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Fire Tower Review

Fire Tower Board Game Review – Hot and Bothered

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Fire Tower Overview

In Fire Tower, you stand atop a wooden structure amid the trees of a dense green forest when suddenly the smell of smoke assaults your nostrils. You quickly lean over the railing and spot a glimpse of it. The terrifying flicker of an intangible force of destruction, the all-consuming wrath of energy that we call fire.

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Is it time to sound the alarms and ring the bells? Absolutely not. It’s not a watchtower, it’s a Fire Tower, and you’re going to make certain yours is the last one standing.

Fire Tower Close up

Fire Tower is an abstract game where rival players battle it out by literally fighting fire with fire, by influencing the raging inferno into the direction of the other towers and away from their own. Smokey Bear’s worst nightmare made real.

Players take turns playing cards to spread the flames, douse the ones closest to them, or cut down parts of the forest with firebreak cards to help protect their own tower. At the same time, the wind is always a factor. It spreads fire every round, but that too can be changed with the power of a card.

Gideons BiasFire Tower Information
Review Copy Used: YesGenre: Competitive Abstract Strategy
Number of Plays: 20+Publisher: Runaway Parade Games
Player Counts Played: 2-4Designers: Samual Bryant, Gwen Ruelle
Fan of Genre: NoWeight: Light
Fan of Weight: NoPlayer Counts 2-4
Gaming Groups Thoughts: MehPrice: $49.99

Components

Fire Tower comes with a lot of interesting, and rather unique components. To start with, you get a large and sturdy board depicting the four different towers, forest, and the eternal flame in the center. It’s bright, crisp, and looks great, especially once you start putting all the bits onto the board.

The full boxed contents of Fire Tower

The game comes with a nice cloth bag to store the fire tokens. The fire gems themselves are small orange crystals that represent fire, although they look more like amber than flames. Even though I suspect some dude with a cane might break down my door at any time to mug me and spare some expense for a new dinosaur amusement park, they still look really nice.

Fire Tower comes with a nifty little weather vane for tracking the wind direction and two different arrows you can use with it. A basic arrow and a neat fire arrow. The game comes with a nice custom 8 sided die for changing the wind direction and a set of pretty, but generic purple firebreak tokens.

Fire Tower wind dial

The deck of 60 cards is well made. This is another game I have yet to sleeve, and the cards are still holding up just fine. The artwork on them isn’t fancy, but it’s consistent, clear, and fits really well with the rest of the components.

Aside from the fire break tokens. Most of Fire Tower’s components are pretty unique when compared to other board games. They bring a relative sense of perception to what the game is, despite its abstract nature. A bystander could look at a game in progress and accurately guess what was happening, and that’s pretty cool.

Gameplay

Fire Tower’s a pretty simple game to learn. Each player gets a hand of cards, and on their turn, they either play one or discard some of them to draw new ones. With only a single action to take each turn, play moves pretty quickly around the table and keeps the flow moving smoothly.

Fire Tower fire cards

Cards can have a variety of effects, such as spreading the fire in a specific pattern, dousing the flames, creating fire breaks, or even changing the wind. Fire Tower is an abstract game, but holding the power of wind, fire, and water in your hands might make it feel like you’re on a Wizards Tower instead. Well, whatever you are, with the pyromania you’re exhibiting, you can be sure you aren’t a planeteer. Captain Planet would not be a fan of your shenanigans!

The goal is to spread the flames to the inner square of the other player’s towers, but there’s also a catch. Every player must place a fire gem in the direction that the wind blows at the start of their turn.

Fire Tower really feels fast-paced thanks to the short turns and the wind constantly pressuring anyone in its path. It all makes for a very interesting duel where you’re trying to guide the destruction rather than create it. It’s an interesting, unpredictable, and competitive puzzle of a raging wildfire.

Wielding The Red Flower

Fire Tower’s at its best when the game is an intense back and forth between the players. There are a lot of small but interesting aspects that can shake things up. Firebreaks created by two different cards can’t be placed orthogonally adjacent. But the explosion card is an exception to this rule. It creates one firebreak in the center of its pattern and then fills the spaces around it with fire.

Water can douse flames, but not if it’s in your tower. You’re one-use bucket, on the other hand, can only be used if your tower is on fire. There’s quite a lot of decision space in spite of the game’s simple mechanics. Do you focus on defense with fire breaks or spread the fire toward an enemy? Do you change the wind, or flow with it for a while?

Fire Tower event cards

The event cards add a further twist and activate the moment someone draws them. A firestorm causes a sudden surge of flames to burst forward. While Mutual Aid allows you to choose an action that every player performs. In a 4 player game, the Shadow of The Woods card allows a defeated player to exact some revenge and still engage with the game a little bit, which is nice.

