- Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
- Publisher: Feuerland Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 30-45 minutes
- Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Feuerland
Fuji is one of the new games from Wolfgang Warsch – you know the guy who was nominated for just about every major boardgame award except for the Kinderspiel des Jahres last year. Though he is new to boardgame world, he has already amazed me with the breadth of his game designs. Fuji represents yet another type of game – this being a dice rolling cooperative game. Though I’m normally not one for cooperative games, the track record of Herr Warsch was enough to make me take a look at this one.
In Fuji, you are part of a group of adventurers trying to ascend Mt Fuji in Japan. However, while you’re making your way up, the previously dormant volcano erupts and deadly lava comes down towards you. Now, you and your group have to try to rush to safety before you’re melted by hot hot lava. You have to hurry to get your whole group to safety because as in many cooperative games, you are somehow psychically linked to your partners and if one of your group dies, you all die too – I guess that you’re all so overcome with grief that you lose all desire to keep running for freedom…
At the start of the game, a scenario card is drawn, and the board is set up with cards laid out to match the pattern on the scenario card. The start of the map is always the erupting volcano, and then rubble cards come next. Following this is a maze of landscape cards. At the end of this maze, a number of village cards are found – the game is won when all players are safely standing on the village cards. Finally, based on the scenario card, equipment tokens and volcano eruption tokens are placed on specific locations in the map.
Each player chooses (or is randomly given) one of the character cards. Each player also chooses (or is randomly given) one of the skill cards. Each skill card tells you how many dice you get at the start of the game as well as how many randomly dealt equipment cards. Additionally, each skill card gives its owner a unique ability that is in effect throughout the game.
Each player’s character card border tells you your player color. Your pawn goes on the starting card on the map. The stamina board is placed off to the side of the map, and each player placed their colored disc at the start of the track. Depending on which of the four levels of difficulty that you want to play at, choose the appropriate level stamina card to place next to the board. Each player also has a destination disc, and for now, this disk is just kept in the player’s area.
The game is played in a number of rounds, each following the same six phases. The game is won by the group if all the players are safely on village cards at the end of the map. The game is lost if any player is consumed by the lava OR if any player collapses due to exhaustion (as seen on the stamina board).
1] Roll dice – all players roll their allotted dice behind their screens
2] Planning and playing equipment cards – in this phase, players discuss their plans, and each decides where they want to try to move to. Players can move up to three cards away from their current location. Players mark their desired location with the movement disk. Note that neighboring players are NOT allowed to choose the same destination. It is permissible to stay on the same card. If you have an appropriate equipment card that can be played in this phase, you may do so.
As you decide where to go, you must look at the icons shown on the bottom of the desired destination card. There will be criteria noted there such as: the color of the die face, evens, odds, specific numbers, etc. You will have to have the highest total of the stated criteria on the card when compared to both your left and right hand opponents. But… to make things difficult, when you are planning, you are never allowed to directly state what you have on your dice. You are also to make more general statements such as “I have a lot of high numbers” or “I shouldn’t be any danger to you concerning even dice”. This phase continues until all players have chosen a desired destination for the round.
3] Reroll dice – depending on how far you want to move, you have a number of rerolls available to you – all still done behind your player screen. If you are staying still, you get 2 rerolls. If you want to move 1 or 2 spaces away, you get 1 reroll. If you are trying to move 3 spaces away, you do not get any rerolls. Additionally, if there is a reroll icon on your desired destination, you get an additional reroll to whatever else you are allowed. On each reroll, you can freely choose any or all of your dice to reroll. You do not have to use all your rerolls, but if you do use them all, you must accept the values of the final roll. And, of course, you are not allowed to communicate your roll results during this phase.
4] Play Equipment Cards – all players now can play equipment cards valid for this phase. Each player’s equipment cards are always face up in front of their screen, so players can freely discuss the possible use of them. However, the dice are still hidden and the rules about not explicitly stating what is on your dice still stands.
5] Resolve Movement and Stamina changes – now, all players remove their screens and the dice results are compared. It may be easiest to do this clockwise around the board. The first player looks at their left-hand and right-hand neighbors and sees if they have a higher total of dice in whatever criteria is stated on that first player’s destination card. If the active player does not have the highest total, then he cannot move. If he does have the highest total, he moves his meeple to the new destination. Finally, you see how the move affected your stamina. If you won, you calculate the difference between your value and that of your closest opponent. You look up this difference on the difficulty card next to the stamina board, and move your stamina marker ahead however many spaces it tells you. If you lost your attempt to move, you move forward the maximum number of spaces on the difficulty card. As you move further on the track, you will cross injury spaces, and you draw a token for each injury space you encounter. Your skills will be handicapped by whatever injury you sustain – such as permanently losing a die or losing the ability to reroll.
