Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Conclave Game Review: Firefly Shiny Dice.

There should be a fair few reviews coming up on the Conclave soon, it's that time of year and I have received a handful of games as gifts which need playing and reviewing. Two of those are Firefly games, and one of those is Shiny Dice.

Apparently, this didn't start out as a Firefly game at all, rather it's inception was something that the designer used to play with his son and the Firefly identity was bolted on a little later. The game attracted the attention of publisher Upper Deck and after being previewed at Gencon was finally released a year or so ago. Now there are not exactly a large amount of Firefly games out there so this release was met with some anticipation. Firefly may not have been a widespread success but it is certainly rabidly appreciated by it's fanbase, the very definition of cult appeal.

Apparently that is River Tam behind Mal... hmmm....

I likely would never have picked this game up myself, especially given the rather shocking art on the box cover (River looks nothing at all like Summer Glau) but seeing as it has been bought for me as a gift that doesn't matter.

Nor is the game of a type that I would usually be drawn to, being one of those push your luck dice games. I don't have anything against them per se, I just don't tend to play them. I think I am usually of the preconception that they are a little bereft of detailed mechanics and owe far too much to luck as opposed to any kind of strategic ability. Shiny Dice is a game that can be played Solo or in a group of up to five. Find a Crew, get a Job, Keep Flyin' You play for three 'rounds' and the aim is to accrue as many points as you can by the end of the three rounds. Let's give it a try.

So, upon opening the box you have the rulebook (sadly carrying the same naff art) two play mats, a stack of cards and fifteen dice, not a great deal of stuff but then it is not a complicated game. The cards are split up into 100 and 500pts cards (styled like Alliance credits) a mission deck, which have live action shots from the show on them and supply cards which you use for tracking retrieved (stolen?) supplies. All of this can be hidden behind the 5 supplied card screens to keep your opponents from knowing exactly what your score is.

The playmats are made of a thin mouse mat material and art wise match the style if not design of the rest of the set. Some might say it is a little basic and crude but the 'verse is a pretty rough and ready place and it seems to fit nicely. It's certainly functional and the layout is open to no confusion. Oh, the screens have a quick reference guide on the back, I'll mention that real quick. It seems a bit odd to have two mats when you can only use one at a time but I'm not complaining.

A Typical first roll....

So the dice rounds out our contents and this is clearly where the money has been spent. There are five black dice representing the foes that the crew of Serenity face, Niska, Saffron and Badger with two facings for each meaning an equal chance of each turning up. Seven brown dice, which cover the core crew, (the Outlaws), Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jane and Kaylee with the sixth side being for supplies. Lastly there are three white dice which are for the passengers (still technically crew but not Outlaws), Simon, River, Shepherd Book, Inara and again supplies. River get's two facings on each of the white dice so don't be surprised that she crops up more often than not.

That's your contents covered, so how does it play? Well, you roll all fifteen dice at once, to see what you have to work with. The five black dice are the foes that you will have to defeat and the white and brown dice are what you will have to work with to do so. Step one is called getting a crew, by and large you are stuck with what you roll but Wash results (a little Stegosaurus - so cool) will allow you to reroll them along with one brown or white dice (should you so wish, it's not compulsory) whilst River results allow you to do the same but with a black dice, this can be crucial strategically but can REALLY mess you up later so it's a bit of a risk (more on this in a bit)

Definitely laying low after this...

You can only reroll once, and you must reroll everything at the same time. Once you have done so you have the dice that you will use to fight the foe and complete your mission. If you have four or more different brown dice (not including any supplies) you can take one black dice away straight away with the 'team bonus' but after that the bad guys (renamed Foes by insistence of Upper Deck according to the designer) strike.

A pair of glasses is Niska, Niska is bad, if you  remember the series he was the quiet psychopath who REALLY put the hurt on Mal and Wash. So if you have ANY Niska results at the start of the second phase then ONE of your dice (not supplies) must be placed in the KO section on the game mat. You won't be using that one. For EACH Saffron result you must place a crew member in the Cargo Hold, they will be unavailable temporarily. Each Badger result merely captures one of your supplies, put it this way, you want Badger dice, losing supplies is no great loss and you get them back if you defeat him anyway. Similarly Niska KOs one of your crew regardless of whether you have one or five of him so if you have a few it's probably not worth wasting too much time trying to get rid of him in stage one.

So now the Baddies have had a pop you can turn over a mission card. The mission card will have the dice results on it you need to satisfy the conditions and complete the mission. Be warned, your odds of completing the mission are tragically low, in all my games (Solo and otherwise) I have seen two missions get done. Also, don't be surprised if you have inadvertently got rid of something you need to complete the mission, either by rerolling or by actions of one of the Foe. It happens, and not infrequently. We'll discuss that more in a bit.

So, whether or not you have managed to satisfy the mission criteria it's time to take out the bad guys, and this is called misbehaving. If you were lucky enough to draw a Shiny mission you can take another black die away straight away so if fortune is with you you could be down to three. There are other mission types that will effect play but we'll get to those in a bit as well.

