Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy: Map collection 7 expansion review

Ticket to Ride is one of the leading family games in the hobby, having sold millions of copies worldwide. It was released in 2004 and reviewed by me in 2014.

The original features a game board map of North America. The rules cleverly combine a few simple, well known concepts. You’re largely collecting sets of coloured cards to claim routes on the map. But the routes each player needs to complete are hidden. So you soon start getting in each other’s way, accidentally or otherwise.

Since its release, publisher Days of Wonder and designer Alan Moon have supported the game with regular map expansions. Each adds a twist or two to the original rules, keeping the game play fresh for regular players. Since 2011 these map expansions have had double-sided maps, with Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy being the latest (seventh) offering. All the expansions need pieces from the original game (or the other standalone title, Ticket to Ride: Europe) to play.

What does Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy bring to the party?

In the box you’ll find a massive double-sided map board (the biggest yet), two rule books and 120 cards; plus 16 plastic train pieces and a few wooden counters for the Japan map. As with all the map expansions, the new components are specific to the corresponding map. These aren’t modular or otherwise expansive: nothing here can also be used on older maps.


The Italy map has some cards that link out of Italy to neighbouring countries. This works in the same way as it does on the Switzerland map (for those who are familiar with that). But without the problems that map has. The country cards are way less frequent and often prove risky, rather than being easy points. For example, there is only one way into France in a two/three player game – but two route cards that go there.

Italy is split into 17 regions. Players count how many they’ve visited and everyone gets a related end-game bonus. This feels less of a blunt instrument than the usual ‘longest route’ bonus many maps employ, which can feel particularly overpowered in a two-player game. Here. all players are rewarded for all the regions reached.

There’s also a ferry mechanism that works differently from previous maps, adding a new type of card required to complete them. Two ferry cards are available to each player and taking one takes a turn (like taking a face-up wild card). A single ferry card accounts for two spaces on a ferry route. However, they can only be used for the specifically marked spots (wild cards can also be used for these ferry spaces, but at one card per space).


Japan feels the more adventurous in terms of ideas. It has two metro systems included as boxouts on the main map. These are accessed via stations on the main map (Tokyo and Kokura), giving added focus to those locations. But the far bigger innovation is the bullet train. Players start with just 20 trains in their own colour, alongside a shared stock of 16 bullet train pieces. Bullet train routes are specifically marked, and can be built by anyone. But they’re a shared resource, helping everyone complete their routes.

And someone has to build them, because the game end condition is different to other maps. There must only be 0-2 bullet trains left, as well as a player being down to 0-2 trains. You don’t even score normal points for completing them, instead marking how many cards you spent for each route on a separate bullet train tracker. And yup, you guessed it. Whoever makes the biggest contribution to the bullet train gets a healthy end game bonus. While not contributing at all, or less than others, can get you negative points. This is a return to the blunt instrument bonuses. But at least it is easily/deliberately trackable.

How much does it change the game?

The Italy map is certainly the safer of the two. But that’s no criticism. The region scoring doesn’t seem to add much, but gives you something to think about late game. I really appreciate this on several maps, especially Pennsylvania. It’s nice to have a genuine alternative to taking late tickets/rushing the game end. The ferry cards also add more than may be immediately apparent. Just taking one sends a message – I’m building a ferry. These routes are often massive, so help fuel the paranoia that really makes Ticket to Ride sing.

Japan’s metros don’t add much, seeming more of a necessity to make the map work. The bullet train is a much bigger deal. It makes you think differently, adding a bit of a TransAmerica vibe to the mix. Where do you simply have to build using your own trains? Is anyone going to help you out? And how is the game going to end? The change in end game rules also makes it tougher for a player to rush the end game. However, as with any big departure, it won’t be for everyone. It doesn’t feel like a different game – but it’s not far off.

Is Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy value for money?

At around £30, picking up one of these map collections is no small investment. The board is massive, and gorgeous. While the cards and pieces are high quality. I’d say you’re getting value, even if you compare this to what you’d get in a £30 new game box.

