Thank you for checking review #47 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An Overview of Fire in the Library
Fire in the Library is a game designed by Tony Miller & John Prather and was published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.
Fire in the Library is a press-your-luck game in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. The game is played in rounds with a variable turn order in which earlier players have more risk but a higher possible reward. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents! Gain more tools when your luck runs out or if you take the safe route and exit the library before things get too risky. Hurry, as the game ends immediately when any one wing of the library completely burns.
Take your chances, be the bravest, and save books in Fire in the Library!
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
Recommended play has an “AI” player, so take the first three turn order cards and put the others in the box. Seed the bag with 7 red cubes and all white/black/yellow/purple cubes. Set the 10 remaining red cubes aside. “Build” the library by making the stacks of book cards in descending order, so the smallest value of each color is on top. Place your meeples, and the AI meeple, by the score track. Shuffle the tool cards and deal two to each human player and flip the top three to form the “market” of cards. Setup is now complete!
There are four phases to the game. In the first phase, going in order of lowest score to highest, each player selects a turn order card. This will determine both what order a player takes their turn, but also how safe or risky their turn will be. The AI player will always select the highest-available turn order card when it is their turn to select.
The next phase is the saving books phase, where the player pulls a cube at a time from the bag, placing those cubes on the left-most empty space of their player card. A player can stop saving books at any time and move to scoring books, or they can press their luck and try to save more books. If the player either places their second red fire cube on the card or has to place a fire cube on a risky space, their time saving books is at an end and they skip the scoring books phase and go into the fire spreading phase.
If a player voluntarily stops saving books before placing any books on a risky space, they will score points for each book saved (the values shown on the top-most card of that book’s color) and will get to take a tool from the market.
If a player stops saving books after placing one or more books onto risky spaces, they score points for each book saved PLUS the points on the turn order card printed beneath the last risky space with a book on it (ranges from 2-8).
If a player goes into the fire spreading phase, then sections of the library burn. The top-most card is removed for each section matching books they have on the turn order card. If a player pulled only red cubes, then the card with the lowest burn value is removed.
When it is the AI player’s turn, flip the top-most card of the tool deck. The banners at the top indicate which sections burn, causing you to discard the top card of those decks. Then, there are small circles located next to the tool’s name. Those are the color of books the AI saved this turn. They will score points for each color of book shown, plus any bonus points from a risky space (i.e. if they saved purple, yellow, and white and had the 1st Turn Order Card, it would be as though cubes were on the first three spaces and thus they’d score the 4 bonus points under the 3rd space).
At the end of the round, the card with the lowest burn value is removed. Play continues until one section of the library is completely burned (no cards left in that pile).
Changes for 1 Player
Instead of a Turn Order card per player, use all six. At the start of each round, select a card that has not already been used. Take your turn as normal. The AI goes after you and will operate similar to the AI in a 2-player game, except it scores 2 bravery points for every book beyond the first saved on its card. At the end of the round, set aside the Turn Order card used. You can’t use it again until all 6 have been used.
The artwork. Oh my, I love Beth Sobel’s artwork so much! She first hooked me with Herbaceous, and I’ve been pleased ever since. I’m 99% certain she’s my favorite board game artist, and I always enjoy looking at her art. They also happen to make fantastic photographs to share on Instagram. And the art is just going to get even better, as the Kickstarter has unlocked unique art on a lot of the library cards. That means the flames grow as those card decks deplete, something I think is really cool!
The turn order cards are great because they give you different incentives. If you get the 1st player card, then you’ll want to press your luck over and over to try and maximize your points. The 5th player card, on the other hand, is relatively safe and rewards you with a guaranteed tool whether you fill the card, stop early, or draw two red cubes. They also become really important near the end of the game, as the game will end immediately when one of the library piles are emptied. The simplest phase of the game can have a big impact on how you play your turn, and can help to offer ways of catching up to the rest of the players.
Tool cards are what make this game a great press-your-luck game. They are a reward, depending on your turn order card, for ending your turn early. They are also a consolation prize for pressing too far and losing your chance to score points. These cards range from ways to stop burning (and go back to collecting books), placing cubes on each turn order card before selecting them, to saving books to score again at the end of the game. There are a lot of great reasons to like these tool cards, and the effective use of these cards can help players leap back into the midst of the scoring action.
The AI system for the game is simple, yet vital. It serves two very real purposes: setting the bar for points scored and speeding along the end-game trigger. Sure, you could reduce the number of library cards instead based on player count to emulate one of those two factors. But you wouldn’t prevent the “I’ll play it safe and keep this one book for 3 points” tactic. Suddenly that AI is scoring 12-20 points on some turns and puts the pressure on to press-your-luck to keep up. After all, this is a press-your-luck game. There isn’t much difference between the AI used in a 1-player and the 2-player game, and both are extremely easy to operate. Which is exactly what you want when operating a non-player portion of a game. The best thing it can do is be user-friendly and fast.
The rulebook is easy to understand. I’ve started to watch this more frequently, as I have spent a little time helping to proofread rulebooks. Therefore I greatly appreciate a rulebook that I can read through a single time and walk away without any questions about how to play.
