Nov 222013
 
Image of the box top of "The Great Fire of London 1666"

What happens when you add a touch of take-that, a smidgen of area-control, a heaping dollop of destruction, sprinkle in some deduction and then wrap it up in a flaky, light Euro crust? A mess. But what happens when you bake that bastard in a brick oven overnight, forget about it and then let the whole city burn? You get The Great Fire of London – 1666. In it you play the role of landowners in London who see all this destruction as a danger to their lucrative properties but also as an opportunity to to get rid of the competition. As a landowner you try to protect your properties; move and place trained bands of bellowing bucket bearers and (somewhat magically) control the winds which causes the fire to move into inopportune areas for your opponents.

While this is happening your landowner can gather victory points, put out smaller fires, direct your trained bands of posturing, pyrotechnic plebeians to set explosives. While the fire is a-blazin’ you laugh the laugh of  the GODS!

Disclaimer:

This is a review of the 2010 1st edition release of the game from Medusa Games and not the upcoming release from Pandasaurus Games which has made improvements on the components and board size/quality. The fire cones are now actually geometric cones with wide bases rather than the “pillars” from the first edition that tended to topple when the table was jostled, when you breathed too hard or when the earth continued upon its jolly orbit around the sun…the Trained Bands are now wooden rather than metal and will actually fit over the fire-cones rather than looking like dunce-caps (wait, I think they still look like dunce-caps)…The color of the houses actually match the colors on the board and cards…and the board itself actually will lay flat (which it did not in the first edition and that plus the fire-pillars could lead to a mess) and be smaller (the same size as the board in Tammany Hall). There are also some slight rules clarifications including making the Hidden Roles variant the main mode of play.

If Pandasaurus would like to send me the component upgrades, I would gladly take them and then marry their sister[s]. As it stands, I am somewhat on the market. But if they are more comfortable with just sending the new board and fire tokens, I could see to my own nuptials. Onward!

It is a big town. The four differently colored districts are fairly obvious. As well as Pudding Lane in red and the score track at the bottom left.

It is a big town. The four differently colored districts are fairly obvious. As well as Pudding Lane in red and the score track at the bottom left.

Basics:

  • Designer: Richard Denning
  • Year Released: 2010 (2013 from Pandasaurus Games)
  • Category: File under “The Worst Firefighters Ever” and “Baking Best Practices”
  • Game Mechanic: Action Point Allowance System, Area Movement, Pyrotechnics, Insurance Fraud
  • Number of Players: 3-6
  • Suggested Age: 18+
  • Playing Time: 75 minutes
  • Set-Up Time: 75 minutes (I kid, kid…but seriously set-up takes a while)

Set-up:

We were so very proud on our first set-up of the game. So many pieces! So much potential destruction!

We were so very proud on our first set-up of the game. So many pieces! So much potential destruction!

Prepare the Board: The board is a map divided into districts. Each districts have between 1 and 5 house symbols in  which show how many houses will be randomly placed there. To do so, take five of each colored house and place them in a sack and pull them one by one and start placing them onto one of the four separately colored regions of the map. Then place 25 fire-cones on the area marked in red on the board (Pudding Lane). This represents where the Great Fire started and from which it spread out. Take the 20 black tokens and randomly place them on any district with a yellow banner.

Prepare the Fire Stack: Find Card A and place it face-up. Then, depending on the amount of players, place 4-9 face down Fire Movement Cards on top of it. Then place Card B face-up and, depending on the amount of players, place 4-9. Then continue with Card C and Card D. It differs with the amount of players in the game.

Hand out Objective Cards: There are three decks of Objective Cards (I, II, III). Shuffle each separately and provide one card from each deck to each player. These Objective Cards are represented on the map by districts with a red banner.

Place the Trained Band Cones: These black cones represent the bucket brigade of the day and will be moving about on the board attempting to control fires and waiting for your valuable leadership to let them know which ones to extinguish as well as which districts to blow up with Demolition Charges. Where do you place them you ask? It depends. Read the rulebook.

Place each landowner pawn: Each player gets a pawn and a hidden role of which colored houses are theirs. The pawns go anywhere but in the green region of the board (the one closest to Pudding Lane) but remember, the color of the pawn does not necessarily match the color of the homes you are protecting.

How do I play?

The gameplay in The Great Fire of London is fairly simple. Actions take place in 3 phases.

