Reviewed by Herb Levy

BARCELONA: THE ROSE OF FIRE (Devir, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 90 minutes; $59.99)


History is great source material for movies, television and literature of all forms. But let’s not forget games. History is often the springboard for very interesting designs. This time, it is the history of Spain that provides the background as the progress of the Spanish city of Barcelona from a “normal” city in the mid 1800s to a teeming metropolis at the start of the 20th century. As might be expected, such change comes with disruptions and turmoil. Players, as heads of prosperous and influential families seek to become the MOST prosperous and influential against a backdrop of increased immigration and the spread of revolutionary movement among the masses in this Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello creation: Barcelona: The Rose of Fire

Each player begins with a Family card, buildings and workers in their chosen color. Influence counters are poured into a red bag and every player gets a random draw (which is kept secret).  There are three types of counters (gold “Crowns”, blue “Colonies”, purple “Personalities”) The drawn counter indicates your family’s “alignment” (players may share the same alignment) and may also be used to improve your abilities and score. (More on this later.)

All players begin with 1 “Prestige” on the Auca (track) and a scoring marker on the Victory Point track. There are several different types of cards in the game but the two of most interest at the start are City cards (which allow you to place a tile and a building onto the board) and the Popularity cards (which are like the City cards but with a special action that may be done instead). All players begin with a hand of four City cards (five if there are two players).

The game is played over three time periods: The Tearing Down of the Medieval Walls (of the city), Expansion and The Period of Modernisme. In game terms, the first two periods consist of two rounds each; the last period only one round. A “Bomb” marker is placed on the “Social Conflict” track. The Bomb will gradually advance throughout the game. Should it reach the end of its track, we may be faced with revolution and anarchy!

The first player begins by randomly drawing a counter to indicate the “immigration rate” for the round. (The highest number – 6 – may not be drawn for the first four rounds of play. If drawn, another counter is revealed instead.) The immigration rate impacts on the cost of building in the city.

On a turn, a player will play a card from his hand which shows which building(s) may be placed in which part of the city. The city is divided into three large areas with purple, green and yellow arrows indicating where the first tiles of that color to be put in that area must begin. From that point on, tiles of the same color may be placed, horizontally or vertically (not diagonally). Then, a player places the specified building on that tile.

Everyone has four types of buildings: Upper Class (showing 1 roof and valued at 1 point), Middle Class (2 roofs, valued at 2 points), Working Class (3 roofs, 3 points) and Lower Class (4 roofs, 4 points). Buildings are important in picking up Victory Points but they can come at a cost: striking workers.

When placing a building, players need to place workers of their own, i.e. striking workers, into Raval (another board location). The number of workers that need to be placed is equal to the current immigration rate MINUS the value of the building. So, if we have an immigration rate of 5 and you place a Lower Class (valued at 4), one of your workers moves to Raval. On the other hand, building an Upper Class building (valued at 1) will result in FOUR workers moving to Raval and the Bomb moving ahead 1 on its track. (On the flip side, though, placing an Upper Class building allows you to draw two Influence Counters from the bag and keep one, to be placed on your Family Board.)

No player may have more than five striking workers at Raval. If they do, workers are removed, TWO at a time, until less than five remain. One of the removed workers goes back to the player’s supply; the other goes into the Barricades.

As buildings are placed, a block of four city tiles will be constructed. An “obelisk” piece is placed in that block’s center, denoting that this block will be scored. All players who have at least one building in that block score 1 Prestige Point and the player whose buildings add up to the highest value gets another Prestige Point (and moves up the Auca accordingly).

During the rounds, players may use their accumulated Influence Counters in different ways. A player may reveal their secret alignment by flipping over their counter and using it to help acquire an “Influence Card” (worth Victory Points at the end of the game) OR use the counter’s special ability (a Crown allows you to play a card to place a tile, construct a building AND use a card’s special action, Colonies rewards you with an extra Popularity card at the end of a round, Personalities gives you 3 extra Prestige Points). Or, you can keep your alignment secret in which case it will be worth 2 VPs at the end of the game.

Once everyone has played their hands of cards, the phase ends and players have to face the consequences of their actions. First, we check for Rebellion.

