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Reignite Fire Tower with Rising Flames

Candice Harris
United States
Los Angeles
California
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From gallery of candidrum
Fire Tower is a quick-playing, card-driven, abstract strategy game for 2-4 players from designers Samuel Bryant and Gwen Ruelle. As the debut release from Runaway Parade Games, Fire Tower hit the streets in 2019, followed by a multilayered expansion, Fire Tower: Rising Flames, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter (KS link) in June of 2020, and shipped to backers in late summer 2021.

I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Gwen about Fire Tower and the Rising Flames expansion when I stumbled upon their booth, mesmerized by the beautiful, chunky, orange fire gems at Gen Con 2021. After Gwen's quick pitch, I was intrigued, and she was kind enough to send me a copy to check out Fire Tower and the Rising Flames expansion.

In Fire Tower, players must balance defending their own fire towers while attempting to burn down their opponents' fire towers through strategic hand management and tactical pattern laying. The goal of the game is to have the last tower standing.

Each player has their own fire tower to defend and a hand of action cards. During setup, you roll the wind die to determine the initial direction of the wind. Then players take turns in clockwise order until there's only one tower remaining.

On your turn, you perform two steps, then play proceeds clockwise to the next player and continues until someone wins the game. First, you spread fire in the direction of the wind. To do so, you place a fire gem on the board orthogonally adjacent to an existing fire gem or the eternal flame (center of the board) in the direction that the wind is blowing. Then you can either play one card from your hand taking the corresponding action and then drawing a new card, or you can discard as many cards as you want, then draw back to your hand size.

There are four different types of action cards in the deck, as well as a few event cards. The action cards have excellent iconography, but also include text on the card explaining exactly how they work. The action cards also make sense thematically, so they're easy to understand, making it easy for new players to learn the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of action cards

Fire cards allow you to place more fire gems on the board following the pattern on the card. Water cards allow you to remove fire gems, again following the pattern on the card. You also have wind cards which can be used in multiple ways, to change the direction of the wind or add a fire gem orthogonally adjacent to a fire gem in the direction of the card. Then you also have (purple) cards that allow you to place defensive firebreak tokens which are super helpful since they prevent fire from landing on or jumping over spaces they occupy.

Players take turns playing action cards to manipulate the wind and fire on the board in a tense, tug-of-war fashion until there's only one tower standing. Whenever you place a fire gem on the orange square of the roof of a player's fire tower, you've successfully burned down their tower. If it's a 2-player game, that's the end of the game, but when playing with 3 or 4 players, the game continues until there's only one tower standing. Some games of Fire Tower finish fairly quickly, while others can take longer, but it never overstays its welcome.

In addition to the action cards in Fire Tower, the deck is also seeded with event cards. There is a Firestorm event card cut into the deck after players receive their starting hand of five cards, and a couple optional events you can shuffle in too.

From gallery of candidrum
4-player game with two towers in flames..sadly, including mine

When the Firestorm card is drawn, it is immediately resolved. You roll the wind die, then place a fire gem on every empty space orthogonally adjacent to every fire gem on the board and the eternal flame. This can cause serious problems for some players depending on the direction of the wind, but it also ramps up the game nicely. Then players get the opportunity to discard as many cards as they'd like and then draw back to their hand size. This is always helpful, especially if things unfavorably heated up for you from the Firestorm event.

Players also get a one-time use water bucket card they can play as a free action on their turn if there are fire gems in their fire tower area. Unfortunately, sometimes you don't even get an opportunity to use your water bucket since things can escalate quickly in this game, especially when you're playing 3 or 4-player games and you become an easy target.

The base game includes a variant for playing with teams (2v2) when you have 4 players. In this case, your team wins if you burn down your two opponents' fire towers. This is my preferred way to play the base game with 4 players since it avoids the gradual player elimination that comes with everyone competing against each other.

From gallery of candidrum
The Rising Flames expansion introduces several new layers to the Fire Tower base game in a modular fashion. Each game you play, you can decide which new events, specialty cards, and variants you want to incorporate, and which you want to leave out. There's a plethora of new cards and variation to the base game, so it’s cool that you can gradually try everything and tailor each game to your preferences.

The meat and potatoes of Rising Flames is the addition of firehawks and new action cards. At the beginning of the game, each player gets to place a firehawk in their quadrant of the game board. From there, you can add more firehawks by playing firehawk cards, which are a new type action card.

Firehawks become activated whenever a fire gem is placed on the same space as them, which could be caused by other players, event cards, or even your own actions. When a firehawk is activated, it moves the fire gem that activated it to a different space on the board, orthogonally adjacent to a preexisting fire gem. Then the firehawk is removed from play.

