Fire In The Lake – First Look!

frontier wars 728x90 KS

By: Michael Eckenfels, 17 September 2014

I’ve never played any of the COIN (COunter INsurgency) games by GMT (so far, there’s A Distant Plain, Andean Abyss, and Cuba Libre). To be honest, only A Distant Plain sounded interesting to me personally, though I’d heard good things about all three. When Fire in the Lake came around as a possible review title, I jumped on the chance. The Vietnam War is of interest to me and I wanted to learn some more about their COIN system, so I jumped at the chance.

I did watch the tutorial video that the designers (Volko Ruhnke and Mark Herman) produced for YouTube – you can check it out here. I highly suggest it if you’re interested in the game and want to get a feel for its flow; it’s what sold me on my choice to check this out for review. (The camera work is, well…let’s just say there’s an immediate apology from Mark on his camera work. But that’s easily overlooked.)

A review will be coming by the end of October to a beloved wargaming website near you (cough, cough). In the meantime, I thought I’d provide some teasing bits through an unboxing ceremony that, for me, has become a standard thing now with every game I buy, it seems.


FITL-coverThe box in all its shrink-wrapped glory. This thing is thick and heavy. I love the good feel of a heavy wargame box in the morning (though it’s late in the evening when I take these pics). It feels like…well, you know. I really like the cover artwork and the subdued darkness that makes you feel like you’re staring into a quagmire. Huge props to the artist on this venture!


FITL-back cover


The back is well-designed too – I like the full-color map and the division of information. What immediately stands out besides the map is the complexity (medium) and the solitaire suitability (high). I really didn’t think Fire in the Lake would be solitaire-suitable, so it will be interesting to learn more about how that works.




Immediately upon opening you get that ‘new box’ smell of a wargame (smells like…okay, sorry, I won’t do that again). Nice and symmetrical…the rule book is not upside down in the box (a peeve of mine). I wonder if Chee Chee Lyons is still boxing these games. It will be disappointing to not see the small piece of paper with the frog stamped on it.




There’s a Rule Book and a Play Book. The Play Book is thicker than the Rule Book and looks like it has a very extensive example of play (cheers!). Both are printed in color (double cheers!). As you can see, they’re easy on the eyes.




Hmm, what’s this? A set of Player Aid cards, no doubt. Let’s rip this sucker off and check it out…


FITL-cards 2


Nice work all around. There’s four Factions in this game – the ARVN, the US, the NVA, and the VC, and each has their own ‘cheat sheet’ that shows the Operations they can conduct each turn. A Sequence of Play is here and some other goodies to help play. I’m liking the effort they put into the production of this so far.


FITL-us card


Here’s a closer view of the US Faction’s card; these are the Operations and Special Activities they can possibly conduct. Each Faction’s card lists different things, which is fascinating – seems there’s going to be a lot working and with four sides doing different things, with different victory conditions – this is truly going to be a ballet of action or a bloody chaotic slugfest. Perhaps both at the same time.




The one counter sheet in the game (don’t worry, there’s much more to come). These markers are well designed, which is good as I’m thinking the map might be a cluttered mess at times and it will be very important to get information quickly. Speaking of maps, what’s this I see under the counter sheet…?




A mounted board, thick and heavy. I liked what I saw in the YouTube video and in person it’s even better to behold. I’ll unfold it in a minute, but for now I want to keep digging into this box.




Baggies, dice, cards, and tons of little wooden blocks. I love wooden blocks. Always have ever since I first pushed them around in Eagle Games products (like Age of Mythology and Bootleggers). They give a solid 3D feel to troop presence on the map, unlike normal cardboard counters. Granted, they’re rather vague and generic in their portrayal, but adding unit identifiers would just make the game board a heck of a lot more confusing, not to mention probably being beyond the scope of this game.




This is how I found the previous picture…at the bottom of the box. Really like the black and white Hueys image. GMT put some nice touches on this design.


No Chee Chee frog, though…oh well.


FITL-map 2


So let’s unfold this thing and…wow. I like it. It’s long and thin, like Vietnam. Lots of spaces for tracking markers, pieces, cards, and other information. The Victory track goes along the outside of the board. I really like how the provinces stand out from one another, and the cities as well.


FITL-map 3


Here’s a close-up of the map. Each province and city shows information important to support and economics and will be where your troops battle it out with the enemy.


Fire in the Lake has tons of nice content. I would say something like “nice content doesn’t necessarily mean a good game,” but after getting the gist of play from their YouTube video, I get the feeling there’s an excellent game with a lot of potential here. I just need to get reins on the rules and figure it out, then give it a go both in solitaire mode and with a real human opponent or two or three. The more the merrier, I think. Even though the ARVN and US are friendly to each other and the VC and NVA equally friendly with each other (at least game-wise), I’ve seen hints that both can step on each other’s toes in pursuit of their own victory conditions. We’ve got a good-looking game here, so look for GrogHeads to post a full review soon.


Discuss this article in our forums >>


One Response to Fire In The Lake – First Look!

  1. […] did an ‘unboxing’ article on Fire in the Lake, so if I repeat myself, bear with […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *