Game: FUSE

Release Year: 2015

Publisher: Renegade Game Studios

Designer: Kane Klenko

Player Count: 1 to 5 players

Play Time: 10 minutes

Rules Complexity: Simple

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I have mixed feelings when it comes to real-time board games, and I don't fault anyone who says they don't like them. But there's something about FUSE that intrigues me in a way that few other real-time board games do.

FUSE is a cooperative game with real-time dice rolling, so it often gets compared to an older game from 2012 called Escape: The Curse of the Temple. But unlike that one, in which everyone is rolling dice on their own to navigate a tile-based temple, here everyone is deciding what to do with a common set of rolled dice.

If you like cooperative board games, you've probably seen FUSE recommended. Should you get it? Is it the right type of game for you? Let's dive into how it plays.

This review is based on my own personal copy of FUSE, which I acquired in a math trade on BoardGameGeek. My copy is the 2015 edition, but I play by the 2019 edition's updated rules. (See below if you want to know the differences between the 2015 and 2019 editions.)

The Gist of FUSE

FUSE is a game for 1 to 5 players and it has a fixed game length of 10 minutes (which is tracked using the bomb timer in the freely provided companion app that's available on Android and iOS).

It's played using a deck of "bomb cards" and a set of 25 dice comprised of 5 different dice colors with each die numbered 1 to 6. Each bomb card can be thought of as a blueprint or recipe that needs to be satisfied using the dice, and the goal is to fulfill all of the bomb cards before time runs out.

FUSE is a pretty straightforward game that only has two main components: bomb cards that serve as blueprints and colored dice that are placed on the bomb cards.

Every bomb card has certain dice requirements. Maybe all of the dice need to have the same number or color. Maybe they need to be a very specific number and color. Maybe they need to be in ascending order. Maybe they need to be stacked as a tower or as a pyramid with specific dice in each position. (Some bomb cards are easier or harder than others, denoted by their point values in the corner.)

When the entirety of a bomb card's requirements are fulfilled, that card is considered defused and discarded; then, another bomb card is selected from the central pool of bomb cards. Every player will always have two bomb cards.

An overview of the different types of bomb cards in FUSE. Each square is one die that needs to be fulfilled. The criteria can range from needing to be a certain color, a certain number, any color (white), any number (# symbol), and more. At the bottom, there are two special types: dice may need to be stacked as towers or pyramids.

So, where do these dice come from? Players take turns pulling dice from the dice bag—the amount equal to the number of players—and rolling those dice to form a shared pool. Everyone must take exactly one die from the pool and place it on one of their bomb cards. If any dice are left over because they can't be legally placed, then each leftover die is re-rolled and players must remove a die from their bomb cards that matches either the number or color of the re-rolled leftover die.

All the leftover dice, the removed dice, and the dice from any resolved bomb cards are all thrown back into the dice bag. Next player repeats by drawing more dice from the bag, and this continues until all bomb cards are resolved or time runs out.

Solo and 2-Player Modes

When playing solo, you have four personal bomb cards (instead of the usual two) and you draw three dice from the bag. You must place all three dice, but you can place multiple dice on the same bomb card if you want.

When playing FUSE solo, you'll have to manage four bomb cards at any given time and you'll be drafting three dice every turn. All three dice need to be assigned to your cards!

When playing with two players, each player starts with the usual two bomb cards. However, players draw four dice from the bag every turn and both players must place two of those four dice on their bomb cards. Both dice can be placed on the same bomb card if desired.

The Core Experience

FUSE is hard. I've played many times but have yet to win past Standard difficulty (the second of five difficulty levels) when playing on my own. Playing with others, the Training difficulty is still quite challenging.

Between the pressure of a ticking timer and the daunting deck of bomb cards, it's a tense, frantic, frustrating, and sometimes overwhelming experience that not everyone is going to appreciate. Anyone who easily buckles when forced to make snap decisions is probably going to hate FUSE.

FUSE comes with a free companion app that serves as a timer and an atmosphere booster with its tense background music. As you hear the clock tick down, the pressure can really build up!

On the surface, FUSE looks like a game about dice distribution, about communicating your needs to get the dice that work for you, about making sure everyone else also gets what they need and compromising when you can.

But that's a lie! You have no control over what comes out of the bag, you have no way to fudge those dice values once they're rolled, and most of the time it's obvious who should take which die. Every turn boils down to rolling and hoping for the best, so FUSE can often feel like a game that plays itself.

FUSE appears to be a dice game at first glance, but the key to winning rests in these: the bomb cards.

FUSE is ultimately a game about selecting the right bomb cards. If you can't control the dice, at least you can control which dice you need. Through clever selection of bomb cards, you can massage the odds in your favor and minimize the risk of players fighting over the same dice while leaving other dice as leftovers.

