The long-dormant volcano is about to erupt…and thanks to Stratus Games, you’ll get to be part of the action (and maybe burn your friends’ villages in the process). Check out what we think of this new game below.
[Ed. Note: This is a preview of a print-and-play copy of a pre-published version of the game. Our opinions are based on the status of the game at that time. It is possible that rules, art, design, or other gameplay elements were changed for the final production version. ]
How It Works:
The basic gist of the game is that the volcano in the center of the board has just erupted and is sending lava into the six villages that surround it. Your goal is to be the least burned village at the end of the game. (Of course, finding friends to share your joy may be difficult on an island flooded with lava. But I digress…)
There is a temperature gauge around the board where you keep track of score. The track is divided into three danger zones. Players in danger zones gain extra benefits (building an extra wall, drawing a free card, and laying an extra tile), and these benefits stack (so in danger zone 2, for example, you get the benefit of zones 1 and 2).
Gameplay follows four phases: assess damage (determined by lava flows into your village), play a lava tile, play any number of cards (optional), build a wall (optional).
Lava tiles are played similar to other tile-laying games: the tile has to match on all sides, it has to connect to a lava flow already on the board, etc. Cards have varying abilities, from cooling down your village 30 degrees (sweet, sweet rain), to replacing, rotating, or removing a tile on the board, to destroying another player’s wall. Each card also has a wall material on it, and cards may be discarded for a wall of that material (straw, wood, or stone). Building walls helps either protect your village from lava if the wall holds or prevent tiles from being played that could damage your village.
Players start the game with three cards; a player draws cards whenever he or she channels lava into any village on the board (even if a player does not control that village). In a player’s assess damage phase, each unblocked lava flow in contact with a village heats the village 20 degrees. If a lava flow is blocked by a wall, the player tests the strength of the wall by rolling the two dice—the red representing the lava, the white representing the wall. If the white is greater than the red, the wall holds; ties and below go to the lava, which destroys the wall and heats the village 10 degrees. (Depending on the wall’s material, you may get a bonus in rolling against the lava.)
The first player to enter a danger zone also has the benefit of placing an eruption tile. Eruption tiles can be placed anywhere, have lava on all six sides of the hex, and automatically heat the other players’ villages up 30 degrees.
The game ends when either one player’s village burns entirely or all of the lava tiles have been played. Each other player has one last chance to burn up or mitigate damage, and the player whose village has the lowest temperature wins.
Before we begin, my style of gaming typically falls under the Euro or card categories. Eruption, while it has cards, has no cubes, and the game is simple to learn and play. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it.
Well, I am happy to report that my fears were completely unfounded. What the game lacks in the “themeless manipulation of cubes” department it more than makes up for in pure, unadulterated player interaction that should appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. Put simply, Eruption is a blast.
The thing I love most about this game is the player interaction. I mentioned in our review of Ascending Empires that I typically eschew direct, targeted player conflict in a game, but that isn’t really an option in Eruption. The only way to draw cards (which strongly direct the flow of the game) is to channel lava into other villages. And really, if your choice is to put lava in unoccupied villages or your opponents’ villages, you’d be foolish not to go for your opponents. This may seem ruthless, but don’t worry: they’re going to do the same to you.
The reason I typically avoid spite in games is because it can sour the experience afterward, especially if grudges are carried over from game to game. While this may be the case in Eruption, I really don’t think it will be. Since the whole game is based around lava flowing to everyone’s village, there is equal opportunity for everyone to be the target. Also, there is a good amount of luck in the game (die rolls to test the strength of walls, tile draws, card draws, etc.), which soothes the anger players may feel toward their opponents. And the laughter that comes when someone’s plans are disrupted keeps the game lighthearted and fun.
One of the reasons why the conflict works so well in Eruption is that the game is so balanced. Players can carry grudges, but that won’t win the game. And really, as I mentioned, the lava is equal opportunity. Another balancing factor is the danger zones, which give added benefits to players as their villages heat up. These may seem like small consolations, but they are game changers. Also, the first player to cross into a danger zone is allowed to play the next ever-important eruption tile, which automatically brings the other players 30 degrees closer to the end. In each game I’ve played, the score has been fairly close because of these balancing measures, preventing runaway victories or terrible defeats.
If there’s anything not to like here, it may be some of the luck involved. The rain cards have seemed a bit overpowered to me. (Of course, take this with a grain of salt: I have never drawn or used one; the winners always have.) The dice rolls can seem like a capricious way to determine whether a wall holds. And early in the game, one player may feel picked on.
But all of this is unimportant to me when I weigh it against the fun that this game brings. Sure, it’s sadistic to encourage your friends’ villages to burn, but it also makes for a good afternoon. The artwork is colorful and top notch, and it evokes the theme well. The game moves at a decent pace (though I can’t speak for how it would play with five or six players) so long as players play it for what it is. I realize that this game probably won’t be for everyone: it’s not a brain burner, and it’s something probably better geared toward families (though I play with adults, all of whom enjoyed it). But I think there’s something here that will appeal to a broad base of people
Eruption plays very similarly to Carcassonne, albeit with different intentions. Once players get used to the rules, it plays pretty quickly—which is the best way to play. Analysis paralysis can kill the fun in a game like this, but if you can keep it moving, it’s a blast.
Spite is the name of the game, but it’s not really spite in this context. Spite in a board game really implies going out of your way to hurt another player; since the way of this game involves going straight for the other player’s villages with lava, no one gets singled out. In actuality, you can only go after one particular person for so long; you’ll either notice another player starting to pull ahead by keeping their temperature low, or you’ll simply run out of space to place more lava. In some cases, it’s even advantageous to place a piece next to your own village to block off a lava flow.
The balancing mechanics serve very well to keep anyone from getting too far ahead or behind. When people gang up on you and push your temperature way up, you’ll get the advantages of the higher stages, and likely get the opportunity to place eruption tiles, a huge advantage.
Cards are nicely varied in purpose, and the option to trade them in for walls instead of the function is very useful. Rain is probably the most powerful card, but it’s not a guaranteed winner: play them too early and you become a target, but hold them in your hand too long and you might miss out on other opportunities or end up too far behind to catch up. My nemesis may not have won without rain cards, but he came in very close second.
Ultimately there’s enough strategy to keep things interesting, enough luck to keep it balanced, and enough color to catch people’s attention. The rules should be simple enough for non-gamers, and with up to six players, it makes a great family game. Since everyone is getting burned, there really isn’t much room for bad feelings at the end—in the spirit of the game, everyone is on fire.
As a side note—we had the print-and-play version, so @FarmerLenny utilized pieces from Catan and Carcassonne expansions. The inclusion of pigs as the player tokens only increased the enjoyment of the game—imagining our pigs slowly becoming delicious barbecued meat added a sense of zany humor to the whole thing.
***If Eruption sounds like your brand of fun, I would encourage you (if you haven’t already) to check out Stratus’s preorder program to get in on the ground floor (preorders are open until the end of the month). If this game doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, try it out anyway—a game store near you may be doing an Eruption preview night. I think you’ll be surprised. And if you are just a fan of swag, check out the giveaway they have going on. Whatever you do, if you are a fan of fun, keep an eye out for Eruption in October.***
Disclosure: iSlaytheDragon received a review copy of the print-and-play version from the publisher.