Introducing Eruption

Stratus Games is a relatively new company in the game publishing world – but they’re working hard to make sure that both you and the gaming world in general come to know them well. Thus far they’ve specialized in trying to publish accessible, well produced, fun family games, and so now hard on the heels of Launch Pad and Gold Mine, their newest release (coinciding with Essen 2011) is Eruption.

Eruption is a game for two to six players, in which you will try to defend your village from the ravages of a long dormant volcano that has suddenly exploded into wakefulness. And what better way is there to defend your village than to try and direct all that molten lava towards the neighbouring villages of the other players? Place tiles, build walls, redirect lava - those are just some of the things to expect from Eruption.

So will Eruption be a boom or a bust? Well, read on intrepid gamer and all will be revealed.


A game with multiple eruptions in progress

COMPONENTS

Game box

The box for this game has been both well made and attractively illustrated. The cover shows lava and rocks spewing forth from a rather angry volcano and raining down upon a number of panicked island inhabitants. Although, to be honest, the fellow in the centre of the box looks like a lack of fibre in his diet might be of more pressing concern for him that the advancing lava! Overall, however, a good solid job in terms of box design and production!


Box cover

The back of the box does a good job of showing the game and giving a good idea of what to expect inside the box.


Box back

Component list

So, here’s what will erupt from the box when you crack the cover on this fine game:

• 1 Game Board
• 40 Lava Tiles
• 3 Eruption Tiles
• 48 Wall Tokens
• 36 Action Cards
• 6 Scoring Tokens
• 2 Dice
• 1 Rule Book


Everything inside the box

Game board

The board is large, pleasantly illustrated, and functional. It depicts a lush and peaceful island – or, at least, an island that used to a be a peaceful one. You see, at the centre of this island you’ll find a once dormant volcano that has recently awoken to threaten the survival of the various villages which are located at various points along the outside edge of the board.


The game board

Radiating out from the volcano are numerous hexagonal spaces in which you’ll be placing the lava tiles that signify the ever increasing lava flow spreading out from the volcano. Some of these hexes have resource symbols on them – placing a tile in these spaces will allow you to collect walls which can be used to slow the spread of the lava – more on this below.


The red player's village

Around the outside edge of the island, there’s a burn meter (all games should really have burn meter!) which keeps track of the ever increasing temperature in each player’s village. The publishers, in an intelligent and insightful decision, also decided to include a handy summary of the flow of play in each corner of the board. Overall, it’s a very attractive and intelligently designed board!

Scoring tokens

These tokens will be placed on the burn meter at the start of the game and they’ll keep track of the ever increasing temperature in your village. There’s one in each of the six player colours, matching the colour of the villages on the board.


Scoring markers in six player colours

Lava tiles

Over the course of the game you will be drawing and placing these lava tiles as a means of demonstrating both the extent and the direction of the lava flow. Now, it stands to reason that you’re going to want to direct that lava towards you opponents – but they are going to have the same thoughts about sending the hot stuff your way! The tiles are of a reasonable size and durable card board construction.


All the lava tiles

Eruption tiles

Think things are hot at the start of the game? Well, hang on to your hats folks, because things are only going to get more intense as the game progresses. These three eruption tiles, which enter the game at certain pre-determined times, represent addition eruption sites from which new lava streams will flow. So just when you thought that your village was all safe and protected from the current lava flow – whammo, a new lava flow might start begin a mere hex or two away! Of course, it’s always fun when you can locate these new eruption zones right next to an opponent’s village! It’s the player currently in last place who gets to place these, so they also function as a helpful catch-up mechanism.


The three Eruption tiles

Walls

So it turns out that you’re not entirely defenceless in the face of this molten onslaught – you will have the opportunity to construct walls that can curtail the spread of the lava. These walls, represented by different coloured wooden pieces (which look and feel great!), can be made out of straw (seriously people, have we learned nothing about the defensive qualities of straw from the tale of the three little pigs?!), wood, and stone. They can be constructed either along the edges of your village, or in advance of a stream of lava that is headed towards your village. Walls made of stone provide greater protection than those made of wood, and wood walls are more durable than those made of straw. We’ll say more about the construction and placement of these walls in due course.


