In Nostalgia, we present games that we played back when we were kids – no, that does not mean they use bones for dice, but thanks for the nice thought. Today’s pick from the treasure chest was first published in 1988, before European games were sold outside of Europe. Thus, it was never translated and only goes by the german name of “Der Feuersalamander”.The fire salamander, while also a real animal, is usually awarded a mystical status in older sources. People considered them to be immune to fire, even able to extinguish any fire and Paracelsus even elevated it to the elemental of fire. In “Der Feuersalamander”, said salamander has an additional job to take care off: he’s guarding the Philosopher’s Crystal (presumably that’s like the Philosopher’s Stone, but more polished) from up to four people that seek to find it in the many-chambered ruins that are its hiding place. The seekers – the King, the Queen, the Bandit and the Monk – all explore the 84 chambers of the ruins, looking for the crystal and the rewards that holding it will bring. But none of them can find out where the salamander is hiding it on their own, they need the clues that the others are holding.
Those clues are actually cards the players are holding. Each card gives one information about the crystals hiding place: the wing where it is hidden – the wings are named after the classical elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire – the row of the room where it is hidden, marked with 1 Stone to 3 Stones or the rank of the room, marked with the numbers 1 to 7. All this would be easy enough to find out, if the player’s hand was not limited to 2 cards only. To find the remaining clue(s), players will have to steal from their competitors.
All players start out in their respective residence, situated neatly in the center of a five step walk, with at most 2 cards in their hand. They can have less than that, because no player can ever hold 2 cards that give the same kind of information – wing, row or rank – and has to discard one of them without a replacement.
On their turn, the players throw the absolutely unique dice and do whatever they tell them to. If the symbol dice is showing the salamander, the player draws a new card and then discards one if he either has more than two or two giving them same information. If the symbol dice comes up showing the marker stone, the player has to put his little marker in one of the 84 chambers of the ruins. This chamber has to match the cards in his hand, but for the information that he doesn’t hold, he can chose where to put the marker, and he doesn’t need to reveal which part he is holding and which part he made up. Imperfect information for the other players. The remaining two dice show a number of dots that can either be added up or subtracted to give the number of squares to move. Both options are useful, depending on the situation. A player that moves to one of the squares in front of another player’s residence may ask him for one card, and that player has to reveal if he’s holding that card or not. Since that information is not for everyone but just for the player asking the question, the game comes with a YES and a NO card for each player to show his answer only to the questioner. With the player’s answer and the hints he has to give using his marker stone, it’s not hard to find out which cards he is holding. Just keep in mind that your question can also give away more than you want the others to know. With only 3 pieces of information, knowing what you are looking for easily reveals what you have, too. Once you are certain that you know what cards the others are holding, you rush back to your home, because this is the only place where you can score a set of cards. To score a set, you can use cards from your hand, but to complete it, you have to ask for other player’s cards. You ask one player for one specific card, and if he has it, he now has to hand it over. Note that you don’t have to use cards from your hand. If you can identify a set of 3 cards between the other players, you may ask for all of them and keep your own cards, or even score another set with them right away. So, what happens if the player that you asked for a card does not have it? In that case, you go to the dungeon, to rot for all eternity, or until you manage to roll 3 keys with 5 throws of the dice on your turn, or until another player wants to ask you a question. Incidentally, you also pay a visit to the Dungeon whenever you end your move on a square that is already occupied.
The point value of each set of cards is calculated by multiplying the row by the rank by value of the wing – Fire being the most valuable here at 4 points. So the maximum number of points for one set is 84, and the game ends when one player reaches a previously agreed upon score: 85 is a pretty popular number, being the lowest score that can not be reached with just one set.
Der Feuersalamander is a fun, light deduction game. You won’t overheat your brain trying to figure out what cards other people are holding since a lot of information is out in the open. Still, the race to actually score with the cards that you know are there, plus the fact that you can bluff other players with your questions and how you set your marker makes for an entertaining thirty or so minutes
What deserves special mention is the artwork. The box art as well as the board and cards have a very distinct style that is both appealing and fitting for the theme of the game.
If you got your fingers itching to try the game yourself now, the good news for you is: Noris Spiele has scheduled a re-release for 2010, so the game should soon be available again at your local game shop.