Doug Garrett – Review of Bonfire


  • Designer: Stefan Feld
  • Publisher: Hall Games/Pegasus Spiele
  • Players: 1-4
  • Playing Time: 60-100 minutes ( shorter with 1 or 2 experienced players)
  • Ages: 12+

Over the last fifteen years Stefan Feld has established himself as a top-flight designer. Starting with 2005’s Roma, he truly made his mark under alea’s brand with games like Notre Dame and In The Year of the Dragon (both 2007), followed shortly thereafter by Macao (2009) and Castles of Burgundy (2011). In fact, at the time he seemed to be so prolific that alea wasn’t his only avenue for publication. New publishers like Hall Games and established brands like Huch stepped in to bring Luna (2010)  and Trajan (2011) to the masses. Needless to say, Feld’s designs caught on with hobbyists, and his penchant for throwing together interesting mechanisms with many possible ways to score has led both players and reviewers to label some of his titles as “kitchen sink” games. Bonfire, his latest release from Hall Games and Pegasus Spiele, fits this definition to a T, and certainly ranks as one of Feld’s more complex (some might say convoluted) titles.

Moving away from standard Renaissance/Medieval settings, this time players find themselves in a mystical world of gnomes and Guardians who strive to relight the world’s bonfires that have almost all gone out. Players gather tasks, spend resources, obtain actions, and enlist different gnomes who can help them achieve their goals, or provide them with points.

Overview – MANY Possibilities

So how does it all work? Well, in this game it’s all about the tiny cardboard chits that serve as action tokens. On most turns players spend these tokens to do one of six different possible actions, sometimes piggybacking one action on another. These include

  • Moving one’s boat around the sacred islands
  • Picking up either Tasks or Guardians from islands (possibly after moving)
  • Building a Path around the outside perimeter of one’s player board
  • Moving Guardians (either the one you start with, or the ones you have obtained from your island excursions) along that path to gather resources or pass through a portal and stand next to a previously lit bonfire
  • Rotating the great bonfire on the center board to obtain portals, resources, and/or action tokens
  • Spending resources to enlist gnomes

Each of the actions listed has its own unique chit, but one can always spend any two chits to do a particular action. Along with these primary actions, players can choose instead to

  • Obtain more action chits OR
  • Complete a previously obtained task which lights a bonfire on their player board (both detailed below)

As you can see, there is a LOT going on, and it will take players a couple of games to see the ways in which these interconnected actions work and develop over the course of a game.

Main Components

The central board includes the aforementioned islands located toward its top, each of which contain two to three tasks (depending on the number of players) OR one of four different colored guardians. In the middle of the board, neutral novices stand waiting to be enlisted when a player achieves a Common Task. Below that, a pink “bonfire” sits ready to have its arrow turned to point at one of the various pie-shaped wedges that allow players to obtain those portals, resources and more action chits. On either side of the bonfire, gnomes wait to be enlisted. Yep, it’s a busy board with a LOT of options…and I haven’t even mentioned the TWO player boards.

Each player has his or her own main board, as well as a smaller, C-shaped board that’s both a player aid and repository for a column of cardboard strips called Fate Tiles that are made up of 3 squares. These Fate Tiles are your action chit generators, but only the strip at the top or bottom of the column is available to play. Three of the six different action icons fill the squares and Fate Tiles get placed next to each other (either vertically or horizontally) in the center of your main player board. Icons that match and are orthogonally adjacent gain extra action chits. So, if my starting Fate Tile has a Boat, Task, and Path action icon on it, I will begin the game with those three chits, as well as two wild action chits and each of the six wooden resources. On a subsequent turn, if I have a Fate Tile with a Card, Guardian and Path icon, by placing the Path icons next to each other, I will gain TWO Path action chits, along with the Guardian and Card chits. Coupled with that, the grid upon which I’m placing the Fate Tiles has spots with wild action chits and gold (wild) resources; covering up either of those icons gets me that item as well.

But that’s just the start. Each player’s board, shaped as a half circle, is rimmed with slots for seven different portals. Each of these slots has a different shape, so all of the player boards have a different pattern of portal slots. Portals then must be placed from right to left (counter-clockwise) as a player acquires them, and they cannot be obtained out of order. Path tiles, the next bit of construction for one’s player board, also go along the outer rim, but these get placed from left to right. Finally, tasks from the central board’s islands can be placed on any of the player board’s seven spots as they are obtained. (Whew!)

from Tabletopia, the only way that some of us have been able to play the game so far!

The Heart of Gameplay

The six chit-based actions are the heart of gameplay. After taking a turn to gather chits (and you can only do that action if you’re down to zero or one left — otherwise you have to discard them), players try to spend the chits in the best and most efficient ways possible. To get a task, for example, you need to spend one or more Boat action chits to follow paths between islands, then spend one or more Task chits to pick up an island’s task, though that also requires spending resources. 

Given that tasks are divided into easy (blue), medium (pink), and hard (yellow), you will want to peruse the tasks available during set up so that you can get particular ones you think you can fulfill. It’s actually possible to have tasks that are VERY easy given their placement, while others are nearly impossible to achieve. Completing these tasks once they are situated on your board usually involves getting particular resources or Guardians, obtaining a certain number of portals or gnomes, etc. 