It’s an interesting battle of wits to control the chaos of the continually spreading fire. The wind makes sure that the inferno never stops growing, and the cards are simply used to direct its wrath.

Player Counts

I played Fire Tower at two and four players, and both were different experiences with highs and lows. A two-player game is a tight duel as each player struggles to keep the flames and wind under their thumb. It’s a game full of counter plays, and the wind is an extremely important factor. You can’t ignore it if it’s blowing toward you, but you also have to choose a good moment to change it, or your opponent will gain the upper hand.

Fire Tower wind cards

Two-player games can sadly, turn one-sided very quickly. Each player only plays one card per turn. So the wind can cause situations to occur where the tempo shifts against you, and there’s little you can do about it. You might play fire engine only for your opponent to play flare up and cancel it out, but the wind still pushed the fire toward you anyway.

You can play a card to change the wind, but the net result of that turn simply means a single fire gem in the other player’s direction. If they were already winning, they can simply change it back, and you’re in the same position as before. Alternatively, they can hit you with a big fire card since all you did was change the wind direction. Comebacks happen, but you’re reliant on luck to some degree to do so.

Fire Tower water cards

In four-player games, none of that is an issue as the board state is always changing between the chaos of four players so you have more wiggle room. At the same time, if two players team up against another, that player is powerless to stop it and will lose fast. The rule book has a 2 vs 2 team variant, however, which can bandage the problem if it’s an issue.

Verdict on Fire Tower

Fire Tower is a unique and undeniably fun abstract game of competition. Its gameplay is a clever back and forth where you win by redirecting a third-party force rather than yourself, and that’s a really cool idea.

The game is just a tad bit heavier than a gateway game. The rulebook is clear and concise making the game quick to learn, even by casual standards. The cards are easy to understand with simple and digestible iconography. If you know what orthogonally means, you’re all set.

Close up view of a Fire Tower game in progress

The pure chaos of fire spreading around the board contributes to the fun. Spreading fire has to be adjacent to an existing fire gem, so each new burning ember opens up new paths for you to spread it. There’s are a lot of interesting decisions to be made between the trade-offs of offense and defense. Play proceeds quickly enough that it’s easy to stay engaged.

The simplicity of its mechanics can become a hindrance though. The skill ceiling is fairly small, and that can really impact a two-player game since your options to catch back up if you fall behind are relatively limited. Everyone has access to the exact same single action per turn, so it can definitely snowball, or fireball rather, into a single player’s favor.

The game can start to feel samey relatively fast for the same reasons. Its lightweight and lack of variance can get repetitive despite the unpredictable nature of the cards.

Fire Tower defense cards

Overall, however, Fire Tower is still a quality game with great components and a well-executed unique concept. Despite my previous gripes, most games are very close and end with a winner whose tower is still on fire. A win with singed eyebrows is still a win and a satisfying one at that.

My Perspective on Fire Tower

I’m not the biggest fan of abstracted themes. But I sought out Fire Tower personally when I was at Origin’s Game Fair because I was incredibly intrigued by the unique premise of the mechanics and attractive game pieces.

I can’t say I’m disappointed either. It’s definitely too lightweight for my tastes, but I still enjoyed playing it. There are some balance issues that can dampen the flames, but the game is so quick it’s hard to be upset after a bad loss.

Fire Tower has an expansion called Rising Flames, and I also have a review copy of the super deluxe version. I’m looking forward to jumping into that because it has the possibility of adding the kind of depth I’m looking for and could really turn up the heat in ways I enjoy. You can look for that review coming sometime soon.

You can also try Fire Tower on TableTopia!

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Pros

  • Awesome and unique components
  • Quick set up & clean up
  • Easy to learn, and play progresses smoothly
  • Using cards to redirect a forest fire provides an interesting playground of decisions
  • The event cards help shake things up
  • The Shadow of The Woods card allows defeated players to still participate in the game

Cons

  • At a player count of two, one player can snowball into victory
  • There’s not much stopping multiple players from teaming up on and wiping out another player at higher player counts
  • The simplicity mixed with the mechanics can make the game feel the samey quickly

Who Would Like Fire Tower?

  • If you want a competitive game that is more nuanced than face-punching. Fire Tower is a great pick.
  • You want a game that is easy to teach, but a bit meatier than a gateway game Fire Tower is both.
  • If enjoy games such as Hive and Shobu, you might enjoy Fire Tower.

Who Wouldn’t Like Fire Tower

  • If you find theme important. As nice as Fire Tower looks, its theme is difficult to engage with and makes little sense beyond game mechanics.
  • If you’re averse to aggressive games, Fire Towers mechanics are very much a “take that” style game.
  • Some losses will feel unfair, and the wrong kind of friend group will dog pile another player. If that makes you hesitate, the game may not be for you.