It is one of those games that has so many satisfying elements in it that I crave to play it every opportunity I get.  However, one of the more disappointing aspects of the game was the player limit.  I prefer games that allow for 5 or 6 players and the base game only allowed 4.

Enter the Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf expansion.  Not only does it allow for 5 or 6 players, it brings a lot more to the arena.

From page #1:
“The shadow of Rome has fallen over Capua.”

The two new houses (and thus 2 new players) it brings to the game are House Seppius and House Varinius, based on second season (the prequel season) houses.  Seppius is a highly defensive and insidious house.  It can increase the Influence requirements of any card played on it (thus basically nullifying the card) by exhausting a guard.  They also gain gold whenever someone else gains gold from a scheme.  That last one really had a major effect in the game.  House Varinius, on the other hand, is a rather forceful and connected house.  They can demand support for a scheme rather than request and may gain guards from the discard pile by exhausting three that he has (calling upon support from Rome).  Both houses bring new play into the game while remaining reasonably balanced with everyone else.

Along with the additional houses, the expansion adds 31 new Market cards, and 55 more Intrigue cards.  These are mixed in with the base set, giving a much larger selection of items and schemes for the players to choose from.  A new aspect to Schemes is a new Influence requirement – Higher Influence and Lower Influence.  In this case, the Influence Requirement is not a specific number.  Instead, for example, Higher Influence means you have to have higher influence than the target of the Scheme. Each new card is marked with a serpent head symbol so they can be distinguished.  Most of the cards are on par with existing cards in the base set in terms of power and effect.  A few are fairly surprising, but as a whole they are not too surprising or unbalancing.

From page #1:
“The influential houses of Seppius and Varinius are now vying for power!”

Another big addition to the game is the Primus – the super bowl of arena fights.  This allows for teams of gladiators – 2 on each side – in the arena.  Once the Host has been decided and he has received his Honor, if he has enough Influence, he may call a Primus.  A particular Scheme card may allow for a Primus to be called regardless of the Influence requirement.

The Host must send out 4 invitations into the arena and no house may receive more than two invitations.  The effects for refusing an invitation are the same as the base game.  The Host then must form teams of 2.  If a single house received two invitations, that is considered one team.  Wagers for the Primus are handled similarly except Victory is decided from the perspective of teams rather than individuals.

An interesting aspect to this is Treacherous Gladiators.  Some Gladiators are able to switch teams in the middle of combat.  This can be a particularly nasty result, creating a 3 on 1 battle in the arena.  That can create some enemies in the game really quickly.

In conclusion, this is an awesome addition to an already awesome game.  It improves on the areas of the game that had room for it and doesn’t over complicate the game.  It only makes me want to play the game more.

For more details on Gale Force Nine and their new Board Game ExpansionSpartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf” check them out at their website http://www.gf9.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From: Gale Force Nine
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Written by: John Kovaleski
Game Design by: Sean Swigart, Aaron Dill
Number of Pages: 12 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 31 New Market cards, 55 New Intrigue Cards, 2 New house cards, 50 tokens and coins, 2 gladiator figures, 26 dice, 12 page rulebook
Game Components Not Included: Base Spartacus board game
Retail Price: $25.99 (US)
Number of Players: Increases base game to 5 or 6 players
Player Ages: 17+ due to adult content
Play Time: 150+ minutes
Website: www.gf9.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery

From: Gale Force Nine
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery is a new Board Game from Gale Force Nine.

Most people that know me will tell you that I am a huge fan of this show.  I was heartbroken when it ended, although I knew it was coming and the ending was not going to be a happy one.  When I had heard there was going to be a board game, I was skeptical.  Many board games that tie in to shows like this are just terrible – not a lot of thought is put into the design, and they are simply trying to capitalize on a new fad.  Once the show is over, the game will just collect dust and you have no desire to play it again.

The guys of Card Board Stash demo’ed this game for me, despite my reservations.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can tell you now that this game’s entertainment value can outlast the show considerably.  It is a fantastic game and in this review, I hope to tell you why.

From the Varro card:
“Wake me when it’s time to die again.”

Spartacus is not a complex game at all and it is real easy to pick up.  However, it is one of those games that can change on a dime, and if you have not taken precautions to handle these changes it will be hard to win the game.  Be prepared to be backstabbed multiple times.  It is a game of intrigue and combat.  It is also a game of careful economic management.

It takes place during the first two seasons of the show (where the second season was a prequel season to the first), in which Spartacus is a gladiator for one of the noble houses.  Each player is a Dominus or head of a house of Capua, a great city in Ancient Rome.  Each house is competing for Influence, which is gained through cards, hosting the games, winning the games, and various other underhanded ways.  Each house has their strengths and weaknesses, and it is how you play those strengths while hiding your weaknesses that will decide who wins the game.

The House Cards are the center of play for a player.  They define special abilities, starting resources and other game play items.  Resources or Assets include gold, slaves, gladiators, guards, and most importantly influence.  They are placed in front of the player and act as their home base and reference for the game.

There are two sets of cards in the game – Market and Intrigue.  They are used on their own phases explained below. However, in short, the Market cards represent items, slaves or gladiators that can be bought in the market.  The Intrigue cards are various actions, reactions and countermeasures one can take in the Intrigue phase.

