Furnace; or as its full title on the box more accurately describes, 'An Engine-Building game by Ivan Lashin: Furnace.' This game sells itself right off the box. This is an engine-building game. If you are a fan of this mechanism, you will most probably enjoy this game a lot. If not, well, there is a bit of an auction and some nice card play, but ultimately… see the box lid.
If You Build It, They Will Come.
But what is an engine-builder? If you are not familiar with the term, you may well have experienced it in other games. Splendor, Century: Spice Road and Scythe are all hugely popular games that employ the same mechanic. Engine-Building is the process by which you will develop your powers or abilities in a game by collecting cards, resources or other powers. It is linked to Set-Collection, Hand-Management, Tableau building, and in a way Tech-Trees too; some of which are present in this game as well. But who am I to argue with the box cover? This is an engine-builder, pure and simple.
Engine-building games are very popular due to the sense of progression they bring to the gaming table. There is a sense of development. There is a real sense of satisfaction when you get your engine running well. This applies to Furnace too and is the main reason why I enjoy it.
Start Your Engines!
The game works incredibly simply. Cards will be placed on the table face-up, based on the number of people playing. In turn, each player will then place one of their four numbered Capital Discs onto one of the cards, bidding for the power of that card. The discs are numbered one to four. At the end of the Auction round, the highest-numbered disc on a card wins that card. But every other player that bid on that same card will be awarded compensation for their failed bid. Each card will have symbols on the top showing you what you will get as compensation. The reward will be multiplied by the number on your losing disc. So, a card showing two coal symbols at the top would reward a player with six coal cubes if they played and lost with their Three Capital Disc.
Players can bid on any card available but can never place a disc onto a card where they have already made a bid. Nor can they ever place a disc onto a card with a number that is the same value as one of the discs already placed onto that card.
The winning player will take the card into their play area to use on the second Production phase. In this Auction phase, you will be looking to acquire resources that you need to run your other cards. If you want to win a card that allows you to convert Oil into Money, but you have no Oil, then you need to find a way to acquire some in order to avoid the power of the first card becoming redundant.
There may be another card that would compensate you with two Iron if you lost the bid for it, and another that would allow you to convert Iron to Oil. Utilising these three cards' powers would allow you to get your engine going. First, collect your Iron, then convert that Iron to Oil, and then finally sell the Oil for money. This, in short, is how the game works.
It's Time To Produce.
Once everyone has collected their compensation and the cards that they won in the Auction phase, players will then move into the Production phase. All players can arrange their cards into any order they like and then "run" them. This simply means, gathering the resources and making the trades that each card allows you to do. The order is crucial. It may be that you need a particular resource before you can achieve a certain goal, and that first resource you need will be made available to you by one of your other cards. As such, you must ensure that you place this resource-producing card before the resource exchanging card.
Furnace will run for four rounds Each time running through the Auction and then the Production phase. The goal is to collect as much money as possible. Any resources that you are left with are useless at the end of the game. You want to avoid running an engine that overproduces a resource that you cannot then use for something else. This game is all about efficiency. Getting cards to work together in harmony for the ultimate aim of money!
In a tie situation, the player with the most cards will take the win. If there is still a tie after that, then it will be the player with the most resources. But this very simple tie-breaker rule shows you how the game should be played. This is about having cards that work for you. Not just cards that make lots of resources.
Each player will be given a starting factory and unique player power at the start of the game. This small amount of asymmetry brings another side to this game that will increase its replayability. Each of the five available character cards offers something quite unique - such as an extra disc with the value of two to use in the Auction phase, or the ability to break the Capital Disc placement rules.
Your engine will not just be about getting the right cards. This game will also ask players to upgrade their existing cards. All the cards are double-sided and offer additional benefits on the reverse side. Winning some cards may only be the first step. Flipping them could be your only chance of victory.
There is also an advanced variant, which I enjoy but perhaps is not suited for game one. In this version, players cannot rearrange the placement of the cards once they have them. New cards must simply be placed to the left or right of any existing cards. This makes players think a lot more about what they bid on from rounds two onwards and creates a much more challenging game experience.
A Well-Oiled Engine.
There may be times of frustration when you cannot get the card you want. It simply may not turn up or it may be that you win it when you just wanted the resource. Or you only get the resource as compensation when you wanted to win it. But this is the nature of a competitive game. It won't always work out exactly as you plan.
Running an efficient engine in Furnace is a very satisfying experience. Win or lose, if you create an engine that is running smoothly, and churning just the right number of resources you need to convert into money, you will be left with a huge sense of achievement at the end of the game. Engine builders are popular for this reason, but often the mechanism has a much more complex rule structure or mixed in with other mechanisms.
In Furnace, the engine building is the entire game. There is the interesting auction mechanic in which the cards are acquired, and the clever idea for compensation for any losing bid which makes this part of the game a lot of fun too. But ultimately this game is boiled down to engine-building. Get cards. Make them work together. It sounds simple because it is. But to play it, you will feel utterly engrossed in the process. Games don't always need multiple mechanisms to be fun. If you like engine-builders, or like the sound of it and want to give it a try, Furnace could well be the game for you.