Five Fires, Four Buckets

Quick-and-Dirty explanation of this idea: A Five-fire four-bucket idea is a game design shorthand I use to describe games about coercing players to choose their failure points. In a game of five fires and four buckets, you present the players with problems, and deliberately inadequate solutions. Some quick notes about it:

  • The easiest # of buckets is the same as the number of players. Everyone can split up their actions and deal with problems individually. For this reason, anything that gives players extra opportunities should be considered carefully.
  • Fires are fires: They should be considered as things that get worse and ideally spread if left unattended. It’s one thing to have a black spot on a map that you need to get rid of eventually, it’s another thing if that black spot is going to start spitting out sleeper agents if you don’t deal with it soon.
  • You can treat probabilities of buckets as the same as buckets. If you have to roll a 4 or more on a d6 to put out a fire, you can treat each d6 as half a bucket. This creates natural tension for allocating buckets.
  • This mechanism is best used in cooperative or semi-cooperative games. If everyone has to care about the fires, it’s useful to motivate everyone. If the fires only impact a few players, expect the unaffected players to ignore the whole fire system and ignore their own buckets.