In Fire Nation Rising, you take on the role of protagonist characters from the popular animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. After choosing between Aang, Katara, Zuko, Toph, or Sokka, you must gather a team of allies to prepare for the Day of the Black Sun and the battles that follow after.
You can find a video version of this review on my Youtube Channel.
You must work together with other players as you each build out your own individual teams of heroes while sustaining attacks from the Fire Nation and its villains.
Meanwhile, you race to keep the balance track moving ahead of the ruin marker in order to gain an advantage after the Day of the Black Sun. You win if you manage to defeat the three final battles that appear after the Day of the Black Sun, but before 10 or more heroes are defeated.
Fire Nation Rising utilizes the Rising System that can be found in a few other games. This is my first experience with any of the Rising titles, so I’m coming at it with a completely fresh perspective.
|Gideon’s Bias||Avatar: Fire Nation Rising Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: The Op|
|Number of Plays: 6+||Designers: Patrick Marino, Andrew Wolf|
|Player Counts Played: 1 & 2||Player Count: 1-5|
|Fan of Genre: Partially||Genre: Cooperative Dice Drafting, Tableau Building, and Crisis Management|
|Fan of Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: No interest||Price: $49.99|
Fire Nation Rising comes with plenty of nifty components. The map board comes in three small pieces that slide together, and its colorful nature is visually pleasing, even for its diminutive size.
The hero dice come in several varieties that dictate which element they lean toward. They are hefty and the iconography paints a clear picture of what they represent, even if you aren’t familiar with the anime. The cardboard Pai Sho tokens look nice too.
The stack of hero and villain cards features great artwork pulled right from the source material and features a coherent design that’s consistent with the rest of the game, making them easy to understand.
Each of the five characters has its own team leader card and location marker, and they all look great. You get a handful of generic cubes for marking damage and a set of balance and ruin sheets that can be used to adjust the difficulty.
Finally, you have the tall Ozai “miniature” that goes in the center of the board and dictates where the Fire Nation is attacking. While the rule book doesn’t explicitly say so, I have to assume that he deflects heroes’ attacks with his solid steel washboard abs.
Holy cow, I never thought a board game with Nickelodeon branding could make me feel inadequate. But whenever that miniature turns toward me I feel like I need to go and do 10 sit-ups. Needless to say, it’s a detailed mini.
The components are great quality and the setup pretty much consists of shuffling cards. It’s nice and quick. The rule book was well done, for the most part. There are a few things I’d like clarification on, but learning the core game was exceptionally easy.
Team Building Excercise
Dice are at the heart of the game, they allow you to recruit allies, attack villains, and activate abilities. Your initial team leader card grants you a pool of dice each turn, but you will want to expand it by growing your tableau of allies.
Each dice corresponds to an element, water, fire, air, or earth. Each dice not only has a higher chance of rolling that element but also has a chance to roll a double of that element. There’s a handy distribution chart on the back of the rule book. Understanding the odds is important because the game revolves around using those odds to perform the actions you want.
To recruit a hero, or damage a villain, you need to assign the correct elements to that card. On your turn, you roll and assign any dice you want, and then you may reroll the others. If you can’t assign any, you remove a die and then may roll again. You continue until all dice are assigned or discarded.
The very basic gameplay loop of Fire Nation Rising is easy to grasp. But to play well, you need to have some degree of understanding of probability. That way, you can do the things you want to do when you want to do them.
I enjoy that because it makes the game approachable but leaves room for a degree of mastery. Understanding your odds isn’t only about rolling your dice, but how you want to build out your team. Some allies provide abilities that can be triggered for free. Others need to be assigned elements, while others simply grant you more dice.
Understanding your team’s strengths and shortcomings not only helps you decide on which allies to pursue or which villains to attack, But you can also communicate to other players where your weak points are so that they can cover them.
When the Fire Nation Attacked
At the start of each player’s turn, they choose one of three locations to send their team. They can only interact with the three heroes/villains in that location for the turn. However, they also reveal a Fire Nation card. This indicates whether or not the Ozai Miniature rotates and in which direction. Where he lands is where the Fire Nation Attacks.
When the Fire Nation Attacks, they damage every hero in that location. If you sent your team to that location, every member of your team also takes damage. If a villain is present, they also activate their ability.
Fire Nation Rising has two distinct stages to it. Preparing for the final battles, and taking part in them. However, even in the preparation stage, you have to pay close attention to what the Fire Nation is doing.
While some abilities allow you to heal heroes, it’s pretty rare and slow going. You have to try and mitigate the damage to your own team while also protecting those you haven’t recruited. Recruiting a damaged hero, fully heals them.
The more villains you leave on the board, the more often they will be able to trigger their effects, and the fewer villains that you have to contend with in the Final Battles, the better.
You have to balance your strategy between recruiting new heroes to strengthen your team and fighting the villains. The bigger your team the stronger you are, but it also means that each time you’re attacked, a whole lot of heroes are taking damage. That can domino into losing several heroes at once if you aren’t careful.
On the other hand, damaging a villain doesn’t help your tableau, but once you defeat them they are gone for good. Whenever you damage a villain you are rewarded with a Pai Sho token that can grant you various one-time effects.
It pays to get clever about using certain abilities as well, such as Aangs ability to move cards around the board, Zuko’s ability to move damage between villains, or Sokka’s ability to grant the next player extra dice.
