What is it? Flaming Pyramids is a simple tile laying game that has players constructing a pyramid together. While players are building one pyramid together, there will only be one winner: the player that places all of their tiles first.
What is BGA? I do not own a physical copy of Flaming Pyramids (but want to). All my plays have been on Board Game Arena, an online website that allows players to play board games with friends and/or strangers. Flaming Pyramids is currently in Beta which is only available to players with a paid subscription at the moment.
How thematic is it? There’s no real theme here but the game does not suffer because of it. Players are working with their neighbors to construct pyramids made of straw, lumber and stone. I’m unsure why. While not labeled as an abstract game (because it’s not), it has a very similar feel with the relation of the theme to the actions of the game. Do they make sense? Sure. Is it vital to the playing of the game? Nah.
Is it easy to play? Yes. When we’ve introduced this to new players, it has taken a few turns for everything to ‘click’ but the basic principles are easy to understand and follow. There are few rules and for initial placements, it’s easy to see exactly what the tiles being played are. The digital adaptation allows players to hover over tiles as well to learn more about each (which is helpful when using variants). With the limited amount of actions available (due to the hand limit and the placement rules), turns take seconds as opposed to minutes.
So what do you do exactly? The game features several variants (which I’ll speak more on below) but lets cover the basics first. To win, you need to be the first player to be completely out of tiles. The basis of the game is that on each turn, players will place one tile of their choosing on the structure in front of them. Players have a maximum of five tiles in their hand and a pile to choose from (that changes depending on the amount of players involved in the game). Choosing from the pile is just choosing from the top randomly; there is no way to choose your next tile specifically. BGA highlights the squares that players can play in but they can be hard to see (depending on the color used). I’d much prefer that the tile is shaded that color but maybe it’s just me having this problem.
If possible, players must place their tile on top of another pair of tiles that have created a base. When placing the tile, a few restrictions exists:
The tile must either match a color of one of the two tiles under it OR match the exact number of one of the two tiles under it; and
The number on the tile cannot exceed the sum of the two tiles it will sit on top of.
Think of the numbers on the tiles as the weight of the tile (because that’s what they are, thematically). Placing a sixty pound item on top of an item weighing twenty pounds and another item weighing four pounds will result in those two items collapsing under the weight of the sixty pound tile. Collapses are bad as any tiles that collapse are now the property of the player who broke them. A collapse may also trigger additional collapses as the placed tile works its way down the pyramid.
Are there any variants? Yes, there are three.
The first is Fires and Explosions. This introduces two new tiles, coal and the blowtorch. There are two coal tiles and they both have a weight of one (1). If a coal tile is placed adjacent to a straw tile, the two tiles combust and a fire starts. Fires can spread to other straw tiles so be aware when placing. There are two blowtorch tiles as well, each weighing seven (7) in value. They act similarly to coal with the added inconvenience of igniting straw and wood tiles. Lastly, if coal tiles and blowtorch tiles ever become adjacent, an explosion occurs. Every tile adjacent to the coal and blowtorch tiles ‘explode’ and end up in the players hand. The good news is that once a fire or explosion occurs, the coal and/or blowtorch tile are removed from the game.
Without a doubt, this is the best variant to Flaming Pyramids and I highly recommend adding it after two or three games of base Pyramids. No longer is the game strictly about placing the right number and/or color. This small wrinkle makes each decision more important; especially when you’re a player that has one of these incendiary tiles in their stash.
The second is The Curse. If three tiles form a mini-pyramid (two bases and one top) of the same number (color/material does not matter), the curse is activated. Those three tiles are removed from the pyramid and are placed in the previous players tile pile. In addition, if a collapse occurs (or a fire/explosion) due to these tiles being removed, the previous player will be responsible for those tiles as well.
The good news is that the player receiving the tiles gets to choose where the collapse lands to help try and mitigate the damage. This variant offers the only direct interaction with opposing players but is very circumstantial. I’ve played with this variant several times and it’s not a guarantee to occur in a game just due to the randomness of the tile draw and the placement rules. It does add an additional level of strategy as you don’t want to be the player leaving the opportunity to be cursed but like I said, these opportunities are few and far between.
The third variant is called The Fire Dice. This variant is only found on BGA. This variant changes how fires work from the first variant. Collapses will never trigger a fire; only placements. When a placement occurs that would trigger a fire, the Fire Dice is rolled (should be called the Fire Die, right?). There are four possible outcomes to the rolling of the die. Three sides will result in the fire occurring but the coal/blowtorch tile remaining in the pyramid instead of being discarded. One side will result in the fire occurring but the coal/blowtorch tile being removed (like normal). One side will result in an explosion (as illustrated in the first variant). The last die face will result in smoke. Smoke means that nothing happens.
