As I said, the artwork fits the theme beautifully, the ideas that lurk within work, there’s no doubting it, but, they just aren’t strong enough to carry a game that ends up leaving players in a, “was it worth it?” situation.
Do you remember The Crow? The film featuring the late Brandon Lee as the revenge soaked night stalking, guitar wielding, anti-hero, decked out like a cross between one of Kiefer Sutherland’s Lost Boys, and a member of KISS? You know, The Crow?
The reason I ask is that it seems a bold, and slightly strange, move by Upper Deck, to release a board game built from the plot of this old 90’s cult flick. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the film! It seemed to almost be pitched right at me as one of the classic disillusioned, angst ridden, plaid shirt and converse wearing, 1990’s grunge kids of the time. It had the soundtrack, it had the darkness, and it was cool as rook!
However, I can’t help but feel I’m in the minority here in 2017. And so I say, bravo to those souls brave enough to unleash this game on a world that has definitely turned in the decades that have come since.
Now, please say this is good…
The Crow: Fire it Up! is a game that goes deep into the theme of the film. The plot follows along the same route as that of the movie, and all the main players are in place and neatly depicted via some cardboard standees. The basic gameplay pitches players against one another in a battle to achieve specific goals required for overall victory. One player controls Eric Draven and a cast of goodies, the others will be split amongst the members of the Motor City Gang, a selection of bad guys intent of setting the city alight. The game has room to accommodate up to four players, however the reality is that it is designed more as a one vs one struggle, and works best this way.
At the beginning of play, the Gangster player draws a secret objective, and the Crow player draws a street demon token from a pre-shuffled pile of four, each depicting a particular gang member. This token depicts the first gang member the Crow must eliminate. The player must then eliminate each member in the order they appear from the stack. As with the Gangster objective, the kill list order also remains a secret only the Crow player knows…still with me?
The game progresses with the Crow player attempting to bump off the four gang members, before then being in a position to attack and kill the main man, Top Dollar. The gang player will have an objective that sits somewhere along the lines of, “burn x amount of buildings to win the game, however you can’t build building x until this event has happened”…still still with me?
Each turn consists of movement and combat. Combat consists of rolling game specific dice. These very attractive little cubes of red and black feature images such as, a bullet, a crow, a flame, Eric Draven’s make-up face, and are rolled during the combat sequence. It works something like this, let’s say the Crow player is attacking, they roll up to five dice depending on the game situation, any doubles are counted as a hit, eg: two bullets rolled = one hit. The gangster player must then roll three dice and hope to roll images that match any doubles rolled by the Crow, to block the hit. If not, damage is taken, and here’s where I found the biggest issue with the game. Playing as the good guys it was incredibly easy to obliterate the bad guys. If a street demon/gangster takes one wound, they die…one wound! During our plays I flew across the cityscape like a psychotic whirlwind, laying waste to everything bad that crossed my path, and within twenty minutes I was at the final showdown against Top Dollar, where, wait for it… the bad guy leader can take two wounds!
Now, I don’t know if I missed something in the rules, or read something wrong, or simply misunderstood something, but, The Crow: Fire it Up, feels like one of the most unevenly weighted games I’ve yet encountered. The imbalance between sides detracts from any potential tension the game could otherwise have delivered, the potential of a fraught climax as buildings burn and Eric Draven fights to deliver the final strike of justice before the city crumbles is wonderful, but that it all fizzles out in a huge anti-climactic finale of underpowered bad guys and random dice where there only ever felt like one winner is such a disappointment.
It really is a shame, because the theme has been captured brilliantly, but the execution of the mechanics at play misses the mark. The requirement to kill each gang member in order for example, eliminates any real strategic play on the part of the Crow player, and in turn makes it fairly obvious to the bad guy player which character is being targeted. At times it almost feels like every positive offered by the game is then dragged down by a negative.
There are some cool ideas at play here, nothing ground-breaking, but decent in terms of what should deliver fun gameplay, however, in reality when everything comes together, The Crow: Fire it Up could have been so much better as an experience. As I said, the artwork fits the theme beautifully, the ideas that lurk within work, there’s no doubting it, but, they just aren’t strong enough to carry a game that ends up leaving players in a, “was it worth it?” situation. I do like the game. I like the theme, and I enjoy the pitching of player against player across this sprawling city with a hint of supernatural and a whole cast of classic 90’s gang members. Sadly though it all falls a little flat.
In terms of components, everything is pretty solid. The playing area is laid out across four double-sided boards that are decorating in suitably dark manner depicting all the various key buildings of the city that become pivotal once the game is underway, the dice sets are attractive and fit the theme perfectly, the character artwork stays true to the film and altogether it look attractive laid out upon the table.
One for the Kids?
I played this with my eleven-year-old daughter, Holly, and my sixteen-year-old son, Dylan. The game is rated at 17+ based on some of the darker contents of the story, however, it is possible to avoid too much detail when playing with younger players and simply enjoy some move, roll, and combat fun.
Holly, 11, said, “It was a good game, but far too easy to kill people! The characters need to have more health!”
I’ve played two games based on movies over the last few weeks, this one, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and in all honesty, The Crow: Fire it Up wins hands down. However, it’s a long way from being perfect. The potential is there for some great, tense, play, but it never quite happens due to the imbalance of sides, and the importance of random dice rolls.
What this game ends up being, for myself at least, is something that aims high but falls short. It isn’t completely void of fun, it has some really nice ideas going on, and once in a while I’m sure I’ll bring it to the table, however, right now that next play is some way off.