Superversion on the Game Board: Firefly the Game

Superversive stories deal with moral choices and taking the higher road. Tabletop board games usually don’t offer that option. In a zero sum game any action you take to benefit yourself hurts another player. Chess players don’t consider the morality of taking a pawn. Firefly the Game is one that does present moral choices to the players, and subtly encourages them to take the high road.

Firefly the Game in action.

For those readers not familiar with it, the short-lived Firefly TV series followed a band of underdogs evading an oppressive government as they smuggled cargos and stole from the rich. The conflict between law and justice drove many episodes, such as when Captain Mal Reynolds stole a government shipment but returned it to the townsfolk when he found it contained badly-needed medicine.

In the game players start with a ship and captain. They can hire crew and buy gear at specific planets. Other planets have contacts who will hand out jobs. Easy jobs just require picking up some legal cargo and transporting it to its destination. Smuggling contraband or fugitives is harder. The toughest jobs, such as robbing banks, require passing tests assigned by “Misbehave” cards. The goal depends on which “story card” the players are using, which range from a simple race to earn a specific amount of money to elaborate quests.

When hiring crew players look at their skills and special abilities. Some crew and captains are marked as “MORAL.” They’ll object if asked to do nasty jobs, such as robbing innocent townsfolk or smuggling slaves. The job cards they have a problem with are marked “IMMORAL” in red. Make a moral crewman work an immoral job and they’ll be Disgruntled (signified with a sad face counter). If you can’t cheer them up they’ll quit. Other challenges such as Misbehaving during a job or random encounters while traveling can become tests of morality.

The game doesn’t urge moral behavior on players. Forming a crew of conscienceless hirelings and focusing on the worst jobs available is a viable strategy for the game, depending on the goal. The “First Time In the Captain’s Chair” story card doesn’t give much scope for crime to pay. The “Wanted Men” card almost requires it.

What Firefly the Game does do is show how choosing one path makes it harder to switch to the other. Hire one moral crew and you have an incentive to do only moral jobs–which makes it easier to decide to hire more moral crew and do more moral jobs. Conversely, the more you stick to unprincipled crew doing nasty work, the harder it is to justify hiring a moral mechanic or taking on a lower-paying moral job.

The old sermons about virtue and sin becoming easier with practice are demonstrated in this game. You soon reach the point where Macbeth said, “I am in blood. Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” And it’s easier to get my kids to play the game than pay attention to the sermons.

How is it as a game, aside from demonstrating moral lessons? I love it, and so do enough other people to support eight expansions.

  • PROS:
    – Does a splendid job of capturing the feel of the Firefly TV series.
    – Provides range of actions from simple cargo delivery to committing complex capers.
    – Different story cards let every game have a different objective.
    – Expansions add variety.
    – Supports solo play.
    – Family friendly, I’ve had pre-teen kids playing.
  • CONS:
    – There is a learning curve for new players. Seeing a dozen separate decks of cards surrounding the board is intimidating until you learn you only need to pay attention to one or two at a time.
    – Lots of fiddly bits.
    – Not much direct player interaction unless you get the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion for PvP action.

If your group enjoys racing each other to collect enough money or firepower to meet a goal, or has serious Browncoats, I strongly recommend this game. The moral lessons will teach themselves.