Some people can inhale a set of rules and run a game. Some can’t. I find someone running through a game with you the only way to fly. Thus is was I found myself back in the jungles of Vietnam at Knavecon X with Charlie all around. Now It would have been super cool if one of the players WAS actually called Charlie but you can’t have everything.
It’s a long time since I spoke about Fire in the Lake. It’s a big meaty GMT game not a million miles away from a distant plain.
This is not a slap out and play game. You need a hearty committed group of veterans who are willing to research the rules, do the exams and get the diplomas before you crack open the box. I spent a long time reading the rules, watching the videos, rereading the rules and absorbing everything I could download on how to play even then I had a basic understanding of how it worked but I was nowhere close to having a strategy for the faction I picked (or any faction). This is a desert island game and when they rescue you you’d still only be getting the hang of it.
Fire in the lake has four different factions. Each of them play in a different way, indeed each of them have actions different to all the others. They also have different goals to everyone else.
The Americans have mobility, firepower and resources but struggle to find their opposite number the Viet Cong. Their goal is to win popular support from the Vietnamese and get their troops out of the country. Their allies and it’s a loose term are the South Vietnamese army who want to use them to do their dirty work whilst the Americans in turn shake them down for their resources.
The Vietcong are guerrilla fighters. They hide, sneak and disrupt with acts of terror and subversion. They have a loose alliance with the North Vietnamese Army who occasionally poach some of their members into their ranks. Their goal is to stir active opposition to the Americans and establish bases.
The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) are all about prestige and patronage, they welcome the military might of the Americans and want them to help clean up their mess but are corrupt and weak.
The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) want to dominate the map. Pure conquest.
Ever do that thing with a cardboard box where you fold one flap under the other then the other under it and you do it four times to it all holds together magically? These asynchronous factions balance each other so well. Now I couldn’t tell you if they balance completely. They can’t by their very nature but any of them are most certainly a challenge to play and all of them so different in their styles. There is infinite replay value here
The game turn is a card driven affair and just like Twilight Struggle you can either take the action written on the card or ignore the card to take a specific action. Card events have a positive communist and a positive Allies Effect. Usually they’re skewed in favor of one side but there’s always some silver lining in there. Heavy bombing campaign? Wipes out enemies of you’re the allies. Turns the people against them if you’re the communists playing it.
Play happens in between drawing monsoon cards that reduce possible actions (flying, moving) and allow for certain events to happen and positions and scores to be consolidated. Minions are seeded semi randomly in the event deck. It’s a bit like a boxing match but you don’t know how long a round is going to last.
Just like Twilight Struggle some actions require a dice roll to happen but again like TS it’s always a calculated risk and there’s often a sure fire event or action open to you. Sure the game can be impacted by a random card appearing but it’s not a show stopper ever. It’s your own fault when it all goes wrong and it will for 3 of the 4 players.
Specific actions vary depending on the faction you have so the Yanks would
Have things like sweeps, air strikes and air lifts. The VC would have terror attacks and ambushes, the NVA would have bombardments and infiltration and so on. Obviously I’m only scratching the surface here. Each has a major and minor event so you could combo sweeping an area to uncover guerrilla fighters and then follow up with air strikes on their positions.
The game comes with three lengths of scenario which have to be populated on the map short, medium and long. The short with everything in place you could get done in two hours. Maybe less. I really liked this idea. There is a bit of setup before the game kicks off. Not quite War of the Ring but a bit. It didn’t help that I didn’t know any of the province or city names.
Presentation wise it’s no looker. It’s cubes on a map and despite the lovely graphics on the map and cards it won’t appeal to the foppish mini painting crowd. The game has to be played and learned to get the most from it. It’s not the graphics it’s the gameplay.
The setting and theme are excellent. This is a nasty, messy conflict. Also a really fun and intense one. It’s hard to know what to do a lot of the time. So many options are open to you, especially for some of the factions. It’s often hard to see things coming down the line although a massive build up of troops outside a city is a fair bet. This game will require multiple plays to make sense of but it’s so worth it. This is not a Thur night game this is a campaign of learning with dedicated players but, it gives and gives if you’re willing to invest time in it. I personally was and am
I love this game. It’s got so much to offer in both gameplay and depth. If this is your thing it’s another one of those cold dead hands games. It’s got pride of place right beside Twilight Struggle and I will sing it’s praises if you press play on my opinion.
Super game great to play it again