British children are well aware of the story of a great fire which started in Pudding Lane due to a careless baker. The fire consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. Hmmm… not a pleasant topic for a game you may be thinking. But there are a lot of games about unpleasant historical events that are interesting and provide some insight into the events if they are designed well and this is no exception.
In The Great Fire of London 1666 from Prime Games/Medusa games, designer Richard Denning has given us a snapshot of the events of this devastating fire. The game puts 3-6 players aged 12+ into the role of wealthy property owners in London who must do all they can to protect their properties managing the available fire fighting teams and maneuvering the flames to cause damage to their rivals’ properties. A tough prospect indeed.
The game comes with well made components including lots of different coloured houses which are spread across a lovely period looking map of London. There are cones representing the fire and fire fighting teams (a very clever design feature) as well as well designed cards to regulate the direction of the fire and secret objectives. There are a lot of colours in the game so if you are colour blind, be warned. Unfortunately, there is an error as the red player is represented an orange player card, oops! Special mention must go to the rules which are well written and have very useful diagrams of example of play. In my copy, there is some minor board warping which spoils an otherwise quality production and loses a couple of points from me :-(
After setting up the game, which takes a bit of time due to the variety of bits (so lots of ziplock bags are in order) the game flow has the players moving and spreading the fire which means houses get destroyed. There is a real challenge as the players have cards to choose from which show different directions that the wind will blow the fire. Some tough decision making here, as quite often you may have to choose to destroy areas with your own houses! The fire movement rules are clear and the map and card icons are very helpful in showing the potential movement paths to choose from. There is also a priority order as to which path should be chosen for the fire to travel and although this adds a bit more to think about, it is very logical and works well.
Next, the players have 4 action points to move the fire fighting teams and move their pawn (representing themselves) to position themselves to have the fire fighting teams put out fires (earning victory points). The fire fighting teams are hollow black cones which are placed over the red fire cone pieces to first, control a fire and second put a fire out. Very clever way to illustrate this aspect of the game and historical event. There are also bonus pieces to collect representing 2 fire moves, extra victory points due destroyed properties of your competitors and explosives which you can order your fire fighting teams to place to destroy areas creating fire breaks.
Scoring involves the number of your houses destroyed balanced against the number of fires you put out and whether you can save your secretly chosen objective areas.
Did it work for me?
The Great Fire of London 1666 is a very refreshing design and theme compared to the usual Euro brain burner stuff which keeps getting gets rehashed. There are far too many variations on the same mechanics of worker placement or area control and very thin theme at best but Richard Denning’s design is simple yet clever and really gives you a sense of the sweep of the fire ravaging London whilst the few fire fighting teams rush from one hot spot to another. The theme works very well as you work together to a certain degree to fight the fire or at least manage it (not likely). This a very interesting game which really evokes the event very well. There are a number of nice features and they all come together well so that the game flows smoothly. Nice features include the discs giving vips, explosives or opportunities to spread the fire even more.
I would say that 6- players makes it a bit too long though. 4- players should be the optimum as there is a bit too much down time between turns.
Having played this game with 2 young teens, I would say the age requirement of 12+ is spot on. My young friends got the mechanics and enjoyed themselves although the downtime was too much for them in a 6- player version. It is an opportunity for youngsters to play out a dramatic piece of history.
Boardgames in Blighty Rating – 8 out of 10
For more information on the Great Fire of London 1666 and other games by Medusa Games go to http://www.medusagames.co.uk/
For more information on other games by Prime Games go to – http://www.primegamesuk.com/