Header AD

Fire Tower Review


Quick Look: Fire Tower

Designer: Samuel Bryant, Gwen Ruelle
Artists: Kevin Ruelle
Publisher: Self-Published
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Review:



I spend a lot of time checking out board games, especially seeing what new Kickstarters are out. I was surprised, then, when at Origins I came across a neat-looking game that I hadn’t heard of before. Of course, there will always be a few games that I miss, because, let’s face it, there are a lot of Kickstarter games year after year.

But this game had my attention simply by me seeing it in action. In Fire Tower, fire appeared to be spreading and threatening the players. Knowing nothing but what I saw on the table, I had to stop and just watch everything unfold. On Saturday, I was able to sit down with one of the designers (and two other passersby) and get in a game.

You had me at hello.
 
I was impressed with how easy to grasp the rules were, yet the gameplay was nothing but exciting. When my wife and I play games with others and something unexpected happens, my wife will always inform the others at the table that my anxiety about what is happening in the game is, in fact, real. This is true in a lot of co-op games, but just the other night we played Camel Up, and it was a close race and any camel could win…I was having a hard time sitting still! And that’s a racing/betting game.

With Fire Tower, you’re literally fighting fire with fire (OK maybe not “literally,” but in the game’s world it’s literally literally..). As the game progresses, so does the fire, and it’s not stopping! The object of the game is to be the last tower that hasn’t burst into flames, which has players doing everything they can to ensure it won’t be them. If games like Pandemic and Camel Up can get my heart racing, then we ought to monitor my heart rate while playing this!

Although I hadn’t heard of Fire Tower before Origins, it came out of seemingly nowhere and captured my attention from my first glance. Fortunately, I was able to return from the convention with a copy of the game, and when I got back, Fire Tower was one of the only games I wanted to play. When I played with my wife, she demanded a rematch after our first game. I feel that type of reaction is what designers are hoping for, and for me and my wife, that’s exactly what they got.

From here on out, this review will discuss certain aspects of the game (as indicated by the subject headings), and while there may be some explanation of what’s going on, I will also leave my thoughts of each topic as well. Ready to burn some bridges towers? Let’s get cooking!

Setup:


The wind will start the game by blowing east.
Setup isn’t difficult, but I won’t describe it in severe detail in this section. I couldn’t find the rule book on the Board Game Geek page, but the rule book shows only eight steps, and none are going to make you wish you’d paid attention in high school algebra. Essentially, components are separated, players start with five cards in their hand, and roll the wind die to see which way the wind starts initially. Boom, that’s it. Let’s play.

Gameplay:


The rules state that you cannot normally place firebreaks next to pre-existing firebreaks. Please not that all firebreaks in this image were, in fact, placed legally.
On your turn, you go through two steps. On the first step, you place a fire gem adjacent to any pre-existing fire gem (on the board), in the direction the wind is blowing. So, if the wind is blowing north, the fire gem you place at the beginning of your turn is placed on the north side of any fire gem already on the board. And if your tower happens to be north? Well, that’s part of the fun!

The second step is to earthier play one card from your hand, or discard any number of cards from your hand and draw back up to your hand size.

See? Simple. And yet there is a wonderful amount of choices for you to take. You could spread the fire by playing a fire card, put out some fire by playing a water card, or add some firebreaks by playing a firebreak card. Or, if things are getting a bit too uncomfortably hot for you up in your tower, play a wind card and change the wind’s direction.

One thing I desperately love about Fire Tower is what happens when fire enters your tower. When this happens, you have a bucket that can put out three fire gems. Once you’ve used your bucket, however, there’s no refilling it, so if fire enters your tower again, you go on a wild mental state known as reckless abandon. Here, you may discard water cards or firebreak cards to place fire gems on the board. Basically, since you’re already on fire, your main goal is to burn everyone else’s towers before yours goes up in flame. Nice! This can make for some very scary and tense moments in the game, especially when multiple towers are on the verge of extinction. 



The Firestorm card really ups the ante as well, nearly halfway through the game when there’s already a fair amount of flames licking at the trees. When the Firestorm card is drawn, more fire gems are placed, only this time, it’s adjacent to all fire gems (where applicable) already on the board. So, if the wind direction rolled was south, every fire gem with an empty space on its south side would get a new fire gem buddy. This escalates things quickly, and usually makes things more dire for at least one other player.

When a player is eliminated (assuming there are more than two players), hand size of all players increases to 6, and then 7 in a four-player game when only two players remain. This speeds the game up substantially, so those who burned out early aren’t waiting for too long as the others keep playing. Also, every time a player is eliminated, a partial firestorm takes place, escalating things even more.

