Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hype Alert: 2013 the Year of the Browncoat?

Alright, so that's a stupid name--sounds like an embarrassing continence problem. But for Browncoats--those are fans of the tv series Firefly and the movie sequel Serenity, keep up--this could be a simply awesome year. Or it might stink. Which would be just like any other year for a fan of Whedon's best work-that-isn't-The Avengers.

Firefly: the Role-Playing Game

First on the list of things to be excited about is a throwback to an old favorite of mine. Margaret Weis Productions is once more flyin' back to the 'verse and giving us a new role-playing game based on the television series this time around. MWP had made the original Serenity RPG which was based on the film, and as you probably recall from my personal RPG history, that was the first game where I really dove into being a full-time GM. I have a lot of nostalgia for that system and its cinematic quirkiness--especially coupled with the gritty house-ruled mechanics I tried to shove down its throat. ("You will have a fully-realized orbit-based map of the 'verse, and you will like it!") There were some parts of the system that were rough around the edges, admittedly. The Serenity RPG was actually the proto-form for MWP's Cortex system, and nowadays all their games are based on the Cortex Plus system, which essentially takes the mechanics one step further away from familiar RPG stats and tropes into systems more directly tailored to mimic the values and actions of the shows. For instance, the well-reviewed-but-recently-defunct Marvel RPG by MWP only gave its characters three universal stats: Solo, Buddy, and Team. The rest of the games mechanics were built around unique skills and powers, meaning that a much larger portion of a character sheet was essentially unique than in most other systems. The Firefly RPG promises to be based on the Cortex Plus system, meaning that my old Serenity books will probably be about as useful as Jayne's hat in Nandi's ranch*. That makes me a little sad, but that's the way of RPGs that aren't GURPS, I guess.

How it might suck: I really don't think that the game itself will be bad. Even though the Serenity RPG had a few bits sticking out that should've been edited, reviewed, or playtested out more, it was a solid set of mechanics that really delivered what it needed to, and failed to flesh out only a few interesting side bits that I was more than happy to house-rule. But what might suck about it is the fact that MWP is a small publisher and they seem to get bigger ambitions than they can deliver at times. For instance, they had originally planned on at least two more major expansions to their Battlestar Galactica RPG, based on a revised Serenity system, and those never came to fruition before their license expired, leaving only the core book and a handful of small pdf freebies online. More recently, MWP lost the Marvel RPG line quite abruptly, giving fans less than a month's notice to try to snatch up their books before they got pulled. And that series had actually started taking pre-orders for another future expansion that would never come. Now, in Marvel's case I'm sure that the issue became that the small publisher couldn't afford the license fees a post-Avengers Marvel demanded, but it still makes me a little afraid of loving this game when it comes. Longevity is the best friend of an RPG, and I'm going in expecting the Firefly RPG to have official support for a maybe year.

Firefly: the Board Game

Twentieth Century Fox must really be low-balling the franchise rights (and they should since they hated the original series so much, right?), because yet another company is getting even more sweeping franchise rights from the network. This time it's Gale Force 9, perhaps best known for making game aids for Dungeons & Dragons. Now, I'll tell you right now that I am a sucker for ship management as a concept. When I ran my friends through our Serenity campaign together, I really had a lot of fun making them agonize over purchases, picking up crew, and selecting jobs. Having a spiffy board of planets all laid out for me to whoosh my firefly-class transport over, also fun. Having fake money, crew cards, and what looks like upgrades to one's ship? Yesyes. In my personal gaming group, nearly every game we play consists largely of me shouting out threats like I'm coping (poorly) with Tourette syndrome and everyone contributing to a litany of whatever nerdy movie quotes we deem reasonably relevant to the current game. Since this is based on the 14 episode Firefly show, I can tell you that we can probably collectively manage at least  16 hours of quotes (extra time allotted to account for me correcting my friends' quotes). This is pretty much a mandatory buy. The only question is if it will be good enough for everyone else in my gaming group to buy their own copy after playing mine.

How it might suck: Oh, I really doubt it will be good enough. Granted, Gale Force 9's other board game, based on the show Spartacus, has received some generally positive reviews, there's just so much in this game that could go wrong. If it was being masterminded by board game veterans like Fantasy Flight Games or even Days of Wonder, I'd be a little less wary, but as it is I'm shifting in my seat when I think of all the ways this could go not smooth. And things never go smooth. The biggest thing is that all signs point to this game being a competitive upgrading game--between crew and ship components--where you can boost success for bigger heists with the right combination of upgrades. This sub-genre can be a bear to balance and keep interesting, and when a company new to board games has so much ambition both in terms of the scope of a game and the importance of the franchise...well, I start to feel like every dad on America's Funniest Videos ever. I protect my junk.

Protect your junk.

Firefly Fan Film "Browncoats: Independence War"

This is a neat project that just popped up on Kickstarter two days ago. It's an ambitious little fan film that wants to tell a war story from the trenches of Serenity Valley itself. They're aspiring to make a half-hour short film in some of the very same Southern California deserts that Whedon et al used for the original flashbacks from the show, and their approach to the costuming looks completely legit from what we saw in Firefly. The general plot is focused on a detachment of Independent soldiers who are tasked with evacuating civilians before they get caught in the crossfire of the Alliance assault. The story sounds interesting, if a little contrived, but in half-an-hour revisit to the most important bit of backstory to Firefly, contrived is almost essential.

How it might suck: The number one impediment to this campaign is that it's still being crowdfunded, and on a short cycle of only three weeks, too. That's why I've decided to make this fan film the first in-progress Kickstarter project I'll mention on the blog. Now, they're off to a fantastic start, having raised more than three grand in two days out of a goal of $16,000. I really believe they can raise the funds in that time, which makes the biggest question how you're going to see it. As a fan film it won't be on television or in theatrical releases. Fan gatherings will doubtless show it as part of charity events of "Can't Stop the Serenity" where the movie Serenity and various fan films are shown to the gathered fans to help raise money for "Equality Now". But pledgers will be able to get digital downloads or DVDs of the film, to ensure supporters can watch it at any time. I have other concerns about this project, but the fact is that I think they deserve the chance to make the mistakes I think they'll fall into. Support the campaign, get them in the air, and then we'll see what's what.

*"My John Thomas is gonna pop off and fly around the room there's so much tasty here." -Jayne Cobb, "Heart of Gold" Firefly

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