I find it interesting how movies often come in pairs. This happened a lot in the late nineties when audiences had two volcano movies to choose from (Volcano and Dante’s Peak), two World War II dramas (Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line), two giant asteroid movies (Deep Impact and Armageddon), two animated bug movies (A Bug’s Life and Antz), even two Scottish rebellion movies (Rob Roy and Braveheart). In the game world, it doesn’t seem like this happens too often. Games are more likely to share similar mechanics than they are to share similar themes. But I did find it interesting that two games were released at Spiel 2010 that were focused on the great London fire of 1666. One of them, I’ve already talked about: Martin Wallace’s London, which is about the rebuilding of London. The second, that I’m talking about today, is all about the actual burning of London.
The Great Fire of London 1666 is a game that came out in 2010. It was designed by Richard Denning with art by Andreas Resch. The game is for 3-6 players aged 12 and up, and takes approximately 75 minutes to play. The game was published by British company Medusa Games. In the game, a fire has begun in Pudding Lane and it is your job to try and contain it. Unfortunately, some of your properties are in the path of the advancing flames, so you want to try to direct the fire away from them. And if some of your opponents lose properties in the meantime, oh well.
The game comes with a board that shows the city of London divided into five regions. One of these regions is Pudding Lane, the place where the fire started. There are 120 houses, 20 in each of the six player colors. There’s also one pawn per player and one color card to remind you (and everyone else) who you are. There are 24 objective cards and 60 fire movement cards. There are 20 round tokens – 10 demolition charges, 6 double moves, and 4 one VP tokens. There are 65 red cones that represent the fire. There are 6 black cones that represent the Trained Band, which I guess was a local militia called upon to help with the fire. In addition, there are 6 fire stack cards and 1 Hero of London card.
At the start, 25 fire cones are placed in Pudding Lane. The fire will be spread from here. Each player gets five fire movement cards. The fire stack deck is created based on the number of players. Five houses of each color (even those not claimed by players) are mixed together in the box, then drawn out randomly and placed in the different districts of the orange region. Each district (an area surrounded by roads) is marked with a number of house icons, and that’s how many houses go there. No houses go in the grassy regions. After finishing the orange region, do the purple, green, and blue regions in the same manner. Each player will then be assigned a random color. The black tokens are mixed and placed face down in regions that have a yellow banner. Each player then receives three objective cards. These show districts you want to protect for more points. The player who most recently visited London goes first. Which means my wife would have that advantage over me in every game we play.
You’ll then place the Trained Band tokens in player order. In a three-player game, each player will place two in any regions they choose. In a six-player game, each player will place one. In four- or five-player games, each player will place one with the remainder placed in regions pre-specified by the rules. After this, each player will place their landowner pawn in any district of any region except for green.
On a turn, there are three steps: expand the fire, take actions, draw a fire card. To expand the fire, you play a fire card. This will show a compass direction (north, east, south, or west). You take a fire cone from any space that has at least two fire cones, and move the fire cone through connected burning districts in any direction. You can move through as many burning districts as you want. However, when the cone moves into a non-burning district, that is its final move and it must be in the direction of the card. All houses in the newly burning district are destroyed (moved to the point track in the Thames), and fires will always move into a district containing houses if one is available. Trained band cones in a district containing a fire cone are placed on top (like a little hat) and that fire is contained – no houses are destroyed. If you move fire into a region that contains a token and destroy the houses there, you can take the token. These give you bonuses – explosives, double moves, or extra points.
Next, you get to take actions. You have four actions you can take per turn. You could move your pawn one space. You could move a trained band cone one space. You could put out a fire if your pawn is in the same district as trained band cones containing all fires there. You can also use explosives to demolish a district as a free action.
Finally, you draw a fire card. If you come across a fire stack card, you intensify the fire by adding three fire cones to the board. These can be placed anywhere (except Pudding Land) where there is already an uncontained fire cone. When the last intensify action comes up, each player will get one more turn and the game will end. Count up your VPs. You start the game with 40 points, and lose 2 every time a house is destroyed (signified by a house getting placed on the point track in the Thames). Take one VP for every fire cone you collected. Take one VP for every VP token you collected. Take two VPs if you were the Hero of London (awarded to the first player to put out three fires, then taken by the first to four, and so on). Collect VPs if the districts shown on your objective cards survived the game. Whoever has the most points wins.
The thing that keeps coming into my mind when reading about this game is that this is really a much more involved version of The Downfall of Pompeii. If you haven’t heard of that, it’s a game where you first populate the city of Pompeii with meeples, then try to rescue them from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius while simultaneously trying to direct the lava flow towards your opponents. There seems to be a lot more going on here, especially since you’re not just trying to destroy your opponents – it’s also important to put out the fires and protect certain parts of the city. I’ve never played Pompeii face to face, but I’ve played several times on yucata.de, and I enjoy it. The Great Fire seems like another game I’d enjoy just for the sheer chaos you can cause all around London. So I’m looking forward to giving it a try someday…I don’t know if a domestic publisher will pick it up, but I hope someone gets it stateside so I can check it out.
Thanks for reading! See you next time.