Fire in the Lake (GMT Games, COIN series volume 4) is an unparalleled achievement in the rapidly advancing field of cardboard and wooden cube-based science. It has won numerous awards from our own society members, including the prestigious “Even when I close my eyes the game is still there. OH GOD HELP” award for the game the really has the power to get into your brain.
It is the most board gamey board game in our board game collection of board games. The usage of wooden cubes or hexagonal based cylinders to represent armed soldiers is a whole level of abstraction above the inferior “meeple” utilised by other board game designers. Keeping to the bare bone simplicity of a cube, a hexagonal cylinder and different colours to represent them actively stimulates the player’s imagination while conveying the maximal amount of information; truly a masterclass in board game user interfaces.
The game is deceptively simple to learn, with most people playing managing to grasp their side’s controls after only three hours. Despite this, the skill ceiling manages to be incredibly high, with the optimal strategy for each side still not determined. This is not to mention the inherent asymmetry of each side, wherein the NVA plays differently from the Vietcong who play differently from the NRVA who play very differently to the USA.
The period the game is set in is itself of deep historical significance. The impact of the Vietnam war on the people fighting on it is hard to replicate. For this reason the game is an invaluable teaching aid, showing truly how much of a horror Vietnam was, with many former players of FitL reporting PTSD after an 8 hour session of the game. The length of the game also aptly describes how much of a slog for the American public this Quagmire was.
The game is so popular in fact that it has been out of stock worldwide for years. There is currently a reprint happening and it has comfortably met the threshold to be published. This is not to mention the numerous other games in the series that followed, with the newest one being volume XI and set in 1980’s Philippines at the end of the Marcos regime, thereby being deeply personal to some of our society members.
Hopefully this short essay has managed to really persuade you why Fire in The Lake is truly a jewel in the crown of the society’s collection of board games and why we direly need more of the COIN series in our treasury.