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Subject: Review: The Great Fire of London! rss

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John Moller
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NOTE: This game has been published, but is seeking a reprint through Kickstarter. The new publisher is Pandasaurus Games. They loaned me a copy of the original print of the game to review.

There are a lot of great fires out there. I’d wager every town or city has had a fire they consider great. Chicago, New Orleans(twice!,) and definitely London. Wouldn’t that be a great idea to make a game out of?

You’re probably thinking no, but you’d be wrong. It’s an awesome idea.

One of the favorite games in my gaming group is Pandemic (yes, I’m throwing this comparison out there right off the bat,) and one of the great things about Pandemic is the escalation and control aspect. The diseases will escalate, you need to control them. In Pandemic you do it as a group. In The Great Fire of London, you do it individually…and you may want to control more than you escalate…and you have to be careful not to tip your hat too much.

The Great Fire of London uses the dramatic and emotional core of needing to control an escalating fire before it burns down YOUR buildings and costs you valuable points. The trick is that what you need to save is secret. You know but no one else does. You need to keep that secret as long as you can or sure at the sun will rise your buildings will burn to the ground. For your part, you must also deduce the buildings being protected by your opponents and burn them down.

What this creates is a game where you are given a choice every turn: Save yourself or hurt your opponents. It’s a choice you will most likely make in both directions as the game goes on. What is important to you on any turn is going to change. You’re going to lose some well fought fire fights. In the end, you’ll be looking at a war of attrition as you try to remain on top of the points pile. It’s a tense fight through and through and I can’t wait to play this again!

The game is based in decisions and one level of randomness past the set-up. There is a deck of cards which determine the end of the game and the game length based on players. Those cards are also the main catalyst for spreading the fire. Each card contains a direction (North, West, East or South.) The first thing you will do on your turn is play one card and then move a fire token from an area with multiple fire tokens to an area with no fire tokens or no uncontrolled fire tokens. The fire token you choose to move can travel great distances and meander (if the situation arises,) but the final movement MUST be in the direction printed on the card you play.

After that, the choice is yours. You have four actions to do with as you please. It is generally a combination of moving trained bands (of firefighters,) moving your landowner pawns and putting out fires. Sometimes you’ll even get to blow some blocks up. This is where you really get to shine. Moving trained bands towards the fires will help you and other players put them out. Moving them away will make it harder to put the fires out. There are six trained bands to work with and each player gets two land owner pawns.

Putting a fire out requires a trained band and a landowner, which means it’s not that difficult to camp in an area of high escalation and just continually put fires out. This is a valid tactic, since each fire you put out scores you 1 point. Don’t lose sight however, each building you lose costs you two points. If you spend all your actions saving a few buildings and not preventing your opponents from saving buildings your score may be going up, but there score isn’t going down. Keep that in mind.

Saying scores are going up is a bit of a misnomer. In this game you start with 40 points and every time you lose a building your score goes down. Scores are metered on a score track that accepts the burnt buildings. When a building is burned it is moved to the score track and the player in charge of saving that building loses 2 points. You do not know who just lost two points. That information is kept secret. You just know that someone lost two points, or you know that you lost two points. You can monitor your scores through this track and get an idea what colors are doing well or at least better than others.

Use that information. Pay attention to the scores and watch what actions people take. See where they chose to let the fire burn versus where they chose to stop a fire. This is all part of the game. You need to deduce who is what color and burn more of their buildings if you want to win. Don’t be afraid to let some of your own buildings burn (or even specifically burn your own buildings) to keep people off the scent.

There are secret “Agenda” cards as well. These list full blocks that need to be saved. They have a specific score on them (2,4, or 6, I think.) The closer that district is to the starting fire the more points it is worth if you save it. What makes this aspect fun is that there is duplication in the cards. You may be saving a block that someone else is trying to save as well. If you’re confident of your score in other avenues, burn it down and cost your opponents more points… or just try to hold onto those points just in case. Don’t make a big deal out of it though, you’ll draw a target and might cost yourself 6 points… or worse. Imagine a game where all your resources are spent trying to protect a 6 point building and you lose 8 to 10 points in other buildings?

I really love the options this game presents. You have a hand of cards to chose from and you may not have the card you want in your hand, but for the most part you have a chance to make a decision based on the cards you have. This game tends to be very decision driven and I like that. It is also fairly interactive in the way that your opponent’s choices will affect you. You will have to deal with the fall out and sometimes that means not correcting a choice they made but making a different decision that hurts them in an another place. This game also rewards careful planning and that starts in set-up.

I’m particularly appreciative of the mix of open and secret scoring. it keeps the game fresh and exciting. You may have inklings of who is winning, but you won’t know who won until the last minute. It’s been important in the games I’ve played.

I haven’t spoken much about the little reward tokens that are earned throughout the game. If you burn down a block that has a token, you earn the token. There are three of them that give you different benefits, including the ability to demolish a block. They haven’t been major factors in the games I’ve played yet, but as my group gets more experienced they will. Tokens that add a victory point or allow players to move two fire tokens would seem to have a great effect for a player, so I’m expecting them to become more important as we continue to learn and grow with the game.

The biggest problem we’ve had with the game is in set-up. We’re getting better as we get used to the game, but finding the special blocks at the top of the game has been difficult. Knowing how many houses go into the blocks is also sometimes difficult due to the small and somewhat random iconography. These are things we’ve been able to get over. All in all the layout of the board is excellent and it really helps you understand the directions depending on where you’re sitting. They’re very clear and that’s a blessing.

It’s been a phenomenal experience so far. I just find the game dramatic, fun, and different. The Great Fire of London feels very simple at a certain level, but provides such interesting choices. It’s definitely player driven, which I have said multiple times is what I want in a game. This one has gotten several plays and I’m trying to fit a few more in before I send it back.

I hope you’ll consider helping Pandasaurus Games reprint The Great Fire of London by pledging to their kickstarter campaign. It’s a worthy game and one I’m looking forward to having on my game shelf!

The Great Fire of London was designed by Richard Denning with art by Andreas Resch.
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H-B-G
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Halesowen
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Nice review which sums up the game well. A couple of points-

1. The secret colours are an optional rule, albeit one that is widely adopted. In the standard game each player's colour is known from the start.

2. Although 2 landowner pawns are provided for each player, only one is used on the board, the other is just to sit in front of the player to indicate his colour.
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John Moller
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Thanks.

I knew the optional color thing. We played with open colors the first time, but once I switched I'm never going back. Makes it a great game.

I did not realize about the one pawn. That's my bad and I appreciate the catch. Thank you!
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Peter Wilson
United Kingdom
Burton on Trent
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I would also like to point out that you can get the game here in the UK still from spiritgames http://www.spiritgames.co.uk/single.php?menu=2&sub=4&game=53...

Have to admit it is a great game through
 
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