FURNACE from Arcane Wonder/Hobby World comes under the genre of Engine-Building. It is designed for 2-4 players aged 12+ by Ivan Lashin (Russian games developer and designer, known for 'Smartphone Inc' & 'Skytopia: in the Circle of Time')
The box art is both intriguing and off-putting. The illustration is very good with its Industrial Revolution appearance. If you consider that this was a era of stark insecurity, unsurety, and change, the complete picture (mostly on a white background) perfectly represents this period in time. However, unless you are specifically looking for FURNACE it is quite likely that the cover will not stand out amongst other games on the store's shelves. The old adage 'Do not judge a book by its cover' is so true in the case of this game (okay you have to replace 'book' with 'game' but the meaning is the same).
The components are very good, made from quality card and wood, but are also quite basic in design - in fact there is little by way of actual design for the wooden pieces: regular Black square cubes represent Coal. Yellow hexagonal pieces are Oil Drums and the nearest to looking anything like the resource represented are the Grey blocks with sloping sides that act as Iron Bars. I'm not really critiquing the components, but for such an enjoyable game, and with so many places selling wooden game components in bulk (I found several online with prices per piece. I am sure a large bulk order would bring down considerably) , they are a little disappointing. The pieces do the job okay, they just could look better. FURNACE isn't an expensive game, but at around £30.00 it isn't unexpensive either.
FURNACE is an excellent, thoughtful and clever card based game. Each player is given (either randomly or by choice - after a few games randomly is better) a Capitalist card which gives you the name of your in-game personna as well as access to their personal special action. Players are also given a Start-up card and the resources shown on the top of it. Along with these they get the icon and a set of numbered, different sized, discs in their allotted colour. Black gets a Top hat, White a Pair of Dress Gloves etc.
There are 5 start-up cards, each with the same back illustration. Each of these cards gives the players something different, from an upgrade token to some resources.
The Capitalist cards are of 2 women and 3 men - none are named.
Of the 2 women, one allows the spending of 2 coal to resolve a Company card again and the other allows you to not follow the placement rules of the Auction phase.
The men: One gives you an extra auction disc valued at 2. The second allows you to spend Iron instead of an Upgrade token and the third adds 1 value to your disc value for compensation. Of these, the second one is possibly the weakest to begin with but can become very useful if you play to its strength.
There is a Round marker - a square token with rounded corners and marked 1-4 - a coaster type card with an undulating edge along which the game timer/Round marker is moved. There are only four Rounds in a game, and as play is fairly quick, the game flows reasonably fast - the only delay can be in deliberating which card to try for at Auction.
The Auction is efficiently mechanised and can be speedy, it's down to how specific and deliberate the players wish to be. Depending on how many players there are, a number of Company cards are laid out, face up, in a display. With four players it is 8 cards. The chosen first player places one of their discs (numbered and sized 1 through 4) onto one of the company cards. Players do this in turn order until all tokens are used and then it is determined as to who wins the tile and who gets compensation.
In turn order the players bid for the cards on display by using their number discs. The mechanic has been designed so that you will always win one card at least because no disc of either the same number or the same colour can be on any card. Unlike other auctions in games you can (and must) underbid on cards, thus a card with a Black 4 is going to be won by the Black player, but anyone else bidding on this card will be compensated by receiving the resources of that card (shown on top section of card) multiplied by the value of the disc being compensated.
When all auction discs have been played the Company cards on the display are awared to the winning bidder, after compensation has been paid out. Example: A card bearing 2 Coal has a Yellow 4, a Black 2 and a White 1 on it. Yellow will win the card and be able to use its effect (bottom section of card) later in play. But first Black will receive 4 coal (2 coal x 2 value) and White gets 2 coal (2x1).
The x3 tokens are used if resource pieces are exhausted, just remember that a x3 token represents 3 of the resource not 3 times the resource; the use of the multiplication symbol before the number is confusing.
One of the special effects on the Capitalist cards is that your Auction card counts as one value higher, so if White is that Capitalist they would get 4 coal instead of 2 by using that special ability.
Each of the Company cards has an effect that you can use during Production. It may allow you to change one resource for one another resource; it may also have a 'xN' meaning you can action this N many times. Also on the bottom of the cards is a 'shadowed' effect. This is telling you what is on the card once it is upgraded (flipped over). Flipped Company cards regularly do not have the front side effect repeated.
This means that you must be extra savvy when bidding for Company cards because some have a long term effect.
Each Start-up card has an Upgrade token icon printed in the bottom section, this gives the player one of those Tokens every round. There is also an action/effect that allows the player to use that Token to upgrade one of their Company cards. This can be done for as many Upgrade Tokens as you have. As mentioned already the flipped cards have different effects so upgrading isn't always necessary, especially in the first couple of Rounds - there are only 4 Rounds in a game, so timing and balance is essential.
Flipped/upgraded cards allow the player to use both the basic and special effects on it; always resolving the top section before the lower - be careful that you don't rush to use the lower effect as you then cannot use the top one as well.
I have to say that it is quite unusual to have a game with this many possibilities and Actions and only four small pages of rules. There are 8 pages to the rules booklet, but the Front and Back plus inside Front and Back are not rules; therefore the game rules are quick to read through and easy to applicate and learn.
The Round end mechanic fits the game theme perfectly - the engine on the Round Counter card keeps the theme in mind (although to be honest we used this card to place the deck of Company cards on). The Round number tile can be smoothly rolled down the undulating edge of the card, each move rotating it to the next Round number in sequence - neat and tidy, and unusual - possibly a bit unnecessary (the money spent on this could have been redirected to the purchase of better resource pieces) but I cannot argue as it does look good.
Many Company cards, including the starter cards, allow players to spend resources to 'buy' VP counters. Balancing your use of Resources to gain other effects with spending them on VPs is crucial. VPs win the game, but special effects/actions give you the opportunity to get resources to purchase VPs, and as said already, some allow you to also buy VPs. So many choices for what seems to be such a simple-ruled game.
There is a 2-player variant which involves using the die (D6) for a third (dummy) opponent. To be fair you do get to play the game's mechanics and maybe learn/realise some strategies, but for myself it isn't anywhere near as good with just 2 players, it is definitely superb with a compliment of four players.
There are also some variant rules, well one variation actually. Players must play their gained Company cards in an unbreakable row by placing them to the right of the start card (by right I mean as the player looks at the start up card). Then when it comes to production the cards have to be activated in order from the start up card. This may seem easier than remembering which card/s you have already used, but it sure as heck changes the perspective of the game - use this when playing with experienced players. But seeing as once placed the cards have to remain in place and cannot be rearranged, any skill in manipulating the effects to your advantage are lost unless you specifically buy cards from the auction to fit the flow of your row. This then changes the way you play the Auction phase - one tiny change in the rules has such a powerful knock-on effect.
A game well worthy of being in your collection.