Is it essential?

None of these map collections are essential, but do what they say on the tin. They add longevity to a game you love but that perhaps needs a refresh. Or, with Ticket to Ride, a game you like but that needs a little spark to take it to the next level. It is easy to get a little bored with the base game, especially when playing with lower player counts. And you have to remember Ticket to Ride has a longer reach than most hobby games. It’s the kind of game a lot of households will have as part of a very small collection. Meaning it may hit the table a lot more regularly than it would in a gamer household with bulging shelves.

Instead, it makes sense to judge this against other map collections. By average rating on Board Game Geek, it is (at time of writing) only behind the UK/Pennsylvania collection. That’s a great set, but more suitable for more advanced players. The Japan & Italy collection is better for less gamery players. And, unlike some, is great with two players. Both maps play well at low player counts, which is a strong selling point. Both sides also seem to play a little faster than the base game, which may/may not be a win for your group.

… and does Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy fit in the original Ticket to Ride box?

I’m going to say no. But only because I’m a fan of the base game’s insert. And because I like to have the various expansion boxes on the shelves. This is rare for me. I’m usually happy binning the expansion boxes to save space. Especially for games which are definite keepers. But I make an exception for Ticket to Ride.

So, to be factually correct, you could fit this expansion in the original box. While the map is bigger it still folds down to a similar size. And beyond that, the extra components hardly take up any space. So if you’re tight for space, and are happy throwing away the original insert, yes – it will fit. Even if you keep the insert it would kind of fit – you just won’t be able to close the lid properly (see below). But what kind of savages are you people…?

* Thanks to Days of Wonder (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.
* Follow this link for 200+ more of my board game reviews.

Game retrospective 2020, #1: My ‘most played’ & other game stats

Well, we made it to 2021. And the less said about 2020 the better. But that’s not going to stop me geeking my way through my annual retrospective posts. Which are a nerdy dive into some of my gaming stats from the past 12 months.

I always start by talking about how I viewed the year in terms of new releases. But no Essen Spiel – or cons that follow it – means I’m less prepared. As those events are great for discussing and playing all the new releases.

Some publishers have upped their online presence. But I’ve really struggled to get into online cons. I’ve played online with friends a lot, but to keep in contact in a year of low human interaction. I’d swap five of those online plays for one ‘real’ one in a heartbeat.

Board Game Geek is also a good place to test the year’s gaming pulse. At time of writing, only On Mars (number 74) has troubled the top 250 games. For me, the jury is out. But my feeling is 2020 was a solid if unremarkable year. Especially as a lot of the current rising 2020 titles were reprints. It was probably a small step up from 2019, but largely unremarkable. With no big new ideas surfacing, or clever new mechanisms taking the community by storm.

My game play and collection stats

My game collection is down to just over 140, from 156 last year. I’ve not included two ‘for sale’ games in that number, or a couple waiting to be reviewed. But it’s my first time under 150 for years, which is great. I use that as an artificial cap on my collection. So to have breathing room feels positive. Better still, my ‘shelf of hope’ (unplayed games) is down to one title: On the Underground, also on last year’s list. I’m pretty sure I’ll like it to! Maybe I need to leave notes around the house to play it. I’m not getting any younger you know…

Total game plays this year was up to 439, from 371 last year. That had been a bit of a blip, as I’m usually just over the 400 mark. This year’s figure did rely a lot on online plays. I’ve been strict with that though, only including games that have been played fully live in one sitting and that have been done while on some form of live chat channel. It has been a real blessing to be able to keep most of my regular sessions going in some form – it has genuinely help keep me sane through some really difficult times.

Real life gaming (since April) has largely been with Sarah, which is reflected in the ‘most played’ list below. I’ve also introduced a local friend I’ve been in a bubble with (hi Vince! Not that he’ll read this…) to our hobby. While in the summer I managed a couple of ‘real life’ sessions with my local group. I have managed to play a few heavier games, largely thanks to regular online sessions with a few LobsterCon pals (chiefly co-organiser Alex). So my brain has had a bit of a work out!