Straw, wood, and stone walls

Dice

Well they’re standard, everyday, common six-sided dice, although having one in a nice lava-coloured hot orange is a nice touch. You’ll need the dice as a means of determining whether or not your walls will stand up in the face of the face of the advancing lava flow. The orange die is the lava die, the white die is the wall die. Roll’em, add any wall modifiers to the white die, and if the result is greater than the result indicated by the orange die, then your wall survives.


The lava (orange) and wall (white) dice

Action cards

The game comes with a deck of 36 cards, which have been made of very durable card stock and should wear well over time.


The deck of Action cards

Altogether there are eight different types of cards, of which there are multiple copies in the deck, with actions such as Lava Flow, After Shock, Quake, and Rain.


The eight different types of Action cards

You will begin the game with three of these action cards and you will have the opportunity to play and collect more of these cards as the game progresses. The cards can be used in one of three ways during the game:
• a card can be played for its effect (e.g. Sinkhole allows you to remove a lava tile from the board, Rain lowers the temperature of your village, and Reinforce lets you build an extra wall)
• discarding a card lets you acquire a wall of the type indicated on the card;
• any two cards may be discarded in return for ability to draw and place a second lava tile.

Rules

The game has been explained in an eight-page full colour rule book that has been well laid out and clearly written. You can download a copy right here.


Rulebook cover

The rules are presented in a logical and organized way and you should have no trouble covering them quickly and getting quickly in to the game. There are also a number of very helpful illustrations that deal with correct tile and wall placement. Good solid work here!


Sample spread from the rules

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

As usual, place the game board in convenient central location. It should be noted that players will need to sit in specific locations depending on the number of players in the game. That’s because the number of players will determine the location of the inhabited villages in the game, and they need to be spread out fairly among the players so that we don’t get all the lava activity happening in one part of the board. There is a handy diagram on the front page of the rule books that indicates which villages will need to defended.


Configuration depending on the number of players

Shuffle the action cards, dealing three to each player, and placing the remainder next to the board as a draw pile. Each player also receives three walls – one in of the three materials. Place the three eruption tiles next to the board. Shuffle all of the lava tiles together and place them as a face-down stack on the volcano at the centre of the board (or on the side if you’re afraid of knocking over the stack!). Each player places their scoring marker on the starting space of the burn meter. Finally, determine a starting the player in a mutually agreeable fashion and you are ready to play!


Start of a two-player game

Flow of Play

Play will proceed clockwise from the starting player and each player’s turn will consist of the following four phases:
1. Assess Damage
2. Draw and Place A Lava Tile
3. Play Action Cards
4. Build a Wall


The turn order summary on the game-board

Let’s consider each of these phases in order.

1. Assess Damage

The first thing that you’ll need to do on your turn is to assess the damage that any lava flow connected to your village has done.

1. Lava flow unblocked by walls

To begin with, each lava flow that connects to your village which had not been blocked by a wall increases the temperature in your village by 20 degrees on the burn meter.


Example of assessing damage

2. Lava flow blocked by walls

Next, players will need to determine if the walls they have built to protect their village and that are currently threatened by an active lava flow will survive the turn. To do this you’ll need to roll both dice. The orange die represents the strength of the lava, while the white die represents the strength of your wall. Once the dice have been rolled, add the modifier provided by the wall to that die: straw walls provide a bonus of zero, wood walls give a bonus of one, and stone walls of two. If the combined total of the white die and the wall’s bonus is greater than that of the orange die, then the wall survives. Ties go to the lava – which seems so unfair – but hey, don’t try arguing with a volcano! If the wall is destroyed, it is discarded from the board and you’ll advance your scoring marker 10 degrees on the burn meter.


