Burn in Hell
Over the weekend I had the chance to play a fun game from Steve Jackson Games called Burn in Hell – a card collecting, wheeling and dealing game that is not for the weak of heart. I’ve heard a few things about this game. I’ve heard its unplayable. I’ve heard its tons of fun. Opinions seem to be wildly disparate and I’m going to take a look at why this may be, as well as the game itself.
Before I dive into the review, let me say that this is not a game for beginners. If you’d like to lure someone into the board and card game world, I would not start with this! It is a bit complicated, and the rules read a bit like that opening paragraph in your college statistics book. While the game looks like it might be fun, the complicated turn setup, randomly interjected card stealing and rule book slog can turn a lot of people off.
So is it worth it to play? I say yes, read on to find out why.
The premise of the game is that you and your fellow demons are gathered around the giant BBQ pit that is hell, cavorting with the cast down souls of those who’ve committed one or more of the seven deadly sins. As a demon, you’re hell bent on getting the best souls out of the lot, regardless of if you have to steal, bluff or trade your way to them.
Sounds like a fun time, right? We thought so. Over the course of an hour and a half, we got two games in. The first taking almost an hour as we taught ourselves how to play. The second game went much smoother, with higher scores and only took a half hour.
Hell Freezes Over
Now that you know the premise, here’s how the game works. First, Hell starts off at a warmish 100 C. Every time you cast a helpless soul into the pit, the temperature of Hell decreases by that souls value (a number ranging from 2 – 10). When Hell freezes over, the game is complete and people must do math. We’ll get to that shortly.
Every player is dealt a hand of five cards to begin the game. 5 cards are also dealt directly into the ‘pit’. All cards are laid out on the table face up – everyone knows who’s in the pit, and who everyone else has. Also, the top card on the deck is always face up.
The goal of the game is to make Circles of souls. Circles must have at least four souls in them. They’re created by matching one (or more) of the following.
- Sins committed (In Rob’s case above, it’s Envy and Sloth).
- Tags (Artiste for Rob).
- Value (8 for Rob).
- Also, you can create a circle of 7 souls by collecting one of each deadly sins.
Once you have your circle created, you can neither add nor remove souls from it. It stays a circle until the end of the game when it’s scored. Circles of 4 or 5 souls are double face value. 6 or 7 souls triple, and 8+ souls quadruple face value.
There are also a few cards that are worth more when paired with other cards. Bonny and Clyde being one example. Together in a circle, they’re worth an additional 30 points.
But building circles is just one phase of the game. Each player can also trade souls with the pit, one a one for one basis, or a numerical basis. If I have a soul worth 10 points, I can trade it for three souls, worth 2, 2 and 6 points. Also, many souls have special abilities, allowing you to forcibly trade with your opponents. Some souls can also be ‘burned’ for special abilities, such as increasing or decreasing the relative temperature of Hell, or acquiring other souls.
Timing can mean a lot in this game, as others can perform actions on your turn, except when you declare “Circle”. There can be a lot of fast paced, forced trading and horse dealing as well. Besides timing, there’s also a lot to remember. This game would not make a good drinking game.
Essentially the game comes down to rapidly collecting sets, and figuring out strategies to acquire cards to complete your sets. It’s a bit of a memory game, and a bit of work keeping multiple lists going in your head. It can be a real challenge to play, with the need for a keen eye for other’s cards, but with the right group, a lot of fun too.
There is a bit of math at the end of the game, I’d suggest getting your calculator apps ready! Scores for our games ranged from 150 to over 400.
I’ve been reading a lot of other reviews which call this game unplayable. That, I think is patently untrue. You may not like this style of game, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, you really will enjoy it. It’s not my favorite type of game but I had a good time playing it.
Where my beef lies is with the complexity of the turns and the directions. They’re pretty hard to digest first time in and you should be prepared to learn as you go, even if you’ve given the rules a thorough read.
The mechanics are sound, once you figure out how to implement them, but with the wrong people a turn could easily degenerate into the kind of bar brawl you only see on shows like Sons of Anarchy. With people doing things to you on your turn, it’s not a traditional turned based card game. You have to vocally declare the times when people cannot do things to you, or themselves, and remember that (or not) can very much change the game.
The cards are wonderfully designed, each with a detailed biography of the soul in question on the back. I give the card designs an A+.
I’m giving Burn in Hell a 3 out of 5. I’ll certainly play it again, with the right group, but it’s not going to be one of my go-to games.