Legendary Encounters: Firefly Review

Many of you will have played or at least heard of the deck building colossus that is the Legendary series by Upper Deck, the mechanics or game engine of which was originally designed by another goliath of this hobby, Devin Low.

This series encompasses some of the best known brands out there such as Marvel, DC, Alien and Predator, which have all been successfully absorbed into this tried and tested deck building system. The thing that some of you (I was one of you until a week ago) may not have heard of is a sci-fi, space western TV series called Firefly which aired in 2002, and despite being axed after the first season, the series has become a cult classic that then became a movie and an RPG. Put these two together and the result is Legendary Encounters: Firefly, so let’s find out if this deck builder will set our world on fire or be the fly in the ointment.

Before we start, I’ll offer a quick premise to the Firefly series as it will help explain a few things as we go on. Set in the year 2517 in a place called ’The Verse’, the superpowers of the USA and China have joined forces to create a controlling government known as the Alliance. This resulted in a civil war which the Alliance won and several of the crew of the focus ship, Serenity, lost. The crew now scavenge their way through space finding work where possible. Now, the game:

Legendary Encounters: Firefly is a 1-5 player game that is recommended for those 14+ with the box stating a game should last 30-60 minutes. I may as well tell you now, unless you are truly horrific at this game, it will never only take you 30 minutes to play; set up maybe, but not play.

The game allows you to take control of up to five of the nine crew members of the Firefly Class ship, that is Serenity, who will feature in all fourteen episodes of the TV series as the game progresses.  These episodes are played in groups of three and will take you from start to finish if players wish to play the full campaign, although episodes can be randomly chosen and played separately if you so wish. We will talk more about the gameplay itself shortly, but let’s take a quick look at the components first.

The box art is probably my favourite piece of art throughout the whole game and depicts Serenity seemingly fleeing from enemy ships, one of which is the hugely imposing Alliance ship Dortmunder. The art really does look like an action scene that has been lifted from the series, and one can imagine many different scenarios that have led to the crew attempting to flee. Inside, the box is sectioned off down the middle in order to store the playing area and also comes with six handy foam dividers that keep all those cards from sliding around the box.

Speaking of the cards, there are five hundred all in all, and although I won’t go through them all, they include Shinny’s, which are your basic recruitment card, Misbehaves, which are the basic attack cards, as well as Talent and Flaw cards, which can have a positive or negative effect and will differ from character to character.

The art on the cards is okay but not great, the best way I can describe it is ‘loose around the edges’, possibly. You get the general idea of what’s happening on each card, but nothing takes hold of you making you want to look twice. Having recently reviewed Daily Magic Games’ Quests of Valeria, a small (in comparison) crowdfunded card game that offers a range of lovely and engaging art, I can’t help but feel a tad disappointed with Upper Deck’s commitment to this game’s aesthetics. The character or Avatar cards (as described in the game) are a little better and do seem to have at least a small amount of life behind them, but in general it’s a ‘could do better’ on the card art from me.

Having said that, the way the cards are designed and presented is really good, making it very easy for players to decipher and understand. Unambiguous text and symbols are used throughout that correlate well with the various other cards in the game, so a player can instantly work out what each may cost, what damage they do/need etc., at a glance.

The rulebook is well presented and very easy to understand. It gives a short game summary and shows you how to sort/organise the five hundred cards, reducing future set-up times. A very useful aspect of it is literally walking you through your first game, whether that be as a one off or the beginning three episodes of a campaign. Using diagrams and step by step text, it goes through initial set up, how to start the game and each phase of play, of which there are four during any one player’s turn. After that it takes you through everything else that you need to know with large bold titles making it easy to find what you are looking for, which kind of makes up for its lack of index.

The playing area is no longer a board but a shiny, non-slip, rubber mat which depicts the Verse and Serenity. The mat is so easy to understand it’s almost spoon fed to players where cards are arranged or discarded throughout play. As with the cards, the symbols match up on the mat so players know how much damage or recruitment points they need etc., making it a very well designed playing space. Those are the components; let’s get into the game.

During set-up each player will be dealt seven shiny cards (basic recruitment), five misbehave cards (basic attack) and one talent card. A talent card allows that player to immediately draw another card from their deck and can be used to trigger their avatar’s special ability.

Before play begins, these thirteen cards are shuffled and each player draws six cards to create a hand. Once a player’s turn ends, all six cards are placed in a discard pile and six more are drawn ready for the next turn. Once a player runs out of cards, their discard pile is shuffled to form a new draw deck.

As previously mentioned, during the game players will play at least one episode of the TV series, each of which have their own episode cards which may include enemies, events and objectives. Add the relevant number of side job cards (depending on the number of players) and these will make up the episode deck, at the bottom of which will be a random inevitable card which signals the end of the episode.