To be fair, there is a little bit of strategy when it comes to dice distribution. If someone is one die away from fulfilling a bomb card, it's better that they get the die so they can clear that card and return all those dice back to the bag.

Sometimes you're in a position where two players need one particular die (Blue 2) and neither can use the other (Yellow 4). In this case, it should go to the player on the left so they can complete their bomb card.

But those kinds of decisions are few and far between. It mostly comes down to the bomb cards you've chosen and hoping the bag pulls are in your favor.

To be clear, that's not necessarily a bad thing! Each pull of the bag and roll of the dice is full of tension, with mini doses of gambler's high when you get the exact die you've been waiting for. And when a roll is bad, you feel the clock closing in on you as you're forced to remove dice and lose progress.

FUSE is a nail-biting procession of turns that's thrilling to see play out, punctuated by those key moments when you lock yourself into the next bomb card. It captures the blood-pumping anxiety of a ticking bomb, where each bomb card defused feels satisfying while each die that's lost feels catastrophic.

The Repeat Experience

For me, FUSE is a game with good replayability but it doesn't evolve from play to play. It's the same, fun 10-minute experience every time. Whenever you pull it off the shelf, you know exactly what you're getting—flaws, warts, and all.

One of the first things you'll notice is that there really isn't much communication in FUSE apart from players calling out which dice they need after a roll. There isn't enough time to plan strategies or discuss options together. People have their heads buried in their own bomb cards, only able to worry about their own because the clock is always ticking and the dice are always rolling.

Sometimes the dice distribution is obvious and requires little or no communication. In this example, the top player and right player can only take one particular die each, so the left player takes the remaining.

Yet, honestly, you don't need to communicate. As mentioned earlier, the key to winning FUSE rests in the smart selection of bomb cards, not the distribution of dice—and bomb card selection is an individual step. You don't stop and discuss which card you should take; you just snatch your next card as quickly as you can so the dice rolling can resume. It's up to you to select wisely.

The result is that FUSE feels "cooperative" in the same sense that synchronized swimming is a cooperative sport: everyone has their own job to do, your teammates are relying on you to do your part, you're relying on your teammates to do the same, hoping that nobody messes up so badly as to derail the collective performance.

To put it another way, success in FUSE hinges on the weakest link of the group. It's entirely possible for one player to pick bad bomb cards and get stuck, unable to place any dice turn after turn, causing everyone to lose die after die after die, hindering progress and pushing victory further away each time. Remember: once you pick bomb cards, there's no way to switch them out except to fulfill them. Oof.

Drafting the wrong bomb card can leave you stuck. Here, this player can only progress with two very specific dice: the left card needs a Black 5 and the right card needs a Yellow 1. Until either is rolled, they'll fail to take a die every turn and repeatedly cause the other players to lose dice.

So, "getting better at FUSE" doesn't mean working more solidly together as a team but rather understanding how to make smarter bomb card selections.

And that's hard. Choosing the "right" bomb card from the pool involves several factors: which dice are currently out on cards, which dice still remain in the bag, which dice are currently claimed by everyone else (so you don't grab a bomb card that overlaps with what others need).

You're the player on the left who needs to draft a bomb card. Based on what the top and right players have, which card from the bomb card pool are you going to take? How quickly can you decide when the timer is ticking?

You have to assess the overall situation and make those calculations on the fly. But with a ticking clock hanging over your head, it's too much information to crunch in just a few seconds. You have to quickly snatch a replacement card from the pool so everyone can get on with rolling more dice... which usually means you throw up your hands and grab a bomb card based on gut feeling alone.

And maybe that's the point. Real-life bomb defusal is, I assume, not a perfect science. If you had all the time in the world, perhaps you could have a perfect defusal record—but when you're bound by a countdown, you have to make calls based on imperfect information and hunches. That certainly comes through in FUSE.

A Note on Cheating

Remember how I said everyone is pretty much forced to focus only on their own bomb cards? Because of this, FUSE is vulnerable to accidental cheating.

In the clamor of real-time action, it's easy for people to misread cards, misplace dice, forget to remove dice, remove the wrong dice, incorrectly resolve cards, improperly roll the dice, etc. Even if everyone is perfectly clear on the rules in and out, mistakes will be made and they will affect the outcome.

It just isn't feasible for someone to watch over everyone else and make sure no mistakes are made while working on their own cards. If you're going to play FUSE, you have to be okay with this.


Fine-Tuned Difficulty

The Fine-Tuned Difficulty variant has you picking and choosing the exact bomb cards that comprise the bomb deck.

For example, the Standard difficulty for 3 players uses a 27-card bomb deck. If you want to make it easier, you can choose to load the bomb deck with more Level 1 and Level 2 cards than Level 3 or Level 4 cards. If you want to make it harder, do the opposite and load up on more Level 3 or Level 4 cards.

