Tabletop Review – Fire Tower
Back in October, we met up with the team at Runaway Parade to learn about Fire Tower, their first game and a Kickstarter success.
I enjoyed the prototype copy so much that I bought in that very same night, and it was well worth the wait.
Designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle have been playing games since they were young and never grew out of the hobby. In designing Fire Tower Sam and Gwen set out to create a fun and intuitive game that would be accessible to all. And what a glowing success it is!
Setup is a breeze and takes no time at all. But as you setup for the first time, take a moment to appreciate the quality of the game components. The board is small and sturdy with a beautifully painted forest with an eternally burning fire in the center of the forest, complete with a wooden flame meeple. The same watercolor flames of the eternal fire is what’s prominently and shamelessly displayed on the cardbacks, making it impossible to miss the care that went into the final design.
Similarly to the fire meeple, there’s a black wooden arrow meeple that acts as the game’s weather vane, keeping players informed of the wind’s direction. If players don’t want to use the fire meeple to keep track of wind direction, they can use the weather vane placed on a smokey grey compass to indicate direction instead. It’s a little less thematic, but easier to read at a glance.
But the crown and glory of Fire Tower are the fire tokens themselves. These translucent orange gems fill the board as wildfire engulfs the forest and nearby towers. At first glance it appears that each of the gems is unique. However, they’re all identical and have so many facets that each one sits differently, creating the illusion of embers rising over one another. As the board fills up it looks more and more like there’s a blaze consuming everything in its path.
The goal of Fire Tower is simple. The board is divided into four quadrants (NW, NE, SE, and SW) and in the far corners of those quadrants stands a fire tower overlooking a forest as it’s immolated. Your goal is to keep the fire away from your own tower while pushing the flames toward your opponents. The player in control of the last remaining fire tower is the victor.
Fire Tower is arguably the most straightforward game that we’ve covered so far. At the start of the game five cards are dealt to each player. Then the wind direction die is rolled to indicate which way the wind is initially blowing. The first fire gem gets placed adjacent to the eternal fire in the center of the board in whatever direction the die determined. Whoever that one gem is closest to is the player who gets to play first. And now you’re ready to start setting things ablaze!
Each turn is played in three easy steps. At the start of each turn, the player will add one new fire gem to the board adjacent to an existing one in whatever direction the wind is blowing.
Then the player will choose one card from their hand to play that action. There are four kinds of cards in the game for players to use to their advantage. Orange cards can be played to spread fire in the direction of your opponents while their opposite blue cards can be used extinguish fires that are too close for comfort. If you don’t like the way the winds are blowing, you can change them with gray wind cards or if you can’t change it you can play a purple firebreak card to create obstacles that the flames can’t travel through. Each one of these cards has an action attached to it that goes into effect immediately.
As the last step to their turn, players will refill their hand by drawing one new card from the top of the deck, signifying that their turn is over. In instance when a player dislikes options, they can opt to discard any number of cards from their hand and redraw instead of playing an action. It’s an easy turn order that sees very little variation.
The only time this order ever changes is when special card is drawn from the deck. As soon as one of these three cards is revealed it must be played immediately. The first (and most destructive) of these cards is Firestorm. Whenever this card is drawn the wind picks up and spreads flames everywhere. The die is rolled to determine the direction of the wind gusts and then a new fire gem is added to each vacant space in the direction that is next to existing fire. Once the flames consume the board and everyone is scrambling to save their tower, you roll the die and go through the process once more. By the end of a firestorm card’s effect, no one is safe from harm.
The two other specialty cards, Mutual Aid and Shadows of the Wood, are entirely optional but we recommend playing with one or the other to spice the game up a bit. If the mutual aid card is drawn, the player who draws it chooses one of three actions on the card that every player at the table will then do. The options are to either add a new fire gem, place a firebreak token, or discard and draw three new cards. Even if the chosen action isn’t helpful to everyone, they must execute it.
But I’ve saved my personal favorite card for last. Fire Tower is ultimately a player elimination game but that’s never fun for the loser who has to sit and watch everyone else play. As Fire Tower is designed to be accessible and fun for all, that simply won’t do. Runaway Parade introduced the Shadow of the Wood card as the solution to a player sitting on the sidelines. Even when a player has lost, they aren’t out of the game. When the Shadow of the Wood card is drawn each eliminated player can take an action. Theses players are still eliminated from the game and can’t win, but they can get the chance to exact revenge.
Shadow of the Woods allows eliminated players to either draw a card from each player’s hand and choose one of them to play against the remaining players and their towers. Or if that’s not fulfilling enough, eliminated players can instead roll the directional die three times and place one new fire gem in each of the three directions. Better yet, if the Shadow of the Wood card is in the discard pile when someone’s tower is eliminated, it gets shuffled right back into the deck making sure that everyone has the chance to haunt their opponent.
So if there are so many types of cards and actions to play, how can Fire Tower be considered a gateway game? For starters, the objective is simple: don’t let the flames get too close. But each of the action cards has a concise description of how the card is played, complete with a three by three grid that visualizes the orientations that each card will let you place or remove tokens. After just a few plays, it’s easy to familiarize yourself with the function of each card by name alone, but the grid illustrations make it even easier for first time players.
Since receiving our copy of Fire Tower we’ve had several friends of WTMG come into town who wanted to play. In each case it’s taken us no more than five minutes to teach the full set of rules to a new player. It might take a full game for them to grasp how to form a strategy, but games only take fifteen to thirty minutes so it’s playing a few games in one evening is easy.
Fire Tower is at its best with four players, but can be played with two or three as well. In a two player game, Fire Tower feels a bit more like checkers than anything else. Players sit across from each other in control of opposite towers making calculated moves exchanging fire tokens and trying to play the wind against one another. One versus one scenarios are quick but calculated and once a board quadrant begins to fill with fire, it’s incredibly difficult to turn around without a third or fourth party to intervene in the showdown.
Whenever there’s a third player someone will always be the middle tower and susceptible to being teamed up on. As a way to mitigate that, the unused tower can be used as another eternal fire and starting fire tokens can be placed on the board from that corner, giving the third player just enough reach to make up for being flanked by the two existing towers.
Fire Tower has only been in our possession for a little over a week now, but it’s hit the table more than any other game in that timeframe (with the exception of Gloomhaven which simply never got put away). The current production is the game’s first and there is a limited quantity available right now but if you’ve been in search of a gateway game for your friends that can still bring joy to the experienced gamer. There’s no word on when another production will become available so if you want to get a copy from Runaway Parade, now is your chance. It’s an excellent game that’s perfect for any age and if you can get yourself a copy you won’t be disappointed.
2 Players: 15-20 minutes
3-4 Players: 20-30 minutes
Fire Tower only takes a few minutes to learn. Runaway Parade implemented wonderful visual tools that make learning Fire Tower a breeze.
The board and card artwork is simplistic and beautiful but the fire gems steal the show.
The quickplay nature of the game makes this an easy game to get to the table night after night.
Fire Tower is available now through Runaway Parade’s website.