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Ablaze!

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Mayfair Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $20)

 

ablazeI first experienced Ablaze! designed by Henrich Glumpler in its original version, when it was known as Feurio. I played it at the SPIEL in Essen many years ago, and it was one of my favorite games from the convention. I played it many times, but as the years passed, the frequency of plays slid dramatically as more and more games were added to my collection. When I learned of this new version, my interest was piqued, and I was interested to see if after all these years the game would maintain the same excitement I enjoyed when I first played it. It has.

In n Ablaze!, players send forth a team of firefighters into a forest in attempts to reach the hot spots and control the conflagration. The fire will spread and players must attempt to arrange their firefighters so that they are not cut-off from the edge of the forest and their vital water supply. Positioning of firefighters is of utmost importance and victory will go to the player who is able to get his fighters into the hottest areas.

The game is a quasi tile-laying game, as well as a piece-positioning game. In that respect, it is similar to games such as Carcassonne. However, there are differences, and it is these differences that make the game tense and exciting.

During the course of the game, 36 tiles will be placed by the players. Each tile depicts a fire with intensity ranging from 1 – 6 fires burning in a lush forest. There are also 1 – 3 spaces on each tile where firefighters may be positioned. After setting out four tiles to begin the game, players will alternate placing a new tile and, if they desire, positioning 1 – 3 firefighters onto any one tile.

The placement of the tile follows the general tendencies of a real forest fire: the fire will spread most rapidly from the hottest spot. A tile must be placed adjacent to the tiles whose numbers have the greatest cumulative total. Once placed, the player then has the option of placing 1 – 3 pawns onto any one tile. This does not have to be the tile just placed, but rather any one tile. There is a restriction, however: a tile can only contain as many firefighters as it has exterior edges. Thus, if a tile only has one exterior edge, then it can only contain one firefighter.

This placement rule allows for placements that will block opponents from placing onto a particular tile and may cut-off their contiguous fire lines, and perhaps even isolates their firefighters from the exterior of the forest. This will doom that group and yield zero points.

The game ends when all 36 tiles have been placed.

ablaz2The ultimate objective of the game is to form your firefighters into a contiguous group on as many tiles as possible. Ultimately, points will be scored for each area a player has firefighters on … provided the area also contains at least one tile located on the exterior of the forest and has at least one tile containing a lake. If these criteria are met, the area will score as follows:

Total the numbers on all of the tiles, then divide that number by the lowest number on any of the tiles. Example: An area contains the following tiles: 6, 4, 3, 3, 2. The total is 18/2 = 9 points. It is readily apparent that one of the key tactics is to attempt to incorporate at least one low-valued tile into a group containing several high-valued tiles. That is certainly easier said than done. Those concerned about the luck factor in drawing a desirable tile with the value of “1” can use the variant wherein all of those tiles are removed from the game.

While attempting to extend a forest area and incorporate both high-value and at least one low-value tile, one must constantly keep an eye on the possibility of being cut-off from the exterior of the forest. This would render all of your efforts fruitless. So while you are seeking opportunities to advance your positions, you must also be wary of possibilities that could occur to foil your plans. Of course, you must also seek opportunities to interfere with your opponent’s aims and to cut them off at every opportunity. No doubt, there are lots of things to watch for in this clever little game. But it doesn’t stop there.

Several optional rules are included to add even further spark to the raging fire. One of these is the “Fire Line” option. The reverse side of each tile contains a firebreak with a value of zero. When placing a tile, the player has the option of placing it as normal, or placing it with the firebreak side face-up. This has the effect of “cooling” the hot spot and likely directing the fire in a different direction. This is one way to get the fire moving in a direction you may desire … or away from a direction that favors your opponents. The cost of doing this, however, is high. The player may not place any firefighters that turn and must discard one from his supply. Still, the advantages occasionally outweigh these costs.

This new version also contains two additional variants: Volcano and On the Run. In Volcano, a volcano has erupted and burst the surrounding forests into flames. Players must attempt to extinguish the flames. A plane is moved in a straight path over tiles, and the active player may drop water (pawns) on each tile he flies over, provided there is space available on the tiles. Players collect tiles whereupon the fire has been extinguished, with the player most successful in fighting the fire winning the game. In On the Run, a blazing fire is forcing animals to escape the flames. The player who helps rescue the most animals is victorious.

I’ve played Ablaze!/Feurio numerous times and it is always exciting, tense and filled with options. Astute players will not only be attempting to place their firefighters in the most beneficial areas and keep a path open to the exterior of the forest, but they will also be attempting to cut-off their opponents’ expansion routes. While often the location for the placement of a tile will be determined by the current configuration, taking advantage of the surrounding tiles can be critical. An added bonus is that the game plays in 30 or so minutes, which makes it perfect for a “filler” or family play. Ablaze! remains a nifty little game, one that I’m happy to have rediscovered.

 


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