Humanity has split into four tribes based on the four elements: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. A small group of people in each tribe, called “benders”, have the ability to manipulate a specific element. A firebender can command fire, a waterbender controls water, and so on. The tribes live in relative harmony with the exception of the Fire Nation; they want to rule all the tribes and are endlessly causing trouble. Tasked with keeping the harmony of the world is the “Avatar”, an almost mythic individual who can manipulate all four elements. There’s only ever one alive at a time, and they’re just who you need to fight off Fire Nation in the family game Avatar: The Last Airbender – Fire Nation Rising.
In the game ATLA: Fire Nation Rising up to five players work cooperatively to fend off the many villains of the Fire Nation and overcome the Day of Black Sun. I opted to play solo mode, which had me playing multiple characters. I found it fun and easy to understand, making it a relaxing puzzle game of dice placement and strategy. Since heroes work together and share some resources, it’s an easy variation from multi-player. The center of the game is the circular map board that features a statue of Fire Lord Ozai: As the game proceeds he keeps spinning and doling out damage to heroes on the board and any teams that are in the specified sector.
Let’s start with an overview of the entire two-player (e.g., solo) setup:
The circular board is broken into three sectors, each of which has three heroes or villains randomly chosen from the Character Cards. Heroes can be with Team Aang, Team Katara, Team Sokka, Team Toph, or Team Zuko. The dice pool has four colors of dice, each representing a team, and each player has a Team Card, Team Token, and “Starter Hero” matching their Team leader. For example, here’s Team Aang’s card, token, and Character Card:
A core element of the game is building a team that produces a rich and diverse pool of dice; notice that Aang’s starting dice pool has one of each color. Spend an arrow die from your rolled pool and you can use Aang’s ability of “Follow the Avatar”. On the Character Card there’s another ability – “+1 die of a color matching either adjacent Hero” – and a track on the upper right that represents the stamina of the character. Avatar Aang can sustain six hits before dying.
All Hero cards also have a dice cost for you to recruit them onto your team. A powerful hero like Aang is expensive, requiring two Avatar (arrow) dice, one Water (stylized circle), one Earth (looks like a Mayan glyph), and one Fire (a flame). Villains also have a cost listed in elements, but the meaning is a bit different…
Princess Yue costs two water and two avatar, Avatar Roku costs two avatar and two flame, but Mai, the villain in the center, injures Heroes (as specified in the ability) and can only be stopped by spending the listed cost: One Earth, one Water, one Fire. That causes a single injury, and, as the top right banner on the card indicates, Mai only dies after the third injury is inflicted.
FIRE NATION RISING: TURN BY TURN
Each turn consists of a single team deciding which of the three sectors to visit, then a Fire Nation Card being drawn. They define whether Ozai rotates to a new sector or stays put, along with any increase on the Ruin Track. Here’s a typical Fire Nation Card:
Any heroes in the sector that Ozai faces gets an injury token, any villain in that sector is activated, and if the active team has chosen that particular sector to visit, all of its heroes are injured too. This means that one key strategy with the game is to manage injuries so that heroes don’t get overwhelmed and die: If ten of them die, you lose. Once you’ve acted on the Fire Nation Card, it’s time to assemble your own dice pool based on the Team Card and all of the Heroes you’ve recruited.
Roll your dice pool and, as is common, you must place at least one, but then can reroll the remainder as desired. Once you’ve picked out the dice based on color, it’s only the symbols that matter, so the below is one easy way to recruit Appa: Two Avatar icons:
Remember the special ability of Avatar Aang too; one additional die that matches the color of an adjacent hero. Which brings up another important rule; cards are placed in a horizontal row and cannot be reorganized, so you’ll want to pay close attention to adjacency rules.
I’m playing Avatar: The Last Airbender Fire Nation Rising with two heroes, however, not just Aang. The other character is Toph, and note her starting dice pool are four green dice, not a rainbow mix like Aang (who, to be fair, is an Avatar so commands all four elements):
Notice that Toph’s ability is an additional yellow or green die if either adjacent hero is clan Avatar or clan Earth, as denoted on the bottom of the card. More dice is always better because you’re using the dice to recruit new heroes, attempt to move up the Balance track before the Ruins track token reaches the top, utilize specific abilities of your heroes, attack villains, and even try to overcome Final Battle Cards (they don’t show up until the last phase of the game, Day of the Black Sun).
A bit further along, my team is definitely a bit bigger:
The first phase is measured by progress up the Ruins / Balance track and the only additional element are small single use boons called Pai Sho tokens. You can see three of them – an Avatar and Fire icon adjacent to Toph, and an Avatar icon adjacent to Aang – in the above photo. You gain these with specific abilities and every time you injure a villain and they are definitely important.
Much further along, you can see the Ruins / Balance track (note that the right side’s token has reached the top, triggering the Day of the Black Sun final phase) along with the rather substantial teams I have built for both Toph and Aang:
At this point, the challenge is ramped up by adding the three Final Battle cards. Here’s one of them:
These aren’t incredibly hard to overcome; this one requires one Avatar, one flame and one ocean to win a skirmish and Battle at Fire Nation Palace requires two wins to overcome. In the meantime, every time this sector is activated, every Fire hero gains an additional injury. Time is of the essence, along with good dice rolls and smart placement (and don’t forget those Pai Sho tokens, they can be the difference between failure and success). Can you help defeat the Fire Nation?
THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
The Op has a series of “Rising” games with different themes, all of which have the same basic mechanism. If you’ve played a different one, you’ll quickly understand this variant and enjoy it. Even without any experience, however, this is a quick and fun game to play and one that children will enjoy, though it does have a fair amount of reading required. With five starting hero options and the ability to change the difficulty by assembling the Character Cards deck differently, there’s also a lot of replayability and, of course, any game that relies so much on dice rolls has a significant amount of luck involved too. Nonetheless, there’s a definite strategy and more than once I felt on the precipice of failure a few rounds in, just to mitigate all the risk a few rounds later.
You don’t need to know anything about Avatar: The Last Airbender to enjoy this game either, though since it utilizes all of the original TV series artwork, show fans will delight in the teams, heroes, artwork, even the nefarious villains. Recommended as a fun family game that can help pull show fans away from the screen and to the game table too.
Avatar: The Last Airbender Fire Nation Rising, from The Op games. 1-5 players, ages 10+, approx. 60 minutes/game. $49.99.
Disclosure: The Op sent me a copy of the game in return for this review. Much appreciated!