I played 173 different games in 2020, down 25 on 2019. But we didn’t have Essen, where I tend to play a bunch of new things over a crazy week. Only 96 of those games got a single play, compared to 126 last year. Again supporting the theory that missing Essen week had a big impact on my playing of new one-off titles.

On the flip side, I managed to play more than 20 games at least five times during the year. While some of those were review games, many were old favourites that clearly benefitted from my lack of exposure to the new hotness. Didn’t get any better at them though…

The Extended BGG stats page is the perfect place to geek out on numbers. I record all my board game plays at Board Game Geek, allowing this site to gather a blistering array of useless information. But it still fascinates me. Here’s what I learned:

Extended BGG stat attack

  • I only played 75 ‘new to me’ games in 2020 – my lowest number since 2011.
  • I played 90 (63%) of my 142 games within the calendar year.
  • 2020 became my fourth highest year for total games played. But was still way behind the 530 total plays I managed in 2014 – my only 500-play year.
  • September was the only month in which I didn’t play any ‘new to me’ games.
  • Eight games hit 10 all-time plays in 2020 (including Merchant of Venus and Targi), while two hit 25 total plays during last year: Stone Age and Thurn & Taxis.
  • Eight of my Top 50 ‘most played of all time’ didn’t hit the table in 2020. Many were down to circumstances – small box travel games and those requiring more players. But I need to brush the cobwebs off Dominion and The Manhattan Project. At least the three games on that list from 2019 (Macao, Uruk and Puerto Rico) all got played in 2020.
  • I now own just two of the Board Game Geek top 10 games of all time (Terraforming Mars and Twilight Struggle); and six of the top 20.

My most played games in 2020

I managed 41 plays of ‘unpublished prototypes’ in 2020. A couple down on last year, but almost all the plays were of my own designs this time. So in terms of moving forward with my own stuff, that’s a slightly positive improvement. Elsewhere, there were a lot of family games at the top of my most played games list for 2020:

  1. Ticket to Ride (16 plays)
  2. Codenames Duet (10)
  3. Can’t Stop, Oracle of Delphi, Race for the Galaxy, Targi and Thurn & Taxis (8)

The new-ish ‘Italy & Japan’ map pack helped Ticket to Ride top the list (review incoming). As did a new gamer really getting into the game. Codenames, Delphi, Targi and Taxis are all Sarah/me favourites. While Can’t Stop is a regular closer for online sessions. And the excellent Race for the Galaxy app on Steam has seen some action in 2020.

Just missing out (with seven plays each) were Pharaon, Welcome to… and The Downfall of Pompeii. In terms of heavier games, Concordia and Snowdonia had four plays each. While Kanban, Tzolk’in and Terra Mystica had three.

Codenames Duet and Race for the Galaxy were back on the list after being oddly absent in 2019. While Ticket to Ride and Thurn & Taxis continue their annual dominance. Last year’s top title Azul wasn’t far off with six plays. While Adios Calavera, Dizzle and That’s Pretty Clever (all in last year’s most played list) had three plays each in 2020.

Enjoyed this post? 

I’ll be back with Part 2 (best gaming events and individual plays) in a few weeks. While they’ll also be a Top 10 list of my favourite ‘new to me’ games of 2020. And why not check out the previous versions of this post from 2012, 2013, 2014, 20152016, 20172018 and 2019? What do you mean you have something better to do…?

Aqualin board game: A four-sided review

The Aqualin board game is a two-player-only abstract tile-laying game. One play takes about 20 minutes and the listed age is 10+. But gamer kids a few years younger won’t have a problem with it. As is typical for games in the Kosmos two-player line, the rules are very light and simple to follow.

This is a pure one-on-one abstract. So Kosmos has sensibly just used the theme to make the game look pretty, while keeping it functional. In the box you’ll find a small player board and 36 nice, chunky Bakelite tiles. That’s it. It’s great to see Kosmos return to nice components in this range. The move from wood to cardboard in the The Rose King reprint was worrying. But this is a definite return to form. You can pick the game up for less than £20 including shipping in the UK, which is a good price for a nicely produced game.

