Nights of Fire: Initial Thoughts

This game is the sequel to the excellent Days of Ire and depicts the four days when the tanks went in to squash the Hungarian uprising. Compared to Days of Ire we are one level higher, so the city locations of the earlier game are subsumed into a larger map. Individuals have become units and crowds and thousands of refugees. Three Russian divisions have turned up to sort things out, and are not amused.

Opening gambit is that this is a novel and interesting game system, which are still quite rare. We really enjoyed it. It is a challenge for both sides to play well, is flavoursome and tense. Whether it represents street fighting in Budapest, or if you want to game that subject, or will entertain beyond five games, we don’t yet know for sure.

The designers are Dávid Turczi, the original Days of Ire lead, and Brian Train. Quality team. Production is top quality, graphics are outstanding and evocative. Slightly dodgy font. KS price was around £60, and some buyers do not yet have their copies.

The game can be played one on one, or as we did, Soviets vs two agitators. The latter worked well enough but ultimately adds little value because the partners can discuss options and show cards. Co-operative gaming has oozed everywhere.

As the Soviet I was pushing into the city from three divisional bases (nine regiments/counters total). I am trying to put down the uprising and garrison across the board. I lose points if the brave Hungarians impress the world or if I am too brutal. Arrayed against me are hidden info blocks and civilians. I am trying to arrest the civs and identify and selectively eliminate the blocks. The blocks will happily chuck Molotovs in ambushes, and fight back.

The really good news is that my troops regenerate, like trolls, at the end of each turn. The bad news is that the more units I have disabled, the fewer options I have at the start of the next turn.

The core Soviet mechanism is original but based on “gut feeling alone” may have issues. At the very least you will want to try it to spark ideas.

I have twelve tactical cards, freely chosen. Six of these dictate my tactical approach for the turn, six are shuffled and are flipped as combat resolution. So yes, you can plan an assault heavy turn, stack the dice deck with big numbers, but are stuck with the tactical options remaining. Or you can choose exactly what you want to do – recon, probe, assault, arrest, garrison, rally, clear barricades – and live with the more random numbers, some of which will allow precisely nothing to happen. Or you can take the middle route.

Each card is freely applied to a sector – activating that division only – and I can pass at any time, optionally retaining one card. So I am going to get roughly four to six actions per turn, which will generate a dozen or so effects. These can be concentrated on one division, or spread around. The likely restriction here will be the need to have an regiment for many options, and as the turn goes on these will become scarce.

The twist is that if the Hungarians have previously stitched up three, six or nine (unlikely) units, you will lose one or two cards from the twelve at random. This is rather clever. It can leave strategy and plans in difficulty or unavailable. Add in the fact that night turns restrict options, and that I staged a huge offensive for a night turn (not allowed! And I knew..) and you have your fog of war.

This mechanism is entertaining, interesting and gives a real feel for ‘stance’. It certainly keeps the opponent awake. There were turns when I did not attack at all, even though my units bluffed a major offensive. There were turns where I just moved and garrisoned. Half a turn was spent clearing the pesky barricades. But… Stacking your own dice deck means you can heavily influence outcomes and that felt… wrong. Even so, a mucked up turn and strategy issues meant I narrowly lost the game, so that kind of answers that one.

Garrisoning is a fascinating sub game all in itself. As the garrisons expand, Hungarian morale drops. But extensive or premature garrisoning gives the opponent lots of scope to attain their three, six or nine tactical targets. Garrisons can’t move or assault, so they are a necessary evil. And boy do they take some time and effort to deploy.

I could go on. And I haven’t even started describing the opponent’s asymmetric aims. In short, they are trying to evacuate civilians, build barricades, ambush tanks and stay alive. Above all, they garner momentum and this converts to shifts on the victory tracks every turn. There may also come a time when surrender is the best option.

Towards the end of the game, at almost exactly the same time, both sides realised that engagement and proximity may not always be the best policy. My tanks moved into action only to find that the targeted blocks scarpered. In tandem, I pulled some of my tanks back to “safe” areas. This could be seen as negative, ludic play, but there is something in it and like everything in this system, it makes one think.

There are a couple of concerns. Around turn seven of ten it started to feel a little repetitive. It also felt, marginally, that it was dragging on a bit. It is simple pacing adjustment, and it is just a nudge. We played for three hours including learning, queries, discussion and nine full turns. But as ever, this will improve with familiarity. As for longevity we have the chance to swap sides, to add on the advanced rules (identifying blocks is vital to avoid killing ‘doves’), introduce headline events and then rinse/repeat. So I predict solid value for money, but perhaps not an AH Classic.

In a year that has already delivered a chunk of excellent games, I feel this is yet another. Well worth a look.

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