From the Oenomaus card:
“A gladiator does not fear death.  He embraces it.”

The game is played in 4 simple phases: Upkeep, Intrigue, Market, and Arena.    In Upkeep, one does the various things to refresh, heal and balance important aspects of the game.  One important part of this phase is Balance the Ledger.  Every slave a Dominus has gains him one gold while every gladiator he has costs him one gold.  A Dominus must always keep his books balanced.

Following Upkeep, Intrigue cards can be played.  Intrigue cards are made up of Schemes, Reactions and Guards.  This phase is where you learn who are your friends and who are not.  These cards present a player with multiple ways to gain, lose and steal, influence, gold or other assets, usually at the cost of another player’s assets.  Each Scheme and Reaction card has a minimum influence required, and in some cases there is no way a single player could pull off the particular card.  In this case, the Dominus may ask for support from other Dominus and any amount of wheeling and dealing can happen during these negotiations.

This phase can be a lot of fun but people have to not take it personally.  This is where you really have to say to yourself – it’s all part of the game.  It really separates the men from the boys, to be honest.  If you can’t take a little strategic play that might set you back a turn or more, then perhaps this is not the game for you.  The game gives you a lot of options to counter these Intrigue measures including the Reaction cards as well as the Guards, but you have to be smart about what cards you keep and what cars you discard.

That brings up another important aspect of this phase – the Cash in Cards phase. This is perhaps the one area I failed at miserably the first time I played and it’s not something easily learned without playing the game multiple times.  At the end of the Intrigue phase, you can discard cards for their gold value to increase your treasury.  You have a hand limit based on your influence but you can discard more if you need to.  If your lack of gold outweighs your desire to bring down your opponent with a treacherous scheme or if a particular scheme seems somewhat more difficult to obtain, then discarding for gold may be the best option.  The challenge is knowing when to discard and when to keep.  Each card has a different value of gold, making the decision even more difficult.

The Market phase is the auction side of the game where players use gold to bid on various items.  First, Open Market allows players to buy, sell or trade various Asset Cards. Again, any kind of wheeling and dealing can happen here.  You can also sell items to the bank for their gold value.  Second, is the Auction where a number of Market cards are randomly laid out based on the number of players.  These cards may be gladiators, slaves or equipment and all players blindly bid on each one.  Highest bid wins each item.  This is where your ability to read people comes into play.  Do they want this particular item or do they want to make you think they want it, forcing you to bid more gold than you really need to.

The final item that is up for bid is hosting the games.  All players may bid to be the host of the gladiatorial games.  The host not only gains influence but also decides who does the fighting in the arena.  This is incredible power that can change the game.

In the Arena Phase, the host gains an influence immediately.  Then he may choose to “invite” gladiators to the arena.  If the house does not have gladiators, it must use slaves.  It is a bad thing to decline the invitation.  Any kind of dealing can take place to either secure an invitation or avoid one.

Once all is said and done and two gladiators have been chosen, the game shifts to a light miniature combat game, using the nice little minis that came with the game.  The combat rules are very simple but crunchy enough to make combat engaging at least at first.  There is a point, however, when you know your warrior has lost the fight and it usually happens fairly quickly.  When I played, there were those moments where the dice gods favored the underdog but those were rare.

Before combat begins, all players can lay wagers of one to three gold betting on various things to happen in fight – victory, injury, or decapitation.  Based on what happens, the winners can rake in a good amount of gold.  Once all is paid off, the host must decide if the loser lives or dies (if in fact the gladiator is alive at the end of the fight) with the traditional thumbs up and down gesture.  Once again, incredible power is placed in the hands of the host.  Any kind of brokering, bribing or favors may be exchanged to influence this decision as well.

Gladiators can gain Favors after winning a fight and can also become a champion.  These are ways to gain more gold in the game when invited to fight in the arena.

In conclusion, Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery is a brilliant game that transcends it tie-in to a entertainment property.  It is a brilliant mix of a card game, auction game, and miniature game.  It also plays very fast and easy, even when playing the first time.  Although the rulebook is nearly 20 pages long, there are not a lot of clunky rules that you either stumble over, forget about or argue about.  It is a game of treachery and intrigue, so be prepared for that.   It is also not a game for kids, as some of the cards use non-family friendly terms – taken directly from the Starz television show (which was nowhere near family friendly).  The replayability of Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery is endless as well.  I highly recommend this game!

For more details on Gale Force Nine and their new Board Game “Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery,” check them out at their website http://www.gf9.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 20

Product Summary

Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery
From: Gale Force Nine
Type of Game: Board Game
Original Concept by: John Kovaleski
Game Design by: Sean Sweigart, Aaron Dill
Producers: Peter Simunovich, John-Paul Brisigotti
Additional Art by: Charles Woods (3D Modeling), Gale Force Nine Studios
Number of Pages: 19 page rulebook
Game Components Included: Rulebook, 62 card Market Deck, 80 card Intrigue Deck, 4 House Cards, 148 Tokens, 26 Dice, 4 Gladiator figures, Game board.
Retail Price: $ 39.99 (US)
Number of Players: 3 – 4
Player Ages: 17+ (some material may be inappropriate for younger)
Play Time: 2 to 3 hours
Website: www.gf9.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung