(2015 – IDW Games, Pandasaurus Games)
The two-year span between 2004-05 was undoubtedly one of the most instrumental periods in regards to the establishment of modern-day board game design within our hobby. Ticket to Ride, Caylus, Power Grid, War of the Ring, Shadows Over Camelot, Twilight Struggle, San Juan, Arkham Horror, Descent, Twilight Imperium III, and the Heroscape: Master Set have all been considered at one time or another, groundbreaking designs that have influenced a sturdy amount of the releases that now line the walls of our local friendly game stores. Somewhat hidden amongst these was an excellent area control, pick-up-and-deliver Viking game that until recently, was nearing a decade long stint (2007-2015) in the discouraging “out of print” status. Designed by Steve & Phil Kendall, Fire & Axe was originally released under the name, Viking Fury, until it received larger distribution in 2007 from Asmodee, Though widely popular within the community, Fire & Axe wouldn’t see another printing until the IDW/Pandasaurus Games partnership published a new, upgraded 2nd edition in 2015. The following review will cover this newly printed edition.
In Fire & Axe, players will take command of a Viking tribe, looking to explore the vast oceans, trading goods and raiding ports, all while looking to establish new settlements. Each player controls a Viking longship, which they are able to load with Viking crewmembers and trade goods. Once loaded, they’ll embark on expeditions amongst the seas, moving along the north, south, east, or western waterways delivering goods to various ports and using their crewmembers to raid and establish settlements before returning to their homeland. Violent storms may impede their progress, depending on the directions they are sailing, and the amount of risk they wish to take. Players will collect Victory Points based on the port towns that they trade with, those that they successfully raid, and the settlements they are able to establish. End-game bonus points are also awarded for a variety of completed goals. At the end of the game, the player with the highest Victory Point total is declared the winner.
– Fire & Axe game board
– Player Longship boards (1 for each player color)
– Longship and Viking crewmember miniatures (a set for each player color)
– Small and Large Town miniatures
– Era I, II, and III Saga cards
– Final Round markers
– Rune cards
– Wind Dial tracker
– Preparation and Sailing markers
– Goods tokens (fish, fur, and tusks)
– Gold tokens (Victory Points)
– Set of Dice
At the beginning of the game, each player receives a personal Longship board, Longship miniature, and a set of 15 Viking miniatures that match their player color. Players will choose a start player. That player receives 1 Gold token. Clockwise from the start player, each other player receives one additional Gold token than the previous player to begin the game with (2nd player receives 2 Gold, 3rd player receives 3 Gold, and so on).
The larger circle at the center of the game board is considered the Wintering Zone. Each player will place their Longship miniature at this location to begin the game. A fish good token is also placed on the center space of the Wintering Zone, representing that fish are currently “in demand”.
Runes card contain special one-time abilities that players can perform at any time by discarding the card and taking its effect. A player may never have more than 3 Rune cards in his hand at the same time. At the beginning of the game, the deck of Rune cards are shuffled, then placed face down on the bottom-right section of the game board. Each player will then draw 1 Rune card to begin with in their hand.
When a player plays or discards a Rune card (before resolving its effects) they will have the opportunity to change the weather, if they choose. The Wind Dial is placed on the left side of the game board, and begins the game with the orientation seen above. Wind will become important when players resolve the sailing action in the game. Right next to the Wind Dial is a track that lists a number of days ranging from 0 to 7. The Preparation (brown) marker, and Sailing (teal) marker are placed next to the 0 day space of the track.
Fire & Axe takes place over 3 Eras. During these eras, players will attempt to complete the various goals listed on the Saga cards. Each Era contains a different deck of Saga cards (referenced by the number of sword icons on the back of the card). After each deck has been shuffled, 3 cards are removed from each deck and placed back in the game box. The Saga decks are then placed on top of each other to form one large deck, with the 3rd Era cards on the bottom of the deck and the 1st Era cards on the top. This deck is placed on top of the 3 Final Round markers, which will be used to keep track of the end of the game. The top 3 cards are then drawn and placed face-up on the empty spaces above the Wind Dial. These are the first 3 goals available for players to complete.
Before the game can begin, players will need to place the small & large Town miniatures on their corresponding spaces on the game board. Within the box comes a number of treasure tokens that snap into the bases of these miniatures and provide the value of Victory Points players will earn if they’ve successfully raided the town’s port during the game. Obviously, these Victory Point values are kept hidden until the player has successfully raided, then at that point revealed.
