furnace board game overview

Furnace Review

furnace board game overview

Name: Furnace

Year of Release: 2020

Player Count: 2 – 4 Players (1 with Fan-Made Variant)

Playing Time: 30 – 60 minutes

Designer: Ivan Lashin

Publisher: Hobby World

Primary Mechanisms: Auction, Bidding, Open Drafting, Engine Building

Weight (According to boardgamegeek.com): 2.23


Earlier in 2022, I watched the multi-part YouTube series that the Dice Tower published where they ranked their top 100 board games of all time.  I believe they do this annually, but this was the first time I took part in watching them.  Not only was I thoroughly entertained, I made a list of games that I wanted to look into as being possible future purchases.  Furnace popped up on at least two of the lists (maybe Tom and Zee’s?) and it looked interesting enough to put down on my list.

Since most of my play time is spent either solo or with my spouse, auction/bidding games don’t get purchased too much in our house.  Furnace stuck out though as having a nice twist on the bidding mechanic that might enable it to work nicely with two players, so I pulled the trigger and ordered it recently.  I have never played an Ivan Lashin game (but I will note that his Smartphone, Inc game was also mentioned on the Dice Tower list) so I was going into this game with almost no information except what I saw on the DT videos. 

Note: this review centers around Furnace as a multiplayer game.  I have really enjoyed the solo variant that boardgamegeek user drmarquart created which you can find here. I’ve also published a YouTube video where I demonstrate how to play his solo variant and discuss the game from a solo perspective which you can find here.

Rulebook and Setup 

Overall, Furnace is a minimalist game.  The rulebook is a scant five pages, but those five pages are jammed with pictures and examples to explain the game completely.  In our first game, I might have had to go back to the rulebook once or twice to interpret a symbol here and there, but the rulebook flowed naturally enough where we understood the game on the first play-through.  I really like that the rulebook includes a “rule variant” as this might be the way we play from now on (but I’ll go over this more in the gameplay section.)

Setup is a breeze and really lends itself to allowing the players to knock out multiple games in a row with just a minute or two in between.  The players make a pile of money, a pile of the three different resources (oil, steel, and coal) and a separate pile of upgrade tokens.  Each player chooses a color and grabs the disks matching that color and if they want, the matching player token of that color.  The deck of Start-Up cards (which there are five) are shuffled and one dealt to each player.  The deck of Company Cards is shuffled and placed on the round counter tile, with the round set to one.  Lastly, if you wish to play with one of the Capitalists, you shuffle that deck of five cards, and deal one to each player.  After grabbing the resources pictured on the top ribbon of each player’s Start-Up factory and choosing the starting player (which is given a tile to signify this) the game is ready to begin.


furnace board game being played

Much like the minimalism of the rulebook, Furnace doesn’t have the swath of components that many modern board games contain.  All of the components that come with the game have already been mentioned in the setup section though you do get one small 6-sided die and a few extra tiles to help with multiplying the resources, so you don’t have to grab so many.

For having so few components, I was hoping the quality would be stellar on all of them.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit hit-and-miss, at least with the edition I have.  My main gripe is with the Capitalist cards which are all off centered, with the right portion being almost completely cut off.  While it doesn’t affect the gameplay as you can still read all the text, it’s a downer that the quality control was so poor on these specific cards.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem that the issue extends to any of the other decks.

The other negative I have is that the box and insert is entirely too big for what you’re getting here.  It reminds me of Splendor and how they put some tiles and a handful of poker chips into a box about this same size.  It just seems wasteful to me but in the grand scheme, it isn’t a huge deal.

The first huge positive is found in the Capital Disks used for bidding.  The Capital Disks themselves aren’t all that special, from a quality standpoint, but I do love the design decision they made to have the disks increase in size as the number on the disk increases.  When bidding, these different sizes make it a snap to just look at the pile and see who is winning and with what numbers.  I love how such a simple decision can add such ease to the main mechanic of the game.

