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Save the Books! There's a Fire in the Library

Quick Look: Fire in the Library

Designers: Tony Miller and John Prather
Artists: Katie Khau and Beth Sobel
Publisher: Weird Giraffe Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15-30 min.

From the publisher:

Fire in the Library is a press-your-luck game in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. The game is played in rounds with a variable turn order in which earlier players have more risk but a higher possible reward. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents! Gain more tools when your luck runs out or if you take the safe route and exit the library before things get too risky. Hurry, as the game ends immediately when any one wing of the library completely burns.

Take your chances, be the bravest, and save books in Fire in the Library!

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

A scorch-free copy of Fire in the Library was provided to me for the purposes of this review, but I won't be burning any bridges when I give you my honest opinions.


Overview and Theme:

Imagine being a librarian, keeper of all your culture's collected knowledge, faced with a devastating fire threatening the precious books in the collection. How many times will you dash back into the burning building in hopes of saving just one more antique volume?

Fire in the Library is a lovely little press-your-luck game that puts you in the role of a librarian trying to save as many books as you can from an unforgiving fire.

Components and Setup:
Fire in the Library immediately impresses with its delightful production quality. The box is fashioned as a book, with a magnetic-closure cover. The fire itself is a cloth bag covered in flames!

Inside the box, you'll find:
  • 26 Library Cards, to represent the shelves of books you're trying to save,
  • 39 Tool Cards, to give you actions to help you save even more books,
  • 6 Turn Order Cards, which will be drafted each round, making turn order constantly changing,
  • 8 Reference Cards to help you learn the iconography,
  • 22 Book Tokens (colored cubes in 4 colors),
  • 17 Fire Tokens (red cubes),
  • Cloth Bag,
  • Scoring Track (the inside cover of the book box), 
  • 6 Librarian Figures (mini meeples), and
  • Rule Book, which is nicely detailed and easy to follow.

There's a little bit of setup involved in getting started with Fire in the Library, which took longer the first time we played but has gotten quicker as we've become more familiar with the components.

You'll need to set out the Library Cards in a specific way to form the Library in the center of the table (the four piles of cards will form a picture!), shuffle the Tool Cards and set out a row of cards to be the market, put all the Book Tokens and 7 of the Fire Tokens in the bag, and make sure each player has a figure, a reference card, two Tool Cards, and a starting Turn Order Card.

The setup of components will be slightly different if you are playing with fewer than 4 players, but that's clearly discussed in the rules under setup. (I do appreciate publishers who put that information in Setup, instead of making you flip back to an appendix.)

Game Play and Mechanics:
Fire in the Library is primarily a press-your-luck game with players deciding how many cubes (representing books) to pull from the bag (representing the fire) on their turn... if you pull too many red (fire) cubes, you will burn down a section of the library instead of saving those tomes!

There's also a little bit of drafting involved as the player with the lowest score (starting in the second round) gets first choice of the Turn Order cards. Each of the Turn Order cards is different, giving you a different number of chances to get Tools and a different number of risky flame spaces that could give you Bravery Points if you successfully navigate them.

When it's your turn, you'll draw cubes to fill your Turn Order card from left to right. You can stop at any time you want and save the books you've drawn so far (each color book will be worth a different number of Knowledge Points, based on the matching card that is at the top of the Library Card pile on your turn). If you draw two Fire Tokens or you draw a Fire Token to fill a space on your track that had a flame in it, you burn down a section of the library!

If you are forced to allow the fire to spread, you'll remove cards from the Library in colors matching the books you had hoped to save, and you'll also add more Fire Tokens to the bag. The game ends when the final card for any one of the four sections of the Library is revealed, so each time a player busts and has to let the fire spread, the game inches closer to its conclusion.

Throughout all this, you'll be able to use Tool Cards to help you in a variety of ways--to draw extra books, to keep the fire from spreading, to turn all the cards on your Turn Order Card into safe spaces for the turn, to score books a second time at the end of the game, and so on. Tools can be picked up if you end your turn on a safe space on your card, or--in a move of pity!--if you are forced to allow a section of the library to burn. Better luck next time!

The Good:
I was immediately delighted by Fire in the Library and wanted to play again! I was surprised by how quickly the game flows once you get into it, and how smoothly the mechanics work together. Should I dip my hand back in the bag, just one more time, to get more Bravery Points? The game is full of tense decisions, exciting heroics, and crushing defeats... and fifteen minutes later, you can play again.

The components here are really lovely, from the card art to the box design. The rulebook is very detailed with a great glossary and appendix of Tool Cards, and even includes a host of variants to make the game play just the way you like it! I enjoyed the Lone Librarian solo variant, and I appreciate the inclusion of the No Tools variant for playing with younger friends.

As a gameschooling mom, I just love the literary themes here, and it led us down a rabbit trail to talking about the Library of Alexandria, among other great libraries. It's not a bad game to pull out during Fire Safety Month (alongside Flash Point: Fire Rescue, of course!) and it is really good for teaching kids about simple probability. (There are 28 cubes left in the bag and 7 of them are red... what are your chances of pulling a Fire Token?)

The Bad:
The only thing that I can nitpick is that the cover of the book, while delightfully designed with the score track on the inside, took quite some time (weeks' worth of plays) to sit fully flat. I suggest playing with the corner of a heavy object holding the book open for your first several plays!

Players Who Like:
Fire in the Library is a visual delight, great for fans of beautiful artwork in games from Sagrada to Herbaceous. The press-your-luck mechanic is similar to that found in Can't Stop or Pass the Pigs, or (from my wishlist, that I haven't yet played) Quacks of Quedlinburg.

Final Thoughts:
Fire in the Library charmed me from the moment I cracked the spine. Tons of game in a tiny footprint, a really smooth flow to the game, lovely components, and a very well-thought-out rulebook make Fire in the Library high on my list of well-published games. The push-your-luck aspect keeps us coming back for more, and Fire in the Library has a place on my shelf... let's hope we all stay safe from the flames!

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Alexa Chaplin- Reviewer

My name is Alexa: I'm a life-long game player and homeschooling mom to two awesome kids. I've loved board games since my early days playing Scrabble and Gin Rummy with my grandmother, and life only got more interesting when I married a Battletech enthusiast and fellow game lover. We've played games with our kids since they were small, and I helped start a thriving homeschool co-op where we have weekly sessions of board games with kids.  In a family with kids raised on Catan and Pandemic, life is sure to be fun! You may run into me on Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and other social media as MamaGames. Be sure to say hi!

See Alexa's reviews HERE.
Save the Books! There's a Fire in the Library Save the Books! There's a Fire in the Library Reviewed by MamaGames - Alexa C. on May 22, 2020 Rating: 5

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