Thrillin' adventures indeed.
Building on the goodwill they created with Firefly: The Game and it's cavalcade of excellent expansions, Gale Force 9 presents Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats. Just as the name implies, it truly puts the adventure into Firefly. For those familiar with the original board game, it's like the Aim to Misbehave cards have come to life, complete with the iconography and skill tests with which you are already familiar.
The Brigands and Browncoats box comes stuffed with items: preassembled buildings, enemy miniatures, all manner of markers and two miniatures of each of the Firefly crew. Why two? Because one of the key elements of the game is acting in either Casual or Heroic mode which is reflected in the miniatures pose and color. If you think of Mal and Zoe impersonating newlyweds in "The Train Job" as casual and the scene where Mal kicks Niska's henchman into the Engine intake as Heroic, that is pretty much dead on.
The game uses a timeline to determine action order, which will be instantly identifiable with anyone who has ever played an old school video game RPG or strategy RPG. Each action a character takes uses a set number of "moments" which moves a marker on this Timeline . It provides an ever shifting but always logical order in which the next character actions will take place. The Timeline also doubles as timer for the missions. Jobs need to be completed before reaching the end of the Timeline, presumably that is when Fox cancels the series (Too soon?). The timing mechanism also triggers "Events" that toss fresh challenges or rewards into each mission.
Despite being fully cooperative, as opposed to the competitive nature of Firefly: The Game, the same Fight, Tech and Negotiate skills and skills test are at the core of the game. It's a quality system and manipulation of dice rolling via cards/characters/equipment is familiar and solid ground. The Mechanics of the game are solid, but it's the other aspects of the game where things get sketchy.
The Instruction manual is laid out as a good overview but fails miserably as a proper reference guide. Moreover, you'll find yourself searching every page of the manual mid-game for a rule explanation that likely doesn't exist.
Each Story/Mission is set up so that you can play it as a one off job or part of a storyline. Either you fail a mission or you win. The only difference on how successful a mission is judged is how much money you made. Not only does that not feel at all "Firefly" it is essentially using a High Score scoring system that went out of vogue with 80's Arcade games (Play again and try to get a higher score!). This isn't just limited to the one off jobs, the storyline mode puts a simple winning condition of "have 10,000 credits at the end of three jobs" as the one and only true goal. It almost feels like Fox's decision to bypass airing the 2 hour Pilot "Serenity" and going with "The Train Job" as the first episode. Sure, it provides action but it lacks a flow.
It is missing a reward system where you gain something (or anything!) to further the storyline. The aforementioned storyline mode consists of 3 of jobs of which there are a total of 4 included in the game. Let me do the math here: four stories, divided by three, carry the nothin'... The box has 1 and 1/3 storylines included? Gale force 9 has promised more jobs on their website but as of this writing, none are available. On the plus side, there is good diversity in the jobs, just when you think you have a strategy that will always work (such as being stealthy, avoiding any detection) you come across a job that almost requires you to go in with guns a blazing.
Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats is billed a cooperative game for 1 to 5 players. I really can't imagine anyone wanting to play it without the full five crew members but you can play time adjusted rules if you would care to play with less. I personally suggest you split the crew among how many people you have playing to avoid situations where you need a handy mechanic but you have only brought brawn. I also heartily suggest your first spin with the game be in solo mode. If you try dropping this on the table and "learning as you go" it is going to grind to a halt every few minutes as you sort out the details of the rules. This is because none of the 4 stories included act as a tutorial to ease you into the flow of the game.
Not considered in the total player count is an overlord variant that allows someone to step in and play as the Goons. Consider it an "expert" mode and, currently, it is the games saving grace when it comes to replayability. Speaking of "overlords", due to the buildings and use of plenty of tokens and markers, you are going to spend an awful lot of time on your feet, overlooking the game board, to take all of the information in.
If you are looking into this title, I am assuming you are a fan of the Firefly Series. If the only thing Browncoat means to you is a poor fashion choice, then you can knock one star off this review. The most equally exciting and infuriating part of this release is that all the pieces are present to make a great game but somehow it never reaches that potential. Gale Force 9 can still make that happen with additional in-depth stories with an enhanced rewards system.
A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher. Therewillbe.games would like to thank them for their support.