Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Great Fire of London

As my daughter is now studying the Great Fire of London at school, I thought it was time to get this game by  Medusa Games out of the garage and give it another go. It plays with three to six people, and can be completed, in my view, in under three hours if you know what you're doing, possibly even two. This makes it an ideal game for a week day evening.

GFoL 1666 casts you as a London landlord with considerable holdings around the city at the time of the Great Fire. Your objective is to try to contain and put out fires, saving as many of your own buildings as possible (these are randomly distributed around the city at the start of the game). At the same time, each player is tasked with defending three strategic buildings/neighbourhoods. You can do this using one of the six Trained Bands available for fire fighting duties.

Mid game: red cones off to the side of the board are fires that have been put out already. The red zone on the board is Pudding Lane, which acts as a central reserve for additional cones.

Each player starts the game with 40 victory points, plus a further 12 from his strategic buildings (split into 6/4/2 respectively). You then LOSE points as you lose buildings on the board. You gain points from putting out fires.

Each turn the fire spreads. A player has a hand of five cards which, when played, dictate the direction in which one or more fire cones spread across London from a central reserve around Pudding Lane. In addition, at certain points in the game, more fire cones can be added to intensify the blaze in specific neighbourhoods chosen by a player. This lets you mess with your opponents.

Fire spreads based on a priority list, with unattended buildings at the top, and vacant areas with Trained Bands in them at the bottom. This makes an empty area (e.g. demolished - see below) less likely to catch fire again.

Towards the end game - a black Trained Band cone bottom right is containing a fire, while two isolated blazes continue. Black ice hockey pucks can grant VPs, gunpowder charges or double burns. Apologies for being out of focus with this one - still trying to get the hang of the camera on the new iPhone.

As the fire spreads, you can pick up tokens (black ice hockey pucks in the picture above) which can either provide you with more VPs, give your Trained Bands the ability to blow up a district to act as a fire break, or allow you to fan the flames, and make a double fire move.

I must stress that this is not a Eurogame. The lack of dice and only a small random element will appeal to the Europhile, BUT, with enough people playing it can create somewhat of a chaotic scrum which will not be something the true Eurogamer will appreciate. I've not played this with six people yet...it could get interesting!

When we played, the fire spread quickly east towards the Tower of London, largely because many of the buildings there did not belong to any of the players. It then started to spread west. I managed to keep it carefully contained to the north, stopping it from reaching the Royal Exchange, which was my 6VP strategic objective. I did this by keeping a couple of the Trained Bands on station, plus blowing up on district.

I also had a 4VP location (Baynards Castle) to the west, that eventually came under threat. I managed to stop more aggressive westward spread of the fire by interdicting it in one district close to Pudding Lane (Voyners Hall). This involved putting the fire out, and stopped more cones spreading west, although by this stage one of my opponents had successfully torched St Paul's.

East London is an inferno: trained bands are deploying up towards Shoreditch in an effort to curb the flames. The purple meeple on the left is my landlord with another trained band, keeping an eye on the situation at Royal Exchange.

In the later stages, the fire spread northwards, through Leadenhall and Whitechapel, and worked its way quickly through Portsoken and Bethnall to threaten my 2VP objective at Shoreditch. Aggressive demolition around Bishopsgate and the Duke's Palace prevented it from getting any further, and keeping a couple of Trained Bands loitering around the Royal Exchange stopped the centre of the city taking more damage. As the game ended (no more fire cards to be drawn), the flames had reached Smithfield, their furthest extent.

This was really a walk through to get the hang of the game and iron out any rules queries, but it seemed to play well. With three players you always have at least a couple of Trained Bands you can rely on, which if focused properly, can also put out any dangerous flames threatening your objectives.Sending fire cones into less threatening areas can backfire for you, however, as if enough players get the same idea, you can suddenly find a key objective under threat, as I did in Shoreditch.

I'd like to give this another go in the near future - with the focus on the Great Fire at the moment, there seems to be plenty of appetite for it.

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