New Game Weekend: Fire & Axe

After a couple weeks spent at home hunched over my workbench working away furiously at my 28MM American Civil War projects, I was finally able to get out of the house for some gaming this past Friday night. I hadn’t been to the Metropolitan Wargamers club in a few weeks, so it was good to get back this weekend. I walked in to a nearly empty club — rare on a Friday night — but in quick order a few other members showed up. I had hauled along my copy of Village to introduce to the guys, but first another member suggested we have a quick run through a different boardgame I’d heard mentioned frequently at the club before —  Fire & Axe: The Viking Saga Game.

Originally published in 2004, Fire & Axe is now hard to come by and used copies can fetch over $100 at times. I’m a little surprised at the long-standing adoration this game has. Of the twenty or so games I’ve been introduced to over the past year, Fire & Axe wouldn’t be near the top of the list although it does have ease of play and short duration going for it.

The game pits 2-4 players against one another as they sail on quests to settle, conquer or trade within various regions of European seas in the backdrop of the Viking age. The game begins with each player’s ship in the Wintering Box in the northernmost edge of the map. Once a ship is loaded and launched, players choose to depart from Norway, Denmark or Sweden. The turn begins with a player choosing to perform seven actions which may include loading goods or troops to their ship, sailing across the open seas or landing in ports to engage in trade, establish a settlement or capture a city. Special “rune cards” can also be collected and played to perform a variety of actions — from strengthening your invading forces or calling on a sea monster to destroy another player’s ship.

Gold is collected throughout the game through trade, conquest and settlement. Specific missions to trade with or take over specific ports can be collected to score additional points. The missions can also have shared success where points in conquering three port cities might be split between two players. Players who complete the most missions for each of the Viking civilizations of Norway, Sweden and Denmark stand to earn additional points at the game’s end. Additionally, missions get more valuable and reach to the farthest edges of the board as the game progresses. When all missions are completed, the game ends and points are tallied.

The game progresses quickly — four of us got through a game in about 90 minutes Friday night. The game is simple to understand after a turn or two, but it all just seemed like a race without enough variety in paths to victory. For instance, I burned up a couple turns hoping to conquer three cities, but some awful die rolls sent me back to the Wintering Box as other players swept in to claim those cities. At the end of the game, another player snatched victory from the would-be winner through one final chance move that stole a few points from the guy who had led up to that point.

I’ll give Fire & Axe another shot at some point since the guys at the club seem to have a deep love for it, but for now I think I’ll be concentrating on games beyond the Viking regions of the northern seas.

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