Original German edition of Ablaze
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The moon shines high above the forests and lakes. Suddenly its soft glow is surpassed by the red light of leaping tongues of flame -- the forest is on fire! In the nearby village the call goes out, telling of the danger and the fright of the conflagration...
The firefighters are assembled quickly. Twelve men follow your orders to fight the fire. Send your people to the large fire sources, but make sure that they maintain access to water.
Who will place his men most skillfully?
Who will stand as a hero at the end the long night?
Who will win, when the fire rages and the call goes out...
Feurio! is a board game in which the players fight a spreading forest fire. Feurio! can be played solo or with up to four players.
Feurio catches a gamer off guard. You think it is just a game of placing fires. Instead, you have to ration the firefighters for the best coverage. You think the fire is figured out each turn.
Then, the problems begin. In a two-player game (up to four can play)you place two hex blocks or forest tiles for the first turn and receive two different colors of firefighters. Then, the next hex is placed with a corner that does fit. Your fire can start out in one direction, and, then, suddenly, the forest fire is headed in the next direction. You usually have two or three circles for placing firefighters on the forest tiles. Players with different colors can place on the same hex. Eventually, that placement (e.g. two firefighters)can mean only certain sides of the forest tile are still available. When forest tiles are surrounded, then, new forest tiles cannot be placed next to the old tile.
You soon discover it is better to have your firefighters all connected in one or more directions with the forest tiles. To conserve firefighters, one should not place two firefighters on the same hex with the two circles. You would only consider that maneuver if you insisted on controlling that particular placed hex block. It is important to look for forest tiles that have No. 1 in the center of the tile.
Why is No. 1 so important? At the end of the game, a division of the forest tiles owned occurs for the scoring. The individual with the No. 1 can divide his points by 1 instead of 2-3-4 (e.g. 17 points divided by 1). As the fire spread, both players had to place forest tiles near the 6 and 5 hex blocks. That is because the rules state the hottest fires must have the forest tile attached first (a hot fire could be defined as 6+5 for two forest files). The hot fire is always the highest number of two forest tiles.
I became destroyed by the other player who accumulated 45 points to my 39. The yellow and blue firefighter who had at two divisions of 1. The red and green firefighter (me) had only one division of 1. The key in this game is to place firefighters on as many No. 1 circled forest tiles as possible. When the forest tiles are used and no more firefighters can be placed, the game is over.
The yellow and blue player commented he was not initially impressed with the game. Still, we both agreed the game is different every time it is played. Chance uncertainty definitely occurs in the game with all those burning forest tiles. What was the best feature of the game? Intellectual challenge.
Edition Erlknig is one of those enterprising, essentially one-man outfits that give Essen its special flavour. The big companies display their wares alongside the smaller ones and the standard achieved by some of the latter means that there is no knowing which will provide the hits. All you can be sure of is that there will be surprises and some nice discoveries. Edition Erlknig and Heinrich Glumpler first came to our attention last year with Fette Autos, a card-based motor racing game. It was well produced and had a novel and clever set of mechanics. Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, it didn't quite gel as a game, which is why it got a favourable mention in my Essen report but was then never reviewed. The problem - and this is a somewhat perverse objection in view of the amount of time we all spend complaining about games that aren't true to their themes - is that the races turned out to be too much like real life motor races. In Formula One, for example, the position at the finish is boringly similar to that at the start, with the main difference being that some drivers will have dropped back or out as a result of mechanical failures. Substitute ``particularly bad run of cards'' for ``mechanical failures'' and you have Fette Autos. A shame, because it was, as I said, a neat system. This year's offering is again clever, original and produced to fully professional standards (illustrations by Franz Vohwinkel, no less), but this time the fun is there as well.
The theme is a forest fire and you, as a player, have a team that is helping to fight it. The most victory points will go to those who position their men where the fire is hottest, but only if they also have access to a secure and plentiful supply of water. Prestige comes from effective fire fighting, not from displays of pointless courage.
