Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Taking it like a Viking

I got a chance to play Fire and Axe (by Asmodee) the other day and had a good time. Now, I’m not one to eschew a luck factor in my shorter-length games, but I had heard that this one might have a bit too much luck for some folks’ taste. Some have gone as far as suggesting a few house rules to help mitigate poor rolls. In particular, when trying to raid a village a die is rolled up to 3 times in succession in order to loot the village or town. Rolling pooly and losing three crewmembers by failing all three rolls can be a frustrating situation, especially if the probability of success was high. One suggestion to correct this is to add a +1 for each successive roll. Since it was my first game, I wasn’t ready to adjust the rules quite so much, but thought perhaps the last roll (of 3) could get a +1 just as a thank-you-for-playing parting gift…

We got into the game and started playing and one of my opponent’s proceeded to begin failing a raid. After two missed rolls, I pointed out the house rule that I thought might help his situation (adding +1 to the last roll). He quickly pointed out that this is a game about Vikings and no stinking Viking worth his pelts would be caught dead with a wimpy sort of rule like that. He was going to “take it like a Viking” and didn’t need any special accommodations. He rolled (and failed if you’re curious – adding +1 wouldn’t have helped anyway) and that was the end of that possible house rule.

The game proceeded on and good and bad luck was had by all. While some people had things roll their way more than others, I decided this was by no means a luck-fest. There was plenty of room in the game for solid strategy and planning. Once it has been played through a few times and people get to know the cards, there might even be occasions for lying low and waiting for particular things to show up. I may be slightly clouded in my judgment, since I ended up winning, but I felt the game was quite fun. I did have my fair share of poor die rolls near the beginning, but had fewer near the end when it was perhaps more important. Rolls I missed early and thought were crucial weren’t as important as ones I rolled well on near the end of the game. This also helped me as I was a smaller threat at the start of the game and was able to catch up rather than trying to continue to fight for the lead.

The game took over two hours to play with four players but should go under two now that we all know the rules. While a tad long, that is an acceptable length for a game that has one’s fortunes tied to the vagaries of dice. Now that I have had a chance to reflect on the game, I have to acknowledge that I don’t mind the luck-factor at all, even without the house rules. One reason is the theme of the game. Sea voyages and plundering villages are risky propositions (as is creating new settlements or trading – all actions that can be performed within the game). Vikings were no strangers to risk, and if I’m going to play a game about Vikings, I don’t mind taking a few chances myself.


dgilligan said...

Glad to hear you like the game. I own it myself, have played it three times to date and like it as well. This despite the fact that I have failed to win any of the three games or come close for that matter!

It was Kris Hall, one of my fellow gamers and a contributor to this blog, who suggested the +1 after each failure as a possible rule to mitigate luck. This came up after a particulary bad string of luck on my part in one of our games. My rolling was abysmal. My worst set of rolls came when trying to settle a set of 3 towns needing only a 3+. I managed to settle two of the towns but when attempting the third I rolled 1,1,2. That ended my turn and I only had one guy left on the boat.

Sure, I could have packed up and gone home but a Saga card was on the line and one of the other players was prepared to swoop in and take the last settlement and the card. I had to take a final chance. Next turn, I picked up the die and rolled......1!

Back to the Wintering Box for me. This sort of bad luck plagued me for the rest of the game. I ended with 70 points, possibly a record low in any game of F&A ever played (be interesting to find out just no way to really do it.)

The real issue with bad luck in this game is that it is really a race game. Too many bad rolls and you start wasting actions. In my case I effectively lost an entire turn by failing that roll in the first action. If you fall behind others by losing actions you will lose the game. Trust me, I know.

With that said, I have no problem with the luck factor. It cuts both ways and usually evens out during the game. It is possible to mitigate the luck factor through smart play but somtimes it just doesn't matter what you do as I aptly demonstrated in that one game.

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...

It was a mixture of laziness and not wanting to toot the Gone Gaming horn too much that kept me from naming exactly who and where the +1 after failure was suggested. (I was fairly certain I had read about it a week or so ago here... but figured regular readers of the site would also remember it...)

I'll agree with the bad rolls causing turn loss (I had at least 2 completely wasted turns due to very unlucky rolls early in the game. That isn't counting poor rolls in general throughout the game, just the utter failure rolls like the ones you described...)

However, I would point out that it is a race game, but a lot of little small races, not a big huge race. If it were a long-distance race losing a turn or two may be game-ending. But with Fire and Axe you are almost always racing for a particular Saga card or to try and get a nice spot on a triple-spot settlement score. If you lose one of those races, there will be another "race" popping right back up to take its place...

This is a good thing, as a long-race game (where the whole thing is one big race) can be won or lost in the early game. In Fire and Axe you can be behind in the mid-game and still win if you manage to get a bit of luck to turn your way and win a few nice Saga races in the end-game.

As for 70points, that is lower than our game. I think I won with 150-ish while the last place player was around 103.