The ground, even though it is covered by weak and stunted tufts of grass seems loose and soft, slightly giving way to the assault of unwelcome feet. The moonlight casts eerie shadows from the numberless headstones leaning at drunken and improbable angles after years upon years of silent guardianship. The visitors, dressed in all the finery of the Victorian Age take their places around the table tomb. The information it once conveyed now weathered and blasted from it's soft sandstone slab into illegibility.
It matters not to these four. They are not here to pay homage nor even to take part in obscene and arcane rites. No. They have come for one reason and one reason alone. To play board games.
In the yard of the dead, it is F:AT Thursday.
Halloween is nearly upon us. The day of ghosts and goblins, witches and werewolves. Where the evil spirits run rampant on their night of nights. In line with this we played a game, which by all rights should have been a complete horror show. A game that should have made us shriek with terror and gnash our teeth in dismay. A game that should be as repulsive as the decayed and dessicated 12 year old corpse upon which its theme feeds . A game that should be all of this and less and yet isn't. A game called Firefly: The Game (not to be confused with Firefly: That Other Thing which has tiny spaceships and dice).
It's a licensed game! This means, if you are one not steeped in board game knowledge, that the game should suck. Hard. Like a truck stop troll with a fresh 20 dollar bill in her hand and a free stall in the bathroom. Most licensed games do and they are quickly forgotten after the momentary name recognition they engender ceases to have meaning. Anybody remember the hours of fun they had playing The Land of the Lost board game? Anyone? (cricket chirping) Exactly.
Occasionally, though, such a game defies expectation and is actually more than just a roll-n-move snore fest. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the one that instantly pops into my mind. Is it just co-incidence that the latest game to buck the suckage trend is based on a property created the same person, Joss Whedon? I really don't know.
In any case, we are talking about Firefly: The Game (as opposed to Firefly: The Thermonuclear Device). And it does buck the trend. And it is good.
The obvious comparison is to Merchants of Venus with which it has a great deal in common. You are flying a space ship around picking up and delivering stuff and completing missions in order to gain enough money to be declared the winner. In both games, you are pretty much free to decide which way to go and what the best way to achieve that goal is. And in both games there isn't a whole lot of player interaction (though there is some in Firefly).
However there are some differences that set Firefly apart. First and most obvious is that the movement is far less restrictive. The established routes in Merchants can be limiting and frustrating and knowing their layout can give an experienced player a big advantage over one not so familiar with the choke points and difficult sections. Not so in Firefly. You can go any which way you want. Space is divided into two different zones, the inner solar system and the outer edges and these zones are further divided into many different spaces. Each time you move into a new space you draw a card which may have a random event or not. So if you are moving five spaces you have five chances of a random encounter. The inner system is naturally safer than the more wild fringes. But if you're a wanted man, traveling the civilized route may get you pulled over by the space police...which is bad. So there are pros and cons of differing paths.
The second thing is that much of the game functions around skill checks in one of three attributes. Fighting, Fixing, and Hustling. Oh, they are probably called different names like "strength, repair, and diplomacy" but you get the point. When you have an encounter you are required to make an appropriate skill check. Meet the space police? Maybe you can talk your way out of a ticket using your Hustling ability. Blow a fuel line in deep space? Maybe your mechanic can use some duct tape and a screwdriver to get you back on-line.
To help you in these checks you acquire crew that give you bonuses depending on where their specialties lie. Jayne is good at fighting. Kiley is good at fixing, etc. You can also get equipment like guns for fighting, tool kits for fixing or fake ids and fancy clothes for hustling. These too will aid you. You can acquire ship upgrades to make your space voyages safer or faster.
The game also has scenarios which give different win conditions. We played an alternate intro scenario called "First Time in the Captains Chair" or some such which was designed to be a bit quicker than a normal game and aid the learning process.
So as the game plays out you are taking on commissions from less than savory black marketeers, trying to upgrade your ship and your crew to be more efficient, and avoid the space police and the Reavers out on the fringes (who will totally kill each and every one of you and probably eat you if they catch you). All the while trying to do it faster and better than your competitors.
On the whole I like it better than Merchants of Venus. The look of the game is just great. It is graphically far superior to the muddy travesty that was the board for the reissue of MoV. Everything is easy to read and functional. No squinting at tiny counters with too much information.
The theme is strong. Really strong. I, for one, think that is a good thing. I liked Firefly: The Show and its tone and nature is really prevalent throughout the game. There are lots of references to events and quotes from the series (I'll be in my bunk) but I think a person who was unfamiliar with it would still find enjoyment in playing.
If you aren't a Firefly fan though, for whatever reason, probably resulting from a traumatic blow to the head, you won't be able to ignore it and it might get annoying for you. Then again, if you didn't like Firefly: The Show you probably are unlikely to buy Firefly: The Game due to your Firefly: The Hate.
In our game, Uba, who is a total hustler, showed us what it feels like to be completely inadequate and stupid. Or was it just me...probably just me. She won handily by completing the requirements of the intro scenario. Al and Josh weren't too far behind but I wasn't even close. I had like 3 dollars and a half eaten tick tack in my pocket when she cruised across the finish line with the 6,000 Space Bucks needed to take the victory.
We talk of weighty and important matters at our weekly meetings. This you know.
Entertaining but not as widely known monster movies were one of the topics we discussed. Josh put forth a movie titled "Horror of Dracula" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. He gave it high praise saying that it might even surpass the 1931 classic Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. Uba, a vampiric connoisseur if ever there was one, stated that it has the singularly best vampire battle/confrontation ever. They intrigued me enough for me to put in on my Netflix queue.
I mentioned that I had recently attempted to watch The House on Haunted Hill starring Vincent Price but that I couldn't get past the first half hour or so. It was bit too silly, too campy, too over the top and too contrived for my liking.
We also talked about The Walking Dead. This too I had recently tried to watch to see what all the hubbub was about. I was unimpressed but to be fair I have a deep lasting indifference towards the whole zombie genre. I don't even care enough to hate it. Al and Uba have been watching it as well and enjoying it. So make what you will of that. Certainly, to listen to most people who describe the show in glowing terms, I am in the minority.
I have been thinking recently of something somebody posted in one of the forums here on The Fort not so long ago. The basic point of it was that "It's okay to outgrow some things." Just because you loved something as a child doesn't mean you have to keep loving it as an adult.
I was thinking of this in conjunction with comic books. Something inside me has changed because once upon a time I loved them. I collected them and I looked forward to reading them. I have tried to find that same connection to the medium over the last six months or so but with a few notable exceptions (Mouse Guard being one) all that I have read has left me cold. Is it just the different perspective of age and maturity? How can it be when my life long adoration of pulp adventures in book or movie form has not diminished?