Full disclosure: A preview copy of Fire in the Library was provided by Weird Giraffe Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the final product may change between now and Kickstarter fulfillment.
Kickstarter preview season is in full swing, as you can tell! Seize the Bean, Unbroken, Highways & Byways, Cat Rescue, Mystery of the Temples, Herbalism, and all kinds of other games are coming to Kickstarter (or have already come and gone from Kickstarter — I write these reviews at random points, so they’re not always super temporally grounded). Anyways, this next one is from Weird Giraffe Games, publishers of Stellar Leap and Super Hack Override, two games you’ve seen covered here in the past.
You can keep telling yourself that you didn’t start the fire; you can even write a whole song about it, if you want. Fact of the matter is the fire is currently happening, and wouldn’t you know, it’s happening to your library of extremely flammable books. This is rather inconsiderate and you should ask to speak to the fire’s manager immediately. Regardless, you’re going to do the only thing a responsible librarian should do: rush into the library and try to save books! (Editor’s Note: What’s Eric Playing? strongly recommends against doing this; call the Fire Department.) Will you be able to save enough books? Or will your accumulated knowledge go up in smoke?
First thing you’re gonna want to do is set up the Library; that way you can appreciate all the terrible things that are going to happen to it (and also appreciate Beth Sobel’s fantastic art):
Set that within view of all players. Also, give each player one of the six Librarian Meeples:
The black meeple didn’t come out so well in that photo; a consequence of shooting against a dark background. There are six there, for what it’s worth. Set the meeples by the score board:
Give each player two Tool Cards, as well:
That’ll help you potentially break things out of the Library. Always useful. Set the rest near the center and flip three face-up, forming a sort of Tool Market. Speaking of the library, better prep the books. The game should come with a bag, so dump the book tokens in there:
Again, tough break since there are both white and black tokens. I guess I could have used a red background? Who has a red background? Anyways. Speaking of red, you should also add 7 of these buddies:
These are fire tokens. They’re just … pure heat. Anyways, for the first round, randomly deal out the Turn Order cards:
(For a solo game, don’t do this.) You should be all ready to start!
So, Fire in the Library is played until you run out of Library. On your turn, you’ll have to try Saving Books, first.
During this phase, you’ll attempt to grab books from the now-burning library. Be careful! Trying to grab too many books may only make the fire worse. However, this means you can use certain Tools that have the Saving Books icon on them (it’s a hand underneath the book).
If you’d like to attempt to save a book, draw a token from the bag and place it in the left-most open space of your Turn Order card. If it’s a black, white, yellow, or purple token, great! You saved a book. If it’s a red token, well, you might have done something far worse.
- If this red token is now on a Risky Space (a space with a flame) or if this is your second red token this turn, skip the rest of this phase and move on to the Fire Spreads phase.
If not, great! You can keep going until you want to stop. If you ever want to stop and haven’t caused the fire to spread, you’ll move on to the Score Books Phase.
Unlucky! You grabbed a fire token at the wrong time and caused the fire to spread. So, not only do you lose the points that you would have gained, you also burn down part(s) of the library! However, you may use tools that have the Fire Spreads icon on them (a book burning). If the tool makes it so you no longer have a fire token on a Risky Space or two fire tokens, you can go back to saving books! Otherwise, keep reading.
For each book token on your Turn Order card, discard the top-most card in the Library Cards of that book’s color. If you see a fire symbol revealed on the next card, add another fire token to the bag. Congratulations! Now there is even more fire.
If, as a result of doing this, at least one section of the library is completely burned, the game immediately ends!
If not, play continues and you may take a card from the Tool Market as a consolation prize. If you don’t like the three visible tools, you may draw the top card of the Tool Deck instead.
If you make it to this phase instead, congratulations! You managed to save some books from the burning library. Each book is worth points equal to the number on the Library Card of its color. If you placed on any number of Risky Spaces (spaces with fire icons), the other people are impressed by your bravery, earning you extra points! You score the highest value you have tokens above. (It’s not cumulative.) You may also use any tools that have the Score Books Phase icon (a stack of three books, currently). These generally help improve your score.
Discard the tokens to the bag. If you did not place on any Risky Spaces (so you placed on spaces with the Tool symbol, instead), you may take a card from the Tool Market. Again, if you don’t like the three visible tools, you may draw the top card of the Tool Deck.