The amount of strategies and choices that you can make is quite large, especially for a crisis management game. In my experience, the genre usually has a single correct move to be made every turn, which is why they are so vulnerable to rampant quarterbacking. I’m impressed at the breadth of viable moves in Fire Nation Rising, and it’s a better game for it.
Balance and Ruin
One of my favorite things about Fire Nation Rising is the two stages of its gameplay and how the Balance and Ruin Track interact with it. Some Fire Nation cards have a number on them, when revealed they move the ruin marker up the track that many spaces.
On your turn, if you perform the action listed on the next row of the balance track, you move up that track. When either marker reaches the top, it’s the Day of the Black Sun, and the final battles begin.
A final battle card is added to each location, and it functions like a villain. To win, you need to defeat all three. Whenever the Fire Nation attacks a location, it also activates the final battle ability card in that location, and those abilities are very harsh.
The interesting thing is, the win-and-lose conditions don’t change, regardless of whether or not Balance or Ruin reached the top of the track first. You win when all final battles are defeated, you lose if 10 heroes are defeated, that fact remains true from the beginning of the game to the end of it. Instead, a bonus is granted to the players if the Balance Track triggers the endgame, and a penalty if the Ruin track triggers it.
If balance reaches the top first. All current and future villains with the black sun symbol are discarded. This is a huge boon to the heroes because not only do villains have nasty abilities, they protect the final battle in their location. You can’t damage it while a villain remains there.
On the flip side, if ruin triggers first, all current heroes with the black sun symbol are discarded. A good chunk of every player’s team could be decimated, and more room on the board means a higher chance of more villains appearing.
It really feels like a brilliant mechanism. You don’t need to reach the top of the balance track to win. If ruin beats you there, you can still power through it, but it’s more difficult. You have to weigh the pros and cons of dedicating the effort to advance the balance track, building your team, eliminating villains, and rescuing heroes, all in preparation for when the game dials up the intensity with the final battles.
Player Count, Crisis Management, and Quarterbacking
If you read my piece on quarterbacking, you will know that I believe it can be a player problem, a game problem, and sometimes both. Co-op games are the most susceptible to it, and among them, crisis management games tend to be the worst offenders.
A crisis management game is any game that dumps a load of tokens, bad guys, diseases, or whatever onto specific sections of a board, and the players lose if any get out of hand. In the case of Fire Nation Rising, it’s the hero characters and the damage they take.
Most Crisis management games are prone to quarterbacking because they are both simple, and leave a very small margin of error. One bad move and it is game over. Fire Nation Rising naturally mitigates this to a degree.
The game itself is simple, but you always have a large choice of actions you can take between which heroes to recruit, villains to attack, or abilities to activate. Furthermore, without being an intrusive ass forcing their way into your personal bubble, it’s not immediately obvious to a quarterback what all abilities your tableau offers you.
There’s rarely a time when a single moment decides the game either. Heroes take damage, and a few might get defeated, but there’s unlikely to be a moment where you MUST do this one specific thing, or the whole game is lost. The game is lost over time, a cascade of bad things happening rather than a single dogpile of damage.
Fire Nation Rising is one of few crisis management games that seems to foster a sense of teamwork without a single player dictating the moves. It’s a light game sure, but it’s flexible enough to carve out your own path every turn, rather than being relegated out of duty to keep the team afloat. The game is just designed really well.
There’s a slight caveat, however. I was only able to play solo, and with two players for this review. The more players you add, the more that acceptable decision space may narrow. The Fire Nation attacks every turn, so I could see some situations become critical by the time your turn comes around at higher player counts.
Fire Nation Rising works great at two players though, and I highly suspect it would work just as well at three. I’d be wary of going any higher than that, however.
I’m always on the lookout for good co-op games, but I’m very picky about them. I wasn’t sure what to think going into Fire Nation Rising. I’m familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of it. I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the game, however.
It’s a clever co-op game that plays really well with two players, which is usually enough to keep it on my shelf. To further credit the game’s design, I have very little to complain about. That’s rare considering the lengths I go to when picking apart the systems and mechanisms of the games I review.
The only reason Fire Nation Rising isn’t higher on my own personal list of games is a simple matter of taste. I prefer heavier games, and it’s quite light. It’s nothing to do with any shortcomings the game itself may have.
My biggest criticism is that the theme is somewhat abstract. Avatar is an anime about elemental benders that control the elements via martial arts. None of that is really reflected in the game. But it’s not a poor abstraction. You are sending your teams out to perform missions and recruitments.
The battles themselves are just abstracted to your own zoomed-out viewpoint, rather than detailed from a more personified viewpoint. I find it to be a slight waste of the source material but by no means a bad take on it.
Avatar: Fire Nation Rising is an easy-to-learn co-op with a lot of decision space and room to master its gameplay. You can adjust its difficulty up and down via several simple levers, and when combined with its core simplicity, it becomes a game that can be enjoyed if you’re young or old, hardcore or casual. Whether or not you’re a fan of the series. It’s simply a good game.
Interested in the card holders I use in my photos? They are from InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
- Great-looking and high-quality components
- Easy to learn, quick to set up, and fast to put away
- A Crisis Management game with a lot of decision space
- The mechanisms gently mitigate quarterbacking at low player counts
- The advancing intensity of the two stages is a lot of fun when combined with the rewards offered by the Balance and Ruin track
- Plenty of characters and abilities
- Modular difficulty
- Asymmetrical Team Leaders
- There are a few specific instances that could have used clarification in the rule book
- The theme of elemental bending martial arts is wasted in place of abstract conflicts
- May be prone to quarterbacking at higher player counts