“Fight fire with fire.”
Runaway Parade Games
Note: Games Quest sent us a copy of Fire Tower so that we could write this unbiased review
You find yourself atop a fire tower in the middle of the forest when the smell of a distant blaze hits you. You must use the tools at your disposal to protect your tower, while attempting to direct the flames towards your opponents. Unpredictable as fires are, firestorms will sporadically appear and accelerate the fire. Use the cards in your hand to the best of your availability to be the last tower standing.
This is a strikingly designed, quick and simple game designed for 2-4 players. Let’s see how it works.
How the game works
The object of the game is to be the last tower standing by using cards from your hand to affect the direction of blazing forest fire away from you and towards your opponents. On the board there are four fire towers (one in each corner) and an eternal flame in the centre. Every other space is lucious (for now) forest. The eternal flame is where the fire originates, and can never be put out no matter which cards are played.
Players take it in turns taking two actions; 1) spreading the fire and 2) their main action.
Spreading the fire takes place before each players’ main action, where they must add a fire token in the direction the wind is blowing to indicate the spread of the fire. If it’s pointing toward opponent fire towers then you’ll want to place it as close as you can to it.
A players’ main action involves selecting a card from their hand to try and influence the fire in a helpful way to them, until only one players’ fire tower remains.
There are four main types of cards:
Wind cards – these have a compass direction on them and give you the choice of changing the wind direction or rolling the wind dice to change the wind direction. Useful if the wind direction is towards your tower.
Fire cards – these have the effect of adding fire tokens to the blaze, most of the time these are not effected by the wind direction.
Water cards – these allow you to douse the flames as they approach your fire tower. There’ll be a pattern on your card which you can extinguish fire tokens by removing them from the board. Super important especially when the wind is blowing your way!
Firebreak cards – these are very important in trying to win the game and protect yourself. These cards allow you to place firebreak tokens on the board which block the progress of fire- they cannot have fire tokens placed on them so use them wisely!
Each tower area is a 3×3 space in the corner of the board, but you only lose when the fire hits the tower itself in the very corner of the board. The snag is that you can’t use any water cards on fires that are in the tower area, so preventing the fire reaching that area is absolutely paramount.
Help is at hand though, as each player has a “Bucket” card which once per game allows them to remove a line of three fire tokens including from within their tower area. Once that’s used though, it’s only a matter of time before your tower is gone…
If you’re out the game there’s still a chance for you to get involved (and maybe even win) through the use of the Shadows of the Wood card, which gets shuffled in after one player is out. When it arrives, the eliminated players are able to perform actions which could lead to the demise of the remaining players. It’s a lovely little twist that gives hope to those out the game.
The winner is the player who’s tower is the last one standing!
We caught a glimpse of Fire Tower being playtested at the UK Games Expo in June although the queues were too big for us to get a chance to play it – but the striking design of the box and board, along with the beautiful fire tokens gave it a fascinating look so we were very excited to be given the chance to review it for GamesQuest.
It didn’t disappoint! It was a very simple game to learn, and one that we very rarely needed to refer back to the rules once we’d read through it once. This is a big plus for a game this size because it means you can easily play a few rounds within 30/45 minutes.
Some people I know actively refuse to play games involving player elimination. I can sort of understand why as nobody likes sitting and watching as others fight it out for victory. The longer the game the more annoying that would become. Because Fire Tower is so quick it doesn’t really become too much of an issue and the inclusion of the Shadows of the Wood card really was a good idea and keeps eliminated players interested, as I’ve already mentioned.
The only time this can become a drag is if the final two players are cancelling each other out and the end is drawn out. Even if this does happen, the fact each player only has one bucket card to use the whole game, means that play cannot go on indefinitely- once the flames enter your tower area for the second time, they cannot be extinguished. Other games I’ve played involving player elimination have a tendency to just go on forever as players keep healing themselves (I’m looking at you, Bang!).
There is some aspect of luck involved, but because the distribution of card types in the deck is quite even, if you really need to change the wind direction a wind card shouldn’t be too far away. If you really think it is an issue (Jess somehow didn’t see a single wind card in our first game), you could always house rule it and have three cards on display to select from. You can also mitigate this by using your main action to discard as many cards from your hand as you want and drawing back up to the hand limit of 5. It’s more about being clever with what you play and when you play it – knowing when to remove fire tokens and when to use fire cards is critical because if you’re constantly on the defensive you’ll never lay a (burning hot) glove on your opponents.
I have to confess it did feel a little odd thematically in this era of wildfires and global warming, to be playing a game where the object is to spread the fire and burn your opponents to the ground, and I think there’ll probably be people out there who find it more uncomfortable than we do, but generally we enjoy games for what they are, the mechanics and the look of it, so it didn’t really bother us.
There are a few rule variants as well to keep things interested and we can’t wait to try the expansion, Rising Flames that introduces Firehawks!
Overall Fire Tower is an extremely solid game that works just as well at each player count, it’s a simple concept and beautifully designed. Highly recommended!
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