A straw wall has been removed after being defeated by the lava roll

2. Draw and Place A Lava Tile

During this phase of your turn, you’ll draw a tile from the stack and then place it on the board in such a fashion that it flows out from either the central volcano (or later in the game, from an eruption tile that has been placed on the board). When a tile is placed on the board within the hexagonal grid, it must connect to a lava flow originating from the centre of the board, or to any eruption tile, and match adjacent tiles on all sides. The lava streams on that tile may flow into a village, off the grid between villages, but may not touch the centre of the board where a lava flow does not already exist.

It should be obvious that whenever possible you want to direct the lava flow towards your opponents. But there are several additional factors to keep in mind when it comes to placing the lava tiles:
Getting cards: If you can place a tile such that one or more streams of lava connect with a village (even if blocked by a wall), you will be able to draw an action cards for each stream that touches that village – and getting action cards can be incredibly useful as we’ll see shortly!
Getting resources: If you place a tile on a resource space (that is to say, a tile illustrated with a straw, wood, or stone symbol) you may take a wall of the type of resource indicated and add it to your stock.


Mid-way a three player game

3. Play Action Cards

During this phase of your turn, you may play as many action cards as you wish. As mentioned already, action cards allow you to do one of three things:
• A card can be played for its effect (e.g. Rain lowers the temperature of your village, Quake lets you draw a new tile to replace an existing one).
• Discard an action card to acquire a wall of the type indicated on the card. This wall is placed in your stock and not on the board.
• Discard any two action cards to draw and place a second lava tile.


Sometimes a Quake can save your skin!

There are two ways to acquire new actions cards:
1. Action cards can be drawn when you place a lava tile so that one or more of its lava streams connects to a village.
2. You may draw one action card per turn if your scoring marker has advanced past the second danger zone on the burn meter.

4. Build A Wall

In the final phase of the turn you may, if you wish, build one wall. Walls may be constructed in one of two places: (a) at the leading edge of a specific lava stream; or (b) in a village. As noted above, the walls provide a degree of protection against the advancing lava flows.

Walls on lava tiles: Let’s begin by dealing with the matter of constructing walls along the leading edge of a lava flow. In this situation, a wall may be built on a specific lava flow by placing it near the edge of the tile or the centre of the board.

Now, this is not to say that once it’s been built that wall will provide you a permanent level of protection. If one of your opponents wants to place a tile next to a stream of lava that has previously been blocked by a wall, they must roll the dice to see if the wall survives. If it does, that player must place that tile in an alternate location, but if the wall doesn’t survive it’s discarded back to the stock and the lava tile can be placed. It’s also possible to place tiles in such a fashion that the lava flows around a wall – in such circumstances the wall is discarded back to the stock.

Walls on villages: Walls can also be built in villages by placing them along the coloured border which demarcates each village on the board. Each player has the potential to build seven walls as a line of last defense for their village. When a player lays a tile so that it connects to such a village-protecting wall, you don’t need to succeed in a dice roll in order to be able to lay that tile - the integrity of the wall will instead be tested during the assessment of damage phase.


This village is heavily defended by four walls

Other Elements of Game-Play

Well those are the phases of your turn, but there are a few more details that you need to be aware of.

The Burn Meter

We’ve already mentioned that there’s a burn meter that encircles the board – and we need to say a few more words about its function. As noted above, each player will place their scoring marker on the burn meter and that meter will be keeping track of the increasing temperature of their village as the game progresses. If your marker should ever reach the highest space on the burn meter, than your village has succumbed to the ravages of Mt. Doom and been consumed by the flames.



The burn meter has also been divided into three different danger zones. If/when your scoring token enters a particular danger zone you and any other player in that zone, will be granted a particular benefit. For example, players whose token has entered into:
• Danger Zone 1 – will be able to build an extra wall this turn.
• Danger Zone 2 – will be able to draw an action card and build an extra wall this turn.
• Danger Zone 3 – will be able to place an extra lava tile and draw an action card and build an extra wall this turn.
These benefits remain for the rest of the game, and are another good `catch-up’ mechanism that help players whose villages are experiencing the biggest threats!