The second standout here is the design of the Company Cards, which is great since the players will be staring at these cards for 95% (no scientific methods were used to derive this number) of the playtime.  The iconography in the game is simple to learn and doesn’t cause the player to have to grab the rulebook every time they pick up a card.  Each card is laid out consistently which adds to the smooth gameplay.  Lastly, the artwork (largely of smoke churning factories and their surrounding landscapes) is wonderfully detailed.  Before writing this review, I would guess I had played this game at least seven times, and I still had never noticed that the flip side of each card was not just an identical replication of the front.  I finally noticed that the opposing side (which is the “upgraded” side) actually has signs of time passing and progress being made.  An example is one of the cards has a factory next to a wagon traversing down a dirt road.  Once flipped, you can see that the road is now paved, and the wagon has been swapped out for an automobile.  I love when designers add these small details that reflect the thought and love they put into their game.  If I had to nitpick about the artwork, I would say that I wished every card used unique artwork instead of 12 unique drawings being used over the 36-card deck but much like the box size, not a huge deal.

Finally, the rest of the components are pretty standard.  The cardboard chits for money are fine though there are a lot of denominations, and some (such as the $1 and $2 chits) aren’t differentiated enough so the players might find themselves digging through the pile to find the right amount.  The resource tokens are different colors and different shapes from each other but other than that, are what you’d expect from any other game in this price range. 


furnace components

When I first unboxed Furnace and set it up, I was genuinely curious about the depth of the game with so few physical pieces.  On top of that, there are only two phases, the Auction Phase and the Production Phase, and then players rinse and repeat for 4 rounds.  I looked at the setup, re-read the instructions again, and thought, “Is this really it?  Is this even going to be fun?”  Happily, the answer was “yes!” and each phase carries some of the weight, working together to make the whole thing an attractive play.

First, let’s look at the Auction Phase.  I said earlier that auction and bidding games don’t get many plays in our house as they aren’t much fun for two players (at least, in my opinion.)  Furnace does add a twist that helps this phase out tremendously.  It does so in the form of an action called Compensation but to understand let’s discuss the way a Company Card is laid out. 

Each Company Card has a top ribbon and a bottom ribbon of icons.  The top ribbon is going to act as the compensation for a lost bid while the bottom ribbon denotes the actions that the player will use to fuel their engine after winning the card.  These actions (on both the top and bottom ribbons) are usually two different types, Extraction or Processing.  Don’t worry about the fancy names, any board gamer will be familiar with what these actions actually are.  Extraction is symbolized by a single resource icon and tells the player they can pick up that many of that specific resource from the pool.  Processing is symbolized by a resource icon then an arrow pointing to the right, and then either another resource or a dollar amount.  Basically, it allows the player to turn the resource printed on the left side into the resource/money on the right side. 

In the Auction Phase, the deck of Company Cards that were placed on the round tracker during setup, are cut and then six are laid out on the table.  Players take turns placing one of their disks on a card, following two simple rules.  First, a player can’t have two of their disks on any single card.  Second, a player can’t place the same numbered disk on a card that already has that number on it.  Once all disks have been placed, players resolve the cards from left to right.  Any player who has a numbered disk on the card (but is not the largest number) is compensated with the action on the top ribbon.  The player with the largest number disk is not compensated but instead wins the card and puts it into their hand.  The players move to the right and continue to resolve the remaining five cards in this same manner.  Once complete, the Production Phase can begin.

In the Production Phase, players can take their actions simultaneously because there is no player interaction during this phase.  I like this detail as it makes for a quicker play and eliminates almost all down time for players.  The main focus of the Production Phase is to lay out your cards from left to right, in an order that will efficiently maximize the output of your engine.  Hopefully this means a large output of resources (to fuel your engine in future rounds) or in large sums of money (which convert to victory points at the end of the game.)  Once all bottom ribbon actions have been resolved from left to right, the round tracker is moved to the next round, the Company Cards are cut, and six new cards are put out on the table.  The starter player marker moves clockwise, and the next round starts and follows the same order as the previous rounds.

