Designed by Stefan Feld | Published by Hall Games
1-4 Players | 70-100 Minutes
As forest dwelling gnomes, you’ve always relied on the great bonfires of the nearby cities to provide light and energy. The lights haven’t burned like they used to and recently they went out completely. Traveling to the city only leads to more questions – deserted aside from one Guardian of Light and she won’t speak of what happened there. The only thing she will say is that the guardians have withdrawn to the surrounding holy islands. By showing them your good will, perhaps the Guardians will return to light the bonfires and bring life back to the land.
In Bonfire, from famed designer Stefan Feld, you must travel to the surrounding islands, receiving tasks that when accomplished will be able to convince the Guardians to light the bonfires. A variety of resources will be needed and the only thing you’re confidently equipped with is your limited means. Help from your fellow gnomes as well as the elders will come in handy along the journey as you seek to save your people.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Bonfire is an eclectic mix of tasks and challenges that will require sound planning along with a little luck to light your bonfire and send your gnomes to the high council.
To achieve your goals players will be given the choice to do 1 of 3 options on their turn.
The first option is to play fate tiles on your personal board (fate area) to gain action tiles. Each player is equipped with a gridded, semicircle shaped board. Fate tiles are rectangular shaped pieces containing action tiles. These action tiles allow you to take different action across the board as well as accomplishing individual tasks. Playing them on the fate area is a bit of a mini-puzzle allowing players to not only earn the action tiles played, but receive bonuses and upgrades by placing them over certain points on the grid or aligning them with previously placed tiles. Like most resources and benefits in the game, fate tiles are limited so you’ll need to be careful how and when you play them.
The second option available is to perform an action. This is where the bulk of the game’s exploration and execution takes place. In this option, players can play their action tokens to navigate their ship, receive tasks when docked at an island, gain actions and resources by visiting the great bonfire or variety of other unique activities.
The first major action is to receive and accomplish tasks. Each task requires a unique offering of sorts such as meeting certain requirements within your fate area, gathering different combinations of resources and recruiting gnome cards. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Bonfire features 66 unique task tokens that can be mixed and matched to adjust the difficulty of the game or create entirely new experiences and challenges.
Another major component of the game is to retrieve Guardians from the outer lying islands to travel back to your city. Once retrieved you’ll need to build paths and trigger processions throughout your city to align the Guardians to light your bonfires. Of course it’s never that easy as you’ll need to systematically march these Guardians along path tiles you build that contour the outer circle of your personal player board.
The third turn option is to ignite a bonfire and send a gnome (or novice) from your city to the High Council. When a Guardian moves to light a bonfire the waiting gnome will travel to the high council where he will earn a spot providing additional resources. There are a limited number of spots at the high council that can be filled before the end game countdown is triggered.
Players earn points sparingly throughout the game, but the bulk of the scoring takes place at the end when players tally their accomplishments and determine the winner.
COMPONENTS & ARTWORK
Bonfire comes with a huge variety of uniquely shaped tokens and tiles as well as wooden resources, various meeples and markers and cards. Overall the quality of the components are solid. Sadly a number of the Guardians in my game had lost limbs in the journey from the distributor to my mailbox. I’m sure Hall Games would be happy to replace these, but some of the meeples may have that tendency. The quality of the game board and individual player boards are good as well. Where they excel is in the creative shapes and cuts. The semicircle player boards are well designed and engaging. Portal tokens necessary for the Guardians to gain access to light a fire are all uniquely shaped and fun to activate. There is a cool 3-D “Great Bonfire” that acts as a dial as you take actions visiting the bonfire for resources.
The artwork in the game is pretty cool. While the illustrations are good, the boards, cards and box art do a marvelous job of setting the tone for this dark, yet vibrant adventure. There is a bit of a color mismatch between some resource tokens and their physical counterpart, but it’s quickly forgiven. The iconography is extensive, but quickly comes into focus and overall it’s really well done thanks in large part to a clearly defined appendix in the rulebook. You won’t be disappointed when this sits on your table.
I haven’t played too many Stefan Feld games, but knowing how beloved he is within the board game community provided plenty of anticipation. Bonfire is truly a fantastic experience. There is so much creativity in the game design from the wild ensemble of pieces and boards to the interesting action choices. The game plays incredibly tight and nothing noticeably disappoints. Each opportunity presents its own mini puzzle to solve.
I often found myself facing a resource or token need where I wasn’t quite sure how I would get there. The actions never feel impossible and gauging each individual dilemma’s success rate was strictly based on how efficiently you were able to accomplish it. And for me, it’s that planning that really helps Bonfire sing. Aligning your resources and actions to gain the perfect task is an exercise in and of itself. Sadly, I often found myself a turn short watching that perfect task sail away into an opponent’s city. On to contingency plan B or C or even D. It’s not even lining up your pathway to victory – it’s lining your pathway to victory while usurping your opponents in the process.
The game features so many fun, individual mini-puzzles you can easily lose sight of the big picture. The fate area on the personal player board is a perfect example. I loved planning how to manipulate my fate tiles to achieve the biggest bonuses. I could spend a number of turns here. Another example is meeting requirements to recruit gnomes and their reoccurring bonuses. Why not sit here the entire game creating an army of these gnome cards? I’d be failing to do the game justice if I didn’t mention visiting the great bonfire or constructing the path around your city for the Guardians processions. It’s all so satisfying.
• The countless number of avenues to achieve your current tasks
• The creativity and diversity of the board, components and mechanics that all amazingly work flawlessly together
• The actions, while not incredibly difficult to execute, always supply a fun, often unexpected mini-puzzle to solve
WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT?
• The box quality could be better. No built-in container for components.
• The theme doesn’t blow my mind, but I can imagine it’ll appeal to a number of people.
• I can’t get my wife to play this game at least 2-3 times a week.
As we come to the close of 2020, I can confidently say Bonfire will easily be my game of the year. The theme doesn’t thrill me, but the enjoyment of the game far overshadows any and all negatives. This is a thinky, fun, creative race of a puzzle with so much replayability. I can see myself playing this for years to come. The next great medium to heavy game has arrived.