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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Tuesday 13 July 2021

Gladiators, Ready:- Fired Up

Game: Fired Up

Publisher: Drawlab Entertainment

Designer: Giorgos Eleftheriadis, Theofilos Koutroubis

Year: 2021
Fired Up is a 2-5 player arena combat game with a twist. Instead of each player having a character of their own to fight in the arena, they are spectators able to watch, and influence, the ongoing game. Your goal is not necessarily to support any individual fighter, but to manipulate the spectacle to become the most enjoyable show for your own personal tastes. Perhaps you like the best warriors fighting head to head, or the little guy making a comeback? Of course nothing increases your enjoyment more than winning a bet, so you can do that too. Perhaps with a little clever manipulation you can make your bet come true! 
At the start of the game five combatants are drawn and placed on the arena, each has a miniature which illustrates which way they are facing and therefore which opponent they will be attacking, and a character board which presents all of the other useful information, health, wounds, morale and current combat strength and defence along with their unique special ability. Players will then draw up to four spectator cards and choose two for the round, these are the objectives that tell you what you want to see happen this round. They can be anything from powerful hits during the combat round, to the weakest fighter squaring up against the strongest when the combat round begins. Once cards have been chosen the manipulation can begin. 
Each player will roll their dice (with a reroll allowed should they not like the results) and then use a number of dice to manipulate a single fighter. There are six die faces which each allow you to change different things. The speed face lets you change the order that combatants will fight in, while the target face changes who a fighter fights. The strength/defence face lets you increase their stats, while the morale face lets you change (up or down), a fighter’s morale, which sets the limit to how high their stats can be. It's hard to be your best when the audience is booing you! The 2x die lets you copy another die you rolled, while the coin die lets you place bets and/or buy dice of other faces. Each fighter can only be manipulated three times per round. After all players have used their dice, combat begins. 
The fighters square off. Each fighter has a board with glass beads tracking their current strength, defence and morale.
Combat is simple, though a touch clunky to understand; in speed order each fighter attacks the fighter they are facing by rolling a number of attack dice equal to their attack stat. The defender rolls defence dice equal to their defence stat and then the dice are compared. Dice faces represent body parts that are attacked/defended, legs, torsos, arms, heads, special attacks/.defences and blanks for misses. Matching die faces represent attacks that were blocked, multiple attacks to the same area have the potential to cause wounds (an alternate way to remove characters), and even a strong enough defence might result in a counterattack. While this is happening players are likely to be revealing their objective cards and scoring points based on the results of the fights. There are three potential bets during the game, which may be along the lines of first fighter to cause a wound, or first fighter to be knocked out. Should these events occur then any bets on that category is revealed and points given out to players who bet correctly. After four rounds the game ends and the player with the most points wins. 
Fired up is a novel concept, a combat game where you don't have skin in the game, none of the fighters belong to anyone. This decreases the conflict in the game as a certain character being picked on in less devastating when it isn't a single player being targeted. It also allows for 'player elimination' without... eliminating players. The game doesn't become less fun for anyone when a fighter is removed, well, unless you bet on someone else going out first! The gambling and manipulation of the fighters all feels like Hunger Games, with the wealthy audience making almost as much impact as the fighter’s individual talents. Sure some fighters might have a higher potential stat, but when they have spent all game being demoralised then they won't be able to get above 2-3 dice. There can be moments of frustration when a player immediately counters your manipulation, but since each fighter can only be manipulated three times a round, sooner or later the changes are locked in. 
The objective cards represent what you want to see, in this case a large number of special defence dice and a large number of special attack dice. Looks like you'll spend the round making the combatants as strong as possible.
The objectives you have to work towards are extremely clever, combining strategising and planning with luck and even a little bit of push your luck. You might have a requirement to see an attack deal damage, but gain bonus points if the attack did three damage and even more points if it also caused a wound. Do you cash that in early on the round when a meek fighter got off a lucky hit, or hold and hope that the slower bruiser pulls of that wound for those extra points? The only issue being if that bruiser fluffs their roll then you could walk away with nothing! 
Overall Fired Up is a game unlike any other, its uniqueness alone should be enough to earn itself a place on my shelf. If you like the idea of a combat-heavy arena game, but don't like the conflict that that causes between friends, then Fired Up is the game for you. While you do have enough ability to change the game in your favour to feel like victories are earned, the bulk of the game has you feeling like an audience member of a sporting contest. You'll cheer when things go well and die a little inside when your chosen athlete doesn't achieve what they are capable of. That is assuming that you don't get hung up on the slightly weird combat system. It's simple enough, but not intuitive, and it's important that everyone properly understands it so they know how easy/difficult their objective cards are. While it's not a perfect game, Fired Up has me feeling like a proper sports fan, without the awkwardness of being themed on a real life sport that I typically find dreadfully dull. 

Fired Up was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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