Earlier I mentioned a variant printed in the rulebook and I believe it is important to point this out as I think it can make a large difference in the way the Production Phase plays out.  The standard rules has the players laying out their Company Cards in a new order every time the Production Phase takes place.  The first handful of games I played, I did it this way since it was the standard method outlined in the rulebook.  What I found was that I had a lot of analysis paralysis during this phase because I was holding a stack of cards (usually around nine or ten by the 4th round) that I was trying my hardest to put in the best order.  I was constantly moving cards around this-way and that-way and second guessing what I was doing.  Honestly, there were times when the Production Phase was more stressful than fun.

Eventually while perusing the rulebook again, I took a look at the rule variant they had listed, and a lightbulb went off in my brain.  This could be the answer to the stressfulness of the Production Phase!  The variant states that your cards have to form a horizontal chain that remains from round to round.  Any new cards can be fit into the beginning or end of the chain, or even find themselves between two cards already in the chain, but the player can’t rearrange what has already been placed on the table.  An example would be if you had cards on the table A – B – C – D.  During the next Auction Phase, you win card E and F.  When you fit those two cards into the chain you could do things such as F – A – B – C – E – D or A – E – B – C – D – F.  What you could not do is swap B to the other side of cards A or C, like B – A – C – F – D – E.  Effectively this means that a player is only really having to think about fitting in the new cards they win (which is typically going to be two cards per round.)  This also makes the game more strategic as you need to plan the order you place your cards early on, thinking of how they can be the most flexible as the game continues.  I love this variant and don’t see myself going back to playing the standard way.

Quickly, I want to point out that if you’re only playing with two players, there is a fake third player (called The Agent) that fills in.  The Agent is given a set of colored Capital Disks to bid with.  After both real players have placed one disk a piece, the 6-sided die is rolled, with the number that comes up being the number (from left to right) of the card The Agent will attempt to bid on.  The Agent will always attempt to place his lowest disk that is eligible for that card.  Sometimes, none of The Agent’s disks will be eligible because a.) she has already placed a disk on that card or b.) the number on her disk that she has left has already been played.  In these cases, she will move to the next card to the right and starting at her lowest disk, see which disk she can use to bid.  Once complete, it goes back to the first player and the Auction Phase continues until all players and The Agent have placed their disks.  It’s not perfect but The Agent simulates enough of a real player to at least keep you on your toes because she might always grab the card you want at the last possible moment.


furnace start up cards

Furnace was one of those purchases that I wasn’t entirely sure of as I didn’t know too much about the game and knew even less about the designer’s body of work.  It did help that it was on sale so I got it for $19.99 but even at normal price, I would have been happy with this purchase.  If you’re looking for an auction game that does things a little different or a game that plays quick and has little to no setup and tear down, I strongly recommend Furnace.  Yes, the quality control on the Capitalist Cards and the blandness of the money chits and resource tokens is a downer, but I think there is enough fun here (especially at this price point) to find a spot for Furnace on your game shelf.


Ratings are based on 5 main criteria: rulebook, setup, components, art & graphic design, and gameplay.  The first 4 criteria are rated 1 to 5 and the gameplay is rated 1 to 10.  These scores culminate in an “overall satisfaction” score that is rated from 1 to 10.  If the reviewed game has both a solo and multiplayer mode, I have assigned scores separately to give context to which mode we enjoy more.  


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Kristofer Solomon

Hey, everyone! I’m Kristofer Solomon and the creator of Board Game Breakdown. I’ve been playing board games since I was little, typically spending days on top of days playing Risk with kids from my neighborhood. As I moved into college, I started playing Magic: the Gathering with a group of guys and my love for board games slid to the wayside as I progressed into gulp adulthood (not to mention a long obsession with World of Warcraft.) Eventually, I fell back into the hobby in its current state when my wife (then girlfriend) bought me a copy of Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition for my birthday in 2008. This simple to grasp, but strategic train game blew me away. I didn’t realize at the time that board games could be much more than your average game of Sorry or Trouble. We eventually got Catan, Small World, and other well-known titles and the rest is history.

I’m hopeful that the content of this website and its associated YouTube and Instagram channels can be informative to those who are either on the fence about getting a game, or maybe just looking for something new. About 50% of my gaming time is spent solo gaming so I enjoy touching on that subject when I discuss games as this is an area that is typically not focused on.

Thanks to all who spent even a minute perusing this site, it means a lot to me. Happy gaming!

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