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Fire & Axe
domestic edition of Viking Fury
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Trade, raid and settle the world of Middle Ages Europe. Sail the seas to the end of the world. Fight bravely under the Raven's banner and bravely enter Valhalla! Make the civilized world tremble and priests fervently pray "Lord, save us from the fury of the Northmen".
Fire & Axe gives players a chance to take on the role of Vikings traveling between 750 and 1020. Each journey begins in Scandinavia, where crewmen and goods are loaded and the runes cast. During the journey, you will trade with the locals, raid them for treasure or try to establish settlements. If you can, you may try to accomplish sagas which will be repeated by the skalds.
The speed at which you will gain riches and notoriety will determine how great a mark your Viking will have left on Middle Ages Europe.
- 1 rulebook
- 1 game board
- 33 rune cards
- 27 saga cards
- 5 longboat tiles
- 1 wind dial token
- 33 goods token
- 15 treasure tiles
- 67 gold coins
- 5 drakkar figurines
- 75 crewman figurines
- 3 large town figurines
- 12 small town figurines
- various counters
- 3 dice
Average Rating: 2.5 in 1 review
Fire & Axe (Asmodee Editions, 2007 – Steve and Phil Kendall) was on my list of most anticipated games from 2007. A reprint of Viking Fury (by the Ragnar brothers), I had heard many good things about the game; and the Viking theme, along with the fact that one of my favorite companies was producing the game, certainly attracted me – I played it eagerly.
The game has since become so popular that it has continually seen play in our gaming group – a few folks have declared it one of their favorite games. And I certainly see why, it’s full of theme, wonderful bits, and interactive, enjoyable game play. Yet something holds me back – and it’s easy to identify – I don’t necessarily enjoy the luck involved in the game. Sure, I don’t mind dice or luck in games, but to me, there are a few rolls, which make or break the game, and I’ve seen players lose the entire game due to poor rolling. Still, the game was enjoyable despite this, and perhaps I’m a lone voice in the crowd (I certainly am against the group here!). Fire & Axe captures the imaginations of players and gives them a lot of good, interesting choices for an immersive experience.
There are a decent amount of rules in the game, so I’m going to give a briefer overview of what’s going on than I usually do. Basically, players each have a ship, into which they can load goods (skins, tusks, and furs) and crewmen. Starting from Scandinavia, players will take turns during the game, sailing through the seas around Europe, settling, plundering, and trading with cities, although not necessarily in that order. A Saga deck offers different ways that players can score points (such as settling all the towns of a certain region), and some cities are large enough to be outright attacked.
Players must watch what sea they are sailing in (some are more treacherous – therefore causing slower movement than others and use Rune cards to help themselves and/or hinder other players. The game utilizes an action point system for players when moving their ships, but it doesn’t offer too much room for analysis – it’s more of a tracking device for movement. A wind dial shows the direction of the wind, changing the attitude of the seas; and there is always one type of goods in demand, offering more victory points. Trading is the easiest thing to do and makes later plundering and attacking more effective, but it also has the lowest payoff in points. Raiding and settling are riskier (relying sometimes heavily on luck) but offer extreme awards. After all the Saga cards are revealed, the game comes to an end, with players scoring points for different actions they have taken (completed Sagas, raided settlements, etc.); and the player with the most points is the winner!
Let’s take a closer look at some of the features of the game…
- Components: The game is a stunning mixture of plastic models and
cardboard tokens and does a good job of depicting the European map of
the Viking era. The box is large and holds the components well,
covered with evocative artwork (also found on the cards and rulebook).
Each player has a large round cardboard circle that represents their
ship – and it’s quite handy for storing the goods (cardboard tokens)
and men (plastic figures). The city pieces are small plastic cities
with a cardboard token wedged into the bottom of them to give them
random values. All in all, the quality is very high.
- Rules: The rulebook has sixteen large pages, but there are a ton
of illustrations and examples, including one page of a rules synopsis.
Even though it might take me a while to explain the rules in detail
when writing them, the game flows very smoothly while teaching. Much
of this has to do with the theme, which absolutely makes sense when
coupled with the mechanics. An example would be that a player gets
“+1” when raiding or settling a town that they have previously traded
with. This makes sense thematically, because trading with a city will
make at least some elements of the city predisposed to be friendlier
with you. And as I explain the game, these things make sense to
people, and I can see them nodding their heads. Fire & Axe may be a
“Eurogame”, but the thematic trappings make it very easy to explain
- Longboats: Each player has a longboat that can hold five things
(six or seven later on in the game). When loading the ship at home
port, a player can load up goods and/or crewmen. The more crewmen,
the easier it is for players to invade and settle towns across the
board; but they will have less trading ability. The decision of how
to fill up a boat is rather similar to another game I own –
Serenissima, although in Fire & Axe, there is no invading other boats.
Any decisions you make when filling up affect only yourself, but it
is frustrating when you are far away from home port, threatening Rome
itself and finding yourself with too many goods and not enough crewmen.
- Trading: There are only three types of goods, and each group of
cities (most are grouped in triplets) allows only one of each good.
So it makes sense to carry a diversity of goods, although it’s often
tempting to carry the goods that are “in demand” at that point in
time, since they give a bonus. Trading is most certainly the easiest
thing to do in the game, although it rarely carries the bonuses of the
more lucrative settling and raiding. Still, it’s quite possible to do
well at the game mostly on trading, although you would have to be the
only player doing that.
