Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade Review

Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade is a game by Florian Sirieix and Johan Benvenuto, published by Japanime Games. It is for 1-4 players. In this game, players take on the role of one of the bounty hunters from the spaceship, Bebop. Based on the cult series, Cowboy Bebop, players will hop from planet to planet in an effort to catch criminals while powering up their decks to be even more efficient. Of course the ruthless and sadistic criminal Vicious will be looking to take the players out and escape their clutches. That means that the players will need to catch Vicious and put him away, if they hope to win. In the end, the player that can prove they’re the best bounty hunter and earn the most renown will be declared the winner.

To begin, the 3 Planet boards and the Bebop board are placed in the middle of the play area. A Fuel cube is placed on the 1 space on each of the 3 Planet boards. The miniatures for Spike, Jet, Faye and Ed are placed on the Bebop board, regardless of the number of players. The Common Deck board is placed near the Planet boards. The Common Deck cards are shuffled together and placed face down on the board. The first 5 cards of the deck are then drawn and placed face up in a row next to the board. This creates the Purchasing Area. A random starter Criminal is chosen for each planet and placed on the corresponding Planet board. A number of Capture tokens are placed on each Criminal card based on the indicated numbers on the card. The remaining Criminal cards are sorted by planet and shuffled into separate Planet decks. A random number of Criminal cards are taken from each deck and then shuffled together to form the Criminals deck. The number of cards taken is based on the number of players. The Vicious card is shuffled into the deck as one of the last 3 cards. The Criminal deck is then placed on the Big Shot stand. The Damage cards are shuffled together and placed face down on the Damage board which is placed near the other boards in the middle of the play area. Each player chooses one of the characters and places the corresponding Character board in front of themself. They also receive the 10 cards of their character’s Basic deck and a Fuel cube, which is placed on the 1 space of their fuel gauge. Each player shuffles their Basic deck and places it face down next to their Character board. The first player is chosen and draws the top 4 cards of their deck. The other players all draw 5 cards and play now begins.

The game is played in a series of turns, with each player taking a turn. On a player’s turn they may take any of a number of actions as many times as they wish and in any order that they choose. Those actions are to play a card, purchase a card, move, use a character’s ability and confront and capture a criminal. The first action that they can choose to perform is to play a card. To do this, the player simply places one of the cards from their hand face up in front of themself. Once played, the player will immediately gain the resources indicated by the card. If the card has any special effects, these are then resolved. Any effects must be resolved completely before taking any further actions. Effects that state, “You may…” may be ignored but the effect can not be resolved at a later time. It should be noted that some cards have a Team effect. These Team effects are resolved only if a card associated with the character shown is present in the player’s play area. A Team effect can only be resolved once, even if multiple cards showing the corresponding character have been played. It should also be noted that some card effects allow the player to remove cards from their discard pile and/or their hand. Cards removed this way are permanently removed from the player’s deck and placed in a separate pile or back in the box.

Another action available for a player to take is to purchase cards. To do this, the player simply chooses an action card from the purchasing area and pays the purchasing cost of the card in Woolongs. Woolongs are accumulated by playing cards that provide the resource. The player is allowed to purchase any number of cards, as long as they have the Woolongs to purchase them with. Every time a card is purchased, a new card is drawn to replace it from the Common deck. If there are no cards that the player wishes to purchase, they may refresh the purchasing area by spending 2 Fuel. When this is done, all 5 cards are removed from the purchasing area and placed in the discard pile. Five new cards are then drawn from the Common deck to replace them with. It should be noted that some criminals will cause the purchasing area to refresh when they make their first appearance on a planet.

Moving is another action that a player may take on their turn. To do this, the player must spend a specific amount of Fuel based on the Movement gauge of the location that they would like to move to. Moving to planets costs from 1 to 3 Fuel, while returning to the Bebop only costs 1 Fuel. It should be noted that the Movement gauge on the planets can be modified in various ways, such as when a player plays a card that modifies a gauge or when a criminal escapes or is captured. For more information on the Movement gauges, please check out the rulebook.

Yet another action that a player may take on their turn is to use a character’s ability. To do this, the player must simply spend the required amount of fuel and then follow the instructions. It should be noted that each player has 2 unique abilities; their own personal character ability and a first ability of the other characters. A player may use their own personal character ability at any time, however to use a first ability of another character, both character’s miniatures must be at the same location. The amount of fuel to perform the action is taken from their character’s fuel supply.