  1. Expand the Fire
  2. Take Actions
  3. Draw a Fire Card/Intensify the Fire

Phase 1: Expand the Fire

An example of Fire Movement from the 2nd Edition rulebook. Arrows mark potential movement North, South, East and West.

An example of Fire Movement from the 2nd Edition rulebook. Arrows mark potential movement North, South, East and West.

During the first phase of a turn, the active player plays a Fire Movement Card. Each of these cards provides a color-coded direction (North, South, East, West) that corresponds with arrows on the map showing which directions a fire-cone can move. When played, one fire-cone is taken from Pudding Lane (or any other city block with more than one fire cone provided that the last cone is not moved out of a district) and moved along the board. When fire-cones travel along the board they can only move through areas containing a fire-cone. Think of it as the fire spreading. It is naturally going to spread into areas already engulfed in flames until it finds more fodder to feast upon. When it does, it will settle in that district as long as the last movement is in the direction of the card played. So if you played a North card, you can move fire East and then North and that is allowed since you ended your turn moving North. Mind you, there are some tricky Fire Movement Rules where fire will prefer to enter an area according to the following order.

  1. district containing a house[s] and no trained bands.
  2. district with house[s] but containing trained bands.
  3. destroyed (no houses) district containing no trained bands.
  4. destroyed (no houses) district containing trained bands.

When a Fire cone moves into a district with houses, those houses are considered destroyed by the fire and then placed on the score track of that colored house. As houses are destroyed, players lose points on the score track. So if a player sent fire into a district with one red and one blue house, those would be placed on the red and blue portion of the scoring track, thus losing the red and blue player some precious victory points. If a district has a Trained Band when the firecone moves in, the Trained Band is placed on top of the firecone thus containing (but not extinguishing) the fire. In that case, any houses in the district are saved.

This board can get really confusing with six players.

This board can get really confusing with six players.

If the entered district has a token, it is then claimed by the player and can be used during that turn. The tokens can be Victory Points to be collected and tallied at the end of the game; Double [Fire] Move tokens which can be used on the same turn to send another fire-cone out into a district but following the same direction as the Fire Movement Card played; and Demolition Charges which can be used by a Trained Band in the next phase to blow chit up.

Phase 2: Taking Actions

After the fire is spread, houses are destroyed, the sweet lullaby of discord has settled on the land, and the actions from the fire resolved (gathering tokens, burning and collecting houses, placing Trained Bands Cones on fires entering their district, wienie roasts followed by Elevenses…), the player can now have four action points to spend from three available actions.

  • Move the player’s landowner pawn: The player’s pawn can move 1 or more districts at a cost of 1 point per district. Movement is allowed from any district and through grassed [green] districts but no movement is allowed into Pudding Lane. It is far too hot in there.

  • Move any Trained Band cone: Each player can spend their actions moving any of the Trained Bands [black] cones through districts. Movement is similar to the movement of the landowner pawn’s movement. However, if a Trained Band enters a district with a fire-cone, they automatically will contain the fire and you must place the Trained Band cone on top of the fire-cone thus arresting its movement until the fire is extinguished. While the landowners may be heartless, self-serving brutes; the trained bands are there to fight fires and create fire-breaks through the use of explosives. If they see a fire, they work to contain it and will contain it until it is extinguished through the direction of a landowner pawn.

  • Setting a Demolition Charge: This is really a subset of the Moving Trained Bands action and does not cost an action point to do. If a player has a Demolition Charge token collected from the Move Fire Phase, they can move a Trained Band into a district adjacent to a district on fire and detonate charges as a free action. Houses destroyed are removed to the score track. The Demolition Charge is placed face-up in the destroyed district and now acts as a “fire-break” keeping fire-cones from passing through or ending their turn in that district.

  • Extinguishing a fire: When a Trained Band is in a district where the number of Trained Bands exceeds or is equal to the number of fire-cones; and a landowner pawn is in the same district; then that player, for 1 point each, extinguish fire and remove the fire-cone from that district and into their personal supply.

Phase 3: Draw a Card/Intensify the Fire:

The make up of the Fire Stack. When the Fire Stack Card is revealed, three additional fire cones are placed.

The make up of the Fire Stack. When the Fire Stack Card is revealed, three additional fire cones are placed.

The player now draws to bring their hand back up to five Fire Cards. If a Fire Stack Card is revealed (The deck was stacked with a number of these depending on the number of players and will be face-up in the deck), then a sudden burst of fire is added to a district with a fire cone. Watch it burn! Three additional Fire cones are added to any district with the restriction that the total number of fire-cones does not exceed the number of House icons + 2.