Teaching the Aqualin board game

This really is one of the easiest games you’ll ever teach. The 36 tiles are in six colours, with each colour depicting one of six sea creatures. Before you start, decide who will score colours and who animal types. At the end of the game, the 6×6 grid will be full. Scoring is all about getting orthogonally connected groups. And the more the better: a pair will score just 1 point, while a full set of six will bag 15 points. But all groups count. So if you had a pair of blues and a triple blue, you’ll score a total of (1+3) 4 points. Most points wins.

To start, all the tiles are placed face down on the table, with six then flipped face up. On a turn, you (can) first move one piece already on the board in an orthogonal direction. You can move it as far as you like, up to where it would hit another tile. Then, you must take and place one of the six face-up tiles in a free space. Finally, flip a new tile face up so there are always six to choose from. Until you start running out of tiles. But even then you keep going until all the tiles are out. So you know you’ll see, and place, every tile.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I’ve constantly flip-flopped on the Aqualin board game. At first, I loved how simple it sounded and good it looked. Then, early in my first play, it felt kind of pointless. I couldn’t understand why I was doing anything. But then the decision space opened up and I realised how clever it was. And most lately, I saw the lack of further depth. It’s like the serious older brother of the fun but chaotic Ominoes, which I also really enjoy. But in terms of longevity we’ll have to see. It just lacks that little spark to make it special.
  • The thinker: I’ll enjoy the odd play of this one. But in reality it’s a little too light on rules and options. Two good players will cancel each other out, as there aren’t multiple paths to victory. There are decisions, for sure. With what you try not to play often being as important as what you do. And you do find yourself playing tiles to places where your opponent can’t score well on them, rather than always looking for your own advantage. But for accomplished gamers, it’s going to come down to luck of the draw. It’s a nice design, but doesn’t have the extra level needed to engage me.
  • The trasher: I like Aqualin. It has an airy-fairy theme, but in fairness it works. The game is so passive-aggressive it couldn’t be about armies etc. You’re not taking pieces, just moving them about. And it’s an interesting challenge: breaking down your opponent’s plays, while trying to set up your own big scores. Once you see that a couple of big areas will win out, it comes down to not allowing that to happen. Making most games scrappy and low scoring. I quite like that in a game, trading blows for narrow wins. But it won’t work for everyone.
  • The dabbler: Pretty! And super simple. I’ve really enjoyed the games so far. Although we’ve had a few draws and the tiebreaker seems stupid! Going second feels like an advantage – but the second player wins if its a draw. I guess we need to play more to see what the first player advantage is? But either way, we prefer to just go again. It’s so short to play and easy to set up. This will definitely go into my rotation of games I ask for. Without becoming an instant favourite and not every week. But yes, I like it. Thumbs up!

Key observations

Early comments from players rating the game low centre around Aqualin being for casual gamers. That seems fair. And the “simple and quick” compliments are balanced by the “too simple for repeat plays” ones. Which are probably also fair. Not every game needs to be played every day/week/month. Especially if you have a large collection. Or if you have a wide scope of players – friends, family etc. So, while not as all-encompassing as some in the Kosmos two-player line, it does fit in the line (just, at the lighter end).

Component wise, there may be a problem for some. Blue and green tiles look similar in bad light, which has caused some double-takes. I have no idea how the colour blind will get on with it. Please let me know if it’s an issue and I can update the review. Needing six colours meant this was going to be an issue. Especially when the images needed to match. But I’m sure a bit of thought could’ve led to little icons (or similar) being added. I guess in the end it’s a tough call. And hopefully it won’t negatively affect too many players.

Finally, I should mention scoring. You need to count everything, which can be fiddly and hard to follow. It’s a game that was crying out for a score sheet – which, sadly, Kosmos failed to provide. But as always, it took the Board Game Geek community about five seconds to fix that for them. Two Aqualin scoresheet pdfs were available at the time of writing. And make the job a whole lot easier.