The final available action is to confront and capture a criminal. To do this, the criminal must first be weakened. When a character is on the same planet as a criminal, they can choose to spend either strength or clues to weaken them. The number of each is based on the the numbers on the criminal card. Each time a character pays the corresponding amount of strength, they will gain a resistance token. However they must also gain a damage card for each resistance token that they gain. When taking a resistance token from Vicious, the player will gain 2 damage cards. Each time a character plays the corresponding amount of clues, they will gain an investigation token. Once all of either the resistance tokens or investigation tokens on a criminal card have been taken, the player will immediately capture the criminal. The player will then follow 3 steps. First they will place the criminal card face down to the right of their player board, then each player that gained capture tokens corresponding to the planet that the criminal was captured on will be given an equal amount of renown points, which are then placed on the player’s character board face down. Any characters on the planet where the criminal was captured are immediately returned to the Bebop without having to pay any fuel costs. The movement gauge on the planet is then reset to 1. Two new cards are revealed from the criminals deck, one at a time. The availability of the planet on each card is checked for each. If the planet already has a criminal on it, then the movement gauge on the planet is increased by 1 and the criminal card is discarded, otherwise the criminal card is simply placed on the planet. If the planet’s gauge was already on 3, then the current criminal escapes and the newly revealed criminal takes their place. The movement gauge is then reset to 1. If a new criminal card is placed on a planet, then the purchasing area refresh effect is resolved, if the new criminal card has one. A number of capture tokens that match the planet are then placed on the resistance and investigation spaces of the new criminal card. It should be noted, that if a criminal escapes a few things will then occur. First the current criminal card is replaced by the new criminal card. Next the planet’s movement gauge is reset to 1. Then all the characters present on the planet are returned to the Bebop. Finally each player must discard all of their capture tokens for that particular planet and will receive no renown points for them. One last thing of note, some cards will change a planet’s movement gauge. When this happens, even if the gauge is already on 3, the current criminal will not escape.

Once Vicious appears, the second part of the game is triggered. Any criminals already in play will stay that way, but no new criminals will be revealed moving forward. Once his card is revealed, he is placed on a planet, but first his movement deck must be created. This is done by taking all the discarded criminal cards and any still left in the deck and shuffling them together. This new deck is then placed on the Big Shot stand and creates Vicious’ movement deck. The first card is now revealed to determine where his miniature is placed. The revealed card is then discarded. The Vicious card is then placed between the planet boards and the Vicious tokens are placed on his card corresponding to the number of players as noted in the rulebook. To be able to confront Vicious, the character’s miniature must be on the same planet as his. If there’s a criminal card on the planet, the player may choose to confront either the criminal or Vicious. Gaining capture tokens works the same way as capturing a criminal, except that when taking a resistance token the player gains 2 damage cards instead of just 1. At the end of a player’s turn, if Vicious has lost at least 1 resistance token, he will move. To move him, the player must reveal the top card of Vicious’ movement deck and resolve it. If the revealed location is different from his current position, then he is moved to the new planet without changing the movement gauges. If the location matches his current location, then the movement gauge of that planet is raised by 1. Just like any other criminal, Vicious is captured once either of his capture token piles are emptied. Once this happens the game ends immediately. If the last card in his movement deck is revealed, players get one last turn before the game ends. If Vicious remains uncaptured at the end of the last player’s turn, then he escapes and all players lose any Vicious tokens they may have already acquired.

Once a player has finished with all their actions, they will declare the end of their turn and place all the cards that they played into their discard pile, along with any cards remaining in their hand. The player will then draw 5 new cards from their deck. If Vicious is required to move, then he will move at this time. Once this is completed, play passes to the next player in turn order.

The game continues until, as noted above Vicious escapes or is captured. Once either of these happens, the game ends. Players convert any Vicious tokens they have into renown and discard any remaining capture tokens. Each player will then add up their renown points including the renown for any personally captured criminals. The player with the most renown is the winner.

