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Ales & Arson- Playing Fire Tower with the Creators

Sweet Burn.

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I spend a great deal of time reaching out to game designers of both physical and digital to talk about new and exciting games. More often than not, the design team lives far from my office in Manhattan. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing the Raven Tales team from Poland about their upcoming game, Wardens, as well as chat with the Madrid based team at Eclipse Editorial and Gato Studio about their upcoming game, The Waylanders. Each of my interactions had to take place over phone and email, limiting my time with such interesting people. But on the rare occasion, I get lucky and find that the creators are local and it just so happens that Gwen Ruelle and Sam Bryant of Runaway Parade, the creators of Fire Tower, are practically my neighbors. So naturally, we arranged to meet at a local beer garden to enjoy some brews and play board games, like the nerds that we are.

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My colleague, Jordan Best, and I met up with Gwen and Sam on a Thursday night when the beer hall was fairly quiet so we could spread out and get a few sessions of Fire Tower in. For those who are unfamiliar with the game, Fire Tower is a free-for-all game designed for two to four players. After exceeding their crowdfunding goal by more than sixty eight thousand dollars back in May of this year, Runaway Parade is in the middle of their production process in preparation for a January 2019 delivery date.

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The board itself is comprised of a sixteen by sixteen grid with different color fire towers in each corner. Within the black border of the board are bold white letters indicating where North, South, East, and West lie. In the center of the board, the Eternal Fire rages as winds pick up, threatening the surrounding forest and eventually, your fire tower. When the game begins, one player will roll an eight sided die marked with the four primary cardinal directions. The result of the die roll will determine the wind’s initial direction. At the start of each turn, players will add a singular fire gem North, South, East, or West, adjacent to an existing gem, strategically placing fire closer and closer to their opponent’s tower. But to keep it interesting, players can play one card per turn that will allow them to, build barriers, extinguish nearby flames, change the wind direction, or create explosions to manipulate the blaze and push the inferno ever closer to the other towers. Should you find yourself in a dire position, each player has a one time use bucket of water that will extinguish just a small line of three engulfed spaces.

 

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Wind cards give you the option to change the direction of the wind indefinitely, or just for the next gem’s placement.
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Cards like Burning Snag and Explosion give players the offensive advantage, rapidly reaching toward enemy towers.
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Dozer Lines and fallen trees can be used to place imperfect barriers to slow the flames.
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Blue cards all focus on extinguishing flames in various patterns, and while they are all helpful, they won’t be enough alone to save you. 
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The dreaded Firestorm card adds one fire gem to next to each existing one on the board. In a situation like this, there’s no real winner.

Our ales arrived and it was time to play. We started with the wind blowing North, so when Jordan (NE tower) opened the game with his turn, his only option was to place the fire in one of two spaces North of the Eternal Fire, towards the both of us, naturally. Then Sam (SE tower) was up. He add the start-of-turn fire to the board and then promptly changed the wind direction to West, away from himself. All of the fire so far had been placed in the Northern half of the board, so naturally, Gwen (SW tower) used the Western winds to send some fire creeping directly toward me (NW tower). With such an unfortunate start, I needed to get defensive, so I played a Dozer Line to create a barricade two spaces wide so I wasn’t eliminated immediately.

The game continued like this with ever changing winds and a wildfire that raged out of control, threatening towers in all directions. Sam played aggressively, doing whatever he could do spread fire toward a tower, any tower, just to eliminate the first player. However, in doing so, Jordan and I learned how practiced Sam was and knew we had to corner him. And that’s when it happened. Jordan drew a Firestorm card when the wind was blowing to the South. We added one space of fire on the South side of every existing one one the board, eliminating Gwen who gracefully accepted her fate, while Sam came to the horrible realization he’d made two enemies from how offensively he played. Sam expended so much energy in trying to destroy that he failed to set up defenses, so Jordan and I made quick work of him.

All that was left was the Way Too Many Games staff. Jordan is a good friend of mine, and still is, despite his calculated effort to set fire to everything I had. When it came down to just the two of us, Jordan won without having to put in too much effort. I don’t know anyone who takes more time to make gaming decisions, but I suppose it pays off when you’re able to jump passed my defenses, burn down my tower, and claim victory beginner’s luck was on his side. Regardless of my unfortunate defeat, I had so much fun, I purchased my copy that evening.

I’m amazed at how accessible the game is. The game rules are simple and quick to pick up, as is how the player cards function. Even though Jordan and I were walking into this game with very little knowledge of how to play, it only took Sam and Gwen a few minutes to explain the game to us. The bottom of each card has a small grid that visually shows how each card functions. Better yet, Fire Tower is a quick player elimination game that escalates and finishes quickly so that no one misses out on the fun for long. Even for our first game, we played a full round in thirty minutes and were ready for another. And if a free-for-all style game doesn’t sound like a good fit for you, there’s also a team variant to introduce a different level of strategy.

Everything about Fire Tower is fantastic. From ease of access and game length to the quality of components, Fire Tower is an excellent experience for any one interested in board games. As the power cards are the driving force behind the game’s progression, familiarity with Fire Tower does not serve as an advantage beyond the speed at which you play your turn. While it is a competitive game, Fire Tower is well balanced, forcing players to teeter back and forth between offense and defense, destructive plays never really feel malicious. It’s a great way to introduce friends and family to board games with something simple, while still having a great time yourself.

You can still get a copy for $49 by pre-ordering on their website, which are expected to deliver in January. The only downside is that Sam and Gwen don’t come with a copy of the game.

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Boston born turned typical Brooklyn hipster with too much beard and too little time, trading off sleep for the chance to test his patience with the most frustrating games. From Dark Souls to The Witness to ironman Xcom playthroughs; if it offers a challenge, it’s on his list. When he’s not hiding in the mountains, editing music tracks, or pretentiously talking about craft beer, you’ll find him replaying the Bioshock, Mass Effect, or Souls franchises.

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