Ever since you were a child at your father’s feet you dreamed of books. Your family was rich by village standards with 2 books on the shelf of your small, but tidy cottage. But the cathedral in your village had over 100 books and whenever you attended mass your eyes would constantly drift to the shelves. One day you asked the priest ”Who takes care of the books?“, and with that simple question the course of your life was altered forever.
Over the next two decades you learned the skills of your trade: storing books, cataloging them, repairing them, and caring for them like a parent would for their own children. You moved from library to larger library, constantly learning new techniques and deepening your love of these artifacts of your society. Eventually you were honored by your order with the role of Master Librarian, a title which settled onto your shoulders like a comfortable blanket.
Then one day, deep in the hours of the night, you were awakened by something… You rose from your cot and threw on the robes of your office and walked to the door of your room. That’s when you smelled it…smoke. You threw open the doors to the main library and saw the flickering orange glow of the unthinkable. As you raised the alarm, calling for your acolytes, you tied your robes tighter and prepared to do battle against nature herself. Losing was unthinkable, but time was slipping away, and the flames were growing higher.
Fire in the Library is a lightweight game about saving books from a burning library. This game features beautiful art from illustrator Beth Sobel, and clever press your luck gameplay from designers Tony Miller and John Prather.
In Fire in the Library 1 – 6 players act as heroic librarians working to save their beloved books from a raging inferno which threatens to engulf the entire library. Players will “enter the library” to save books by pulling cubes from a bag. Cubes can represent one of 4 sections of the library (white, black, yellow, and purple) or fire (red). As library cubes are pulled from the bag they’re placed on that player’s turn order card. Players can choose to stop and score what they’ve rescued, or press your luck and go back into the library for more books.
If too many fire cubes are pulled from the bag, their turn ends immediately and any books pulled from the bag are burned. Players can modify their turns by playing tool cards which provide great rule-breaking abilities like The Shovel which lets players pull multiple cubes from the bag, or the Water Bucket which can extinguish a single fire cube and continue drawing from the bag.
Once a player has decided to stop, they score the books they’ve rescued by looking at the current value of each colored cube. They also add the bravery points located under the farthest right rescued book.
After all players have had a turn the fire in the library spreads. Players look at the burn index number located at the bottom of each card and discard the card with the lowest number. Whenever a fire icon is revealed when removing a card from the stack, an additional fire cube is immediately placed in the bag.
The game ends when one entire section of the library has burned. The player with the most points wins the game, and the title of “Bravest Librarian”. I totally just made this up this title, but come on, you saved valuable books from a burning building. Not too bad for a “meek” librarian right?
Fire in the Library Tool Cards
This review would be remiss without taking a look over the tool cards that help smooth over the challenges players will face rescuing these books from the blaze. Tool cards are broken down into four main categories, represented by 4 icons in the top left corner of the card.
Choosing turn order – cards with the hourglass icon allow players to jump in front of other players, even though they might not have the first player card.
Saving books – cards with the vertical book icon allow players to change up the books they might save.
After scoring – cards with the stacked books icon allow players to affect how and what books they score on their turn.
Fire spreading – cards with the tool icon allow players to ignore fire cubes, or otherwise affect the results of cube pulls from the bag.
Fire in the Library Deep Dive
I started hearing rumors about this game several months ago. Tony (@BeardedRogue) and Carla (@WeirdGiraffes) were talking about it. I decided to jump in and request a review copy from Carla and boy was I glad I did. Fire in the Library is a delight to play, with a lot of things going for it so let’s take a few minutes to break down what I liked and didn’t like about the game.
Fire in the Library plays up to 6 players
This means that it can accommodate a larger than average group, I only hit the 2 and 3 player count, but those games were really smooth and I see no reason to believe that would change with 4, 5, or 6 players. As of this writing the components in the game don’t change based on player count so the game should remain the same length, but perhaps the number of turns per player might decrease somewhat.
Fire in the Library plays fast
This places this game solidly in filler game status. None of the games I played took more than 30 minutes, and in my last game (two players), we finished in around 15 minutes. That’s primarily because both my daughter and I kept pressing our luck and burned through the cards more rapidly than usual.
While this didn’t bother us at the time, looking back I wonder if Weird Giraffe could account for this by including 1 or two more cards in each stack. The stacks don’t all have the same number of cards, and the cubes also have different distributions so you really have to press your luck to run out of one stack too quickly.
Perhaps a nice option would be to include more cards in every stack and simply add/remove 1-2 cards from each stack based on player count. This could also provide the option of an extended duration game should players want it.
Fire in the Library is clever
We’ve all seen press your luck games…they’re one of my favorite types of games. But Fire in the Library has a really unique twist on it. Each turn order card has an increasing number of “safe spaces” as you get further away from first player. While the first player has the same odds of drawing good and bad cubes from the bag as the other players, the first player can reap a much higher bravery bonus than players later in the turn. This means that if the first player has the chance to play cards which can account for fire cubes they can score some serious points.
I also really like that the books increase in value as ones above them are burned. This really doubles down on the press your luck aspect, and adds a thematic element to the game. As books in that section burn, the remaining ones become more valuable. But don’t wait too long because the game is over once one stack burns.
Fire in the Library has some issues
I know that I’ve been pretty positive thus far, but let’s chat really quickly about the issues in the game. There’s not many of them, and thankfully all of them can be fixed with simple artwork or rulebook tweaks.
The tool cards each have an icon on the top left corner indicating their “type”, or when during the turn these can be played. Even though this is printed on reference cards, and in the rules, it wasn’t super clear to my players when tool cards are eligible to be played. Perhaps these icons can be larger, or colored, or located in a different spot to more clearly indicate when they can be played.
The rulebook is a bit tough to read. It’s a bit verbose in some areas, and the layout of the photocopied rulebook I had made it hard to follow along. The layout is something which can be fixed, but honing the rulebook, perhaps with the help of an external editor, could really improve readability and increase understanding. Fortunately Weird Giraffe Games has made it really clear they want to produce the best quality product they can, and are open to changes in the rules before production happens.
Some of the tool cards also have similar legibility issues. This is also something which can be fixed prior to production, but each card should definitely be examined for readability.
Thankfully the minor flaws in Fire in the Library are easily addressed. And that’s good because Fire in the Library is a solid game. It’s fun, fast, and friendly to everyone. Love the theme, love the gameplay, and the art is wonderful. Great work to all involved.
Now go back this on Kickstarter today!
Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.
Disclosure: Meeple Mountain was provided a pre-production copy of the game. It is this copy of the game that this review is based upon. As such, this review is not necessarily representative of the final product. All photographs, components, and rules described herein are subject to change.