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Shining a Light on Stefan Feld's Bonfire

W. Eric Martin
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Apex
North Carolina
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Board Game: Bonfire
Board Game Publisher: Hall Games
Starting on Oct. 22, 2020, BGG will livestream game demos for four days to cover dozens of new titles being featured at SPIEL.digital 2020 — you can check out BGG's broadcast schedule here — but before BGG.CONline starts I plan to demo a few new games in this space, starting with Stefan Feld's Bonfire from Hall Games and Pegasus Spiele.

Bonfire is not an engine-building game in the traditional sense, but as with so many other Feld designs, playing Bonfire feels like you're tinkering with an engine. The game has lots of elements to it — tasks you need to complete to become bonfires; guardians you need to collect from islands; paths and portals that you must build before the guardians can walk to the bonfires; fate tiles that you must optimize to ensure a supply of action tiles, which you must allocate with care along with the game's six resources; specialist cards that tweak all the possible actions in various ways — and everything intermeshes like an engine.

Or at least it does when you play well, which you will undoubtedly not do in your first game.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
End state of our first three-player game, with the sun creeping across the game board; add 50 to each of those scores

All of the elements have a purpose in Bonfire, but your primary focus will be on the tasks, with the board featuring 20-30 tasks (depending on the player count) from the 66 included in the game. Tasks come in three levels of difficulty, with more points being awarded for more difficult tasks, and to complete a task you need to collect one or more items, say three red path tiles, four gold resources, an offering on each of the "herb" islands, fate tiles arranged in a certain pattern, or three medium-difficulty tasks.

Ideally you can scope out tasks that work well with one another — say, medium-difficulty tasks on the herb islands that have similar tasks so that you could complete both the "offering on herb islands" task and the "medium-difficulty" task — but everyone has access to all the tasks in play (as long as they have the resources and action tiles required), so how are you going to get to them first? Or maybe you need to focus on something else?

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The winner's board, with guardians at three bonfires

Like many other game, Bonfire starts with a turn 0, although it's not called that in the rules. Everyone sees the tasks available and the action tiles available to all players. You can form a few general plans of which tasks you might want to go after, but that plan consists of nothing more than placing some stakes in the ground, with the rest of the game consisting of you figuring out (1) whether it's possible to connect all those stakes in a reasonable timeframe, (2) what you need to do to connect them, and (3) how to adapt based on what everyone else is doing.

On a turn, you take one of three actions:

• Take one of two fate tiles and add it to your personal board to collect action tiles. The more colors you match while placing a fate tile, the more action tiles you receive — but you can place a fate tile only if you have at most one action tile in reserve.

• Ignite a bonfire by flipping over a completed task on your personal game board, with you then choosing one of eight bonus actions.

• Spend action tiles to take an action, with the game including six types of action tiles (along with a seventh "joker" tile) and with you being able to spend varying amounts of tiles for actions of varying strengths.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Two-player game immediately after the game above, again with 50 being added to each score; look how much better we scored!

Invisible strings connect everything in Bonfire, and some of the choices you make might seem meaningless, but they usually matter down the road. When you add a path tile to the outside of your personal board, thereby creating the path upon which guardians will walk, you have a choice of four tiles, each showing a crystal in one of three colors (matching the three colors of the tasks) and one of the five non-gold resources (gold being a joker resource). If you match the color of a crystal and a lit bonfire — as with the three bonfires in the image above — you score 2 points, which seems like nothing, but we would probably all walk a minute out of our way to pick up a $1, so you might want to make the effort here, too.

The choice of resource on a path tile might seem irrelevant — or you can decide that since you'll have those coming in at some point thanks to guardians moving onto those spaces — you might as well re-examine the tasks on the islands showing the matching resource since you need to pay resources when acquiring a task. What's more, some of the simple tasks even require you to have a path tile depicting a certain resource. One little herb or root icon might send your ship in a different direction, depending on whatever else is happening on the board.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Winning board (top) and my board (bottom); two tasks completed, but not lit into bonfires as time ran out

When you light a task into a bonfire, you place the minion guarding that task onto the game board to claim one of the bonus actions you haven't already taken, such as claiming a guardian for free, turning the Great Bonfire to any location (with portal tiles otherwise being acquired only via the Great Bonfire action tiles), or grabbing a specialist or path tile for free.

Five common goals can be scored by any player, but the first player to complete one of these goals takes the neutral token associated with that goal and places it on a bonus action. As a result, near the end of the game you might find yourself lighting a bonfire, taking the bonus action, completing a common goal, then taking another bonus action and possibly completing yet another common goal.

In Bonfire, everything starts simple and escalates over time, just as you'd expect from a real bonfire. Ideally you can put all the pieces together in just the right order so that you peak at just the right moment: every task completed and lit with no resources or actions wasted.

In the video below, I go into detail about all the actions of the game, in addition to covering solo play against the AI.

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