Once all players have played, the round ends. Regardless of anyone’s best efforts, the Library still burns … a bit. Discard the lowest-indexed (the small number on the Library Cards, not the big one) Library Card. Again, if you reveal a card with a flame icon, add another fire token to the bag.
You may also discard a Tool card to draw another one from the top of the Tool Deck (you may not take from the Market).
Now, it’s time to choose your turn order!
Choose Turn Order
During this phase, you can play tools with a Choose Turn Order icon (an hourglass). Otherwise, players will choose their Turn Order card in score order, starting with the player with the lowest score. If there’s ever a tie on score, the player who arrived to that spot first (the scoring spot, not the place where you’re playing) goes first.
As mentioned previously, if the Library ever loses an entire section, the game is over! Any Lockboxes with a book from a completely burnt section are now worth 10 points, and the player with the most points wins!
The solo game plays very similarly to the regular game (in fact, you can just add the AI as another player in other games. How does it work? Well, the AI turn happens similarly to your turn:
- If you burned on your turn, the AI scores the highest value book in the library. Just to mess with you.
- If you did not burn, the AI flips the top card of the Tool Deck. The banners on the top of the Tool card tell you which parts of the Library to burn, and the symbols by the Tool’s title tell you which books the AI saved. It also gains 2 Bravery Points for each book it saves after the first one. That’s … that can really add up, on you.
As for you, you can choose any of the six Turn Order cards, but once you’ve used it, you can’t use it again until you’ve used all the other ones. Be careful!
Also, do not burn the Library at the end of the round. If the AI burns the last section, it does not score.
If you can beat the AI, you win!
Multiplayer AI Variant
If you like the idea of a robot just ruining you in real life, you can also add the AI to non-solo games. In this variant, the AI just takes the lowest available Turn Order card. On its turn, it does the same thing as if you hadn’t burned in the Solo Game. This time, however, instead of just giving it 2 Bravery Points for every book it saves after the first one, check its turn order card to assign Bravery Points. This is a useful thing to add to games, reminds me of the Automa rules for Between Two Cities and Charterstone.
Similarly, do not burn the Library at the end of the round. If the AI burns the last section, it does not score.
Player Count Differences
The major thing I’ve noticed is that at higher player counts it’s a lot easier for the game to get away from you, in certain ways. If you take 5th and someone else accidentally ends the game before you get your turn (much more likely, relatively speaking), then you just missed out on a whole scoring round! Plus, each turn is a bit harder since more players means a higher chance of burning, which means that even your early turns you’re more likely to have extra fire tokens in the bag.
Honestly, though, that makes the game faster and riskier, which I’m completely here for. I’d recommend it at any player count. Even the AI variant is pretty solid.
- Lockbox is great; Knapsack, not so much. Knowing how to use the Lockbox and how to drive the Lockbox is really useful. Endgame, it can be worth a ton of points (especially if you get the section with the book you’ve stored away to burn). Just be careful that you don’t store, say, all of the purple books in Lockboxes and then make it less likely to burn. I find that storing white or yellow are usually a good bet, probability-wise. This holds a bit less true in games with the AI, as their burning isn’t bounded by the cubes in the bag, so you’ve got a better shot of them indiscriminately burning whatever. The Knapsack, after repeated plays, tends to get overlooked by players because they’re not super excited about taking the risk of potentially losing a book to potentially gain one. Sure, it’s slightly low stakes, but points are points.
- If you’re ahead (by a lot), no sense not burning the Library. I’ve seen people up by ridiculous amounts before and they spent their entire turn just drawing cubes in the hopes that they’d burn as many books as possible. There’s no real incentive not to do that, and it makes sense. You want the game to end quickly if you’re winning, especially if you’re winning by a lot.
- Tools are your friends. Using a Bucket to save yourself from burning and walk away with some points is good. Using an Axe to either steal some big points or prevent the game from ending is good. Using the Amulet to make other players’ turns harder by preemptively adding fire tokens to their turn order cards is good. Be smart about how you use your tools.
- Gloves are great if you’re going first. Since they make all spaces on your card Safe, you can feel free to use that on the First Player card and potentially get up to 8 points, if you’re lucky. If you’re going later, most (or all) of your spaces are Safe, so, might as well not waste the card.
