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.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Fire Tower


Game: Fire Tower

Publisher: Runaway Parade Games

Designer: Samuel Bryant, Gwen Ruelle

Year: 2018



As guards at the fire tower, it's your job to keep a watchful eye over the forest and protect it from danger. That said, you're also out to save your own backside, and when you see smoke in the distance it's all about your safety and you have complete disregard for the forces manning the other watch towers.

You'll use everything in your power to combat the blaze and ensure that yours in the last tower standing. Dispatch fire engines, order air drops of water, build fire breaks and pray to the powers that be to try and change the wind direction. In your panic, it's only your safety that's important.



Gameplay

At the start of a game of Fire Tower, each player is assigned to one of the towers at the 4 corners of the map. They are also each given a bucket card, and a hand of cards to play with from the deck. In the centre of the board lies the eternal flame, a 2x2 square of fire that cannot be extinguished by any means. From here the fire will spread, eventually engulfing the fire towers until only 1 player remains.

On each player's turn they will first add 1 fire gem to the board according to the wind direction, the wind can blow in any of the 4 cardinal directions, as the towers are on ordinal directions a single direction of wind will never be enough to defeat you. After adding the fire gem they will then play a card before redrawing up to a full hand, should you not like any of your cards then you can replace your entire hand and redraw instead of playing a card.

The cards come in 4 main types: Water cards are blue and extinguish fire in various different shapes. Fire cards are orange and essentially to the reverse of water cards, in fact most fire cards have the same shapes as the water cards so they can directly counter each other. Fire break cards are purple, most of them add a single fire break token to the board, preventing fire from ever entering there, though there is one card that allows you to remove a fire break that your opponents have set up. Finally wind cards can do one of 3 things; Change the wind direction to the one names on the card, add a single fire token in the direction of the card, or randomize the winds direction, useful, though risky if the wind is blowing against you.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

Fire Tower gives you some hard decisions to make, changing the wind may well set you up for a slow inevitable advance towards your opponent, but its slower than simply using fire cards. Playing water cards or fire breaks can give you a good defensive line, but if the wind is against you then you will slowly lose ground anyway. The main problem comes from the random nature of the cards, combined with the direct competitiveness of a 2 player game. If you have the NE tower and you draw north and east wind cards then you will have to randomize the wind direction to stop it from pointing at you, but when you do so there is a 1 in 3 chance that it will still blow against you. Furthermore if your opponent has a north wind card then it's not unlikely that you will spend 2 turns changing the wind direction only for them to blow it straight back at you!

A 2 player game in progress, This is a per-release prototype so components are subject to change.
In a two player game not enough happens between your turns to really change the landscape, so many of the cards have near direct counters that sometimes it feels like you can't achieve anything. This can feel like an exciting tug of war, but if you are forced onto a back foot waiting for that wind card you need it feels hopeless. I suspect this will be lessened in a 4 player game where there is more than one target to attack, as well as more cards available to the group as a whole.

Ultimately Fire Tower is simply not modern enough - the era in which a competitive player elimination game with a handful of simple cards was acceptable has passed. I didn't dislike playing Fire Tower, but I doubt I will ever seek to play it again. If you do ever want to try it make sure you have the full player count or you are in for a disappointment.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Fire Tower is an interesting hand management game of trying you best to balance your turns of advancing fire towards other people, wit your time spent putting out fire that is coming towards your corner of the board. The deck of cards is well balanced, with a matching defence for most of the attacking moves. You might get unlucky with your cards, but there's always an option to waste your turn to draw a new hand. There's some definite tactics in the fire breaks you play, as well as when you try to change the wind direction. This definitely creates a good push and pull in the game.

All of our plays of Fire Tower were with two players, and this is where we found our major issue. The wind direction can often get stuck in a direction that is favourable for one player, meaning that the other player has to start taking actions against themselves in many ways. Although there are cards that change the wind direction, a cunning opponent might try to hoard the ones that are most important to you and luck of the draw might also be against you. In most of our games, we found that this factor eventually balanced out, but it was quite frustrating to have large periods of the game where you felt powerless.


I would certainly recommend the game most for four players, that way you'll always be able to make the most of the wind direction, by altering who you are attacking at any time. However, the one thin you can't get away from is the theme. I think there's a reason that all fire themed games to date have been cooperative games about stopping a fire, rather than Fire Tower. which seems like a game of using fire as a weapon! I think this could be a problem for a large number of people.


The Good
  • There's an interesting balance between playing defensively and offensively.
  • It's possible for really tight games to occur, with an interesting tug of war at times.
The Bad
  • The game is best suited to four players. You can get very unlucky in a two player game.
  • The theme of trying to burn down someone's watch tower may be a problem for some people.

The Verdict
5/10 Unfortunately, Fire Tower doesn't excel with two players. Bad luck with the wind direction and your subsequent cards draws can be too much of a factor in favour of one player. 

Fire Tower was a preview copy provided to the  Board Game Exposure reviewer collective. It is live on Kickstarter from 24th April 2018.

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