Games enthusiasts with non-gaming partners are often on the lookout for games with down-to-earth themes that might appeal to those who are turned off by more conventional themes of warfare, wizardry or space exploration. Dance of the Fireflies looks like it presses several of the right buttons….
For starters, the theme is about gardening and planting flowers: the fireflies in the title are markers used to select flowers and actions, representing their pollination. Added to this, the components are very attractive. The cards show various types of flower, and play is organised around an appealing sundial that rotates each turn, moving the flowers on the floral clock into the day and night phases.
The attractive design from Backspindle Games speaks for itself, but there should be a special shout out for the care that the publishers have taken to make this game accessible to colour-blind players. Though flowers are distinguished by colour, each colour of flower also has its own distinct design and a large symbol has been added to each card to also help identify each type.
One might think that the objective – to end up with the most colourful flower beds – would be a shoe-in for a game to introduce to partners who are more enamoured of cultivation than Cthulhu. However, if you were expecting this to be a simple set collection game, you will be in for a surprise. Though this is not a game whose rules will faze experienced games players, it heaps layers of complexity that could take it out of contention as a gateway game.
The rotating day/night sundial is a straightforward enough concept, and it’s delivered well. Players are using their firefly tokens (wooden discs) to take one of the available spots on a plant on the floral clock. The position of the dial affects which of the spots can be taken; some are available only when the flower is in daylight, others only at night. This ‘planting phase’ functions as a kind of auction: players need a majority to win the flower when it comes to be harvested. Each player has one ‘royal firefly’ which can be used to trump another player’s majority but, as royal fireflies are played face down and are single use, game play in practice involves a lot of bluffing, deceit and bluster. That’s going to be greeted as jolly good news by a lot of games players but may seem less rosy to non-gamers.
The way in which cards are planted in players’ individual flower beds is simple enough, as is the scoring, but a further layer of complexity is introduced in the special powers that are applied for each type of flower. Used cannily, these can create combo effects so that a player is able to benefit from a domino sequence of actions. Again, this adds to the tactics that players will want to build to and deploy but it could constitute a barrier to playing Dance of the Fireflies with ‘non-gamers’.
Dance of the Fireflies plays with from 2–6 players, with the size of the deck altered according to the player count. It plays quickly, and a game is likely to take only around 20 minutes, so this is a game that will be a blooming good addition to your bag of games night fillers. Whether you can use it as a gateway game will depend on just how high a rules hurdle your ‘newbie’ players can cope with. Be warned, though, that players who are used to games involving bluffing and games where actions can be daisy chained will be playing with a huge advantage over those to whom these remain relatively alien concepts.