All striking workers in Raval are placed in a black bag. Soldiers (black meeples) equal to the total number of workers on the Barricades are added to the bag. (If there are more players then workers on the Barricades, then soldiers equal to the number of players are added to the bag.) Now a number of meeples equal to the current immigration rate are drawn from the bag and placed in the Barricades. Each player’s worker pulled from the bag results in that player losing 1 Prestige Point. The player with the most workers there receives the “Labor Strike” card which does nothing except clogging up his hand for the next turn since this card counts towards the four card hand limit(although he will be going first next round). For each soldier taken from the bag, the Bomb marker advances one space closer to revolution!

Finally, the player who has built the most Middle Class, Working Class and Lower Class buildings in each of the three districts, receives a Popularity card and then all players are dealt City cards so that everyone has a hand of five, ready to being the next round.

At the end of each period, players score Victory Points for buildings constructed: 4 VPs for each Upper Class, 3 VPs for Middle, 2 VPs for Worker, 1 VP for Lower. (Scores are charted on the VP track with buildings returned to their owners and the tiles they occupied flipped over and no longer available for construction.) The player with the fewest striking workers in the black bag receives a “Prestige Award” (which is anywhere from 1 to 3 Prestige Points to add to his place in the Auca). This is also done for the last round of the game with these exceptions: the player supposed to get the Labor Strike card does not get the card but loses 4 VPs and the player supposed to get a Prestige card gets 4 VPs instead. Finally, at the game’s conclusion, complete blocks are scored as usual but now, incomplete blocks score as well with ALL buildings not part of a block, regardless of type, scoring just 1 VP each. Additional VPs (from 1 to 3) are scored for Influence counters NOT used. However, if the Bomb reaches the end of its track and at least 1 soldier has been revealed during a rebellion check, Anarchy breaks out.

Should Anarchy erupt, any Influence cards bought by players are simply discarded and do NOT score! From that point on, when a phase ends, Victory Point scoring is turned on its head! Now, Lower Class buildings are worth 4 VPs (not 1), Working Class 3 VPs (not 2), Middle Class 2 VPs (not 3) and Upper Class 1 VP (and not 4). Regardless, the player with the highest combined score wins!

Barcelona has a whole bunch of interesting game mechanisms. There is the tile laying aspect where you plant your buildings in the various areas of the expanding city. There is card play – and hand management – in playing City and Popularity cards to get those buildings onto the table. I like the way worker overflow is handled (two by two) too. Game graphics are well done (especially the comic strip-like quality of the Auca and the Les Miserables look found bordering the Raval and Barricades) and the Family cards also serve as welcome play aids. The tumultuous effect of Anarchy is cleverly captured in the “reverse” scoring and it is pleasing to the eye to watch the areas of the city develop and fill so colorfully as well. But there are few other things worth noting.

The Labor Card may be too harsh a penalty to inflict upon a player. It is one way to prevent a runaway leader problem but… Since you do not have many cards to use each round, having one that is, essentially, a lost move, can really hamstring a player and going first in a round does not seem to quite make up for it. As mentioned, graphics are good but the small print on the cards telling you to draw 2 Influence counters when building an Upper Class building is so small that, even with 20-20 eyesight, it is nearly unreadable! No excuse for that. Players should also be aware that there is a certain, and potentially significant, luck factor here with the drawing of Influence Counters and Workers. Influence counters can be accepted a bit easier but while I appreciate the luck of the draw and the suspense it generates when pulling workers (and soldiers) from the bag, this can result in a player feeling that the fates have conspired against him. You can try to slant the composition of the Worker bag in your favor (by deciding just what buildings to place) but that subtlety can be lost, especially on a first play of the game.

While I admit to not being that knowledgeable about Spanish history in general or Barcelona in particular (surprisingly, the rules make no reference to the “Rose of Fire” subtitle), this game did give me a real feel for the growth and challenges faced by the city in this time period. Immigration, worker conditions, the need for housing and the striving of influential people to flex their social and political muscle to amass wealth are issues not unknown today. Barcelona: The Rose of Fire puts these issues in an historical context worth exploring. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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