Finally, all remaining Good tokens and Gold tokens are placed near the central play area within reach of all players. After setup is complete, the game area should look something like this:
Fire & Axe is unique in that the length of a Round (or Era) depends on how quickly or slowly players are able to complete goals from the Saga cards. Since the Saga cards are divided into three Eras, the 2nd Era will not begin until the 1st Era Saga cards have been revealed, and the 3rd Era will not begin until all of the 2nd Era cards have been revealed. When the final 3rd Era Saga card is revealed, the End-Game triggers (I’ll discuss how this works later on). During the game, players will take turns in clock-wise order, with each player taking any number of actions he chooses, until he either can’t or chooses not to take any more. Play then passes to the next player. By the end of the game, the player that has amassed the most treasure and gold (Victory Points) is the Viking clan crowned the victor.
There are 3 sets of actions that a player may take on their turn. Main Actions contain loading your longship, sailing, and drawing rune cards. These are the most common actions players will perform on their turn, and will require a “day” to resolve. Port Actions are a set of actions that players can perform while their longship is docked at a town’s port. These include trading, raiding, and settling. All other things that players can do on their turn fall under Miscellaneous Actions, and include resolving Rune cards, completing Saga cards, moving their longships back to the central Wintering Zone area. Port Actions and Miscellaneous Actions do no require “days” to resolve. Let’s take a look at how each of these set of actions work:
I. Main Actions:
As mentioned before, performing a Main Action will cost the player 1 day to resolve. The current player will increase either the Preparation marker or the Sailing marker on the Day track, depending on the particular action taken. Players are limited to only 7 Main Actions per turn, therefore the combined totals of the Preparation marker and Sailing marker can never exceed 7.
A. Load the Longship
Before players can embark on their Viking expeditions, they’ll need to load their longship with crewmembers and goods. This action can only take place while the player’s longship is on the central Wintering Zone space. Therefore, player’s will need to be careful when deciding how many crewmembers and goods to take before departing. Once the longship has departed, crewmembers and goods can not be added. Player’s can add any combination of crewmembers and good tokens, but the ship must contain at least 1 crewmember (makes sense).
During the 1st Era, only 5 spaces are available on the longship. However, during the 2nd Era, a 6th space is available, and during the 3rd Era, a 7th space is available. For each crewmember or good added to the longship, the player will need to increase the Preparation marker on the Day track by 1. Goods are mainly used when trading in ports, and crewmembers are mainly used for settling towns, though both can effect elements of raiding and sailing. Once a player has finished loading his longship, he’ll need to remove it from the Wintering Zone space and place it on a space containing one of the three Homelands areas; Sweden, Norway, or Denmark. Depending on the space chosen, this will be where he embarks from.
For example, taking a look at the current player’s longship, we can see that he’s loaded 2 crewmembers, 1 fish good, and 2 fur goods. Since he used all 5 available spaces on his ship (the 6th and 7th space are not available until after the 1st Era), he’ll need to increase the Preparation marker by 5. He has now used 5 of his 7 maximum Main Actions.
Now that he’s finished loading his ship, he’s chosen to embark from Norway, potentially setting a path towards the northwestern areas of the map.
B. Draw a Rune Card
While on the Homeland space (Sweden, Norway, or Denmark), the player can draw new Rune cards. It’s important to note that while a player’s longship is immediately placed on a Homeland space of his choice after loading, he can always return back to a Homeland space by taking a sailing action (which I’ll cover next). Remember that a player may never have more than 3 Rune cards in his hand at the same time. Normally, players can discard Rune cards whenever they wish, however this is forbidden while on a Homeland space. If the player has 3 Rune cards in his hand while on one of the Homeland spaces, he simply can not take this action. With each Rune card drawn, the player will need to increase his Preparation marker on the Day track by 1.
Players will take the Sailing action to navigate their longship around the map. However, weather can be a harsh mistress. The game board map is divided into four Weather Zone areas, separated by yellow dashed lines; North, South, East and West.
The Wind Dial also contains these Weather Zone areas, and the number visible on each direction of the Wind Dial will determine how many days a player can sail calmly in that Weather Zone before they’ll encounter some type of storm. Players can rotate this Wind Dial when they play or discard a Rune card, before resolving the Rune card’s effect. When a player takes a Sail action, he can move his longship to an adjacent water space on the map, or into a Port or Homeland space. Any number of longships can be placed on an open water or Homeland space, but only one longship is allowed per Port space at any time. For every Sail action the player takes, he’ll need to move his Sailing marker on the Day track by 1, then check to see if a storm resolves in the ship’s current Weather Zone.
For instance, taking a look at the current Wind Dial, we see that the Eastern Weather Zone contains 4 days of calm sailing. This means that the current player could move his longship 4 spaces on the Eastern area of the map without coming across any storms. However, if he were to take a 5th sailing action (and he’s still in the Eastern Zone), he’d have to resolve encountering a storm.