I don’t care for the Fire die. I thought I would be a fan of the increased randomness and chaos but I think I prefer the chaos of the collapse causing the fire/explosion instead. There is also extreme disappointment when an opposing players places a blowtorch but rolls the die and gets a smoke face. That being said, I do like the idea of the blowtorch/coal tile still being included in the game and actually wish this was an additional variant itself. It makes the game less ‘safe’ and with the randomness, the additional chaos (which is not for everyone) is increased exponentially.
How are the components? I’m playing a digital version so I cannot say. The digital version is fine until the tiles are placed into the pyramid. They are shrunk to fit the screen and their value covers the imagery on the tile. This causes issues when using the variants as it’s hard to see the straw/wood/stone icons (especially since they are not unique to a color). Players can hover over the tiles to see the icons but it is a gripe with the implementation.
How much real estate does this game take up? Again, digital copy. Sorry 😦
What about player count? The game plays two to six players. In my opinion, this game is better the fewer players there are. I would max out around four players. At five- and six-, too much has occurred between a players turn to actively engage them in the game and leads to luck and randomness dictating a players strategy. The less amount of players, the more in control of my decision making I felt. I think three-players may be the sweet spot but I have enjoyed this game at two- and four-players.
Can it be played solo? Nope.
Playing time? Ten to fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty with a full six (but probably not). When played in real-time, the game is incredibly fast as the moments that would take time while analog (such as collapses) are all done automatically. It does make me wonder what happens with collapsed tiles though. Are they shuffled back into your tile deck? Placed on top? Placed on the bottom?
How much randomness is present in the game? Each player is limited to a hand of five tiles. This is a random draw and when replacing a tile, players will receive one at random from their stack. In our plays, there has been a time or two where you get screwed over by starting with all high number tiles (<100). Besides that, we haven’t experienced any issues with the randomization. You just need to be aware that it exists. If you I will say that the more players involved, the more luck dependent the game becomes. You will kinda feel this in a four-player game but definitely feel it in a five- and six-player game.
How interactive is the game? While there is no way to directly interact with your opponents (besides The Curse variant kind-of), you can interact indirectly by choosing what tiles to place. You may play a low numbered tile to throw off the ability of a player trying to rid themselves of a mid-range tile that you hope they have.
Is there much downtime? It really depends on the gaming group. The decisions are not difficult but if a player knows they’re going to start a collapse, they may take a few moments to figure out the least course of damage. In real-time though, turns should take less than thirty seconds. Maybe a minute at most.
Does winning feel satisfying? While there is randomness and luck involved, I still feel accomplished for winning a game. Games are typically close due to the lack of interaction so sneaking out a victory is nice. There is a benefit to going first as once a player places their last tile, the game ends.
Does the same strategy work each game? Yeah. The game is basically the same strategy regardless since you cannot plan more than five tiles ahead and even then, what you want to do will vary greatly depending on what your opponents play.
Is this a good gateway game? I think it’s a good game for entry-level players or advanced ones. It has simple, easy to follow rules and plays quickly. It does have randomness though so if that’s not ideal, be forewarned.
Can you lose on the first turn? In a six-player game, if you go last and collapse on your turn, it may very well eliminate you from mathematically winning. Going last is also a detriment due to the victory conditions I mentioned earlier.
Is there a possibility of a runaway winner? Not really.
Is there player elimination? No.
Can a player that falls behind catch-up? Sometimes. It really depends on how far behind they fell. Have to add one or two tiles due to the inability to place something? You might be able to still win. Have to add six or more tiles due to a bad collapse? You’re probably out.
What should I know before my first game? There is a wild card tile that I think is in everyone’s stack that has a value of 200 and can be any color. This can appear at any time and it can ruin your pyramid building.
Is there anywhere to try before I buy? Board Game Arena! But again, it’s in Beta at the time of this writing so at least one of the players needs a premium account.
Do you recommend this game? Yes. While I don’t think Flaming Pyramids is the next game on the BGG Top 1000, it’s a solid, short experience that has players typically making interesting decisions on their turns. I personally love Flaming Pyramids. It’s basically a filler game that has a slight amount of strategy where I can play but not get too frustrated with my turns. The rules are clear and concise and the variants add some variability to the game. I think this game fits in the casual game-sphere where gamers and non-gamers alike can enjoy. The game plays incredibly quick and this is honestly its best feature. If you don’t like the game, it will be over in a few minutes. If you love the game, play two or three in a single sitting and only lose thirty minutes of your time. I think this is also accessible for young gamers with the only hitch being the math skills needed to understand the ‘weight’ placement aspect of each turn. I won’t play Flaming Pyramids every time I log into BGA but when our group is trying to decide what to play next, we’ll play Flaming Pyramids while we decide.