Friday, 23 March 2007

From the Hip- FIRE & AXE

So last night we gave Asmodee’s newest issue FIRE & AXE a shot and I have to say up front that I thought it was pretty damn good- it’s a reissue of the Ragnar Brothers DIY-published VIKING FURY. If you don’t know who the Ragnar Brothers are, go pick up a copy of HISTORY OF THE WORLD. We played with a full table including Fortress AT’s very own Robert Martin, GREAT CHILI COOKOFF designer Dan Baden, Billy Motion (of Billy and Mike Con fame), and a mysterious figure known only as…The Beekeeper. The game was about 2 hours long, but that included a very long conversation between Martin and Motion about scripting languages or some other nonsense. That being said, the game moves at a relentless pace- turns are short and the overall sense is that this a game that _moves_- lots of action and decisions with little time for overanalysis.

First off, the game looks fucking great. Asmodee has really stepped up their production- MALL OF HORROR and MISSION RED PLANET looked great, but FIRE & AXE is a total knockout- it’s easily on par with a Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder production with great graphic collateral, high quality miniatures, and excellent layout. I guess since the game has a UK origin there’s no bizarre translation issues as in Asmodee’s last two titles. The board is gigantic, so all the whiners who have a problem with that, get your bitchin’ motor running. It’s one of those games that just looks bad ass when it’s set up.

It’s a pretty simple game, I’ll let the celebrity game writers out there meticulously rewrite the rulebook via bullet lists for their reviews elsewhere. Basically it’s a trade and raid sort of deal- players represent somewhat abstractly the Viking hordes of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway you load up Drakkars with marauding Norsemen or with trade goods like ivory and then send them out to sell goods at various European ports, raid cities, or establish settlements. Each turn you’ve got 7 days (action points) to do things, and there’s a pretty neat weather system that establishes how many “safe” days of sailing there are in each of four cardinal-point regions. There's a pretty simple die roll system to raid/settle and there are some nice detail touches like the fact that regions that have been traded to are more “receptive” to Viking dominance.

One of the main things I liked in FIRE & AXE is something I really enjoyed in NEXUS OPS, TI3, and a couple of other recent games- mission based objectives. In the context of this game they’re “Sagas” that give you short-term goals such as trade or raid a certain port or set of ports. One of the key points of conflict in the game is that you can actually exploit the hard work of others and effectively steal a Saga by being the player to actually complete the conditions- despite the fact that another has done 2/3 of it for you. It creates a lot of grudges, hard feelings, and vendettas- things I’m pretty sure we here at Fortress AT thrive on. If that’s not enough, there’s also some savagely nasty Rune cards that do any number of hateful things to other players and you can also influence the weather to make getting around difficult in certain regions. Probably the highlight of the game was when the Beekeeper beat me to a Saga card…in retaliation I played a Rune card that caused a sea serpent to attack his man-filled ship. I rolled like a champ and every single Viking got eaten. Valhalla!

It’s a point-based game and there’s LOTS of ways (and strategies) to get points and bonuses- there’s even a “Bloody Axe” bonus to the player who raids the most cities. Robert played the entire game solely to win the “Bloody Axe”, and it cost him the game. He was not a diversified Viking. I won the game, largely due to a bonus from collecting a majority of Sagas completed for Norway and Sweden. Interestingly, because of the way the timing works with the Saga cards it seem like it would play quicker with more players.

So to sum it up- so far FIRE & AXE is getting a pretty strong recommendation and it looks pretty promising in terms of longevity thanks to a cool theme, fun mechanics, smooth gameplay, a reasonable duration, and some built-in variability- I think it’s a lively, exciting hybrid that has PLENTY to appeal to AT sensibilities yet it has enough Euro innovation to keep it concise and structured enough to avoid going longer than a game of its depth and character really should. Rules are fairly easy but more importantly they feel thematic and there’s very little that feels unnecessarily gamey or abstract. It’s not one of the Great Games of Our Time and it doesn’t represent a new game design paradigm, but as a meat-and-potatoes game that offers a really good time it completely works for me- and it’s also a great example of how hybrid designs are the best thing going in games right now.


the*mad*gamer said...

