We aimed to misbehave and thought we had played all the space cowboy-themed games. Lady luck was on our side when the Guide for Bounty Hunters popped up on gaming social media. It had been a while since we watched the groundbreaking sassy and smart anime Cowboy Bebop. It takes place in a flawed and contentious universe. The characters have depth, and all actions have repercussions. Episodic stories that glide through ardent music and slick artistry. Japanime games captured the soul and spunk from the show thoroughly.
Cowboy Bebop: Serenade is a semi-cooperative deck-building game for 1-4 players. You are tasked to play one of the shrewd crew members on The Bebop and tasked by the Big Shot to hunt criminals on Mars, Earth, and Ganymede. Eventually, you cross paths with Vicious, and the outcome of this battle determines your victory or his escape.
- Play a Card
- Purchase a card
- Use an ability
- Confront or Capture and Criminal
Each player starts with a basic deck of ten cards and, on a turn, can play some of the deck cards, purchase new cards, accumulate resources and activate abilities and try to capture criminals. The game has two main phases; building your deck and catching lesser criminals and the final conflict to capture Vicious. Vicious either gets away or is captured, the game is over, and the player who has earned the most Renown points wins.
The character cards include Spike, Jet, Faye, and Ed; the starter deck contains basic themed cards and six generic cards. The players start equally balanced. The first player starts with four cards, and consecutively, the players play five cards on a round unless an effect is triggered. There is a Common deck to purchase from during your turn, and five cards are revealed and placed face up in a row. A turn, the player reveals their cards from their hand face-up in front of them and resolves any effects. At the ends of their turn, these played cards are discarded to their deck face up. The player then draws five new cards from their deck and prepares for their next turn. The play goes clockwise.
When a player’s draw deck is depleted, they shuffle their discard to create a new draw deck.
During the turn, a player can get new cards from the Purchasing deck, placed on the top of their discard pile. When the discard pile is refreshed for the draw deck, the new cards become available.
To build a more efficient deck, you can remove cards from your player deck through effects on cards or pay the cost to remove them. We choose to swiftly remove the basic cards to increase the chances of drawing more valuable cards. The goal is to purchase and upgrade your deck to create powerful combos and maximize effects.
The art is eye candy. We remarked that it looked like cells from the Anime. The deck cards contain the character, witticism from an episode, purchasing cost, resource gain when played, and effects triggered when played and the team’s effects. The dominant color is the character color, and the team color is the character color required to use with the card to gain the effect: Capture tokens and Renown points. When a planet has a criminal on it to capture, there are two ways to capture a criminal, to Investigate or Strike. Each Criminal has a listed amount of Strike and Investigate tokens. Once you have captures tokens in ONE of the piles, the Criminal is captured, and Renown Badges are exchanged for the capture tokens. Any player who has received capture tokens for that planet received that number of Renown Badges. The player to finish one of the piles receives The Big Shot Bounty card and any Renown points it has offered.
The resources are Woolongs, which are the currency of the game, Fuel supply that can be used to travel to planets or traded for other resources, Strength for engaging in combat, and Clues that are used for Investigation. Any unused resource at the end of a turn are exhausted and do not carry over.
The Big Shot
The Big Shot stand is an astute addition to the game. There is a simple assembly for the stand, and it works adequately, however, it would be nice to purchase an upgraded stand for longevity. We will be playing this game for years, and it would be heartbreaking to have a defective Big Shot. The Big Shot is where the Criminal Cards are located. Each card’s appearance is campy and whimsical. They allocate which planet the Criminal is on; the Renown points any effects, some tokens for Strike and Investigation, and the Strength requires to defeat the token.
When a card is played, that triggers an effect that causes the five face-up cards in the Purchasing deck to be refreshed. When a player is on a planet with a criminal, they can spend Strength or Clues to weaken them and eventually Capture the Criminal. If a player uses Strength to strike the Criminal, they must draw one Damage card for each strike they use. Damage cards have immediate repercussions or are put in the player discard pile. Any character on a planet that a criminal has been captured must then fly back to the Bebop. Time to put a new bounty out on the planets. Pull two Criminal cards consecutively. If the planet is available, move that Criminal to that planet and place the indicated Strike and Investigation tokens on the card. If the planet is unavailable, that planets fuel gauge goes up one. The starting coast for flying to a planet is one fuel. The gauge can go up to three fuel if Criminal cards are revealed, and there is a criminal already located on the planet. If a third Big Shot criminal is pulled for the corresponding planet, the Criminal goes free. Few Purchasing cards raise or lower the fuel cost when activated.
The Boss Fight
The appearance of Vicious triggers the end game. Criminals still in play on planets will remain and can still be captured while fighting Vicious. No new criminals will enter into play. When he appears, his character is put into play, and the first planet drew from the reshuffling of discarded criminal cards and the remaining cards. These cards will be his movement deck. The first card will be starting the planet for Vicious. Place tokens on his Big Shot card. The big battle so there is a potentially big reward. Confronting Vicious will more costly and cause double the Damage. If Vicious still has at least one Strike or Resistance token at the end of a turn, he moves. Pull the next planet card to reveal where he moves to next.
You can Investigate Vicious during a turn and not do combat, and he stays in the same location. Here is the rub; if you reveal a planet that Vicious is already located, you raise the fuel gauge, and if it is on three and you pull that planet, Vicious escapes. If you run out of planets before capturing him, Vicious escapes. The game ends, and all players lose any Vicious tokens. Our house rule was that if Vicious escapes, he wins, and we all lose! This rule came about from misreading the rulebook; however, we found the high stakes makes for a rewarding end. If you capture Vivacious, the game ends in a triumphant cheer and sly grin.
The player with the most Renown badges wins.
Bits and Bobs
Rulebook- Concise and Cheeky.
Three Planet Boards; Earth, Mars and Ganymede.
Deck Boards; Damage and Common Decks
Miniature’s (Unpainted) Spike, Jet, Faye and Eddie
Character cardboard standees
Renown Tokens- the badge earned for capturing criminals’ values of 1,2 3
Capture Tokens- Location tokens and Vicious Tokens
The Big Shot Stand- Authentic
Basic Beck cards
This game is easy to teach once you get through the rulebook. It may seem like a light game; however, it can get surprisingly cutthroat as the jobs on the Big Shot dwindle, and Vicious is around the corner, and the players turn on each other to score big before time runs out. The Nerdz Garage team is utterly competitive and did not manage the semi-cooperative gameplay. This did not detract from the experience. We enjoyed the seamless adaption from the anime that felt as if you were romping through the episodes. The variety and combination of the Common deck have lent to variability. After multiple games, there were new combinations made to build a contrasting deck.
Clever additions were the Appearance effect on some of the Criminal cards. The random reshuffling of the Purchase draw cards could be frustrating and comical at the same time. The baddies in the Criminal cards felt fair and balanced.
The Vicious appearance though expected was still relished. It did feel a bit too easy for a big battle was hoping it was more challenging. Our misreading of the rules, that if Vicious escapes than we all lose, was a house rule kept. That peril gave the game an intriguing conclusion for the Nerdz.
Nerdz Garage enthusiastically recommend turning up the jazz and pursing the bad guys in Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade
See you Space Cowboy !
3,2,1 Let’s Jam!
Tank!” by Seatbelts
Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade
Playing Time – 30–90 Min
Year Published – March 2020
Mechanism – Deck, Bag, and Pool Building
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