Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade

Game: Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade

Publisher: Japanime Games

Designer:  Johan Benvenuto, Florian Sirieix

Year: 2019

Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade brings the critically rated anime to the tabletop in the form of a 2-4 player deckbuilder. Each player takes the role of one of the four crew-members of the Bebop as you travel from planet to planet hunting down bounties. As you might expect from the anime, you are a crew working together, so you can request help from the other crew-members. But the Bebop has a rather dysfunctional crew, each out to prove that they are the best and bring home the most woolongs. Just because you can call on each other's help, doesn't mean you can't also hinder each other, this isn't a cooperative game!

Cowboy Bebop was one the the first animes I saw, airing alongside Dragonball Z in the late 90s. But while Dragonball had more episodes than you could count, and has resulted in more video games and tabletop games than you could care to play. Cowboy Bebop is a more reserved series, with only 20-odd episodes to its name it still remains a very approachable series to watch. Similarly it hasn't received the bloated collection of games to its name either. So will this rare Bebop game be an all-time classic, or will fans just buy it for the minis?


Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade starts in the same way as many deck-builders. Each player has a deck of 10 basic cards and draws a starting hand. Each player will also choose a character, taking that miniature, and your deck will be unique, to match with your character. Cards either provide money, to buy cards, fuel, which you will use to travel between planets, clues, which are used to investigate criminals and strength, which is used to punch them!

On your turn, you can play cards from your hand of five to gain their resources and them spend them. Points are available in the game for either punching or investigating the criminals. Investigating is typically a little more difficult, but if you get into a fight you'll take wounds which will clog up your deck. There are three planets in the game and at the start of the game there will be a criminal on each planet. You need to spend fuel to travel to the planet before you can interact with the criminal. You can also interact with the other player and no-player characters on the same planet as you.

You'll also be deck-building, using the money you earn from cards. You can buy cards from the face-up market. These are better than your starting cards and also have combo abilities. Combos work a little bit like Star Realms, except that each card is associated primarily to one character, eg. all yellow cards are associated to Faye. Other cards that you add to your deck might combo with Faye's yellow cards, even though their base colour is blue, or purple. At the start of the game in particular, there will be some cards that seem to be far better for one player than others because your starting deck has cards of your colour, and no colour only. Speaking of the cards with no colour - these are the worst cards in your deck, just giving you one money, but they can be trashed at a cost of three money - a neat way to introduce a deck-thinning mechanism.

When fighting criminals, all players can contribute with either combat or investigation, but one player will be fortunate enough to deal the final blow and take the card and any points that it is worth. Everyone who contributed will also get one point per point of contribution. New criminals will be drawn when one is defeated and some planets will also become more costly to travel too. Eventually you will get far enough through the deck that Vicious (the big bad) will appear and once he is defeated or escapes, points will be counted to determine a winner.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Speaking as a person who has watched the anime, there is a lot of love put into this game. taking inspiration from most of the anime episodes (though I didn't see anything about spike's lunch). The bounties you hunt are the bounties they hunt in the show, on the planets they hunted them on. While functionally all the bounties are are piles of tokens to spend your resources on, knowing the characters does add some additional weight to your actions. The Star-realms style colour matching combos works well both in enabling you to tailor your deck and highlighting the crew "working together". The only problem I found on this front was that the market often didn't refresh enough for me to really hone my deck the way I wanted to. While you could spend fuel on it, fuel often ended up too precious to waste on a  chance to get a card you wanted.

The theme really is where most of the charm in the game lies. While the mechanics are all functional, there is lacking that little spark to bring the game to greatness. Not enough cards do interesting little things, mostly you are just getting one (or more) of the four resources by playing a card, while the coloured crew combos can make a turn more powerful, you are rarely doing anything like drawing extra cards that leads to those exceptional turns. One thing in particular struck me, the basic woolong cards give you 1 money to spend, or you can trash them out of your deck for 3 money. These are your basic, weak cards, and they can self-trash. In many deckbuilders I'd consider this a dream, but in reality it means that cards that let you trim your deck are far less exciting. No-one is impressed when your deck only consists of good cards at the end of the game, everyone has managed to trim their deck too!

It's a real shame that I didn't love this game more. The theme is fantastically implemented and they even tried to incorporate some interesting mechanics. The semi-cooperative capturing of bounties, managing your fuel levels, managing your wounds. It all should work. I suspect that it may work rather better with more players as the dynamics of moving around and partially hunting a bounty/ diving in and taking the last few tokens become more pronounced. As a two player game too often one bounty would be hogged by one player and there wasn't really much reason to go help them score it when you could go do something else. Ultimately it's a competent deckbuilder, and the addition of the theme does make it stand out. If you can gather 3-4 fans of the show together, chuck the soundtrack on in the background and you will have a great time, but when playing with someone who didn't recognize any of the characters, the spark didn't quite manage to ignite.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Unlike Amy, I know nothing about the original show Cowboy Bebop, although I have recently become familiar with its jazzy tunes through playing them on Beat Saber! I went into the game simply hoping to find a good deck-building game. With some firm, classic deck-building favourites in our collection, a new deck-builder has to do something new to really draw me in. Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade absolutely does this. Adding fuel as an additional resource is a nice touch and deciding where you're going to target isn't really about who is worth the most points, it's about balancing which players you want to work with or which ones you want to work against. In a two-player game this aspect doesn't come about quite as much. You might choose a place where you can be certain to deal the final blow, or you might try and eliminate the final boss in order to waste all the effort that your opponent has put into beating up an enemy on another planet. There's certainly more awareness of other players around the table than in many more solitary deck-builders, but not the head-to-head nature of others.

The deck-building opportunities within the game are perhaps the aspect that I found least inspiring. I do enjoy that there is an in-built ability to trash some of your starting cards, although in one game I enjoyed that too much, which resulted in a deck with no woolongs that I couldn't ever upgrade! I also like the combo aspect which forces you to think about specialising your deck. However, during the game, I find that I'm rarely thinking about deck-building, I'm just taking the best available card for the money I have and doing the most I can with each turn. Of course, I'm building my deck and in charge of my own destiny, but individual turns feel quite on-rails.

Overall, Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade is a solid deck-building game with some extra mechanisms and strong theme thrown in. It's not carved out a spot as our new favourite deck-builder, but for players with nostalgia for the theme, it's a well put together game, with great minis, colourful artwork and quick, enjoyable gameplay.

You Might Like...
  • This is not just another Dominion, or Star Realms clone - there's something new here to enjoy.
  • The production quality definitely elevates the game.
  • The game is not cooperative, or even semi-cooperative, but the strong theme ties you together with a common goal.
You Might Not Like...
  • There's a lot of basic actions and not many special ones that you can build into your deck.
  • You can actually break your deck, which I've never found to happen in other deck-building games.

The Verdict
6.5/10 For fans of Cowboy Bebop, Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade is a fantastic thematic game that captures a lot of the fun of the show, along with great miniatures and artwork. It's a strong deck-building game that will feel familiar, but does have some new twists, such as a third resource for movement between planets. If you're just looking for a new deck-building game, then Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade is perhaps not distinct enough in a crowded genre, but if the theme is on your radar then it's a very solid game.

Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade was a review copy kindly provided to us by Japanime Games.

1 comment:

  1. An absolutely terrific review of an anime that is very dear to me. If memory serves me correctly I seem to remember there being a solo mode in Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade? As an avid solitary player and fan of the show I would love to explore this game further if it can be played solitary. :)


    (Author & Editor of table for ONE)