The board from Tabletopia

Completing Tasks and Lighting Bonfires

Completing a task — the third possible action type after chit gathering and spending — takes an entire turn, but has huge benefits. First, by flipping over a task, you have lit a bonfire, thereby earning its points in end-game scoring. But, as with any Feld design, there’s more! Each task/bonfire slot on a player’s board has an accompanying novice piece and that piece gets placed onto the main board in the spaces around the bonfire. That placement then gives the player either a nice trio of resources and actions, or a ‘super’ action chit turn — your boat can sail to any island, the bonfire can rotate to any spot, you can obtain a Guardian of any color, etc. The placement of those novices also acts as a game-ending trigger with 7/10/13 novices on the board for 2/3/4 players leading to the last five rounds of the game. Also, those neutral novices mentioned above in the component section count toward that total, so the game-end trigger can happen sooner than you thought.

Game End and Scoring

I know that I’ve only scratched the surface of all of those possible turn options listed above, but let’s get to how things wrap up. When that game-end trigger — the placement of novices — occurs, the start player takes a stack of five tokens off its spot on the main board and places them next to his player board. Each subsequent round requires the start player to remember to discard a token. Because they are numbered, players now have the option of passing for the rest of the game and garnering the points listed on the token (which of course start at five and decrease to one). Given that it’s possible for a player not to have enough turns left to make actions pay off with points, this extra rule was necessary. Once those five rounds are over, it’s time to tally everyone’s scores.

And, of course, since it’s a Feld game, there are many ways to score. Here’s the rundown:

  • 2-8 points for each lit bonfire
  • 2-8 points for each Guardian you have moved into position next to a lit bonfire. However, to make that happen, you will have to move them along the path, then get them to a spot with a portal, THEN walk them through the portal to stand next to the bonfire…
  • 2 points for each portal next to a lit bonfire
  • 2 points for each path tile with a crystal color that matches the adjacent bonfire. Yep, you have to pay attention to the color of BOTH the path AND the bonfire.
  • 4 points for each Common Task fulfilled
  • 3 points for each Fate Tile you did NOT use to gain action chits
  • 1 point for every 2 action chit/resources you still have in personal supply

The player with the most points after all of the above gets added together wins!

SO…Is It Good?

As I stated at the top, Bonfire definitely sits on the COMPLEX side of Feldian continuum. In fact, my wife Shelley would lean to the “too convoluted” opinion. After four plays together, she said it felt more like work than fun. And I can see that. There are a lot of moving parts here, as well as some luck that can be difficult to overcome, and those factors can diminish one’s enjoyment.

What do I mean by luck factors? Well, those portals that you must place in order (unless you are lucky enough to get the gnome card that lets you place in any order) can be perfectly set up around the bonfire so that you move the arrow from one space to the next and snatch them up. OR the next one you need could be four steps away, with the one after that 4 steps from THAT space. Given that one bonfire action chit moves the arrow one space clockwise, but you need to spend THREE to move it anywhere you want, getting portals (see scoring bullets two and three above) could be easy to achieve, or arduous.  Couple that with the aforementioned ease or pain in achieving certain tasks, where those tasks are placed in relation to one another on the islands, as well as the varying degrees of help some of the gnome cards provide, and you have quite a bit of luck with which one must contend.

That said, I enjoyed the games we played as a couple, along with the three solo games I attempted. Those solo games, though, hit home the luck factor problem, as my scores ranged from 56 to 85 points with the added luck of how the robo-player card affected my actions from game to game.

Do you NEED this latest Feldian concoction? If you have loved his games in the past, I would strongly recommend it. If you like heavier games, this one fits that category. Personally, I plan to return to Macao, Castles of Burgundy and some other Feldian titles and see if someone out there wants a slightly used Bonfire as a holiday present.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:

Dan Blum (1 play): I’m not a huge Feld fan, but I do like some of his games – Castles of Burgundy being my favorite. I don’t mind complex games but when Feld gets complex he has a tendency to not integrate the elements of the game very well, and I think this is an example of that; it’s better-integrated than something like Bora Bora but still feels as if there are too many different things going on. Which is too bad, as I like the action tile placement mechanism,

And, while it’s obviously impossible to judge game balance after one play, some of the assistants definitely seemed much better than others; some are very situational while others are always useful, e.g. the one that lets you have multiple guardians on the same space. Getting one of the latter early seems very strong.

Larry (1 online play):  This game seems like quite the beast, so it’s almost impossible to properly judge it after just one play, but let me take a shot.  First of all, this is very much not a Point Salad game–almost all the scoring occurs at the end and most of it revolves around making bonfires (i.e., completing tasks).  A lot of your strategy seems to focus on the way your Fate tiles are laid out.  Because of the adjacency rules, you’ll probably have times in which certain Action tiles are available in abundance and other times when you have none of them.  I imagine that skilled players will be able to plan for this and make it part of their strategy, but for me, as a beginner, it felt as if I was either being led by the nose and taking those abundant actions, even if the time wasn’t perfect for them, or inefficiently using pairs of those tiles to take the actions that were in scarce supply.  In general, it seems as if there is almost limitless planning that could be achieved, by studying the layout of the Fate tiles, the tasks, the gnomes, and the portals, but I’m not sure it would be humanly possible to carry out much of that.  Still, it’s a nice feature that should be appealing to heavy strategists.

I suspect this is the kind of game that definitely requires multiple plays to really understand.  I liked it, even though I don’t think I played that well.  I want to play it some more to see if I’m capable of plotting a coherent strategy.  If so, this could easily rise to I Love It status; if not, it might wind up as a game I admire more than I like.


  • Love it: 
  • Like it: Doug G., Larry
  • Neutral: Dan Blum
  • Not for Me:
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