Fire in the Sky: The Great Pacific War 1941-1945
Fire in the Sky is a two-player game of strategical rivalry and tactical responsiveness set in during the Pacific War, which stretched between Pearl Habor attack on December 7th 1941 and Hiroshima and Nagasaki obliteration in the atomic hellfire in August 1945. During 16 phase-based turns, you will attempt to conduct successful attacks on your opponent’s units, break loose from the sea siege or simply outsmart your enemy so craftily that his willingness to carry on would be crushed. You shall not forget about the logistics – spend your transportation points wisely and supply your units with oil or they end up as unarmed stationary ducks, an easy prey for enemy diving bombers or destroyers.
Fire in the Sky provides you with a long, well-balanced gameplay. Choosing Japanese side of the conflict, gather as many points as possible (20 of them and your victory is immediate) in the first couple of turns and prevent your Allied opponents from retaking them late in the game. Positive victory points at the end of the game for the Land of the Rising Sun means it wins. Every other result makes Allied forces a winner.
- Author: Tetsuya Nakamura
- Number of Players: 2
- Age: 14 +
- Game time: 120 +
- Language: English
- game board 84 x 56 cm,
- 10 k6 dice (5 blue, 5 red),
- battle board,
- player aid (Japan forces),
- player aid (Allied forces),
- 210 counters (Ø - 2,5 cm),
- 1 instructions.
Do you want to know more? Read reviews below.
(Note: These reviews were originally posted on BoardGameGeek.com by Filip Wiltgren and Igor Sangulin. The original reviews have been slightly updated in the collation.)
Filip: If you ever wonder why the Japanese lost World War 2, you only have to play Fire in the Sky once to realize that the Americans rolled better. Actually that's as far from the truth as can be, both in real life and in this fast, easy, realistic and intensely "I'm-going-to-break-you-with-a-hammer-if-you-don't-roll-a-six-right-now" game.
It's hard to convey the sense of tension in Fire in the Sky. The game is in no way highly random and yet each die roll counts. You want to make that roll, that single, please-dear-Lord-let-my-sub-pass-through-this-net-of-destroyers-and-hit-that-carrier-with-this-stupid-never-to-explode-magnetic-torpedo roll. You want it more than anything else in the world, more than winning the lottery, more than a scared six year old wants mom to come in with milk and cookies.
Unlike other WWII games, there isn't a single action that isn't crucial to the outcome of the war.
And then you roll… A SIX! Woohoo, carrier on its way to the bottom, gloating rights! Now please, Dear Lord, please let me just stall this bad, bad, bad, marine division for a single turn, only that, please roll a six and I'll never gloat again.
Now imagine that for six hours straight and you get the feeling of how it is to play Fire in the Sky – unlike other WWII games, there isn't a single action that isn't crucial to the outcome of the war.
That's because the resources, men, ships and transport points you need to win are in so short supply that if the battle isn't crucial, you won't commit your forces. Simply speaking, Fire in the Sky is an outstanding game.
Igor: Being able to witness the essence of war from a first-person perspective, I was determined to never attempt anything remotely similar to a war game. Yet a few years later my favorite board game designs by far are WWII strategy titles, and in my opinion, Fire in the Sky represents one of the gems of modern board gaming (not only war gaming) in every aspect - its visual appearance, gameplay concepts, storytelling...
In my opinion, Fire in the Sky represents one of the gems of modern board gaming (not only war gaming) in every aspect.
I wish I could take this game with me to boardrooms and management meetings every time I hear a version of "I want it all and I want it now" from the managers I meet. Using simple mechanics and only 15 pages of rules, Fire in the Sky perfectly demonstrates all the basic strategy concepts like the link between resources and performance management, the consequences of diverting resources to insignificant tasks, or what will happen when you run your operations without a long-term plan.
Filip: By this time you've probably figured out that there aren't that many components in Fire in the Sky. Compared to, say, Advanced Squad Leader or Guderian's Blitzkrieg, this is true. But compare Fire in the Sky to your average Euro-game, and you've got hordes of battleships, swarms of destroyers and a few, precious gems of aircraft carriers.
The premise is as simple as it is historic: the American player is caught with his pants down, letting the Japanese player paddle his butt at Pearl while simultaneously walking all over the American, UK and Dutch Pacific holdings. Japanese player wins, everybody goes home.
Well, not quite, even if it can feel that way for the allied player on the first turns. Each nation is constrained by their ability to transport troops and ship. This means that you can have loads of forces stuck in Pearl or Kure (the Japanese equivalent) because you don't have enough transport points to order them out.
As the Japanese player you've also got one more resource to worry about: oil. No oil and your ships will limp around from base to base offering themselves with gravy and mashed potatoes to the US dive bombers.
The US player has no such problems; the Texas oil fields spew forth all the black gold he needs, the ungrateful bastard (I like playing Japan, does that show?). On the other hand the US has Roosevelt, who prioritizes the war in Europe, and doesn't have enough transport points to make more than needle pricks against the Japanese assaults.
Playing, there is a feeling of extreme immersion.
Or he can concentrate his forces for one big punch each turn – but if that fails the US is toast.
And if Japan does well enough in the early months, the US can even be forced to come crawling to the negotiation table and beg for an end to the war. Don't count on that though; to achieve a sudden death victory, Japan would need to capture the Singapore area as well as the Dutch East Indies and Australia, and do it in 1941 or early 1942. Which is as likely as free aircraft carriers falling from the sky. But it sure feels possible, at least until the US carrier groups and obsolete battleships start popping up out of the empty blue sea and shelling your landing forces to smithereens (for some reason, the US player always rolls sixes – go figure.) But you'll be holding on to your seat and hoping for a miracle all the way.
