Navigating the political mine field of 16th century Europe
Hello my wonderful readers! In today's post, we are going to be taking a look at dice rolling, card drafting game, A Column of Fire. Based on the book of the same name by Ken Follet, A Column of Fire is a 2-4 player game from designer Michael Rieneck and was published by Kosmos in 2017.
In 16th century Europe, political unrest and a constant struggle for power between the Catholics and the Protestants are a way of life. One moment, a city may be vastly in favor of supporting the Catholic, but in just a few short years that favor may shift towards the Protestants and the Catholics they were once loyal to will be kicked out of town. In this time of uncertainty and the shifting loyalties, you must do your best to navigate the harsh political landscape in order to sell your goods at the major European trade cities of Paris, Kingsbridge, Antwerp and Seville. Deceptively simple but filled with interesting choices, here are the 3 things I love most about A Column of Fire.
1) Recruiting Characters... The Time Mechanism
Arguably one of the most unique mechanics in this game is the time mechanism that occurs when you recruit characters. Every year (round), you'll roll all of your free dice and select one to use to recruit a character. That character becomes
yours, but only for as many rounds as the value on the die you
Every year, you'll lower the die value of each character by
one, gaining the character's benefit as you do so. When the die hits zero, you will regain the die, but you'll lose the character.
While these rules seem deceptively simple, they are constantly forcing you to make interesting decisions. Higher value dice allow you to recruit a character for a longer period of time, but then your die is tied up for longer, which is important, because your dice aren't JUST used for recruiting characters, they also allow you to take other actions on the board. So if you place a value 6 die on a character, you'll get to use that character for longer, but it'll be 6 rounds before you get to use that die to take actions on the board.
The die mechanics of this game are incredibly simple yet incredibly interesting.
2) Shifting Loyalties... Area Control
Ah, Europe in the 1500s... A time of major political unrest and conflict. The battle between the Catholic and Protestant churches to gain influence in major cities wages on in a big way in this game. At any given time, you will align yourself with one of these two religions, and you'll be doing your best to try to sway the attitudes of the fours cities on the board in your favor.
When a city breaks out in conflict, you'll look at which religion has the majority control in that area. If you ar a part of that religion and have a trade house in that city, you're in luck! You'll gain points for your trade house! But, watch out, if you aren't in the majority religion, you'll gain no points AND you'll be kicked out of the city!
A big aspect of this game is monitoring the state of the control of each religion. Every so often, you'll get the chance to switch religions if you so choose. Does it look like the Protestants are about to take control of Paris? Maybe you should try to sneakily switch over from Catholicism and reap the benefits of being a Protestant.
3) Uh-oh... Event Cards & Protection Tokens
Life can be unpredictable, especially in these unsteady times. At random points during the game, event cards will come up that can either seriously help or seriously hurt the players in the game. These events are totally random, but the story text they provide is a fun detail(particularly if you've read the book) and don't worry you have ways to protect yourself, you just have to invest n protecting yourself ahead of time.
When an event comes up, players CAN spend a protection token to choose to ignore the event if it's bad or reap more benefits from the event if it's good. You can choose not to focus on gaining protection, and leave the event cards up to chance and see if it pays off, or you can go the safer route and gain protection tokens ahead of time. It's an interesting decision that the game forces all of the players to make.
To add even more interesting decisions, leftover protection tokens are also worth a point a piece at the end of the game, which means when a bad event card comes up, you have to decide what's more valuable: bearing the results of the event or losing an end-of-game point to ignore the event.
When it comes down to it, the event cards and protection tokens are just another way that the designer has helped keep the game interesting and engaging, which is always welcome in any
games that I play.
So there you have it. While there are a lot of other great aspects of this game,
those are the top 3 things in A Column of Fire that I love most.
Have you played A Column of Fire? What was your favorite part?
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