Firefly: shiny dice
Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 30 mins
Setup Time: 5 mins
Value For Money: Low
Solo Play Review
There are games that write carefully crafted solo experiences that are akin to living out a novel or movie on your table top. There are games that build brain burning puzzles that live up to the best that an expert crossword setter can make for you when playing alone. There are games that provide solid versions of AI for the player alone, and then there are games like Shiny Dice that seem to decide that you could play it on your own so why not stick an extra number on the player count.
Play consists of rolling a big handful of chunky and satisfying dice, some of which will provide re-rolls. Then you flip over a card and if you match its symbols you may gain a bonus, after which you will suffer some penalties for whichever villain faces you have remaining on dice and then try to knock out all the villains with your crew. If you manage to do so you can either bank the points you gained this round or try again, remembering that any crew you used are mostly lost for the next try. You repeat this for as many rounds as you see fit, and then total up your banked score.
I go (not at the moment, since I’m writing this during the Corona Virus lockdown) to a weekly tabletop gaming club. Every so often member do a cull of games that they want to get rid of and sometimes they bring them down and offer them out for free. Firefly Shiny Dice was so offered to me, it has 15 nice chunky dice and this copy had two nice looking playmats. I picked it up because, you know, free game, but it should be said that a game someone is willing to give you free from their own collection is not a game that comes with a high recommendation.
Starting from the solo end, there is in the rule book not a single concession or mention of the fact that playing solo is any different from playing with multiple people. In fact, if not for the existence of the ‘1’ on the player count you wouldn’t know that solo was a viable way of playing the game. Its not a big deal, but a significant chunk of the short rules are about lowering your opponent’s points and set-up asks you to play with a screen to hide your points from your opponents and just a word or two for the solo player would have been some comfort. Playing solo, you’re pretty much going for high score mode (a conclusion that you’re left, of course, to come to on your own). I know that not all players like a results table to aim for playing solo on score mode and I agree that its not strictly necessary with all games, but it does feel like a real lack in a push your luck game like this where the majority of the fun comes from the tension of knowing you need to take that extra risk to win. Fundamentally it’s hard to love a solo push your luck game, when I’m playing against myself I can’t help but acknowledge that last time I was just really lucky.
The issue is that a lot of the game is a process, and quite a swingy luck based one at that. With a table of people ooing and aahing that can be okay, but playing solo it can feel dishearteningly empty. Taking a standard game round as an example. You roll the dice, if there are faces showing the chance to re-roll crew or villain dice you have some choice to make, but there might not be and often aren’t, especially in later rounds. Then you flip a mission card with symbols that you can fulfil. There is no penalty for using symbols to fill these missions and no way to gain them if you don’t have them, and they are sufficiently varied that shooting for them before the reveal is pure chance, so this process is largely automatic. Sometimes the mission gives a bonus that can be directed in a way that is technically a choice, but the ranking of options is so simple (one villain kills dice if any of their dice remain, if you can knock them out entirely you do, if not you leave them alone, the next villain takes away one crew dice for each of their dice, so they’re next target, the last temporarily locks up some dice, so they can be left for last) as to be barely a choice. Sometimes the mission forces you to re-roll your dice, so that if there was a choice to be made in the first part of the game with your own re-rolls, it neatly and totally invalidates them. You then move onto the final part of the round which involves matching dice to the villains in the most efficient way possible, there is generally a right or wrong answer rather than much in the way of risk or choices that could go either way, and even when the right answer is slightly complex there’s not a huge sense of reward for spotting it. After all that the crux choice of the game comes up, which is to stick or roll again. Again, this is the choice that the whole game hinges on, and its one that, frankly, there is nothing like the information or tension to make exciting.
It is entirely possible with bad dice and cards to be knocked out in the first round of the game and be utterly powerless to stop it. It is possible to have a card force you to re-roll you dice and leave you with a crew that has zero ability to knock out villains, meaning that you fail. Its true that the odds of being knocked out raise as rounds continue, but there is generally little real tension when you decide to bail on the run. There are too many variables spaced too far from the decision. In a push your luck game you should make the choice to push you luck, roll the dice, and discover if you made the right choice or not. In Shiny dice you make the choice, then roll your dice, then roll some of them again, then flip a card, then its possible to see if you made the right choice or not, but still you probably won’t see it until the next phase, the division between choice and action is too long.
The game and its components itself are a weird mix of well and poorly produced. The dice are heavy and chunky, but some of the graphic design choices are strangely murky, with two of the faces being different sorts of similar looking and similarly coloured guns. The cards are high quality, but most of them are used as VP counters, which is frankly just a little odd rather than using tokens. The design is all a little crowded and a little murky, this might be suitable to the aesthetic of the show, but its not really helpful when playing the game. The rulebook is also, not great. It uses terms like ‘crew’ and ‘outlaws’ for some dice in a manner that is confusingly interchangeable, it presents what should be a simple set of rules in block text without useful examples and with exceptions buried in paragraphs. It manages to be longer than it needs to be while not giving the detail required. This follows on to the dice themselves which have nine of the faces on the two sorts of dice carrying different powers with different meanings, making quickly and clearly figuring out if something was a good roll or not largely impossible.
I’ll admit that although I’ve watched the movie that wrapped up the Firefly TV show I’ve never seen more than a few minutes of the actual show and possibly if you’re a hardened enough fan that any card with your heroes on and some quotes from the show are all you need this game could do for you. But as far as I can see it manages to singularly avoid any sense of the feeling of the world that its set in. Also, while I’ve played it multiple times in solo mode for this review, I’ve not played it multi-player, and maybe it sings there, though it looks like the turn length and uncertainty makes that unlikely. This is a solo review though, and this is not a strong solo game. Feel free to pick it up for free if someone is culling a collection, but don’t pay for this one on the basis of that 1 and up player count, it will not reward the choice.