The new action cards include firehawk cards which can be played to add more firehawks into your quadrant on the board. Whenever someone plays a firehawk card, all players may freely rearrange firehawks in their quadrant, moving them from the spaces they occupy to different empty spaces in their quadrant.

The firehawks in Rising Flames are especially neat because they're based on real birds found in Australia that spread fires to make it easier to catch their prey. Now, of course, I'm wondering if these unique birds are in Wingspan too.

In addition, the firehawks in the Rising Flames expansion create fresh, strategic options in Fire Tower. If you position them well, they can provide some temporary defense and help you retarget fire gems to your opponents. Likewise, it’s great that you can trigger your own firehawks. I found sometimes it's helpful to have them closer to your fire tower area for defense, but other times, it's advantageous to put some further away from your fire tower and plan to trigger them yourself when you are spreading the blaze at the start of your turn. I also appreciate the flexibility you have since you can reposition them after any player plays a firehawk action card.

The other new action cards in Rising Flames feature new variations and add twists to the game. Similar to the base game, the cards are easy to understand, though they're slightly more complex than the base game action cards.

There are inter-cardinal wind action cards in Rising Flames that allow you to choose between two different directions for changing the wind or place fire gems diagonally, which you usually can't do. The multi-use options the wind cards provide are great and they give players more flexibility with hand management, which is appreciated in a card-driven game.

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of the Rising Flames action cards

The Rising Flames expansion also improves the gameplay for players whose towers are burned down in 3 and 4-player games. In the base game, when a tower is burned, you can optionally shuffle in the Shadow of the Wood event card. Whenever that card is drawn, players with burned towers play as Shadows and are able to get some revenge. However, playing with the Shadow of the Wood event in the base game felt weak and didn’t do a great job at keeping the eliminated players engaged. The designers have significantly improved this with the Rising Flames expansion. Eliminated players not only stay in the game taking regular actions as Shadow players, but they even have a chance to win the game!

From gallery of candidrum
With the expansion, players become Shadows when their tower is burned down. On your turn as a Shadow player, you roll the Shadow die take the corresponding action. If you're able to burn all remaining towers by the end of your turn, you win the game.

There are also seasonal cards, specialty cards, and five new event cards with a variety of effects which can be incorporated into the game. Similar to the events in the base game, it’s recommended that you play with two other events in addition to the Firestorm event card. Mixing and matching events will help keep the gameplay fresh if you end up playing with the same group often.

On top of everything else, Rising Flames features new variants for 2 and 3-player games, and also includes fifth player and solo modes, again, giving you more flexibility for playing Fire Tower.

In the solo mode, the other towers have joined in an alliance against you. You have to defend your tower from the onslaught of the Inferno deck and destroy the other towers to win the game. Meanwhile, you also have a deck of solo challenge cards, which have tasks you must complete each round or you'll lose the game.

If you're looking to heat things up even more, the solo mode includes seven different difficulty levels you can experiment with which modify your hand size, game setup, and throw other challenges your way.

I found Fire Tower to be interesting and enjoyable with or without the Rising Flames expansion. The theme, simplicity, and tense decisions from the card play make it engaging, while also being very easy for people to get into. There’s also something to be said about the awesome tactile experience of playing with nice, chunky components. It certainly increases the fun factor for me when it comes to playing board games.

The new additions in the Rising Flames expansion feel like really good enhancements to an already solid core game. Rising Flames brings a lot of variety to the table, which can seem like too much, but the fact that it’s modular makes it work well. Introducing fifth player and solo modes offer players a lot more flexibility, not to mention how all of the new action, event, and specialty cards significantly increase Fire Tower’s replay value. However, you can totally get by and enjoy Fire Tower without the expansion. The base game alone makes for a fun filler game or a quick, end-of-night, palette cleanser.

There’s an underlying take-that tone to Fire Tower, but I guess that's to be expected when your goal is to straight-up burn your opponents' fire towers down. From my experience, it feels more friendly and fun, than aggressive, but it's definitely a battle.

There’s also randomness that comes from drawing cards from a deck, but the variety of card types give players plenty of options. You'll always have something in your hand that you can work with. Plus, don't forget, you can spend your turn swapping out cards to search for some better options.

In fact, I loved the mental struggle, round to round, of deciding whether it’s worth it or not to take a mulligan turn to swap out some or all of my cards. You never really want to do it, but it's actually a good move here and there. The hard part is figuring out the timing of when you should do it before it's too late. Next thing you know, your tower’s up in flames and you’ll be kicking yourself, thinking, "Ugh, why didn’t I swap my cards five turns ago?!" It’s one of those games where you always want to do one thing, but defensively, you have do something else to survive.

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced, lightweight game with a unique theme, be sure to check out Fire Tower and the Rising Flames expansion. I can't promise you won't get burned though.

From gallery of candidrum
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