Conclusion: The Aqualin board game

Aqualin will be staying in my collection – for now. As someone who operates a ‘one in, one out’ policy, this is never an easy decision. But the game has enough charm to have won us over. And Sarah likes it too, which tends to sway decisions on any games on the fence. However, I do doubt its longevity. I have a nice pile of Kosmos two-player games on my shelf. And despite this being the newest, it immediately feels the most vulnerable to a cull. So while it is without doubt a good game, it isn’t a classic. And feels it lacks something. But in these ‘cult of the new’ times. that feels wholly appropriate for the modern audience.

Festive ‘cheers’: Celebrating minor successes in a year to forget

October 2021 is going to mark 10 years since I started GoPlayListen. And, fittingly, I’ll be able to look back at 2020 as the blog’s most successful year to date. And it was a decent rise in visits too, passing my previous best year in mid-November.

I don’t know whether it’s down to Google ratings, COVID, or (most likely) a combination of the two. But it’s nice to have something positive come out of a dreadful year for the planet. Little victories and all that.

While I’m still pretty rubbish at getting involved with social media (your best bet is probably Facebook), I have made more of a SEO effort this year. Which has hopefully made a difference. But I’m sure so many people being stuck at home has also helped. So I expect next year to drop back down – and just hope a few of you stick around! But whatever it may have been, thanks so much for hanging out here with me. Really. It means a lot.

2020’s New Year’s resolutions

I’d made five resolutions for 2020, two of which were blown out of the water by the coronavirus. Visiting two new cons and pitching a new game design at Essen. At least with the latter I (with local friend/designer Federico) do have a game close enough to ready that I’ve mentioned it to a couple of publishers. While I’m confident a second collaboration with another designer should bear fruit early in 2021.

I failed miserably to get together with any other bloggers to work on collaborative posts. Maybe next year, as I still like the idea. I also failed to get all my games played, but did get the unplayed in 2019 list down to just five. And all of those are audience specific and/or need several players. Which has been tough, as it has been very hard for me to get more than two players around a table most of the year.

The only real success was on keeping the game count down. I wanted to keep it at 150 and actually got it closer to 140. Despite having reviewed and added loads of new games to my collection. And it has mostly felt natural, as some games simply lose their lustre over multiple plays. While others need certain audiences which it just isn’t realistic for me to find often. Those I’ll just look to play at conventions.

Looking to 2021

I usually talk here about resolutions for the coming year. But how can I do that when we don’t know what we can/can’t do from one week to the next? I have a hotel booked for Essen and a Eurostar voucher. Plus a hotel for AireCon and my fingers firmly crossed for LobsterCon – both (hopefully) in April. But that’s that.

The 150 games in my collection thing is pretty much a decision I’ve made now, rather than needing to be a resolution. It’s a number I feel comfortable with and works in the space I have. Already being at that limit makes me cut the chaff from my collection too, which I see as healthy. Both my parents are/were hoarders and I don’t want to go down that path. I’m a gamer, but not a collector. And don’t intend to become one by accident!

So I’m having a year off resolutions. But otherwise it’s full steam ahead. Expect loads more game reviews and Top 10s, as well as any other game related nonsense I can think up. Or, of course, that gets suggested. Please do hit me up with any ideas for content you want covered, or board game opinions/news you want discussed.

And finally – I hope y’all have a great end of year, if that’s in any way possible. Finger’s crossed the games you’ve been waiting for will be sitting under the tree. Speaking of new games, I plan to get one more review out next week. Before launching into the new year with some 2020 retrospective posts (as per usual). So until then, once again – cheers!

Bonfire board game: A four-sided review

The Bonfire board game is a complex euro game from popular designer Stefan Feld. It’s playable from 1-4 players, with a solo game coming in at round an hour. But with more players you’re probably looking at two hours plus. And the age range feels right at 12+. for me, this is one if the designer’s more complex titles.