Purple is winning at 190 degrees, Blue is in trouble at 250 degrees

Eruption Tiles

Finally, we also need to say a word or two about the eruption tiles. Interestingly the play of these eruption tiles is also connected to the burn meter. The first space of each danger zone is known as the eruption space and it contains a number which references a specific eruption tile. The first player whose scoring marker lands on (or passes) each of these three eruption spaces must select the indicated eruption tile and place it on the board following the completion of the damage assessment phase of their turn. These eruption tiles form a new source of lava and do not need to connect to other lava flows. This means you do not need to place an eruption tile so that it connects to the main lava source at the centre of the board, but can place it in a part of the board that creates immediate havoc for your opponents!


The green village is threatened after a new eruption

But it gets even better: if you are the player who first passes an eruption space, not only do you get to place the eruption tile, but in addition every other player must advance their scoring marker thirty degrees on the burn meter! Yowza – now that’s hot! See, being in last place isn’t all bad!

End of Game

The game end is triggered when one of two situations occurs:
1. A player’s scoring marker remains on the last space of the burn meter at the end of their turn. At this point the remaining stack of lava tiles is removed from the board, and each other player takes one last turn.
2. The stack of lava tiles is completely depleted. When the last tile is placed, the current player finishes their turn and each player (including the player who placed the final tile) takes one last turn.

The winner is the player whose scoring marker is at the lowest point on the burn meter when the game ends.


End of a close 2 player game, as Red narrowly beats Green

Variants

Three possible variants are suggested in the rules:

Clans Variant: This is essentially a team variant in which teams of two players work together (sharing cards and walls) in order to defend two villages together.

Annihilation Variant: This is a full elimination variant of the game, in which the game continues until only one player is left standing. Players whose villages have burned up can continue to place lava tiles, but don’t assess damage, play action cards, or build walls.

Forecast Variant: In this variant the lava tiles are divided into three stacks and placed face up in the centre of the board, so that when you need to draw a tile you can choose from any of the three face-up tiles.


Welcome Rain!

CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?


It's a dead `heat'!
Fun Family Time. It’s always important to evaluate a game in light of what it was intended to be – and in this case that’s a game designed to target the family gaming market. In that context Eruption succeeds admirably! It’s light, easy to learn, can be played relatively quickly, looks attractive on the table, has an appealing theme, will handle up to six players (which is a nice bonus), and most of all it’s fun. There is a bit of a take that factor to the game (you are after all single-mindedly attempting to ruin other players villages!) and so younger children might struggle a bit with that element of the game, although it’s usually obvious to pick on the player who seems to be winning, and any nastiness tends to be spread around quite evenly, so to our surprise this element didn’t prove to be problematic to the extent that one might expect. For families with kids ages eight to twelve, and even with teenagers and adults, Eruption has proved to be a real hit! As far as family games go, it’s definitely well above average, and deserves to be considered a top shelf type of game for that target market.

The Smell of Burnt Toast. The theme of Eruption is really fantastic and will work with anyone. There is a real sense of tension as you watch the temperature in your village begin to climb. Using this concept to determine the winner and having various trigger points on the burn meter is an excellent mechanic that is intuitive and works well. The volcano theme is one that has been explored before (e.g. in games like The Downfall of Pompeii and the classic Fireball Island), but it’s certainly not an old and tired theme that we’ve seen too often, and Eruption certainly brings something new to the table in how it executes it. (Check out the Designer Diary to read more about how it came to be.) Bravo!