The equipment consists of 36 hexagonal ``fire tiles'' and 12 men in each of four colours. Each tile carries a number in the range 1 to 6 and this represents how fierce the fire is at that particular location. Water is available on each tile, but this time the lower numbers are best.
On your turn you draw a tile from one of the face-down stacks and add it to the grid at the point where the fire is at its worst. This means placing it at the place where the sum of the numbers on the adjacent tiles is greatest. So the fire spreads from its hottest point. If there are several locations tying for top spot, you choose between them.
That done, you place up to three of your fire fighters on to the playing area, but there are restrictions on where they can go. All the men you place must go on to the same tile and there must be legal spots for them. In addition to its ``fire number'' each tile has between 1 and 3 small circles on which men can be placed - the hottest tiles having 3 and the coolest 1. There has to be a vacant circle before you can place the man, but that isn't the only restriction. You can only add the man if, after placement, the number of fire fighters on the tile is no greater than the tile's number of remaining free edges. So as a tile becomes gradually surrounded the number of available spots diminishes. Men already on the tile aren't affected, but new ones can't be added.
This continues until all the tiles have been placed, after which everyone continues to place any remaining men until either everyone has run out or there has been a complete round of passes. You then score and this is done by looking at each of your connected groups. The score for each is the sum of the numbers on the tiles on which you have at least one man, divided by the number on the lowest tile that still has at least one free edge. For example, if I have a group of four men consisting of one on a 6 tile, 2 on an adjacent 4 tile and one on a 2 tile that is still on the edge of the fire, my score for the group will be (6+4+2) divided by 2 to give 6 points. The fact that I have two men on the 4 tile doesn't increase my score; it is just the presence on the tile that matters, not how many men I have there. If I had the same grouping but this time the 2 tile was completely surrounded and it was the 4 that was still at the edge, my divisor would now be 4 and the score for the group would drop to 3. Do this sum for each of your groups and add to get your final score.
If all that happened during the game was that each player secured a presence on a 1 tile (which then stayed at the edge) and then ran after the fire playing one man per turn, the game would play itself, but this isn't what happens once the players know enough to get competitive. If a rival has this sort of optimal water access, it is in your interest to cut off this group and keep it small. This is where playing more than one man on a tile comes in. You are lowering your own potential score by effectively ``sacrificing'' a man or men, but if you do it right the damage to your opponents will be greater.
There is also a tactic which enables you to alter the direction of the fire by building a fire break. To do this, when you add a new tile to the display you place it upside down. Upside down tiles have a value of 0, which will reduce the fire's intensity at this location and send it off in another, and you hope more advantageous, direction. Done at the right time this can have quite a significant effect, but like all good things it comes at a price. If you do it, it takes up your whole turn, you can't place any men and must instead return one of your unused ones back to the box.
Feurio doesn't have the depth needed to make it a serious contender for ``game of the show''. Nonetheless it was one of this year's solid hits and that is not just my opinion. The view was shared by everyone I spoke to about the game and also by most of the ``scouts'' who reported back to the stand run by the German magazine Fairplay. They are asked to rate the games they have played on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1 translates as ``brilliant'', 2 as ``very good'' and so on. With 70 people submitting ratings for it Feurio's average score was 2.2, well within the ``better than 2.5'' band that one regards as being a strong recommendation. Had I filled in my form, it would have collected another 2. I have played the game with 2, 3 and 4 players and enjoyed it each time. However, if you are playing with 2 or 3 be sure to read the section of the rules that gives the special ones that are needed for these numbers in order to keep the board sufficiently crowded for blocking to become a factor.
I have no hesitation in recommending this one. It is a purely tactical game, but the tactics are interesting and the game's length is perfect for its content. I am also most impressed by the way that the mechanics flow from the theme. Other designers of multi-player abstract games should take note. Feurio is proof that it can be done.
The components are language free and although the rule book is only in German, an illustrated translation can be downloaded from the company's website.