Then the second player goes, and the neighbors now look at their dice using the criteria on the second player’s destination card, etc. If you land on a card with an equipment token on it, then you draw an equipment card from the deck. If you move onto or through a landscape card with an eruption token, you trigger an additional eruption (see the next phase), and then the eruption token is discarded from the game.
6] Eruption – at the end of each round, there is an eruption. All landscape cards that are orthogonally adjacent to lava (or the erupting volcano) are flipped over to the lava side. If someone had triggered an eruption token thru movement, this process happens twice.
If an endgame condition is met at the end of this phase, the game ends. If not, go back to Phase 1 and play another round.
Again, the players win if they are all safely located on Village cards. When a meeple first lands on a Village card, it remains in the game. That player must still roll dice each round, must still declare a valid destination, must still calculate stamina losses each round. It is permissible to leave the village cards on a later turn and move back onto a regular landscape card (if it makes sense to do so).
The players lose is one of them is on a card which is being flipped over to the lava side. The players also lose if one player moves their stamina marker to the end of the stamina track – and collapses from exhaustion. Once one player comes to their untimely demise, again, the psychically link between your group mean that everyone dies (and loses) together.
If you do manage to win, you can even calculate a score – but we’ve never done this. We’re happy enough just to win.
My thoughts on the game
Fuji is an interesting cooperative game – I do like the way that the random dice rolls are used to determine movement. There is a lot of puzzle work trying to figure out where you want to try to move on any given turn. While players can’t specifically say what they have on their dice, they can make indirect references to what they have. You can also learn a bit about what people have in general through your proposals of where to move – if I propose moving to a blue and yellow EVEN space, and John starts shaking his head, then I know that he’s likely good in those areas. And… if he is trying to move to a space that wants yellow dice, then I’m fairly certain that he’s got Yellow 4s and Yellow 6s. It took me a few games to figure out how to maximize information from my teammates.
For some, the wishy washy communication rules will be a constant frustration. It’s not my favorite mechanism, but the rules at least give some solid guidelines as to what is valid or not, and that does help keep all players using the same set of rules when it comes to the dissemination of information.
There is an interesting dimension to the game in that you want to have the highest numbers possible – but only for your own destination criteria. This is because you want to be able to win your own fight, but you don’t want to prevent your neighbors for reaching their own goals. This can cause some interesting re-roll decisions as you try to meet these competing goals. Like many games that rely upon lady luck and dice rolls, there is a lot of excitement and suspense around the rerolling, but unlike most dice games, this does not lead to laughter, groans or memorable moments because all of the dice rolling happens behind your screen (and you should be quiet anyways as you’re not supposed to be communicating the results of your rerolls to your teammates).
Thus far, we have done OK on the lowest two difficulty levels, but we have had a lot of issues staying alive on the more difficult levels. As you increase the difficulty, the stamina losses are increased for the differences between values. Players pick up injuries sooner, and this handicaps your efforts that much more.
I know that many people like this constantly increasing reduction in abilities as a way to make the game more tense as it becomes harder and harder to succeed once you can’t reroll anything or if you lose the ability to play equipment cards. However, for me, this just turns the game into a no-fun situation. Once, I was to the point where I lost the ability to reroll dice AND I also had permanently lost one of my dice, leaving me only with 4. Each round, I ended up without much to do – I would roll the dice, and then make general statements about what sorts of things I might have on my dice, and then I would just watch sadly and await the time for us to reveal the dice behind our shields and then watch me dice fail me over and over again. Sure, this is an extreme example, and possibly an edge case… but I’ll not soon forget that experience.
I like it when these cooperative games have a difficulty arc and there is a progressively increasing tension, but I would have rather this been done in a way that didn’t limit my opportunity to participate – for instance, maybe forcing you to have +1 or +2 more that your opponents in order to win. At least in this situation, I’d still feel like I was playing the game rather than becoming a passive witness to the game happening around me.
So, this isn’t at the bottom of the Warsch pile for me – that space is still easily held by the activity known as The Mind. But, for me, the lack of communication and the frustration that comes with the game for me probably puts it second on that list. That being said, I am still amazed at the many different types of games that have been published by him in the past year, and there are at least two or three coming up in 2019 that I’m really looking forward to. For now, it stays in the collection as I’m collecting all of his games right now (yes, I’ve even kept a copy of The Mind!)
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Doug G: I wish I could like this one better than I do. The art is gorgeous (Shelley required that we save the insert even though that’s something we usually scrap as part of our Essen packing), and there’s a fairly interesting game here…but the luck of the dice rolls kind of killed it for me. We reviewed it on Episode 660 of the podcast – https://bit.ly/2I6dAAg
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Brandon K
- Neutral. Dale Y, Doug G., James Nathan
- Not for me…