Bonfire falls into the heavy euro game category for me. As with most of his recent games, there are multiple ways to score points. But the way they interact here requires a lot of forward planning. While the actions of others can force you to pivot to new strategies. And in terms of luck, it is lower here than in his lighter titles.

The theme is high school stupid, if anything making it harder to follow. It is unashamedly pasted on. So why pick something as daft as gnomes, guardians and bonfires? It all feels almost wilfully redundant. That said, the art from Dennis Lohausen is up to his usual high standards and the graphic design is OK. The components are standard for a German euro and the game looks good on the table, if you enjoy your fantasy nonsense. In the box you’ll find the main board, two boards per player, 300+ (yup) cardboard chits, 100+ wooden pieces and about 50 small-sized cards.

Teaching the Bonfire board game

As mentioned, Bonfire is a complex euro game with a lot of overlapping parts. For me, the theme gets in the way rather than helping explain things. Never have I resorted to ‘the green action’ and ‘the round thing’ so quickly. Which is a shame, as a coherent theme would help the teach. However, even with it, it’s the kind of game you need to finish once to really get. And one that’s hard to summarise – but here goes.

Let’s start at the end. You’re going to score end game points for bonfires (personal tasks you can fulfil); guardians and portals if matched with bonfires (which can be claimed with actions) and common tasks. You’ll also get points for any leftover action, resource and fate tiles, essentially rewarding you for efficiency.

Half the main board is made up of islands, where you’ll sail your ship to then pick up guardians and tasks (which, when fulfilled, become bonfires). The other half is where you can pick up portals, as well as gnomes. These little critters come in two flavours: in-game bonuses or straight points. You can have up to six gnomes, so you can get a nice little bonuses engine going if you plan it well/get lucky.

The player board

Your player board is in the shape of a half circle. Guardians arrive on the left side and can move across it. While portals have to be filled in right to left. But you can choose where to place your bonfires. Those placed in the middle may get both a guardian and a portal, as you work your way across from both sides. Or you may choose to largely ignore one or other and stack bonfires more to one side or other. As with many Feld games, it’s here where the game is won or lost. You simply can’t do everything, so need to maximise what you can.

But how do you do all this? That’s where the fate tokens come in. Each has three of six action symbols on it, and will give you matching action tokens when placed on your player board. You’ll also get bonus actions for clever placement of these fate tokens, so that’s something else to think about. While you’ll have limited choice in which fate token to take each time – meaning even more things to think about.

The six actions allow you to move your ship, collect tasks, collect guardians, add path tiles (which let your guardians move across your player board), take portals and get gnomes. But to do these actions well, you’ll often need multiple action tokens. And resources. Oh yeah, resources. You mostly get them from the great bonfire. Eh? What do you mean I haven’t mentioned the great bonfire. No, it’s not the same as the other bonfires…

Playing Bonfire solo

The solo variant acts (and sets up) as a two-player game, with you versus a very basic AI. The AI has a set of eight cards, which are shuffled and flipped one at a time (on their turn). These largely have two purposes: to clear out cards and items (so you don’t get complacent, while rubbish is hopefully cycled out) and to move the game towards a natural conclusion.

This works nicely. After one play the cards become clear (so the rulebook dives become minimal). And you start to plan a little around what you know may be coming up, which makes it feel like an opponent. There are very few choices to be made by you in terms of the AI, though. In one way this is good, as it’s smooth and fast. But on the other it doesn’t feel as if adds as much strategy as it perhaps could have.