Separate Bomb Stacks

In the Separate Bomb Stacks variant, the normal pool of 5 random bomb cards is replaced by face-up stacks of Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 cards. If you're playing with fuse cards, they're in their own face-down draw deck.

Sometimes, you'll end up with a bomb card pool that's full of easy cards or full of hard cards. If you dislike that randomness and want more control, you can turn the entire bomb deck face-up and separate the cards by Level.

This way, you always have a choice between drawing a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, or Level 4 bomb card. (Except when the stacks run out.) You're less likely to be stuck with two hard cards, which can be frustrating.

What about fuse cards? Option 1 is to keep fuse cards in their own separate face-down deck. Whenever you go to draw a new bomb card, you can optionally choose to draw a fuse card first. Option 2 is to seed each stack with fuse cards, then shuffle up each stack before play starts.

What's in the Box?

FUSE comes in a relatively small box with few components. The box could certainly be a lot smaller if the publisher resized the rulebook, which I would personally prefer.

FUSE is a relatively simple game without many parts—and that's a good thing. For real-time board games, I find that less is more.

The components are essentially the same between the 1st edition (2015) and the 2nd edition (2019). Here's what's included:

  • 49 normal bomb cards
  • 5 advanced bomb cards
  • 11 fuse cards
  • 25 dice (5 per color: red, blue, yellow, green, black)
  • 1 cloth dice bag

And that's it!

2015 vs. 2019 Versions

If the components are basically the same, what's changed between the 1st and 2nd editions of FUSE? Here's a brief rundown of changes:

Fuse cards are no longer used in Training or Standard difficulties. Given how difficult the original game was even at Training difficulty, this is a smart change that makes FUSE more accessible and less frustrating.

The bomb deck size is rescaled depending on the number of players. At 3 players, the bomb deck size is still the same. At fewer than 3 players, the bomb deck has slightly fewer cards and is thus easier. At more than 3 players, the bomb deck has slightly more cards and is thus harder.

The rulebook and dice colors are slightly improved. In the 2019 version, the dice are generally brighter and easier to read at a glance, and the rulebook is streamlined with clearer organization and an FAQ section with clarifications.

The Separate Bomb Stacks variant is gone from the rulebook. I explained how to play this variant under the Variants section of this review (above), so check it out if you want a little more control in the game. I don't know why they removed it!

Setup and Table Footprint

The setup for FUSE is pretty quick and streamlined.

After deciding on a difficulty, all you have to do is count out the right number of bomb cards to form the bomb deck, then deal out bomb cards to players and bomb cards to the bomb card pool. Throw some fuse cards into the bomb deck if you want, reshuffle, and you're ready to go!

Setup is noticeably longer if you play with the Fine-Tuned Difficulty and/or Separate Bomb Stacks variants. However, the time spent picking and choosing the exact bomb cards to play with and/or separating them into their respective stacks is usually worth the effort for the altered experience.

An overview of how much table space you need to play FUSE.

FUSE needs about as much space as your typical card game.

You have the central pool of bomb cards, the two personal bomb cards in front of each player, and one discard pile for defused bomb cards and spent fuse cards. You'll also need space for rolling dice. (I prefer playing with a dice tray just because it's cleaner, but I understand it makes the game slightly easier, too.)

That said, FUSE feels like a bigger game than it is, mainly because the action is frantic and chaotic. Passing the dice bag around, messily drafting new bomb cards, and knocking over stacked dice will increase the amount of space you need to comfortably play. A small card table should suffice.

The Bottom Line


Approved Score Guide
  1. Captures the tense, frantic, panicked nature of bomb defusal
  2. Quick setup, modest table footprint, and hard cap of 10 minutes per play
  3. Constant dice chucking and drafting is engaging
  4. Satisfying to win but still fun when you lose
  1. Stressful for those who don't perform well under pressure
  2. Can feel like it plays itself sometimes
  3. If you play poorly, you can get stuck for a while with no way to mitigate
  4. Vulnerable to accidental cheating

FUSE is the kind of game I pull out every once in a while and enjoy in bursts. It really captures the spirit of bomb defusal, from the stress of a threatening countdown to the gut decisions that have to be made under time pressure, from the thrills of defusing a bomb card to the panic when you lose progress.

This isn't your typical cooperative game. You all share a common objective, but you're all being tested individually and one player's poor decisions can hinder everyone else. But when you succeed, it still feels like you succeeded together.

And those successes are sweet because FUSE is a difficult game. Often you'll lose due to bad choices, but sometimes you'll lose to luck. Losses are inevitable, especially when you graduate past the Training difficulty, but it's that threat of losing that injects FUSE with excitement.

I prefer to play FUSE solo because you have less information to process and more control over bomb cards and dice. That said, I'd never refuse a game of it at any player count. Is it my favorite ever? No, but it does scratch an itch that no other game currently scratches. So, is it staying in my collection? You bet!

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