If a storm does occur, the player will take losses to his longship, either by losing crewmembers or goods. Below the Wind Dial is a chart that references how many losses the player must take. The player will subtract his Sailing marker total on the Day track from the Wind Dial’s calm sailing number according to his current Weather Zone. For instance, in the above example, the player’s Sailing marker total would be at 5, and the calm sailing number in the Eastern Weather Zone is set at 4. He would use this value of 1 to consult the chart beneath the Wind Dial. If there is a current “skull” icon showing beneath his value of 1 (which there currently is), he would have to cover the cost at sea by placing either a crewmember or good token on this skull icon. If the skull icon attached to his value is already covered, he can ignore the loss.
Remember that a longship must contain at least 1 crewmember. Therefore, if at any point a longship has been depleted of all crewmembers, all goods (if any) are also removed from the ship and the ship is returned to the Wintering Zone area, thus ending the player’s turn. Note that if a player crosses into a different Weather Zone during his turn, he’ll need to check the Wind Dial calm sailing number for the new zone he’s entered, and resolve a storm if applicable.
II. Port Actions:
Once a player moves their longship into one of the various town ports, they have multiple actions to choose from. Remember, that unlike Main Actions, Port Actions do not cost “days”, therefore when taking Port Actions, a player will not have to increase his Preparation or Sailing markers on the Day track. While a player can perform multiple Port Actions throughout his turn, he can only perform one Port Action per town port during a single turn. While in a port town, the player can choose to either trade, raid, or settle:
If you’ll remember, players have the opportunity to load their longship with different types of goods before embarking on their expedition. The Wintering Zone also references which of the three overall goods in currently “in demand”. When a player’s longship is docked at a port (and that port does not already contain a good), he can choose to trade one of the goods on his longship by placing it on the empty port space. Each port has a value attached to it, which is the value of treasure and gold (Victory Points) awarded to the player for trading a good there.
If the good also happens to be the current “in demand” good, the player receives an additional 2 Victory Points. Certain Rune cards will allow players to switch out the current “in demand” good referenced at the Wintering Zone.
Ports that are connected on the map with the same color base are considered “regions”. If a good has already been traded at one port of a region, that same good can not be placed at another port in the same region. However, the 3 large ports (where the Large Town miniatures are located), and the isolated non-colored ports are not part of this rule limitation.
For instance, the current player has moved into the Staraja Ladoga port. Since a Tusk good has already been delivered to a connected port in the same region, the player is limited to trading a Fur or Fish good here. He chooses to trade a Fish good and receives 3 Victory Points. Since the “in demand” good at the Wintering Zone is Tusk, he won’t receive the “in demand” bonus this time.
Fire & Axe begins with multiple small and large towns scattered amongst the various ports on the map, each containing a hidden amount of Victory Points listed on the base of the miniature there. A Player who is able to successfully raid a town receives the listed amount of Victory Points as well as removes the miniature from the port. Now that the port is empty, it is now available for settlement (which I’ll cover next). Players will not need to increase markers on the Day track when raiding.
Raiding a port is fairly simple. When a player chooses to raid, he will roll a dice and compare the rolled value with the port’s attached value. Note that if a good is located at the port, the port’s value is decreased by 1. Apparently the patrons of the town have lowered their defenses a bit once they’ve started trading with the Viking lords. If the rolled value is higher than the port’s value, the raid is a success. The player will remove the town’s miniature, collect the value of Victory Points listed on its base, then set the miniature near his Longship board. It’s possible for a player to be awarded bonus Victory Points at the end of the game based on his successful raids.
If the rolled value is equal to or less than the port’s value, the town’s defenses have held and the raid fails. When a raid fails, the player will need to remove a crewmember from his longship. If he has any remaining crewmembers left, he can choose to raid again, or continue elsewhere with his turn. If the removed crewmember was his last remaining one, all goods are removed from the longship, the ship is returned to the Wintering Zone, and his turn ends.
Players can attempt to settle ports where no small or large towns are present in the port’s region, either because they were not placed there at the beginning of the game, or they have been removed through raiding. Settling towns will help to provide players with bonus Victory Points at the end of the game, based on the values of the ports settled. When a player successfully settles a port, he’ll place one of his crewmembers on the port itself as representation of the settlement. Unlike small and large towns, once a port has been settled by a player, that settlement is permanent and cannot be removed. Players are not required to move markers on the Day track when settling.
