Type: Area Control
Time to play: 75-90 minutes (Teaching 5 – 10 minutes)
Best played with: 3 Players (1-5 Players)
The Great Fire of London was a devastating loss for the city of London at the time, and whilst the city rebuilt into a thriving metropolis it seems fitting that this game evokes the theme with a core mechanic in which every player feels like they are constantly losing points! This sort of anti-area-control game where you start off with everyone scattered on the map, but quickly wipe out the board with the spread of a wildfire is something I had not seen before. After years of thinking about it, I am really glad that I picked up a copy of this at this years UKGE.
This game pits players against each other as quasi property barons of London, with their houses spread across a randomly generated map. The players also have three famous sites that they want to defend – although the 6 pointers near the epicentre of the fire are nearly impossible to protect. You will try to protect your houses while spreading the fire out across the familiar map of London.
The game is therefore getting players to spread the damage across the map hoping to guide it more towards their enemies than themselves. However, each move of the fire brings it closer to the other map segments where again each player will have an even distribution of houses. There is no getting away from the fact that the more you spread the fire the more you risk your own properties as well.
So you start each turn by moving the fire – pick the direction the wind is blowing from a small hand of cards and push the fire under your control. Then four simple actions to move the 6 firefighters and your supporting meeple across the map. This is where the strategy comes in.
By putting out fires you score additional points (alongside the houses you manage to keep), but to do this you will need all the fires in one area being fought by firemen at a ratio of 1:1 and you will need your meeple there. Sure, if it’s just one fire you can do this but as soon as you are fighting three fires in one area it is hard to do. In fact, crafty opponents will be leading the firemen near you to fires that they cannot hope to put out just to keep them distracted and leave you starved of points.
This leads to meeples chasing firemen across the board, fire being pulled from areas to reduce the number of firemen needed and meeples chasing each other around so as not to hand anyone points. Imagine a sort of Benny Hill sketch where they all chase each other around, but set in the fire of London. That’s sort of how it feels.
This almost chaotic scene results in some quite different outcomes, as the fire (if fought well) is manageable and can be limited to some areas of the city. The fire, when left to it’s own devises though, will get away from the players, double back on itself and hit all the major buildings. Bonus incentives to pull the fire towards tokens that might reward the active player with victory points will also lead players to sacrifice their own buildings before someone else does.
That’s not just madness either, because a variant which suggests you play without revealing to the board your player colour means that you can actually be trying to tricky people about which houses you value at the game end.
For a 5-10 minute teach, I was surprised at the emerging strategy from this game and frankly the number of different ways you can play it. It can be a vicious and back stabbing game, but no single move puts a player out of the game or unable to enjoy it. No single move leaves a player in a position where they can’t get back to what they wanted to do. This is a really neat and efficiently handled engine.
However, almost for the same reason of how streamlined the game feels, it can become repetitive. I really enjoy this game and I would play it many more times, but I have to recognise that when people on the forums make the point about the fire reaching similar levels in each game, the actions being repetitive and the wind deck being deliberately a majority of north and west (the prevailing wind on the night) they have a point. That’s not to take away from player engagement and interaction but to say that this game feels in it’s own way limited. Enjoyable but limited.
For me, there’s enough in this game to get it out and play it in a relaxed and fun way with a variety of levels of gamers. Not quite an intro game but definitely a next step game and perhaps more beyond that.
- If you like strategy depth but without analysis paralysis – this is a good one to choose
- If you want something that will evolve for 20+ games, then this wont have enough depth for you
- If you win, try again and try the variants