COMPONENTS
There are a lot of great looking pieces to this game that fans of Cowboy Bebop will absolutely adore. Let’s start off with the planet and Bebop boards. These are really think and look amazing. Each one has recessed sections for the Fuel cubes to be placed in them. Speaking of fuel cubes, these little guys are a neon green looking clear plastic that looks really neat. It sort of makes me think of rocket fuel or something like that. There are also a few other little boards for the common deck and damage cards. These are a little thinner but still look great. The character boards are just like the planet boards and are thick and recessed as well. The image of each character on these is very nice and really brings home the feel of the game. The game also comes with a couple of sheets of cardboard tokens for renown and capture tokens. There’s even full color cardboard standees, in case you wanted to use them instead of the included miniatures. The question is why would you want to. The miniatures are extremely cool. Granted they aren’t as detailed as some miniatures I’ve seen in other games but I had absolutely no problem determining which character was which. Seeing these has made me want to take up painting minis again, however I doubt I’ll get around to it. The last pieces to the game are of course, the cards. There are 188 cards included in the box which includes 92 common deck cards, 21 criminals, 1 Vicious, 30 damage and 40 basic decks with 10 cards for each player. The quality of the cards is very nice and the artwork on each one looks amazing. These really bring home the feel for the game. One look and you really get a sense of the characters. I love just seeing each card when it’s flipped over and being able to check out the amazing artwork on each one. The game also includes a great insert that holds everything in a really good way. Overall I think players familiar with Cowboy Bebop will love this game, especially if they are fans of the show. Deck building players will also find something to enjoy with this one as well. Since I fit both of those categories, I love this one. This is a game that I highly recommend. It’s definitely made it’s way onto my top 10 played games of all times.
9 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is well written and looks really nice. The cover looks very thematic and like something a bounty hunter might receive on their first day on the job. A couple of pages in and the book goes into explaining the rules of deck building games. I think for players unfamiliar with the mechanic, this is a pretty nice introduction. A couple of pages explaining cards and resources follow before moving into the setup of the game. All of the actual rules are laid out in a fairly straight forward and step by step process that’s pretty easy to follow. There’s a nice section near the end of the book that explains all the character’s abilities in great detail. On the last page, the book even includes rules for playing the game solo, which is a huge bonus in my eyes. There’s even a place to chronicle your adventures that includes your name, character played and your score. The back of the book has a very nice reference guide for how the game is played that’s very helpful. The book has lots of great pictures and examples throughout and it has a mildly thematic look and feel to it. Overall I think the rulebook does a great job of explaining the rules while looking cool in the process.
9 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
I remember watching Cowboy Bebop for the first time back in 2001 on Cartoon Network. I remember how much I absolutely loved the show. In fact, it was Cowboy Bebop and Vampire Hunter D that started my love for anime. It was no surprise that when I found a DVD copy of the entire series, I immediately bought it. I still break out that DVD from time to time and rewatch all those episodes. Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when I first discovered deck building games through the DC Deck Building Game. Here was a game mechanic that I absolutely fell in love with. I loved the idea of being able to start off with a small deck and basically customize it as the game goes on. That brings me to this game. Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade combines two of my favorite things into one, but is it actually any good? The short answer is YES! This game brings the Cowboy Bebop universe to life as you move from planet to planet, catching criminals and making money. I love that while the game is a deck builder, so a lot of focus is on your deck, you’re also making big decisions on what criminals to go for and how to best utilize the resources that you create. Of course fuel is a major aspect of the game, without it you can’t go where you need to and you can’t do the things that you’d like to do or even need to do. Just like the show, each character needs to rely on the others from time to time. I like that even if you’re not playing with 4 players, you will still use all the characters from the show and be able to use some teamwork via the character’s first abilities. Of course you have to be in the same place with that character, but thankfully the game makes it possible to move the others around. In the end, like with any other deck builder, it’s about getting the most points. Of course you have to beat Vicious first and he can be rather tough at times. Now if that wasn’t enough to garner your interest, the game also includes a solo mode. I love a game with a good solo mode and this one plays very similar to the core rules. There are a few small differences but not so noticeable that you feel like you’re playing a different game. I love that about this one. Seeing as this has two things that I love combined together, you better believe that this is one that I completely enjoy. Fans of Cowboy Bebop will love this, especially if they like deck building games. Fans of games like Marvel Legendary may enjoy the semi-cooperative nature of this game as players try to take down Vicious and the other criminals together. Overall this is a great game and one that I plan to play religiously. This is one that I highly recommend.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade is an amazing deck building game that allows players to play their favorite bounty hunters from the cult series, Cowboy Bebop. The game doesn’t take a long time to play. Most game sessions last about 45 minutes to an hour. The cards and components look amazing. They really bring to the life the show and fans of Cowboy Bebop will have a lot to appreciate here. I especially love the miniatures and the cards. The rulebook is well written and designed. It’s got everything you need to be able to play the game, including some solo rules which are great. The game itself is lots of fun. The theme of the game really comes out quite well and fans of Cowboy Bebop will really enjoy this one. As a deck building game, it’s got a lot to offer. Fans of games like Marvel Legendary may find the semi-coop nature of this one to be interesting. This is one that I absolutely adore and look forward to playing a whole lot more. As both a fan of deck building games and Cowboy Bebop, this one hits the mark for me in a BIG way. This is one that I highly recommend. It’s definitely on my top 10 list of games for this year. See you Space Cowboy!
9 out of 10

 

For more information about this and other great games, please check out Japanime Games at their site.

http://www.japanimegames.com/

 

 

About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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