Igor: Playing, there is a feeling of extreme immersion. I love fantasy and sci-fi, but I was amazed how much immersion a large sheet of paper with few counters (which is realistic description of any war game) can provide. No plastic miniatures, cards, or other fancy-schmancy components. Just a story about two empires fighting for control of largest sea on planet - much better fluff than LOTR or Star Wars!
Filip: Each turn is built up around three phases: deployment, battle, and more deployment. In other words, you get your forces into positions where they can strike (using transport points), attack (using oil for the Japanese or completely free for the Allies), plant your flags and finally reinforce your new holdings.
If it only was that easy! As in real life your enemy gets to react to your attacks – presuming he's placed his ships in range. So that empty sea really can spawn a slew of battleships as they emerge from their bases on the extreme edge of your scouting ability…
And if you use the optional hidden task forces rules then you're truly playing in the dark: is that a stack a diversionary strike by US destroyers or the main carrier task force? As if Fire in the Sky wasn't tense enough already.
Igor: Fire in the Sky provides an excellent mechanism for fog-of-war using the ability for the opposing fleet to move as a reaction to your move. It makes every action uncertain, even while playing solo. I feel that the blocks used in some other games don't create that much more of fog-of-war since you know where enemy fleets are and what is more important where enemy fleets are not.
Each engagement is crucial, each battle totters on the edge of a propeller blade, on the faulty Monday-morning fuse of an unexploded bomb.
This back and forth, lose and take goes on for sixteen turns or until one party surrenders which, on a week night, is more likely to happen – Fire in the Sky is a long game and so tense that you'll routinely find yourself wondering why the sky is dark and how come it's 2 AM already.
Because Fire in the Sky doesn't feel long; there's never any downtime at all. Actually that's not true, there's plenty of downtime but you want to see what your opponent does, you need to see, you must see, or your carriers will rest in YARRRGH! Davy Jones' Locker. Sorry, wrong game.
More than creating a realistic simulation, designer Tetsuya Nakamura (if there is a Japanese WWII version of Reiner Knizia, he's it) has managed to capture the feel of the war: each engagement is crucial, each battle totters on the edge of a propeller blade, on the faulty Monday-morning fuse of an unexploded bomb. Each strike must succeed, each defensive action must delay the enemy and each carrier lost is enough to make admirals commit seppuku.
Igor: The level of abstraction feels just right. For instance, I like the war in China being abstracted out of the game, air power being represented as abstract "air points," ground units that are not actually ground units but more like the ability to project power over vast spaces of Pacific Ocean, and naval units representing many ships.
Filip: You know that the allies are going to win eventually, even though the possibility of a quick and total victory is a glorious but rapidly vanishing mirage for the Japanese. The only question is: are they going to do it forcefully enough to crush the Japanese or will they dither and let the Japanese government off the hook with a peace treaty?
In the game this is represented by the victory points Japan gathers (in the beginning) and the US retakes at high cost (from the mid-game onwards). If Japan manages to hold out long enough for them to have positive victory points when the game's over, they win. If not the US player wins. Simple as that – unless the Japan player manages to gain twenty or more victory points in which case he wins immediately.
Which is as likely as free carriers… Oh, wait, I've used that metaphor already. But I'd very much like a free carrier right about now. Which is as likely as… You get the point.
Ok, there's a lot more to Fire in the Sky than this.
I've barely even mentioned the fact that the big Japanese armies are completely unwieldy on the islands, or that the US's antique battleships are good for nothing but shelling the Gilberts and Wake. Or that you can, theoretically, invade Pearl (yeah, right). Or that when the first US AA cruiser comes into play the Japanese curse enough to fuel their ships on rage alone. Or that the useless Dutch, sitting in exile in London, complaining and never returning once their pitiful forces are wiped off the map, can actually tilt the battle in the early turns. Or that you have a stack of aircraft carriers as thick as your thumb waiting beside the board and you can't get them into play because they're nothing but blueprints in some naval engineers' office.
Argh, so much to do, so little time. And that's the heart of Fire in the Sky.
If you've read this far you're probably assuming that Fire in the Sky is a solid ten. If I were a teenager with endless time on my hands, geeky friends, understanding parents, and no homework that would be true. Hell, I'd give it an eleven.
If you're into war gaming, then Fire in the Sky is the game for you.
But I'm not, I'm a responsible adult waiting for my too-far-off retirement when I'll be able to play board games with impunity. Thus Fire in the Sky is a luxury, like fine chocolate or holidays in Egypt, that you can afford only once in a while. Even so, it is my highest ranked war game, and one of my highest ranked games overall.
If you're into war gaming, then Fire in the Sky is the game for you – not only is it unbelievably good (I'm not making it up, this review is an understatement) it's fast enough to, almost, cram into a weeknight.
Igor: For me, maybe the biggest fun factor comes from meta-gaming. The board game is really just the tip of the iceberg of whole set of fun meta-gaming activities that games provides - browsing through the Consimworld or BGG forums, thinking about strategy, watching YouTube documentaries and so on. Since history was my least favorite subject in school, I was surprised at how much fun it was to read Empires in the Balance or Shattered Sword.
Filip: If you're interested in historical depth, or are a teacher looking for a game to get your students enthusiastic about WWII history, then this is the game for you. If you love tense, long games and don’t mind complexity in the decision matrix, then this is a game for you. Even if you're looking for a step up from Memoir '44 or Axis, this game might be for you. But if you're a die-hard Euro fan or a person who considers two hours to be long for a game then stay away, you won't like it.
- Well made
- Historically accurate
- Even and well-balanced
- Really tense
- Playtime somewhat too long* for a single weeknight (although still short for a large-scale wargame)
- * The Phalanx 2nd edition will contain scenarios, with a later starting date, or by year, with a shorter play time.