Catch Me If You Can! So it turns out that the burn meter isn’t just a means of providing a way to end the game by tracking the temperature increase – it also provides a means of preventing what might be called the `runaway loser’ problem. That’s because, as one player advances on the burn meter and races towards incineration, they gain a number of advantages that can work to diminish the gap between themselves and the other players. The eruption tiles serve a similar function in that they are provide the player who is able to place them with the capacity to increase the temperature of their opponent’s villages. These catch-the-leader mechanisms are excellent in keeping the game tense and balanced. Games usually prove to be very close, and often it is very hard to determine who will win until the very last round – especially if a player sneakily keeps some Rain cards in hand to drop at the game end! (see Rain: is it game winning? ).

The Three Little Pigs - or Two, or Four? The walls of straw, wood, and stone make for good points of humour for those familiar with the Three Little Pigs. In fact Eruption plays well with three little pigs (or humans) around the table, and equally well with two or four, so in that regard it scales well. It's surprisingly good as a two player game, because there is no ganging up, so it's just you versus the other guy, and luck is less of an issue as well. Down-time can start to become an issue with four players and move. However, one positive of the way the game end is determined, is that the game as a whole doesn't take any longer to play with larger numbers of players, because the same amount of lava tiles are used and in most case the end is triggered when they've all been placed. Eruption can start becoming a little tedious with five or six players at the table, although with some healthy trash talking and a good competitive spirit it can still prove to be fun - especially given the high degree of interaction - if you don't mind waiting a bit for your turn and realize that the game state can change considerably from turn to turn. But in our estimation the game is probably best with two through four.

The Luck Factor. There’s some luck in this game, in terms of tile/card draw as well as in the rolling of the dice. It has to be admitted that Eruption is very tactical and light, and as such it isn’t going to appeal to the hard core gamer crowd looking for layers of deep strategy. Yet there are enough decisions to be made to prevent it from being a pure luck-fest, for example in decisions you make about tile placement, where to build your walls, and how to maximize the benefits of your Action cards. And whatever luck factor is present doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and at times it can actually enhance the fun factor. It’s fantastic when your straw wall, against all odds, somehow serves the onslaught of a lava stream turn after turn!

Hey Good Lookin! Stratus have done an exceptional job of producing a game of top-notch components that exude quality as well as pleasant aesthetics. The game looks superb in every respect, and really helps bring the theme to life! Thumbs up all round!


Raising walls to protect villagers against lava flow from an Eruption tile

Recommendation

Let’s be honest, you’ve got to wonder about the wisdom of people who choose to settle their home at the foot of a volcano – even a supposedly dormant one! But when it comes to the wisdom of buying a game about people who build villages near volcanoes - well if you’ve got a family that you’re trying to get into the gaming hobby, then Eruption is a no-brainer. It’s a beautiful game in terms of production and a very solid, fun game in terms of overall game play. It’s the kind of game that builds not just healthy competition but memories as well. You’ll find yourself remembering how one of your kin directed a particularly destructive stream of lava your way in the last game – and you’ll remember exactly who that was your next game!

Stratus Games continues to produce an outstanding line of games geared towards families – and Eruption is easily the best of their games published so far! In fact, as far as family games are concerned, Eruption is definitely a top shelf product that's well above average, and should prove to be well received in the family market, and especially be a big hit with kids and teens, as well as their parents. Highly recommended!



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

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Andy Andersen
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Excellent review of an excellent game. I've yet to beat my wife, but the game is a lot of fun.
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Coen Velden
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Orangemoose wrote:
Excellent review of an excellent game. I've yet to beat my wife, but the game is a lot of fun.

If it wasn't for the price: 35 euros? (In Essen)

Great review Ender!
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David Smidt
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Thanks Ender. As always, fantastic review!thumbsup
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Kevin B. Smith
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Quote:
There is a bit of a take that factor to the game
Are you trying to get the "Understatement of the Year" award? I haven't played the game, but from this review it seems to be about 95% "Take That" play. It looks brutally cutthroat, and almost every tile placement is a direct attack on your opponent(s) (the exception being those rare cases where you might place a tile just to get a wall resource).

