Fighting woodland forest fires is the premise of this abstract game from Heinrich Glumpler, and it delivers plenty of drama with three variations built around the same boxed set.
|Ablaze!||Mayfair Games||Board Game|
In The Box
The components included with Ablaze! are simple and well made. The majority of the box is filled with cardboard hexes, printed on both sides with color imagery of forestland and burning fires, plus pawns in four colors. Two of the tiles are special, with one showing a plane and the other showing an exploding volcano. Ablaze! represents one of the many things we love about abstract strategy games: They leave plenty of room for imagination. The three-in-one trick here is accomplished by using the tiles and pawns in different ways to create new scenarios and challenges for players. The instructions are extremely clear and offer visual examples and turn-by-turn instruction on setting up and playing each game. There are also tips for adjusting the number of players, all the way from four down to a solitaire version.
How It Plays
At the highest level you can look at the collection of games that make up Ablaze! as being about territory control. In two of the three variations you place tiles each turn to create a board, but the goals are very different. The third variation has you starting with all tiles in play. Each player controls pawns of a single color or doubles up in the case of games with only two around the table. The most accessible game for younger players is probably On the Run! The theme of rescuing animals from the burning forest is immediately captivating to kids and they’ll quickly grasp the goal of moving pawns representing animals to safety.
The Volcano! variation is a bit more complex. The airplane and volcano tiles come into use here as players fly paths over a burning forest to drop water loads. The strategy involved in pawn placement and mapping out which tiles you’ll win by extinguishing fires or by isolating them makes this variation relatively complex. The final variation–Wild Fire!–is the closest cousin to traditional territory games like Risk, but with a more minimal approach. This variation looks and plays somewhat like on the Run! with tile and pawn placement, but the pawns are now firefighters and your goal is to spread them in lines through the forest rather than move them off the board. The fact that no two games end up with the same tile configuration is a huge part of why Ablaze! feels fresh on each replay, and the three variations are just icing on the cake.
Following the instruction manual closely during the first few rounds really helps flatten the learning curve. Once you understand the basic flow and goals of each variation, Ablaze! is easy to play but full of strategic nuance.
It’s nice that there are three modes of play, and I think On the Run! is definitely one you’re going to want to play, and the one you’ll want to start with.