Review – Furnace: Interbellum
|Artist||Sergey Dulin, Marta Ivanova, Ilya Konovalov, Anastasia Kukarina, Vadim Poluboyarov, Oleg Yurkov, Egor Zharkov|
|Publisher||Hobby World / Arcane Wonders|
|Category||Auction Game, Engine Building Game, Strategy Game|
|Release Date||Spring 2023|
One of my favorite games of recent years is 2020’s Furnace from Arcane Wonders and designer Ivan Lashin. The fast and furious gameplay, interesting and simultaneous engie-building, and interactive, unique auction (where losing is sometimes good!) all make it a modern classic. Another way to identify a “modern classic” is seeing it get expansions, and Furnace has begun this journey with Interbellum. Does it make the game better or worse? Let’s take a look!
Interbellum consists of a bunch of modules, but the rulebook insists that they’re meant to all be played together. (Later in the rulebook, ways to play with them separately are given.) One module (Managers) is notably more complex than the rest, so I started to teach my first game with the expansion without it… then I realized there was almost nothing to teach otherwise, so we included it as well. But honestly, isn’t that a great thing for an expansion: nothing new to teach? I sure think so!
So let’s begin with those other basic ideas. The expansion includes 24 new Company cards, which it says to mix with 24 original Company cards (⅔ of the original amount), resulting in a bigger deck, half of which is new. The new cards are absolutely fantastic, because they’re significantly different, but also intuitive. The new effects are either one-time instantaneous effects (with the familiar lightning bolt symbol), or ongoing bonuses on a blue background. Some of the ongoing effects were a bit strange, but we never had a single rules question about them. I could mix in these cards with new players and they would never know the difference. The new Startup cards (the cards that provide opening resources and effects) and Capitalist cards (special powers for each player) are also easy but unique, just as good as the Company cards. There’s also a “fixed” Capitalist card from the base game and I completely agree with the fix. This is exactly the kind of stuff I like to see in an expansion. Awesome!
The other easy addition are the variable bidding discs. Normally, players bid with a 1, 2, 3, and 4 of their color, using Furnace’s simple and clever bidding rules: no card can have two of the same number or the same color. The new disc can have any value from 0 to infinity, or however much coal you can afford to spend, because adjusting the value costs 1 coal per number. Additionally, every player starts with 1 coal in addition to the other resources on their Startup card. I love this, because it’s exactly one of those low-rules items with a great amount of “emergent complexity.” Just as a starting point, you can no longer slap a 4-disc down and know that you are guaranteed that card, but there were all kinds of subtleties that appeared in our games.
However, I also found that the variable bidding disc was the main thing that added a considerable amount of analysis paralysis, even for seasoned players, and greatly extended the game length. It’s not just that getting another card or pile of resources each round means that the Production phase takes longer each round, but the Auction phase is almost doubled (granted, it was short) due to the time players will take to think through the implications of the new bidding disc. This might get better on repeated plays, but it’s still something to note.
So now, let’s get to the more complicated addition, the Manager tokens. There are now two spaces to bid on in addition to the Company cards. On these spaces, players are bidding not on a Company card but on a token that can amplify Company or Startup cards they already have. Each round, players can assign owned tokens to any cards of their choosing, and the effect on the token is added to the card. Should you lose the bid for these tokens, the “Business School” card under the tokens provides compensation, but they each provide two options and players can mix and match these. At first, during the explanation, we were skeptical of this change. They’re not actually that hard, but compared to the “plug and play” ability of the rest of the expansion, it’s definitely a lot more overhead. Then, once you’ve got the Manager tokens (and you might end up with several), you’ve got quite a bit more to consider during the Production phase. Yet, as we went on, we found these to just be fun. The joy of Furnace is the angst of the auction juxtaposed with the fun of engine building, but quite often the engine building aspect is fairly procedural. This adds a c-c-combo element to the Production phase that just feels great, and every token feels interesting and powerful.
So, every single thing in the expansion is great! Well, it’s great if you don’t mind extending the game length. I have seen some other feedback about the expansion saying that it makes Furnace too long for what it is, and for 75-90 minutes they’d rather play something else. Personally, I disagree, and think that the core structure of Furnace is so good that a 90-minute game of Furnace is just as good, if not better, than a more complex base game whose original intention was a 90-minute experience. That said, the expansion also adds components for a fifth player, and I could see that going for a full two hours if players AP bad enough, and I think that’s pushing too far past the limit. I actually think I’d rather just play the base game of Furnace twice in a 2-hour window.
And heck yeah, I’d play it twice in a row, because Furnace is already fantastic on its own. And because the base game is so good, I struggle to call this expansion “essential.” A near-perfect design like Furnace doesn’t hardly need an expansion, but for experienced veterans, there’s a lot of fun new toys here, and I’d plan on playing with all of it more often than not. That said, I need to end on a caveat. The expansion also includes some cards for a dummy player for 2-player games and a solo mode. I love Furnace, but I love the auction fight between a bunch of players. I would never bother playing Furnace with two players or by myself; there are far better games to play with two players or solo, even though I’m sure other Furnace fans might consider these the most important parts of the expansion. But really, these extra cards are just icing on the cake; this is an absolutely excellent expansion for an excellent game.
The Bottom Line