Thanks for the review Michael! I was just stating today on another little boardgame site how I was missing your great reviews! I have ordered this game already, in fact it should be on my doorstep today!

Ken Bradford said...

Hey, I can't tell from the review--IS THERE FOIGHTIN'?

In other words, if I run out of nasty weather cards to slap my opponent with, can I plunge my Viking boat at him and kill his peoples culture and whatnot?

Shellhead said...

This sounds great. I have played Viking Fury exactly once, against a bunch of Eurogamers. Like Martin, I went after that Bloody Axe award and got it, coming in with a respectable second place in the overall game.

Aside from that, I only vaguely recall Viking Fury as a thematic pick-up-and-deliver game with a little combat and that neat wind mechanism.

To be honest, I don't remember Runes from Viking Fury. Is that something new that Asmodee added to this version? Or were the runes always part of the game and they've simply been blotted out of my brain after straining to wrap my brain around FFG's awkward Runebound combat system?

Michael Barnes said...

Actually, there is no direct fighting in terms of moving pieces to attack other pieces- it's all handled with action cards. So there's like rebellions, sea monsters, the dreaded "intimidation" card, and "Punished by the Gods" (which was hilariously misheard at one point as "punched by the Gods).

I thought I'd probably miss being able to actually attack other players, but it wasn't an can fuck with them enough through other means. It wouldn't make sense to attack other players since you're all Vikings and they didn't really in-fight much.

I know Asmodee added some Rune cards that make the game more confrontational, but from what I've read there were some in the original version too.

Something else I should have pointed out...the game is somewhat similar to a very stripped down SERENISSIMA...that was a pretty decent game in its own respect, but I doubt I'll ever play it again since FIRE & AXE hits most of its high points and jettisons a lot of fat. And it's Vikings, not mediterranean trading fleets.

Anonymous said...

Great review, Mr. Barnes! This just went on my wishlist.

robartin said...

I sacked like every city on the whole freaking board while you guys were ferrying produce around. Winning is for nerds.

John said...

Thanks for the tasty review. I'm glad you've landed on your feet after your banishment for the crime of having vigorous opinions.

Michael Barnes said...

Hah! Apparently someone posted a link to this review on BGG and they recieved a message from an admin warning them that their account would be suspended if they linked to any of my material.

BrayD said...


Barnes, comrade! Contratulations! You are like becomings the "unperson" in People's Utopia of BoartGamesGeeks!

TheRankO said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheRankO said...

Point taken, Mr Skeletor!

Mr Skeletor said...

I have a point.

Anonymous said...

"Hah! Apparently someone posted a link to this review on BGG and they recieved a message from an admin warning them that their account would be suspended if they linked to any of my material."

No. The link is in place on BGG--feel free to bad mouth them any way.

You guys are starting to look a little ridiculous, trolling for controversy....

Be sure to drop the F-bomb (as you did in your review) to show how rebellious you are.

Michael Barnes said...

Um...who's the troll now, "anonymous"?

Albert said...

In french it is called invasions.
It is pretty much a sum of what I like in AT; a strong theme you can sink in, and rules that are tied to it.
And the rules are short, clear, and it has no player elimination :)

Mr Skeletor said...

Be sure to drop the F-bomb (as you did in your review) to show how rebellious you are.

So now we have to abide by your standards in our own playground as well?

Go away.

hughthehand said...

Dear Mr.Anonymous,

I love BGG...I'm fine with the ban. Your post is still gay. I mean that in the retarded sense of the word, not the sexual preference.

Why are you even reading this if you disapprove? That was trolling if I ever saw it. Say who you are so we at least know you stand by what you say.

To Michael:
Good review. I read about the reprint even though I never played the original. I read a few posts about this game not being confrontational enough for a Viking themed game, and it turned some people off. And it looks like you confirmed that in your comment here.