Each crew member has a different rule. No two do exactly the same so you will need to think carefully about how you utilise them. Bear in mind anyone in KO or Cargo hold cannot be used right now. Here are your options:

So as you can see there is a surprising amount of tactical depth with some dice that will straight up cause damage, some that will manipulate the dice in play and some that have other in game effects. Each time you use a crew members skill they go in KO, Each time you eliminate a foe (not a dice but all the dice for that foe) you get 100pts which goes into an at-risk pile in front of you, Now, assuming that you have eliminated all of the black dice you have a decision to make, do you carry on (Keep flyin') or end your turn (lay low) If you lay low you take your points and pass the dice to the next player,

If you keep flying you bank the supplies by taking the equivalent in cards but the points are still at risk. You pick up all the dice execpt those in the KO section and roll again, can you defeat the bad guys again with less dice? You keep going as long as you can. losing all the points on the table should you fail to defeat all the foes (completing the mission doesn't matter) so you have to weigh up the potential risk before deciding whether to fly on. Some missions you draw will force you to end your turn and using Shepherd Book's Salvation skill will also end your turn immediately. Any dice can also be used to remove one black dice so even Wash can still be useful if you are stuck with him after rerolling.

My best score after 3 rounds Solo. 3300Pts. 

And that's it, try to score as many points as you can in three rounds, either on  your own or against other players. Personally I have managed no more than three rolls in a round.  There is no real interaction with any other players other than they have to pay into the points pool if you roll more than three of any one foe. And this is one of the problems with the game, which I shall talk about now, for there are a few.

Quality wise and looks wise the game is reasonable, it does feel a little on the cheap side but as I have already mentioned the design matches the rough and ready universe it is set in well enough.

The main problem with the game is the way the rules are written. They are far from concise and in particular the timing aspect of things seems to be very confusing. It's never a good sign when the game designer is clarifying contentious and incorrect rulings (though it is good that he is at least doing so, both on Boardgame Geek and his own Youtube Channel)  after the release. The rules writing really is NOT good, even if the game design is quite accomplished.

To a point. Though the game design provides a lot more depth and tactical potential than I had thought possible from one of these kind of games, I do think that a few mistakes have been made, and given the thanks for the 'brutal honesty' and 'feedback' on the back of the book I am surprised that they have made it into the finished product.

Firstly, Badger is UTTERLY pointless, when you are hoping or trying, to obtain as many results for a certain foe over the others as it represents a vastly reduced threat, then there is a balance issue. Niska is nasty but he is only ever going to KO one dice and Saffron can more or less destroy you there and then by removing much needed dice. Badger just takes your supplies, no real loss there in all honesty, especially when you get them back if you defeat him, I think I would have liked to have seen more of an impact on the game turn.

Secondly, the order in which you do things seems to be off. I've played a fair few games now and the mission completion rate seems to be VERY low. Given the whole idea of Firefly is to finish jobs to keep flyin' it seems a bit odd. It's also a bit odd that there is NO penalty for not completing missions at all. One change that I think might make sense would be to draw the mission FIRST in order so that you might use some strategy when deciding to reroll. This is a change that Scott Morris (the designer) has advocated himself and again it is a little concerning that he has done so. He has also suggested playing WITHOUT the missions but in all honesty although the rewards for missions are negligible the misison types do have an effect on the game and these would be lost should you omit them all together.

It also would have been nice for the missions to have had some bearing on the game, say some missions are for each foe, maybe completing the mission would have you 'solid' with that foe allowing you to reroll one of the the black dice if it comes up for that foe. Prehaps this would have impacted the balance too much, I don't know, I'm not a game designer, I can only review based upon my gaming experience.

I must stress that overall this is NOT a bad game, I have had no small amount of fun with it, it does play quite fast and the rules, although poorly conveyed are not overly complicated. Despite all of the mechanics within the game is still very luck dependant and overall it is the dice that will dictate things with certain rolls completely screwing you over, like if you roll too many supplies at the expense of crew members. It is worth playing though, either on your own as a form of Solitaire or with friends, be warned that the very nature of the game means that there is a fair bit of down time and although you will likely not be able to 'keep flyin' for long whilst you do your opponents are effectively just going to be watching you play. Certainly this is one of the more frequent criticisms that I see leveled at the game and though it is not a deal breaker for me it is worth considering.

One thing that should be applauded is the authenticity of the game and attention to detail that has gone into it in making it as Firefly-ish as possible. Every aspect of the game has been created to be faithful to the short lived TV series and from that aspect it cannot be faulted. Sadly the solidity of the game design cannot be held in the same regard. As mentioned the designer is taking an active role in addressing these issues and has made it plain that the publisher has made a fair few changes which have changed the final design, but you get the feeling it could have used a bit more playtesting and deveelopment. There is a good  game here but it will require a little Kaylee like tinkerin' to find it. Taken as is, these Dice aint so Shiny,

6 Browncoats out of 10.

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