I found I thrashed the base level AI on my second solo play. But when I went to see how to upgrade it, there’s simply a few lines explaining how you can handicap yourself by pretending you got less points. This feels like a pretty big cop out. However, it does ramp up the challenge of winning and playing against the AI is an enjoyable experience. So overall I’d give the solo mode of Bonfire a thumbs up, just.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: As I think I’ve aptly proven, the Bonfire board game is a hard one to summarise. And the first play can be an absolute bear. But once it started to click and I could see the possibilities, my negative thoughts mostly flipped to positives. Things snap together in a satisfying way and you can play differently from game to game. After four or five games, I’ll have to reserve judgement on the balance of the bonfire task tiles. But overall, if it were my choice, it’s a game I’d enjoy exploring more.
  • The thinker: I very much enjoyed this one. Much like his other heavier games (Bora Bora, Aquasphere, Trajan), what to ignore is left to the player. You choose/plan which combination of actions to go for; then have to use them to score the best combination of points. Yes, there’s a little luck here and there. And other players can scupper you a little – often by accident. But a player flying on the seat of their pants is not going to overhaul a carefully planned and executed long-term strategy. This could become my favourite Feld.
  • The trasher: There’s very little in Bonfire for me. There can be some competition to grab tasks that gel well together, but you wouldn’t take one just to scupper an opponent. You’d potentially spoil their game, without really benefitting yourself. Finishing a public task first gives a great bonus. But you really have to work to get them, so it rarely feels competitive in a real sense. And you can still score them – you just miss a bonus. So no, I didn’t get much from the game at all.
  • The dabbler: It’s pretty! And by the end of my first play I knew what I probably should’ve done. Maybe? I just can’t see myself playing it often enough to get any good at it (like Tzolk’in and the like) – so why bother? I prefer a game with more immediacy and less brain burn. I’d rather play something lighter, or at least more thematic.

Key observations

The theme. The theme the theme the theme the theme. It’s nonsense. And worse, it gets in the way of the game. Is there a theme that would’ve worked beautifully? I have no idea. It would certainly be a job to try and match all these intricacies into a cohesive one. But gnomes and guardians and bonfires? I’m at a total loss.

This is not going to convert a single Feld hater. In fact, it will probably make them madder. No theme (did I mention that?), point salad, multiplayer solitaire, loads of interlocking mechanisms all giving points willy-nilly. But hey, haters gonna hate. And who cares about those guys. Let them stick to their D20s and their random ‘thematic’ text paragraphs. Sadly, another Feld trait continues though – the luck factor. Getting this right seems to his design Achilles heel. If two players go for the same kind of task combo, they can really mess each other up. You can pivot, but it’s going to be hard. That’s going to piss some people off.

I can see Bonfire having a real ‘one-and-done’ issue, especially for those not used to this style of game. It has a learning cliff that’s hard to see the summit of. While you need to know all the rules at the start – so it can have a big old teach time. Especially as the theme doesn’t help you grasp at anything. If you score low on game one, as you struggle to see how everything connects, what’s going to draw you back? Especially if you get that ‘I did a tiny thing on my go while you did 10 massive things on yours’ feeling, which nobody likes.

Some say it feels like work, while lacking tension. I guess these are hard to argue with – but I also don’t think every game needs tension. And if work means setting yourself to a really tricky puzzle, then for me that’s enjoyable work. But the game will overwhelm some. I don’t think that is a criticism of the game: you just need the right game for the right group. But when a game is going to struggle to find an audience anyway, it needs something to give it a helping hand. And I don’t see anything in the box that’s doing that.

Conclusion: Bonfire board game

Bonfire is a good heavy Stefan Feld euro game. Experienced players will know if that is what they want and should act accordingly. Others should fend it off with a 10-foot pole. I’ve very much enjoyed my plays, apart from the painful first one. But I don’t think it will stay in my collection. I already have, and love, Bora Bora. That game feels more thematically and mechanically cohesive. What I need to find out is, does the more freeform jazz style of Bonfire give more in terms of interesting/varied routes to victory?

A few more plays should tell me. But I don’t know where I’m going to get those from. To date, no one I’ve played with has finished and really wanted to play again. And that’s having played with several Feld fans. Let’s face it – the guy has made a lot of games. And while I’ve found this one interesting, it lacks an X factor. Whether it stays or goes, it is certainly another solid euro in the Feld cannon. But I’m just not sure how many shelves need that right now.

  • I would like to thank Pegasus for providing a copy of the game for review.
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