Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fire & Axe: go forth and pillage

Following on from our most excellent game of Pandemic (see previous post), Sebastian's homework project required that we also dust off Fire & Axe, the terrific viking pillaging and trading game from Asmodee.

F&A is an epic game of exploration, raiding and conquest. Players are leaders of viking expeditions, seeking renown as they outfit their ships in the Frozen North and head out to complete sagas across Europe and even further afield (one saga is an expedition to Canada!) I've always had a sentimenal spot for the vikings, being descended in part from the Norwegians who settled up in Orkney. This game has some excellent artwork, loads of little plastic viking men, and a gorgeous full colour board.

The aim of the game is to collect loot from a range of sources, including raiding towns and cities (my son always goes for the big fish here, like Paris and Rome), trading (more lucrative if you're heading down the big Russian rivers), settling permanently (in our game on Sunday vikings settled as far afield as Greenland and Majorca), and achieving sagas.

By winning the most sagas from each kingdom - Norway, Sweden and Denmark - you can earn extra money/victory points at the end. My daughter, for example, really dominated the Swedish stakes, accomplishing the bulk of the missions into Russia and the Baltics, while I dominated the Norwegian sagas in the British Isles, although not without competition in Iceland!

The game is simple enough for kids to understand, but sophisticated enough that you need to think strategically. I got whupped again in this one, and I think it came down to not doing sufficient forward planning. I'm coming to the conclusion that you need to carry out a diverse range of activities rather than focus too much on one area. Having said that, my son seems to have won the game by doing the bulk of the plundering, including the three big cities in the game. I focused too heavily on the British Isles, and while I raided some towns - Lindisfarne and Dublin fell to my vikings - a great deal of my focus was on settling and trading in the West and exploiting the demand for hides.

F&A has a simple trading system that yields cash based on the value of the towns you trade in. At any one time, one specific commodity is in demand. The default at the beginning is hides. You can change demand using Rune cards (action cards you can pick up when setting out from your home port). However, my argument is that this does not change quickly enough. I switched the goods in demand to ivory about two thirds of the way through the game once hides were running low, but my guess is that the change in demand is meant to keep players on the hop - changing when they have already set out on a trading mission.

The Rune cards are simple event cards you can use to make the game a bit spicier. For example, my son forced me to hand over Lincoln to him using the Debt of Honour card, while I decimated one of his North Sea expeditions using the Sea Serpent card (one of the very few fantasy elements in the game - which are optional, I hasten to add). Rune cards are really the only way you can actively have a hack at other players. The focus in on winning booty and fame, not on doing down your competitors, and this is why I think F&A is popular.

I would say F&A follows a familiar pattern, dictated to an extent by the sagas, which are split into three 'eras' of viking expansion, with sagas like Raid Lindisfarne or Settle Bremen appearing early on in the game, while the more ambitious ones like Settle Iceland or Trade with Antioch come later on.

All in all, great fun. There is obviously something to this aggressive raiding strategy that seems to work. I shall have to devote more thought to it next time I play.

1 comment:

  1. This is so out of print now that the rights have reverted to the original owners, The Ragnar Brothers. Their original isn't quite as polished as the asmodée version, but it's the only way to buy this excellent game now, bar ebay.