The first phase of a player’s turn is the episode phase, this means adding an episode card to the right most space in the verse keeping it face-down. There are five spaces in the verse, and episode cards will move to the left on each episode phase (or due to events & player flaws), down the verse towards the combat zone which is usually where the nasty stuff, that could be written on these episode cards, begin to happen. Each space in the verse will have a scan cost, meaning players must spend that amount of attack points to scan the episode card, thus revealing it to all players. When this happens, the card could trigger an event that must be resolved immediately or just give players extra things to worry about. If an episode card reaches the combat zone without being scanned, it is revealed, and if it is an enemy soldier or bandit etc., it will begin to strike players every turn until defeated. Players automatically receive strikes during phase three, which is the strike phase, and must draw a crew strike card to resolve it. All avatars have a set number of health points, and if that number is reached, it causes that player to be knocked out, meaning they are out of the game until they can be revived by another player. If all players are knocked out at the same time, then the episode is lost.

If the enemy is a ship, it will begin to strike Serenity herself which will subsequently cause damage, and in general, have negative effects for all players, such as costing extra attack points to scan spaces. Usually, Serenity can take up to four strikes, on the fifth she is blown to pieces and the episode is lost.

I realise that I have skipped phase two which is called the action phase. This is where players can spend cards in their hand to scan episode cards, fight enemies, complete side jobs or repair Serenity. The other action a player can take is the one most used, that is recruiting other crew members from the bridge, which in turn come from the crew deck. The crew deck is made up of all cards from four of the unused crew members’ decks, and all have a recruitment cost in the bottom right hand corner; this cost will range from two through eight. The bridge will always hold five crew cards that players can recruit; if one is taken, it is immediately replaced with another from the crew deck. These crew cards will add attack/recruitment points to future hands, as well as possibly have special abilities that trigger when played. These might include healing another player, drawing extra cards, affecting the verse and so on. Once recruited, these cards are placed into that player’s discard pile until such time as they are shuffled and drawn into the player’s hand, at which point they can be played.

The other type of card that can be recruited is a Browncoat, of which there are five, and always cost three recruitment points. All Browncoats offer the same effect, which is two recruitment points and the ability to coordinate with other players.

The coordinate option features on some of the crew cards, and I believe Firefly is the first in the Legendary series to offer this mechanic. If a player has a coordinate card, they can place it in front of them for other players to use during their turn. For example, I want to destroy an enemy ship that requires five attack points, but I only have three attack points available in my hand of six cards. Another player has a coordinate card which gives two attack points. Using that card, I now have the five attack points needed and can successfully destroy the enemy ship. The player whose coordinate card it was puts it in their discard pile and draws back up to six.

Play will continue in a cycle between recruiting and battling against threats in the verse, as players attempt to not only stay alive but keep Serenity intact. Apart from those two, the episode will end as soon as all objectives are met or the inevitable card enters the combat phase and has carried out a strike on each player, if this happens, then the episode is lost. Inevitable cards always bring negative effects for players; they cannot be scanned in the verse and players can’t defeat it, they are effectively a time limit for each episode.

I mentioned the talent cards earlier, but there is a negative alternative to them known as a flaw card that players acquire by failing to complete objectives, side jobs or by taking strikes. When a flaw card is drawn into a player’s hand, at the start of their turn they must immediately resolve it before being removed from the player’s deck and put it back into the flaw stack. Written on the avatar card underneath their talent is that character’s flaw, it might be to add episode cards to the verse or discard cards etc. It is highly possible that a player can draw multiple flaw cards at any one time resulting in a potentially devastating state of events, such as drawing several ship or crew strikes one after the other.

Speaking of deadly combinations, the players can create their own by using multiple strength cards. This can give a player extra attack points when needed, and in some cases can be the difference in winning or losing the episode.

The theme of Firefly is great, and although I have yet to watch all episodes on TV, it is clear that Upper Deck have stuck rigidly to events when creating each episode in the game. It really does feel like you are playing alongside the TV show, and you can immediately relate with each character.

One disappointing note is the lack of inevitable cards which, as I’ve said, will always be the last card to enter the verse and will end the episode if allowed. I realise that only three episodes are played at any one time, but surely giving us five or six different endings would have been preferable to just three. I will say, however, that if players can win the episode, they will not know which inevitable card was in play during that episode.

The last point is quite a generic one for deck builders, but I still think it’s worth mentioning. That is the time it takes to initially sort through the vast amount of cards which will easily take an hour. On top of that, game set-up can also be a tad laborious, as the various decks are created leaving cards literally all over the place. Like I said, most deck builders have this issue, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Find your copy of Legendary Encounters: Firefly on the Esdevium games website or find your local games store HERE.

Designer – Ben Cichoski & Danny Mandel

Publisher – Upper Deck

Year Published – 2016

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