This ends ones round of destruction. It will continue like this until the entire draw deck is spent. Then each player takes one more turn and when the last person ends their turn the game is over. In the version reviewed, there is a variant where the players then play another round for more destruction but I have never attempted it. The good people of London has suffered enough…

How do I win?

You basically win the game by

  • protecting the properties assigned to you in the Objective Cards drawn at the beginning of the game. These were the properties the players were assigned to protect for 2, 4 or 6 Victory Points each.
  • fighting fires throughout the game for 1 Victory Point per fire-cone in your personal supply.
  • gathering Victory Point Tokens throughout the game.
  • by protecting houses of your color and having less of them destroyed and thus a higher score on the score track.

This game is all about positioning. Position the fire away from the properties on your Objective Cards and keep Trained Bands close-by but not too close to reveal what you are protecting. At the same time, when you see someone obviously protecting and area with Trained Bands, take some time on your turn to relocate those bands and open up an avenue for fire to advance on them.

Lastly…two words – DEMOLITION TOKENS. Find them. Use them. Blow up your friend’s house. My wife’s strategy is simple. Get these early in the game and then blow up every Objective Card district she can. What I do is try to move fire into positions where I can quickly extinguish them for points.

The designer, Richard Denning has 13 strategies to help you win at The Great Fire of London: 1666.

What did you [dis]like?

Likes:

  1. The game has a grand feel with a simple rule set. While teaching this game is fairly simple and I’ve been able to get two different groups up and playing quickly, it is a “learn by doing” type of game. It is very hard to describe the Fire Movement Priorities. However, when you go through a round showing how the fire can possibly move, it comes across more clear.
  2. Lots of choices. I think how the fire movement could have been randomized (as it is in Flash Point) and I love how I can direct the destruction and optimize the effect for myself by either protecting my own properties, burning who I suspect to be other properties and/or setting myself up to be a hero and fight fires like a champ. This decision space will be a wonder for experienced or emerging gamers but a true newbie will likely not be comfortable. So I certainly do not place this in the “Gateway Game” category.
  3. Theme. Booyah! I love a historical game and I love fire so…there.
  4. Open to negotiation. While I have not seen much negotiation in the games of The Great Fire of London: 1666 that I’ve played, I think it is ripe for alliances, agreements and some “off-in-the-corner” plotting. Especially when two players are protecting the same Objective

 Dislikes:

  1. The board can get extremely crowded and chaotic. This is especially true with higher player counts. With one of the changes including a smaller board, I can only assume a more crowded board in the second edition. This isn’t a deal-breaker and at least the cones won’t topple.
  2. It doesn’t scale up well. Part of the reason I purchased this game was to get a a decent 6 player game but any 6 player games have not been as exciting. It simply seems that the fire can be managed too easily at this number when everyone is going for the “Hero of London” (the card that awards an extra 2 Victory Points to the player with the most fire-cones in her personal supply). It also plays a bit long at that number.
  3. It can cause rage-quit. I almost rage-quit this game when I spent an entire game (2 hours) protecting my 6 point Objective only to have it blown up by a Demolition Charge [EDIT: This was a mistake on my part. According to the rules “Demolition charges may never be used in a district size 3 or above (the VP areas)” Oops…my bad ~ John] BOOM! But seriously, the simplicity of this game belays the fact that it can cause stress headaches, snarling and spontaneous combustion.
  4. The set-up…is a pain. Granted it takes time to set up almost any game but this is one that needs to be set up in advance. Light some candles, pour some wine. Make a night out of it. You deserve it.

 Closing Verse:

The richest man in London,
The bravest man in London,
He barely made it out,
The place went up in flames.

The richest man in London,
The bravest man in London,
He barely made it out,
by jumping in the Thames.

The richest man in London,
The bravest man in London,
He barely made it out
Before set-up was done for the gaaaaaaame!

About John Pappas

I'm John ~ a short, mustachioed Library Director of a small branch library outside of Philly. I'm a father, geek, librarian and zen practitioner. I wear glasses, play board games and tend to read pretty much anything that comes across my desk. I organize and host three gaming groups at my library ~ The Golden Gamers (65+), Tabletop Gaming at the Library, and a Game Design Guild. The name of this column "Roll for Fire" comes from my love of Flash Point: Fire Rescue [ and cooperative games in general] and the desire I have to watch it all burn down.

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