It definitely looks like a well-designed game, and one that would go over well with families that enjoy beating each other up. But it's definitely not a game for people who only like "a bit" of take that play.

Other than that misstatement, it's a great review, as always.
 
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Dominic Crapuchettes
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North Star Games designs party games that don't suck! Play them with your non-gamer friends over the holidays.
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First there was Hearts, then there was Spades, and now we bring you Clubs. The suit of clubs finally gets some respect!
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I just played this for the first time last weekend. It was a lot more fun than I was expecting. It was really fun!

I'm not exactly sure why it was so much fun. I don't usually like "take that" games, or games with excessive rolling of dice. But add in the extra layer of tile-laying strategy (perhaps), and a good theme (perhaps), and the potential for some simple combos, and you have yourself a pretty fun game. (I say perhaps, because I'm not really sure why I enjoyed it so much)
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peakhope wrote:
Quote:
There is a bit of a take that factor to the game
Are you trying to get the "Understatement of the Year" award? I haven't played the game, but from this review it seems to be about 95% "Take That" play. It looks brutally cutthroat, and almost every tile placement is a direct attack on your opponent(s) (the exception being those rare cases where you might place a tile just to get a wall resource).

It definitely looks like a well-designed game, and one that would go over well with families that enjoy beating each other up. But it's definitely not a game for people who only like "a bit" of take that play.

Other than that misstatement, it's a great review, as always.
Kevin, you're right that first impressions might suggest Eruption to be a confrontational and cut-throat game with a significant take-that factor. But for some reason, it really doesn't feel that nasty in practice, even though I find it hard to put my finger on why that is. Cut-throat games with strong `take-that' elements don't typically go over very well in our household, since we're not the kinds of gamers who enjoy games that revolve around beating each other up. And yet Eruption proved to be a big hit with our children and family.

Why is that - is it because there's enough other elements determining the winner aside from the direct player interaction? Is it because what goes around comes around? Is it because of the luck-of-the-draw for tiles and cards plays even a bigger role? Is it because of the in-built come-from-behind mechanism which is designed to hurt the player in first place? Is it because you'll also spend just as much or even more effort to place tiles that direct lava flow away from your own village, as you will to place tiles that direct flow toward your opponents' village? In the end I'm not quite sure what it is, really, perhaps it's a combination of the above.

But evidently I'm not alone in this experience, because from what Dominic Crapuchettes writes, it would seem that his and my tastes are quite similar in this respect, and his experience was very much the same as ours:

domcrap wrote:
It was a lot more fun than I was expecting. It was really fun!

I'm not exactly sure why it was so much fun. I don't usually like "take that" games, or games with excessive rolling of dice.
I guess you'll just have to take Dominic's and my word for it, Kevin! Certainly Eruption is far from having a cooperative feel, and there is a significant amount of healthy confrontational elements about it, so it's good for prospective purchasers to be aware of that, and it may not be a good choice for particularly sensitive children who can't handle this kind of thing at all. And yet despite these elements, Eruption's appeal is not at all going to be limited only to groups who thrive on extreme take-that style nastiness, but it should be enjoyed by most families.
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Kevin B. Smith
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EndersGame wrote:
Kevin, you're right that first impressions might suggest Eruption to be a confrontational and cut-throat game with a significant take-that factor. But for some reason, it really doesn't feel that nasty in practice, even though I find it hard to put my finger on why that is.
That's what some people told me about Survive: Escape from Atlantis!. They were wrong. It felt very cutthroat, with lots of opportunity for "take that". Several people have said that Eruption feels like Survive, and several other reviews of Eruption have metioned "cutthroat" and "screwage".

I'll certainly watch a game if I have a chance, but I'm not eager to play it.
 
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Roger Howell
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What an awesome review with excellent pictures! I recently discovered an older game by the same designer (Gold Mine) that turned out to be a great family game. Looks like I am going to end up with this game too!
 
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