Designed by the creator of the superb Carcassonne board/tile game/s - Klause Jürgen Wrede - FIRE & STONE is a 2-4 player management and building game of inventing, collecting and discovering. It has a huge number of components in both colour-identification wood pieces (Meeples, Huts & Food) and beautifully crafted and illustrated playing cards and tiles. The front cover immediately screams out what type of game you are looking at - discovery - it really does do what it says on the 'tin'. Games take up to and over 60 minutes with a full compliment of players aged ten and over.
The rules, for this eye-catching £26.00-£30.00 Pegasus Spiele publication, are in a single, long sheet that opens up to 3 foldable pages per side. They are a little cumbersome when reading them for the first time, but so well written and totally littered with bold type, spot lists and illustrated examples. First advice is to ensure you know, not just read, the game rules, so that you don't miss or misunderstand any single portion of this extremely attractive and challenging game.
The game board represents a (very high) bird's eye view of the world map split into three major Regions, colour-coded, separated into smaller Regions that are covered with face-down discovery tiles amongst which are Hut tiles, Forests, Fire, Food etc.
The Hut tiles are very important to the game and finding them can be a short term advantage. Finding them also unlocks the different major Regions - nobody's scouts (meeples) can move into region II (Asia) from region I (Europe & Africa) until the third Hut tile is flipped up.and Region III cannot be entered until the 9th Hut is found. There is a printed line of Huts on the board, just above the map, which is used to mark important points in the game.
Each player has a personal Tribe Mat which show things like the number of Food Bags you have (and can hold) and the types of Food you can store - shown in columns with only one food type per column (different starting amounts depending on number of players). Players also have wooden huts (in their colour) that they need to place on the board in Hut Smaller Regions. After the discovery of a Hut the scout player places a wooden hut on the space and then has to move back to a Fire region but is not allowed to take the action offered as if they had moved directly onto the Fire space.
There are many games with the same or similar ideals: explore, gather, invent, achieving missions/tasks etc, so to find one that combines so many aspects of other games into a game that plays as if everything is new. One rule that does standout even though it isn't entirely new, is that when a player takes their turn they do everything they can, doing all actions possible with one scout before moving on to their next scout etc. Not until a player has completed everything they can achieve in their turn does the next player take their turn. In many other games this could mean that the player going 4th (in a 4 player game) would have a long wait and have most of their options reduced to an almost no alternative. Games only last until the turn after the 11th Hut is discovered, which is usually within 45-60 minutes.
Discovering tiles, landing on them and flipping them over, will generally bring you options. If you discover a Forest for example, then a stack of 3 animal tiles is placed in the forest. As the explorer you are allowed to keep one animal tile and leave the rest. You may not stay on the space to search again next turn. If you have more than one animal to choose from do not show the other players those tiles as they will have to visit the space themselves to see what is there. The Bow & Arrow allows you to also take a food when you take an animal tile. You do not need Food to feed your Scouts but it has other important uses. It is also, especially at the beginning, quite difficult to store.
Inventions do not always seem fairly balanced. For example, Ship Building allows your scouts to move across water areas (crossings shown by white arrows) at the cost of a single movement step, whereas for non-ship builders this may take several steps over several turns. Dependant on the current state and phase of the game, this can be the most valuable invention and it isn't available to all players.
Invention cards are gained chosen from those in the 3-card display, or you may take a VP card instead. You cannot take a VP card unless you have already an Invention card whose lower half effect can be covered up by the VP card. Balancing between when to gain VPs and when to 'create' inventions can be a crucial move or it can simply be forced (because as stated you can't take a VP card if you cannot place it immediately). Also there is an amount of luck as to what Inventions are available to you in the display. Being drawn from a shuffled deck means that you have as good a chance of not getting one of the 'best' inventions as you do of being able to choose one - you may also only have one of each type of Invention.
If you can obtain the Ship Building and Wattle & Daub inventions you have the basics of a very powerful tribe, add Bow & Arrow (food gain) and that tribe becomes a major force. Other inventions, such as Transport Sled (adds one to your movement), Gathering (extra storage), Bag (additional food from the card), Clay Pots (inventions gain you food) along with Farming, Fishing etc are useful but not as much, at least not as immediate.
Task cards are scored at the end of the game and in general give you one VP for achieving certain objectives during play. Within the game's components there are 24 Cave cards but only one, drawn at random, is used each game. When the Cave (tile) is found the identity of the Cave card and its effects are known and activated acccordingly. It is also true to say that there is a fair amount of random in the game, the cards being shuffled, the tiles for each region being mixed face down and similarly placed, the Cave, the tasks, all are a manageable degree of randomness.
Gathering tiles, also found by discovery, are used on your personal boards to advance your knowledge and be spent when required. There are many options available to each player per turn no matter what the turn order. Luck, skill, lucky-skill? all help you to win. Certain things occur at different phases or times in the game and thus there are cards and counters marked specifically for when they can or do come into play.
The FIRE & STONE appendix sheet (a glossy double-sided information sheet) explains the five Task cards, all Inventions, about the Food tokens (orange hexagonal columns), Cave cards and an F&Q on the 24 Cave cards. It is a most useful reference sheet throughout playing, even after you are au fait with the game's mechanics.
There is an alternative start to play. It can balance or imbalance according once again to the luck of the draw. This alternate concerns the Invention cards, or possibly only the four starting invention cards which are not used in the basic game. The rule says when setting up the game don't return the Starting Inventions to the box, but randomly lay out as many as there are players and let the players select one in reverse order of play (last first, first last). This means that all players will begin with an Invention that is different from the other players. It also means that someone will get the much wanted Ship Building.
There isn't another alterantive start, but we suggest that you might like to do as above but instead of using only the four starting Inventions, shuffle all the invention cards and allow each player to choose one from a face up display of cards equal to the number of players. In this alternate it is possible for players to have the same invention to begin with.
Having Inventions at the beginning of play may shorten the game-play by a few minutes, but then again it may lengthen it as players take the time to realise and understand what they have.
Being the first to place a Hut is a bonus as it is free to do. Placing Huts in areas with other Huts costs one food per other Hut - even your own - in the space. Having a dominance in an area means having more Huts than all other players separately, so if you have 2 Huts in an area, and the other players have one Hut each then you are dominant - one of the possible tasks is Hut domination. Sometimes it is better to forget your Task and concentrate on gaining VPs elsewhere, but so far in our playing we haven't come up with a sure-fire winning solution.
FIRE & STONE is a good solid management game. You do have to spend Food tokens quite often, but there are no 2 wood and a rock to build a house type complexities. The only actual buildings are Huts and these can only be built in specific places, thus the map is dotted with Tribal Settlements not odd Huts.
Once the third (III) phase sections are entered it is important to know how well you are doing in VPs and what your opponents may have because it may then be advantageous to rush to find the 11th Hut and begin the endgame while you are still (as far as you know) in the lead. This does give meaning for card-counters (aka players who take note of what every other player does every turn - not necessarily simply countime cards) which can slow the game down. But overall it plays well just inside or just over the hour mark.
Similar to many in some ways, different enough in other ways, FIRE & STONE is a very good addition to your Kallax Shelves if you like Euro-style management games. Fans of Jürgen Wrede's Carcassonne should enjoy this immensely.