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When the designer of Fire Ants geekmailed me to ask if he could send me a copy, naturally I leapt at the chance like any other self-respecting gamer with a penchant for freebies. Nothing was asked or promised in exchange, but I feel that the least I can do is get off my lazy butt and write a review: so here it is.
The game comes in a small box containing about 90 cards of the standard size. These consist of the rules, economically condensed onto one double-sided card, cards showing fires of different strengths and cards with the resources needed to put them out. Physically the cards seem quite sturdy – plastic backed perhaps – and would last a good length of time without scuffing.
The artwork is cartoony, and quite fun to look at if a bit basic – the ants on the component cards (plastic pipes, metal pipes or water) are all in the same pose, wearing fire officers' boots and helmets. The Ant Magic (joker) card are a bit more animated with the ants in different poses. The artwork on the fire cards differ according to the strength of the fire (and therefore the difficulty in putting it out). The iconography is clear and enables the game to be played smoothly.
The rules are basically straightforward: after the setup, on your turn you draw a card and then either pass or put out a fire (gaining points) by playing resource cards to match the requirements of a fire card on the table e.g. a 1 point card needs 1 metal, 1 plastic and 1 water card to extinguish and capture.
We found a couple of rules queries that weren't answered on the rules card. Firstly, if you draw a Fire card, do you get to draw another card until you get a resource card to add to your hand, or do you just miss out? Secondly, in the situation that there are 7 fire cards on the table, each player has the chance to put one out to avoid everyone losing, without drawing a card. But if one player puts out a fire, do the others still get the non-draw turn, or do you just carry on normally, or what?
The game moves pretty swiftly, there is little choice involved. The main one is whether to put out a low value fire with the cards you have or save them for a higher value fire (relatively speaking worth more). There is a certain level of tension as a result, but it is fairly low key. In one game we managed to all lose by failing to put out a fire when there were 7 on the table; this felt a bit unsatisfactory. It might have been better to have another penalty, e.g. all players lose their best fire card.
It's a very simple game, with quite nice cartoon graphics but little in the way of tactics or strategy – it's a step up from games that basically play themselves, but not much more. My ten year old – an experienced gamer – didn't find it all that interesting. I can imagine that slightly younger children would find it more fun, so although the age range is described as 7+ I would tend to view it as being most suitable for the lower end here. I was happy to play it once or twice, but in all honesty wouldn't choose it over other games in my collection.
I backed this on on Kickstarter and mine both enjoyed it but they're at or below the age range (4 and 7). Some trick cards would make it more interesting to older gamers I think.