It’s no secret that board games are enjoying more popularity than ever before, and as a result gamers have a wealth of options. Games of just about every genre, featuring a huge array of mechanics, can tickle almost every fancy. Some of these games are relatively low on the player interactivity scale, and the term “multiplayer-solitaire” will be used as a descriptor (I’m not a huge fan of that term, but it’s pretty common). You’re all playing the same game, but there’s almost nothing that you can do to directly harm another player’s chances to win.
On the opposite end of the “interactivity spectrum” you have games where every turn will have players interacting with each other, usually in a not-so-friendly manner, in order to elevate themselves to victory. These games are highly competitive and will pit players against each other from the onset. You’re staring someone else in the eyes while you directly destroy their chances of winning.
The object of Fire Tower is to be the last player standing…that’s right, we’re talking about direct player interaction in this one, folks! Players will assume the role of fire specialists stationed in fire towers at each corner of the board. Using the resources available to you, each turn will see you putting up firebreaks, spreading the fire, or trying to extinguish fire that is encroaching on your tower.
Inside the box, you’ll find the game board, a deck of cards, firebreak tokens, a die that controls the wind, and FIRE!!! Okay. So the die doesn’t really control the wind and there’s not actual fire in the box. The die is used to denote which way the wind is blowing, and sometimes gets rolled to find a new direction. And the fire is actually plastic “gems” that represent fire. And they are pretty cool.
The board is divided into a 16×16 grid of squares, with the four squares in the center containing the Eternal Flame. (Do you feel the same? Am I only dreaming? Is this burning an eternal flame? This game always makes me sing The Bangles.) The forest fire will grow out from the center, eventually spreading based on the direction of the wind and various player cards. In each corner of the board is a fire tower – a 3×3 grid of squares, with the far back corner representing the top of the tower you are stationed in…and if that catches fire? You’re out!
A game turn consists of two parts – first, the wind spreads the fire across the board. Depending on the current direction of the wind, the current player will add one fire gem in a space orthogonally adjacent to either a current fire gem or the eternal flame. So if the wind is blowing to the west, any spot without a firebreak that is west of a current flame is eligible.
On the second part of your turn, all you need to do is play a card. You have two options here – you can either play one card from your hand, taking the corresponding action and then drawing a new card, or you can discard and draw up to five cards from your hand. So if you’ve got some cards that aren’t that helpful, this allows you to get some fresh cards. There is also the option of using your bucket card, which I’ll speak more about in a minute.
The cards are really the driving force behind the game. There are five different types of cards:
- Wind Cards – each one of these can be used to do one of three things: change the wind to the direction indicated on the card, roll the wind die for a new direction, or place one fire gem on an empty space orthogonally adjacent to a fire gem or the eternal flame in the wind direction indicated on the card.
- Fire Cards – these will spread the fire. Each one will have a pattern on it, which dictate how the fire gems must be placed. At least one of the new fire gems must be placed orthogonally adjacent to existing fire.
- Firebreak Cards – you can create firebreaks on any empty space on the board, except in your fire tower area or on the eternal flame. Much like the fire cards, firebreaks are placed on the board in the pattern indicated on the card. Firebreaks cannot be placed adjacent to any other firebreaks (they are allowed to touch diagonally). Firebreaks prevent fire from passing through or jumping over the spaces they occupy.
- Water Cards – these will allow you to remove fire gems in the pattern indicated on the card (either partially or fully). Water can pass over firebreaks, but these cards cannot be used to extinguish fire in the fire tower area.
- Buckets – are special cards, with each player having only one to start the game. These are the only cards that allow you to remove fire gems from within your fire tower area, so hanging on to them can be vital.
So as you can see, the cards are going to provide you with ways to keep the fire away from your tower…or send it towards someone else’s tower!
Now eventually someone will not be able to stop the inexorable march of the fire towards their tower and a fire gem will be placed on their inner tower space. When this happens, the player that placed the gem takes all of the eliminated player’s action cards, combines them with theirs and selects six cards to keep, discarding the rest. All other players draw one action card and everyone will now play with six cards in their hand. When the next player is eliminated, the same thing happens but now everyone plays with seven cards.
The increasing of your hand size and the fact that the wind is now no longer allowed to blow in a direction that does not effect any active fire towers does a lot to speed the game up once someone is eliminated. Eventually there will be only one tower remaining and that player is the winner.
Fire Tower hits some good notes. First off, the fire gems are a great touch. Seeing the board fill up with those beautiful (but deadly) gems really adds to the visual aspect of the game. Secondly, the way the game is set up to play quickly and speed up as players are eliminated is an excellent design choice. Most games of this ilk slow down once a player has been knocked out. Not Fire Tower. And finally, you can teach this game and start playing in about five minutes. There’s a lot to be said about that.
With all of that being said, one word of caution – player interactivity is SUPER high in this game. You’re going to be doing everything that you can to make the fire overtake every other fire tower, so you’re not going to be making any friends. For some people, direct conflict of this sort can be a challenge. Before breaking this game out with a new group, have a conversation about how the game works and explain that it’s every gamer for themselves. No need to have hurt feelings over a game.
I’m always on the fence about games with player elimination. If you have a game like Risk where you can get eliminated early and sit around for hours watching other people play? No thanks. That’s not for me. But the player elimination in Fire Tower actually speeds the game along, so the first player out will only have a very short wait for the next game.
There are also a couple of variants to the game which will change things up a bit. The first is the team variant where you are teamed up with the tower diagonally across the board from you. This functions much like the regular game, except that you aren’t eliminated if your tower burns – you still try to help your teammate.
The other is a the Firestorm variant, which adds a card to the game that, when drawn, triggers a firestorm. You roll the wind die, and then add fire gems to ALL the legal locations based on that roll. Players now get a chance to discard and draw if they would like to ditch some cards. When a player is eliminated you also trigger a minor firestorm without the card exchange. This variant takes the game and cranks it up to 11!
Fire Tower is easy to learn, quick to play, and lots of fun. Perfect for the start of a game night, or to close one out when people have “just one more game” in them. So if you’re looking for some fast moving fun with a nice heavy dose of “take that” mixed in, check out Fire Tower!