Attempting to settle a port works similarly to raiding, with a few small differences. When settling, the player will choose a number of crewmembers on his longship (with a maximum of 3) that are to partake in the attempt to establish a settlement. A dice is rolled for each participating crewmember, and these dice are all rolled simultaneously. Each die value is then individually compared to the port’s listed value (a good at the port decreases the port’s value by 1). For every die that was equal to or less than the port’s value, one of the participating crewmembers has lost their life during the settlement process and are removed from the longship. If at least one of the die was higher than the port’s value, the settlement is a success and the crewmember is added to the port’s space. The crewmember will remain there for the rest of the game. Note that if the crewmember placed on this port space would empty his longship of crewmembers, the player can choose to forfeit resolving the settlement, and keep the crewmember on his ship so that he can continue his turn.
For instance, the current player is attempting to settle the port of Lincoln. Since there is a Tusk good here, the value of the port is 3 instead of 4. The player currently has 3 crewmembers on his longship, but chooses to only use 2 of them to participate in the settlement process. That way, if he loses both of them, he can still continue with his turn.
After rolling 2 of the dice (1 for each crewmember), they result in a 6 and a 3. Since the rolled 3 does not exceed the port’s value of 3, one of the crewmembers has died and is removed from the longship. The rolled 6 however is good enough for the settlement to succeed. Therefore the other participating crewmember is added to the port’s space and remain there for the rest of the game.
III. Miscellaneous Actions:
A. Rune Cards
Players can discard Rune card at any point on their turn, and may play Rune cards from their hand as long as they can legally resolve (some Rune card stipulate when they can be played). Whether a player discards a Rune card from his hand to free up space, or plays the card to resolve it, he is given the choice to immediately rotate the Wind Dial before resolving the played card. To do this, the dial is rotated one quarter clock-wise, now revealing new calm sailing values amongst the four Weather Zones.
Let’s take a look at some of these Rune cards and how they may resolve:
Your Legend Grows – Normally loading while in the Wintering Zone will cost a player 1 Main Action per item loaded. If a player has played the Your Legend Grows rune card however, he can load 2 crewmembers and 2 goods for free, without having to spend an action.
Honor Debt – Playing an Honor Debt rune card will force an opponent of your choosing to turn over one of their settlements to you.
Vengeance – A player can play a Vengeance rune card as soon as they have successfully raided a port town. This will double to Victory Point value he earns from the town’s collected miniature.
B. The Wintering Zone
At any point on a players turn, he can choose to return his longship to the Wintering Zone area. When doing this, he’ll need to discard all goods from the ship, and all Vikings, except for 1 (if available). Sometimes players will find that they are adrift at sea towards the end of their turn with only a couple Vikings left, not really providing them much to do on their next turn. By returning to the Wintering Zone, they’ll not only be able to take a Loading action at the beginning of the turn, but may also have a Viking already on their ship, thus saving them a Main Action.
C. Saga Cards
Saga cards contain goals that players can attempt to complete. Each Saga card contains a goal type (Trade, Raid, or Settle), as well as a homeland type (Sweden, Denmark, or Norway). For instance, as seen above, this Saga card is a goal attached with the Sweden (red) homeland and can be completed once the ports of Gnezdovo, Lubech, and Kiev have been settled. A player acquire a face-up Saga card at any point during his turn as long as the requirements of the card are met. Saga cards do not require that a single player complete all parts of the card, only that the goals on the card are completed before the player can obtain it.
For instance, using the above example again, if the blue player had set up settlements in Gnezdovo and Kiev, then the green player set up a settlement in Lubech, the green player could then take this Saga card since his settlement completed the last requirement needed.
After a Saga card has been completed and removed from the game board, a new Saga card is immediately added to the board from the draw deck. As soon as a Saga card from the 2nd Era is revealed, the 6th space of the players longship board is unlocked. When a Saga card from the 3rd Era appears, the 7th space of the longship board is unlocked. After the last Saga card has been placed on the board from the draw deck, the current player will receive the 3 Final Round markers.
At any point that all Saga cards have been taken from the game board, the game ends immediately. However, at the start of the current player’s next turn, if any Saga cards remain on the game board, he will place the 1st of these markers on the corresponding space next to the Saga card section. On his next turn, he will place the next one and the final one on his turn after that. Once the 3rd marker has been placed on the board, the game ends immediately and players will total their Victory Points.
At the end of the game, players will combine their current Victory Points (represented by their collected Gold tokens) with Victory Points they will earn from end-game bonuses. There are three different types of end-game bonuses; the Bloodied Axe bonus, the Settlement bonus, and the Saga Sets bonus.