- Invading: Raiding is a quick way to make victory points, although
it’s potentially draining, as a player sends in their troops, which
may quickly get killed. Sending in more troops doesn’t give a player
a positive bonus, other than give them more chances to win. A player
may send up to three troops per battle and rolls them one at a time.
They must exceed the value of the port, which is often “4” or “5”. If
they do not make the roll, the crewman is discarded; and if they run
out of crewmen, the battle ends in defeat. However, if they do win
the battle, the city is removed, and the person receives the points
printed on the bottom. There is even a “bloodied axe” bonus at the
end of the game to see who has raided the most towns. This bonus is
not nearly as good as it sounds; most of the points from raiding occur
from the towns immediately after they are conquered. However, as I
said at the beginning, this is one of the problems I have with the
game. It’s very frustrating to go to Rome with six troops, attack
twice, and lose all six crewmen, only to watch someone else sail in
with one crewman and conquer the city. In many games, the luck of
dice seems to even out over time, but with only a few big cities on
the board a lucky person can get a giant leg up on the other players.
There are a few cards that can give some bonuses when attacking, and
trading can give another bonus; but drawing cards is random, and
carrying trading goods takes up the room of crewmen on board. I’m
sure that this is the way the game is intended, but it can make you
literally furious to get nothing when sending men overseas, and then
seeing someone just trounce in and snag it simply because they were
- Settling: Settling a city is just as lucky as raiding, except a
player rolls all the dice at the same time rather than one at a time.
Usually not as critical as raiding – if you can’t settle one place,
you simply move to another – it still has an annoying luck factor, and
you can actually lose more men if you’re not careful. I do think that
the scoring of settlements is interesting – happening at the end of
the game. Each settlement is worth the value of the port but is
doubled or tripled if two or three of the ports in that region are
occupied – even by an opponent. Settling is something that players
don’t really notice as the game is played but can really turn out well
for a player at the end of the game, especially if they manage to get
a couple groups of settlements together.
- Rune cards: A player can give up some “days”, which are used for
sailing, to draw Rune cards, which command a variety of effects
throughout the game. Some allow a player to attack another player’s
settlement or create some other negative problem for other players.
Others give bonuses when attacking or settling ports, allow ships to
move faster, change the “in demand” good, give bonuses to players with
settlements, etc. Several of the cards are marked by red diamonds and
may be left out of the deck if players want less interaction in the
game. I really cannot fathom people taking these out, because even
though many of them are of the “take that” mindset, it’s fairly
necessary in this game. Players can attack each other in no other way
but by using these cards; but if you want a peaceful game that is
basically a race, I would leave them out. None of the cards are too
powerful, although there are certainly cards that are better than
others. However, a player who plays or discards a Rune card can
rotate the wind dial, allowing them better movement in the sea of
their choice. I find that players often ignore the Rune cards,
because it slows you down when traveling over the seas, but they can
often make the difference between victory and defeat.
- Sagas: However, there is no question about it – Sagas are the
most important cards in the game, and players who ignore them do so at
their peril. There are three Saga cards shown at any given time, and
they gradually get better as the game progresses. Each saga card
gives a victory point bonus if the player accomplishes some sort of
goal – settles the final city in a region, trades with the final city
in a region, raids a specific town, etc. These cards often help focus
where a player travels and what they do, as it’s rather open-ended
otherwise. There are twenty-seven Saga cards included in the game,
although only eighteen of them are used, so players can’t depend on
any single one showing up. Also, sometimes a Saga is revealed, and
it’s already been completed (such as raiding a city – and that city
has long since been defeated). There can also be some sneaky little
things done – like Joe settling two of the cities in a group, then I
slide in and settle the last one, getting the bonus and the Saga card.
Players must keep an eye out for this, and occasionally there is some
cutthroat action regarding these cards, especially when Rune cards get
involved. But there is something even more valuable about Saga cards.
Each is marked with one of the three main Scandinavian ports (Norway,
Denmark, and Sweden). At the end of the game, the player who has the
most Saga cards for each country receives ten points for each card,
while the second most receives five points per card. Folks, I have
seen this decide the game in EVERY game that I’ve played or observed
so far. Getting thirty or forty points near the end of the game can
be a huge bonus, and bring a player from mediocrity to first place.
Saga cards are necessary for victory!
- Fun Factor: The theme is fun, especially when players really get into it with a small amount of roleplaying. The Rune cards (especially the red diamond ones) bring a level of interaction that is enjoyable, and most people enjoy the freedom they have to do what they want during the game. Even though players take their turns one at a time, individual turns go rather quickly, although most games have taken a little more than two hours to complete. It’s a lot of fun raiding and trading, although some people (myself included) might find the rolling of dice to be horribly annoying when it doesn’t go your way. Still, the game is light, enjoyable fun with a variety of paths to victory.
I stand alone in my group in my slight distaste for the game – everyone else gets a surge of enjoyment from it and don’t mind the luck when attacking ports. I can also see how the game has a certain appeal and enjoy the variety of options available. It has tremendous components, a good, embedded theme, and is simple enough to be explained to new players with ease. I usually don’t mind luck in games, and only rant about it here because it can be extremely important at small, critical junctions in the game – and in a two-hour game – I don’t necessarily want that. This is certainly a game to try before picking up, as your views may (and probably will) vary.
“Real men play board games”