BONFIRE is a game from the intelligent-thinking logical mind of the excellent game designer, Stefan Feld. This time HALL GAMES and PEGASUS SPIELE are the companies that benefit from Stefan's brilliance. I should add that Dennis Lohausen's illustrations and rules layout certainly add to the splendour of this quite unusual game.
Playable by 1-4 from young adult upwards - there are specific single-player rules - BONFIRE can be found online at several different websites and for a range of prices that are up to £15.00 apart, for example Zatu Games are showing it at £37.79 while Amazon have it for £50.33; do look around before buying, but remember there may be postal charges that even out the cost.
BONFIRE is playable by 1-4 players aged 12+, though I suspect the only reason to play this solo (apart from being in Lockdown that is) would be to learn the rules so other players can be taught to play verbally and quickly.
The game centres around the Gnomes of an unnamed Realm as they quest to relight the magical Bonfires that were created myriad years ago by the Guardians of Light to provide light and warmth to the cities where the dimming Sun was barely reaching. In this twilight, many of these cities are no longer populated, which under normal circumstances wouldn't bother the Gnomes because they don't live in cities, but in this case without people the Bonfires have been allowed to fully extinguish and even Gnomes cannot survive happily without the light and heat they (the Bonfires) provide.
BONFIRE is a resource management game with elements of constructing, resource gathering and thoughtful/skilfull tile laying. Ingredients for clever games melded together by Feld's imagination.
There are a fair number of cardboard pieces, cards, tiles and player boards, along with many wooden meeple (and assorted other) shaped components. All resources are wooden shapes, as are the Ships, Guardians, Novices and Score markers. Suffice it to say that Pegasus have not skimped on quality or quantity while still keeping the price per unit at a very reasonable £38.00 - £50.00 (lots of offers online).
The only real letdown is the 'Great Bonfire' assembled marker/pointer, which is insipid (pastel) Pink and looks neither 'Great' nor 'Bonfire'.
Players each have numerous components in front of them and in play at the setup of the game. These include an Action Overview board, a Player City Board, several Meeples (Guardian, Ship, Novices) plus several more card or wooden pieces as Markers and Tiles, Portals and Fate tiles. There is also a larger, game board. A fair amount of table space is required to manage the components comfortably and allow each player a good view of what is going on at all times; this is important.
Around the edge of the player boards are crenolations designed to allow the building of a pathway that your Guardian pieces can move along to provide you with resources and to possibly add bonus VPs at the game's end scoring - just one of the many mechanics in this unusual game.
Players have their own player board and set of Fate Tiles. There is a cut-out in the board that allows 7 shuffled Fate Tiles to be slotted in to it, ready for selection and placing on the main game board in a dominoes style of play. The icons on these tiles let the player draw similarly marked mini-tiles (tabletop wargame sized chits) which can be spent to perform different Actions. Each chit allows a specific Action, but if you wish to perform an Action you do not have the chit for you may use any 2 other chits. (This makes a change from so many other games where the 'other' chits have to be the same type/colour etc.)
The position of your Fate Tiles in the column determine which you can select to use on your turn. You may choose either the top of the column or the bottom tile. Once chosen you place the tile onto the board, ensuring that it is positioned within the Fate Area and not overlapping the edges, basically think that you must colour within the lines.
When you place your tiles they must be legally adjacently to a previously placed tile - one already having been played - creating a means to collecting more resources than shown on the tile you are placing. For instance if you place your tile so that a ship icon is next to another ship icon you gain 2 ship resources (Action tiles). Clever/thoughtful placement can create multiple gatherings.
Stefan Feld is a very well admired designer whose games are generally just that bit different from what regular boardgame players may be expecting. BONFIRE has all the parts and options my gaming group and I look out for, and that's its appeal. However, it also seems to be a convalution, an explosion, of ideas that for us didn't gel in the way Feld's games often do.
There is a lot going on during play. The game boards are very busy which leads to this being one of those games where you want to do more than you are game-legally able to, but instead of being agonisingly frustrating it is agonisingly platitudinous, bordering on humdrum. There is a lot going on during play, but it's not gripping.
One of the themes that link the player's actions to the background story is that they have to negotiate the Holy Islands in the packed seas to discover and collect new Tasks (Missions) and Guardians. Building the pathway (around the board), enlisting other Gnomes, rotating the Great Bonfire and moving Guardians also being Actions.
As I say, there is a lot of game play here but, for us, no excitement, no urge to immediately play again. The results of your Actions aren't pointless (unless you don't score any points) and although there is no feeling of going through the motions there are mind-wandering feelings that there are sufficiently enough stronger Stefan Feld games available.
The inner edges of the player boards has seven portal slots which are filled counter-clockwise from right to left as they are gathered. There are two types of Gnomes that you can recruit; Specialists and Elders, who are designated as face-up cards, ready to be recruited. Elder Gnomes give immediate VPs whereas Specialists provide ongoing assistance. For Guardians moving along the outer pathway a portal is required to traverse between the outer path and inner spaces.
The game doesn't end on a full stop, instead it fades down through a Countdown process whereby players know who is going to play the last turn. The winner is the player with the most VPs; these being calculated using the seven-point final scoring which you should ensure all players have full knowledge of prior to starting the game.
The Actions are aligned with the colour and icon of the chits:
Blue Ship - move your ship
Black Sun on Red background - Offer 2 resources and gain a Task
Man silhouette with arms raised high - Retrieve Guardian, Trigger procession.
Pathway piece on Green backdrop - Build a path
Floating ball on Purple - visit Great Bonfire
Dark card on Gold - Recruit a Gnome.
You may perform one Common action from a choice of three, followed by by any Bonus actions you may have.
The Three Common Actions are: Place a Fate tile, Use Action Tiles, Ignite a Bonfire.
I think seeing Stefan Feld's name on the box aroused a deeper excitement and precious feeling inside us because of the great man's reputation. In hindsight I think that our unsurety about BONFIRE is because winning is by scoring the most VPs rather than building or creating some kind of infernal device or exotic structure, and we wanted/expected more.
I have come, therefore, to the conclusion, that, after several plays, it is a game that some times clicks into place, runs smoothly and all working parts are greased and oiled with players reaching a happy ending; other times it seems to drag and dishearten. I am fairly sure that Feld followers will snap this up and play the heck out of it, discerning collectors may wish to look a little deeply at it before making the jump.