Bloodied Axe Bonus – This bonus is awarded to the player that has wrecked the most carnage through raiding. At the end of the game, players will total their number of collected town miniatures. The player with the most receives 3 Victory Points per miniature. In case of a tie, all tied players receive the bonus.
Settlement Bonus – This bonus is awarded to the player that has spread his territories and power through constructing settlements. Settlements are scored regionally. Based on how many overall settlements there are within a particular region (no matter how many different players have settlements there), the values of each settlement are either their base value, double value, or triple value. Of course, since neutral towns and large towns are not part of any region, players will only score the base values for settling these.
For instance, the blue player has settled 2 of the 3 towns in this region, and the yellow player has settled the remaining one. Each town is normally worth 3 Victory Points a piece. Since all 3 towns in the region have been settled by someone, the values of all 3 towns are tripled. Therefore, each of the blue player’s settlements will score 9 points, giving him a total of 18 Victory Points. The yellow player’s settlement will score him 9 Victory Points.
Saga Sets Bonus – This bonus is awarded for the players that have the highest (and 2nd highest) number of completed Sagas for each Homeland. As mentioned before, the Saga cards are divided into Sweden (red), Denmark (green), and Norway (blue) sets. At the end of the game, the player with the highest number of Saga cards in a particular set is awarded 10 Victory Points per Saga card in that set. The player with the 2nd highest is awarded 5 Victory Points per card. Players will score this way for each of the three sets.
For instance, at the end of the game, the blue player has 4 completed Sagas from the Norway set, the yellow player has 2, and the green player has 1. Since the blue player has the most, he’ll score 10 Victory Points for each of these Saga cards, giving him a total of 40 points. Since the green player has the 2nd most, he’ll score 5 Victory Points for each of his completed Norway cards, giving him a total of 10 points.
After all bonuses have been totaled and added to the player’s previous Victory Points, the player with the highest number of Victory Points is the winner.
Fire & Axe is a well-regarded modern classic, and deservedly so. At first glance, with a title like “Fire & Axe”, one may expect an action-oriented blood bath (similar to Eric Lang’s Blood Rage). However, designers Steve and Phil Kendall focus on a more historical approach to the Viking lore, centering around their early exploration of the world by sea, and interactions with the ports and towns they’d encounter. Players not familiar with the title may be surprised to find a strongly constructed Euro-style game laid out before them.
There’s interesting decision-making and strategies that emerge throughout a game session. Players will almost never be able to complete a full Saga card in one turn, and are therefore forced to make some major decisions on the goods/Viking ratio they’ll want to load onto their ship, and what they’ll attempt to accomplish with that journey before heading back to the Wintering Zone. Completing only part of a Saga card without being able to finish it fully on your turn will leave it wide open for an opposing player to swoop in and complete it on theirs. This aspect of Fire & Axe can make for some tense moments amongst players, and many times players will find that they’ll need to give up their initial plans instead of stumbling over another player for multiple turns.
The Wind Dial and sailing mechanic is a much better way to handle navigation in the game than simply allowing players to move a minimal set number of spaces per turn. The differences and rotation in weather-free days amongst the four directional areas of the map (north, south, east, and west), not only make sense thematically, but it invokes an additional level of strategy and risk-taking that wouldn’t be found otherwise. Want to head east? Well right now the Wind Dial shows that you’ll only have 3 days for storm-free sailing in that direction. However, heading west will give you 6. This may affect your plans, it may not. But it does establish a level of strategy and unpredictability that players will need to adapt to. Players can choose to drive through a storm if they’re desperate enough, however they’ll most likely lose some casualties in Vikings and/or goods along the way.
Although there’s a lack of direct conflict amongst opponents in regards to attacking each other, Fire & Axe is not lacking for player interaction. With end-game bonuses being comprised of Saga card sets, collected town miniatures, and established settlements, there’s truly a sense of hurried competition. Rune card special powers can be the most cutthroat amongst these, allowing players to completely dismantle settlements or dismantle a loaded ship that you’ve planned complete turns around. Rune cards aren’t used at such a constant rate that these powers are crushingly debilitating (remember, playing a Rune card costs main actions), however the fact that they can be used at any time, makes for some interesting tension.
Fire & Axe is a well crafted, streamlined mix of area control and pickup-and-deliver elements, built around a mechanically driven Viking theme. The game looks weightier out of the box than it actually is. Gameplay is kept quite simple, with only a few different actions that a player can choose from to perform on their turn. Where the game shines however, is the execution of these choices and the pre-planned strategies that players can build around them. Fire & Axe is an example of yet another modern-era classic to be awarded with a new upgraded edition. Both for those experiencing the game for the first time, and those who’ve worn out their previous copy.