"somewhat similar to a very stripped down SERENISSIMA"

If I own that game though, do I want this one too? You said without the fat...what exactly are you referring to here?

My interest is up because of your review, so I am very interested in Fire & Axe now.

Anonymous said...

I do choose to be anonymous but wanted to mention that I do not disapprove of the review--I enjoyed it, even if I found the schoolboy language inappropriate and sort of silly.

Calling something "Gay" tells me everything I need to know about you--you don't have to qualify it in any way. Your eloquence is breathtaking.

I was merely calling attention to the fact that the assertion that BGG banned a link to the review is not true--there is a link there--check the game listing. So Barnes' complaint looks like more attention-getting--something this site is rife with.

I also love BGG and I DISAPPROVE of the banning.

Still Anonymous

Michael Barnes said...

Well Jeremy, I'd say that the lack of direct conflict is, like I said, pretty theory, the players are on the same team. Sort of. I think there's plenty of points of competition and friction- which really is what a lot of Euro designs are missing, moreso than being able to lay some Viking Fury down on another player.

Like SERENISSIMA, the game has a similar boat loadout concept, you sail around, trade, set up long-term settlements, and attack some stuff. Unlike SERENISSIMA, you don't have the market system, no fortresses, your moves aren't limited by the number of crewmen, and there's only three kinds of goods and you can only get them from home- you don't really have trade routes per se. There's no economy- all the money you make is purely loot. They're different games in the end, but there's enough similarity there to notice. I'd pick F&A over SERENISSIMA mainly because it's a little more direct and more fun- what with the action cards, viking theme, and all.

Michael Barnes said...

Oh, I meant to drop the "F-Bomb" for represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.


Anonymous said...


Also jump up and down screaming:

"Look at Me! Look at Me!"

Michael Barnes said...

You mean like Tom Vasel does? Or you?

Ken Bradford said...

In that case, the fault is mine. I was informed the link had been removed, and its poster chastised and warned. I also could no longer find the thread where the link was posted.

So don't blame Michael for that, blame me if you'd like. I will make a correction to my thread on BGG shortly as to my mistake.

Nonamnon said...

Mr. Barnes,

Thank you for an excellent post on Fire & Axe. Happily, I had all ready informed my FLGS to get me a copy, and it should be in tomorrow. You have merely affirmed my decision.

I thought the bits & productions values on this bad boy were superlative.

Keep up the great posts.

TheRankO said...

Oh, fer the luvagawd...Ken, the post was mine and I got the warning. I ended up deleting my BGG account, but now I see the entire thread is gone, too. But Skeletor is right...this whole issue doesn't belong here.

Ken Bradford said...

Heh--it's still wrong.

But the point is had.

Game on.

Michael Barnes said...

Yeah...let's get back to games...better to leave all that bullshit on other sites. I just brought it up because it was directly related to this further discussion needed.

Now, let's talk about how long it takes to get the box lid of FIRE & AXE off, followed by some statistical analysis of various statistical analyses.

hughthehand said...

FINE. I'll go look at the fucking game. YOU HAPPY?

Michael Barnes said...


Well look who's an eloquent, rebellious, attention-seeking schoolboy with individuality and a sense of personal freedom now?

We'll get you converted yet, Jeremy!

Ken Bradford said...

Yeah, thanks a lot for adding games to my Wanted list there, Mike. I almost had that sucker cleaned out.

hughthehand said...

There's a little bit of Barnes in all of us.

...wait...I don't mean that in the way that you think I meant that.

Ken Bradford said...

That's why I keep movin' while I'm up here...'cause you don't know where the Barnes' section is...and if he do get a glance at your sh!t, then it's quick, cause you switch him.

Ken Bradford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm anonymous2.

Just read this whole thread of comments.

I'm not a frequent user of your blog. Believe the BGG to be more practical and complete. (Easier to use as a database.)

However. Their users and constant "polite" auto-censorship are becoming ridiculous.

And it's gotten even more ridiculous since the Christian right invaded.

My 2 cents.