While it has no real relevance on the gameplay itself, I do really love the theme for this one. I envision being back with the Library of Alexandria, and all those books. Of course we need to save them! Historians would love to have a chance to go back in time and save those scrolls and books.
The points go up as the game progresses, but so does the chance of pulling red cubes. You’ll never add more book cubes into that bag, although there are some tools that could remove a few of them until the end of the game. But over the course of playing, you’ll add in 10 more red cubes. Which suddenly makes it a lot closer to a 50/50 chance of pulling a red cube during your turn. Thankfully, the cubes you pull do go back into the bag at the end of your turn. I couldn’t imagine going 6th and seeing a whole lot of books on everyone else’s cards.
There is a catchup mechanism in here, at least kind of. Points increase. If you’re not scoring well, you are likely collecting tools. That means you can get to where a turn could net up to 50 points and average around 25-30. So even if you’re falling behind, you can leap back into the midst of the scoring race. Unless you play against someone with ridiculously good luck, like one of my local gamers. He tends to win about 85% of the games he plays, no matter who he plays with and how unfamiliar he might be with a game. A guy like that will probably never draw a red cube, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to keep up with something like that.
The game does automatically progress, and the AI really helps that with 1-2 players. It is worth noting that with 3+ players there is a chance it could run really long if people are never burning. This is a filler press-your-luck game and it has a certain amount of time it should take on the table. Once you creep over that 30 minute mark, it starts to overstay its welcome. It won’t happen all the time. It might not even happen often. But this game could feasibly last close to 20 rounds if no one burns.
That feeling when all you seem to pull is red. Oh man, it really stinks. This isn’t the game’s fault. It rewards you with tools that should, in theory, help you do better on future turns. But nothing is worse than Red Cube -> Red Cube -> Use the Bucket, return to saving books -> Red Cube -> Use the Slingshot, return to saving books -> Red Cube. There goes all of your hard-earned tools, back to square one with nothing to show. And then the next player pulls nothing but books. A few of those turns in a row for you can really suck the fun out of the game.
I first came across Weird Giraffe Games on Twitter back when Stellar Leap was being designed. It stole my attention as I watched Carla post pictures of the game and talked about her design process. I knew it was a game I’d enjoy, and I was so thankful to play a small part in testing the solo system for that game via print & play. But libraries, well, those are really my thing. I am an author and I’ll always want to save books. Fire in the Library intrigued me from the start because of the theme, but I tempered my expectations. I’ve never been a big fan of press-your-luck games and knew my wife felt the same (but more extreme – she hates dice, after all). But then I saw the Beth Sobel artwork (she’s my favorite artist, I think!) and that sucked me in more. Reviewers I follow started to get copies of the game and the raving impressions poured out on social media. Suddenly I knew I had to at least try this one out, and was only too happy to say “yes” when Carla asked if I wanted to get my hands on a prototype for a review.
I am rarely the type of player who favors the aggressive playstyle needed for a game like this one. I am more of a defensive-minded person, and it showed the other night when playing a round against my wife. Her and the AI were rows ahead of me in points, partially from unusually bad luck at draws and partially from stopping early to get some tools. Yet even I felt a thrill when I filled the 1st Player card up and leapt ahead of them both in one perfect turn. The lead didn’t last long – I ended in last place – but that one turn was demonstrative of why this game is successful. No matter how bad your early turns are, there is still hope because those books increase in value and those tools can help you to claw back into the race. For a press-your-luck game, it excels at making a player remain invested regardless of score.
I could sit here and wish for less randomness, but that would make this game lose its identity. Taking the right tools, when you can, will help to mitigate some of that randomness. You can score when other players burn. You can slingshot a fire cube to another player’s card. Pressing your luck too well will keep you from getting those valuable cards, allowing those playing it safer, or getting burned by the cube draws, to have a chance to claw back in.
The artwork in here is fantastic. The gameplay is perfect for the timeframe of this game. The AI is smooth and easy to pilot much like the Automa from Viticulture. My wife hates using automated players but, even though she’d prefer to play without it, didn’t have much to complain about at the end of our games using it. It definitely has a place in here, forcing the players to keep up with a pace while also helping to cycle through those library cards. And involved about 12 seconds of work to operate that AI player’s turn each round, which is perfect for solo players.
At the price point they are listing this at on their Kickstarter, Fire in the Library is a downright steal. My wife and I are definitely not the usual intended audience for a game like this, yet we found ourselves enjoying this one. It is a game I wouldn’t mind having in our collection as an option for those times when we want a 15-20 minute game. And it is the perfect starter/finisher/filler during a game night, as it plays fast and doesn’t take long to setup or tear down.
They are down to less than 48 hours left on the Kickstarter for this game, and you don’t want to be kicking yourself later for missing this one. If you aren’t one of the 2,059 backers (at the time of this writing) who are currently backing this game, then what are you waiting for? This undoubtedly plays well at all player counts, as I’ve played 1-3 and see no reason why it wouldn’t also excel with a larger group. Even if this isn’t your type of game, it offers enough to make this a press-your-luck game worth owning.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Fire in the Library. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
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