- Going later or earlier has its advantages and disadvantages. If you go first on the first turn, you have the fewest fire tokens, so you have the best chance of scoring big … but all the books aren’t that valuable. In the same vein, going last, your books might be more valuable, but there might be more fire tokens. Even worse, if nobody burns and you go fifth, now you not only don’t have more valuable books, but you also don’t have as many opportunities for Bravery Points. That said, if the Library looks close to collapsing, go earlier. You do not want to get knocked out of the game because it ends before you get another turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The theme is so cool! I guess it’s hot, actually, but who really cares about specificity all that much?
- The art is beautiful. Beth, as always, has done an excellent job on the art. The graphic design is pretty solid, too. I think that’s … Katie Khau! Also the designer of Windup War (reviewed previously), and the graphic designer on Mars Open: Tabletop Golf, the game that I occasionally (frequently) look fondly out the window and reminisce about.
- Pretty simple to learn. I appreciate that it doesn’t take much to get it to the table. You’re trying to pull not-red cubes out of the bag. Pulling red cubes is bad and makes you lose cards for the other cubes. When you’re out of cards the game ends. Basically that with special tools. Means it’s easy to break out at various game nights, and people will appreciate the simplicity.
- Seems pretty transportable. The box is small (book-sized, on purpose, I assume) and the pieces are pretty portable, so that’s always nice.
- The AI variant is neat. I haven’t seen a ton of games with that (I think Mint Works and Stellar Leap both have them along with a lot of the Stonemaier games, as previously mentioned). Nice way to buff the player count a bit when you don’t always have a large group.
- It’s unclear when Tools can be used. The difficult thing here is settling ties on Tool usage. I don’t really want to have to have a system where we go in turn order and pass on using a tool at every possible moment, but it also seems odd that multiple players might be waiting each other out / jumping in to use an Axe at an opportune time? I think we’ve generally been operating under the “if there’s contention, the player with the lowest score gets priority” principle, and that seems to make sense. It’s just an issue I have with reaction-style cards, a lot, is that it can often be confusing, resolving multiple simultaneous-ish plays. I’ve since been told that ties resolve in order from lowest to highest score.
- I find the Bravery Points on the Turn Order cards to be a bit confusing. I think my instinct is that the points are cumulative since you’re putting tokens on the cards, but that clashes somewhat with the fact that you don’t get extra Tools even though you have cubes above Tool symbols. I think I might have gotten primed to think that it was cumulative and now I’m just confused. Who knows? Tough problem to solve.
- Some players will not like the abrupt ending. It’s the same thing as Sol: Last Days of a Star. Sometimes the game just … ends. That will inevitably catch a player by surprise as their big comeback turn that they’ve planned for just kind of … doesn’t happen. That said, it’s not as big of a deal as Sol because the game is so fast that you can just … play it again.
- This game will be too luck-based for some players. I mean, it’s pretty straightforward about what it is, a press-your-luck game that’s pretty short. I don’t feel like it overstays its welcome and, if a player gets too far ahead, the game ends pretty quickly. That said, with a lot of luck games players with a string of bad luck can get frustrated, which can occasionally lead to … negative outcomes. It is frustrating when another player picks 5 books in a row and you get two fire tokens, meaning you have had a worthless turn. It’s like rolling -1’s in Rhino Hero: Super Battle. Just something to keep an eye on as a potential con for your game group, if you have players who might get frustrated from a lengthy sequence of bad luck.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Fire in the Library is a great little game! The theme is neat, the gameplay is light and fast, and even if you have a straight terrible game because your luck is bad, it doesn’t last too long. I think this does lead to games where nihilistic players will just let the library burn to drive the game toward conclusion faster (whether it benefits them or not), but, you can ignore them and look at Beth Sobel’s awesome art, frankly. I mean, if you don’t even want to play with other people, the AI variant is interesting as well, so you can just play with it. This has the nice appeal of being a simple enough game that you can bring it to a family gathering and teach people, but it’s got a fun depth to it that I think will appeal to more seasoned gamers as well. Plus, I mean, it’s a game about fire, and fire is … it’s good. Bummer about the books, though. I think Weird Giraffes made a great move signing this game, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next!