Today was just a normal day. As I crawled out of bed I could hear the familiar sound of feet scattering and distant small voices haggling over goods in the market. Today, however, the voices seemed a little louder, and the feet scattering a little faster. That’s when I smelled it. That charcoally, organic smell that can only be from one thing… wood engulfed in flames. I settled in Tinderbox for a reason. I love putting out fires.
The Brigade introduces players to the world of Tinderbox; a quaint town that is, unfortunately, suffering from a magical firestorm that has appeared above the Pyromancer’s University. The worst part, the Fire Chief is missing! On every player’s turn, fire rains down from the skies engulfing the town in flames. In this family-friendly strategy (and there is quite a bit of strategy) players take on the role of one of Tinderbox’s emergency Fire Wardens, flying around the board attempting to put out fires and gain renown for your heroic deeds. Only one warden will earn enough loyalty among the people to be crowned the new Fire Chief of Tinderbox.
The heart of this game is the ability of each warden to manage their water supply by strategically choosing from a core set of actions. Players have the ability to recruit crew members with unique special abilities, refill their warden and water wagon, extinguish fires around the town and upgrade their Firehouse board. Each board has three different upgrades players can choose from to enhance their firefighting capability. Do you increase the amount of crew in your brigade? Add more water capacity to your water wagon? Or strengthen your leadership skills to increase the actions you can take each turn? All of these possibilities allow players to choose their own destiny in the city of Tinderbox
Players win by gaining loyalty in the guilds located around the town. If wardens are able to completely extinguish flames on a city block, they earn renowned equal to the intensity level. Renown is placed on surrounding city blocks, in hopes of gaining the townspeople’s loyalty. There are a few other victory conditions, but I honestly cannot see these occurring too often.
Components for this game are top notch and add to the stellar art of the city blocks. Fire and water are represented by top-notch wooden meeples in the shape of flames and water droplets. The city blocks each have unique art and are modular so no two games will play the same. The fantasy world created in Tinderbox lends itself to wardens and crew members of all types, allowing designers to be creative in their design. You might find upon unboxing that many of the components were not packaged inside the inserts and have shifted quite a bit around the box. I will add to this, however, the Red Genie support team has handled all issues with honesty and have been quick to replace any missing or damaged items. This update from their Kickstarter page will provide you with all of the information you need to know.
I believe this game succeeds in the role it would play in your collection. Playing in 10 minutes per player and ages 8 and up, it truly is a family game that offers a strategy for both kids and heavy gamers alike. One of the things I appreciated the most about this game is the dual-sided warden cards and firehouse boards. If playing with a more serious gaming group, the opposite sides offer asymmetrical abilities that give each player even more options and strategy. The combinations players can create with abilities gained from crew members and the Firehouse Boards is another feature I appreciated. Despite the simplicity of the game and the quick teach (another huge perk), I found myself thinking through and weighing my options on the majority of turns. Each time we finished a game, we played one more. This speaks to the ability of the designers to create and quick, strategy-driven game.
The Brigade does have a few areas that are cause for concern. The rulebook is simplistic, maybe too simplistic. There were a few key aspects to gameplay that did not have clear wording or examples. Based upon feedback, the rulebook is getting a small makeover for the retail edition - these changes can be found here. The interaction between players is not initially prevalent. This could be a pro or con for your gaming group, but until players have gained some experience, there will be very little player interaction. After a handful of playthroughs, I’m curious if players have the time and opportunity to weigh all the options on their Firehouse Boards and see their strategy through to the end. Games truly play to the 10 minutes per player time, sometimes leaving players wanting more. Speaking of leaving players wanting more… the artwork of the game is really well done, but the individual stores and flavor text doesn’t add anything to the game itself. I would have loved to see different buildings have different roles in gameplay.
*The Brigade Kickstarter did provide backers with the first expansion, The Way of the Wardens. This expansion offers a large amount of variability for players. Rules and components additions add Solo Play, Co-Op rules and campaign, and the ability to pay 2v1, 3v1, or even 4v1. New city blocks add variability and rules to replace blocks in the base game and create tougher fires to put out for experienced firefighters. It also has some really cool meeples. I believe all of the expansion material should have been included in the base game to really show off the variability The Brigade has to offer. Master of the Boards currently has Kickstarter Editions that include both The Brigade and The Way of the Wardens. You can find this information here.
Should you add The Brigade to your collection? It truly depends on what you are looking for in a game. If you are looking for a game that scales very well, allowing you to play a game with your family and then flip it to play a no pressure strategy warm-up game with your normal crew, The Brigade could be a nice fit. If you are desiring a brain burner full of complex decision making, I would advise you to look for a different game that offers deeper levels of thinking and strategy. And it goes without saying, but if you’ve always wanted to be a fireman who relishes in the roar of the crowd as you save their livelihoods, The Brigade is for you.
*I was provided a free copy of The Brigade from Master of the Boards with the sole purpose of playing and to write an honest review. These were my thoughts after playing the base game, solo, and cooperative.