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
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
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.
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
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.