I really like the balance the designers created for not letting the game drag on. Things speed up, escalate, and before you know it, the game’s over (hence more than one play in one sitting). The ability to win as a dead person is optional, as is the ability to all share an action for a turn. There’s a lot going on in the gameplay, but it shouldn’t take more than one play to realize how incredibly fast the winds and fortune change, and thus your confidence in winning.

Yes, things can start off a bit slowly, but whatever you do, please cherish those moments. It won’t be long until you wish you start looking back and reminiscing about the good ol’ days of only a dozen or so flames in your forest.

Personally, I found the gameplay to be fast, fun, and exciting. I’m so happy to have played this, and I can’t imagine turning down any future opportunities to play.

Theme and Mechanics:


The theme of fanning the flames of a raging forest fire to destroy opponents is not one I’ve seen before. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite of games like Hot Shots. I think it’s a fun and exciting theme. And, yes, I get that people may not like burning down forests, but that’s not the object of the game. The fire’s already burning, so who can blame you for guiding it away from you and your tower? If you’re into preserving trees and whatnot…well, it’s just a game, and if someone decides to fan the flames of an actual forest fire, they’ve got something a lot deeper going on, and should probably get some help. Personally, I think the theme works wonderfully, and for those that have read other reviews of mine, you likely know that theme is one thing I love in a game.

Now, a little something for those who think I’ve never seen an actual forest fire and don’t know what I’m talking about. Yes, I have seen wildfires raging out of control (more than one). Yes, they’ve been a bit too close for comfort (although I’ve never had to evacuate). And yes, I know people who have dealt with the effects first hand. Heck, I’ve even worked for an emergency preparedness company and wrote blogs about the dangers of wildfires and how to prepare for them. I know the seriousness of wildfires more than most, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a thematic experience of fanning flames and burning down my enemies. 

This is about as close as we could get to the fire from the road (not that we wanted to go closer).
The mechanics are a lot of fun, and really play on the theme. The direction the wind blows dictates the direction the fire spreads (kind of like real life). Firestorms escalate the danger and add a bit more chaos to the game. Manipulating fire, blocking fire, extinguishing fire…it’s all here, folks, and it’s wonderful to be a part of.

Artwork and Components:


The artwork isn’t as life-like as some games try to be, but what we have still works, and it does look good. In fact, I’m quite partial to the art style, especially in regards to the board. I find that it helps with the feeling of dread that comes as the fire burns ever closer to your tower. It’s good art.

As for the components, there’s not much aside from cards and fire gems. And wouldn’t you know it, I love the fire gems! Sure, the cards are fine, and the tokens are fine and board is fine, but the gems! Call me a sucker for fancy markers and tokens (hey, sucker!), but I think the gems really add to the overall experience. I mean, sure, they could have gone with cardboard tokens for the fire, but in Fire Tower, you’re adding so many fires to the board that the flat tokens would get rather annoying to deal with after a while. (I don’t have long finger nails, so picking those flat bits up is much more difficult for me than  for most. Don’t @ me.) 

In a nutshell, I have nothing negative to say about the components.

The Good:
  • Competitive
  • Easy to learn
  • Quick to play
  • FIRE!
  • Team-play variant
  • Exciting
  • FIRE GEMS!
The Other:
If you’re not a fan of “take-that” mechanics - meaning your whole goal is to make another player’s life more difficult/miserable - then this one may not be for you. There’s also some player elimination involved, and while there is technically a way for players to win after going out, there’s not a lot they can do to ensure that happens.

There’s no solo mode, so if there’s no one else to play with, I’m stuck not playing it. (I’m just kidding…kind of.)

Final Thoughts:



It’s fast, fun, and frantic - in the best ways possible. I understand that not everyone will be interested in the relatively low depth of strategy, but not every game has to burn your brain (this one can just burn your tower!).  I love a good, deep-strategy game, but games like Fire Tower are never dull, regardless of difficulty. I’m a fan (blowing the fire your way), I like the theme and mechanics, and I’ll play this when given the chance.

In unrelated news, my four-year-old, upon seeing the box for the first time, asked, “What is this game? This.. fire tower game?”

And no, I had not even mentioned it to him. He saw the words and totally read them all by himself. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that a tower was on fire…)

That is all.




Players Who Like:
If you like games such as King of Tokyo and other games that have “take-that” and player elimination mechanics, you’ll most likely enjoy Fire Tower, so give it a look. If you like burning things and/or putting out fires, also give this one a go. If you’re like me and enjoy a tense game of back-and-forth, nail biting action, check out this game. It’s fast and easy to learn, too, so it’s an excellent choice for a filler game. Of course, you could also make Fire Tower the star of game night and play it multiple times in one sitting (like I’ve done).

Check out Fire Tower on:
               


About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.



Fire Tower Review Fire Tower Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on July 26, 2019 Rating: 5

No comments

Sponsor

eDice