Who'd have guesses a game about the tormented souls in Hell could be so friendly and fun? Burn in Hell is a card game where players assemble Circles of the damned for points.

All the cards in Burn in Hell are damned souls, ranging from the truly evil (plenty of Nazis, murderers, and other infamous characters) to those oddly present (Marilyn Monroe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Houston) from the time of Cain to Osama Bin Laden. Each card has a point value from 1 to 10, from one to seven of the Seven Deadly Sins, tags (such as Artiste, Cannibal, Murderer), and sometimes a special ability. There's also a caricature of the person with a little devil (art by Greg Hyland), plus a biography of the person on the back.

Each player starts with five cards. There's also a Pit of five cards in the center of the table. (All cards are always visible to all players.) At the start of the game Hell is 100 degrees. Each turn a player draws three cards, then keeps two and sends one to the Pit; the temperature is lowered by that card's point value, and when the temperature reaches zero and everyone has had the same number of turns the game ends (since Hell has, y'know, frozen over).

On a player's turn they can exchange any one card for any card in the Pit, or a card for two cards whose total is equal to or less the card sent to the Pit. Players can also trade cards among each other, or use a card's special ability (usually to get more cards from the Pit or from other players).

The key to victory is creating Circles. A Circle consists of four or more cards that have the same point value, the same sin, or the same tag; a Circle can also be made of seven cards if each has one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But bigger Circles score more points -- a Circle of 4-5 cards scores twice the cards' total value, a Circle of 6-7 cards scores three times, and 8 or more score four times -- and if all cards in a Circle qualify two ways, the score is doubles again. (A player who had the Seven Deadly Sins that all had Wrath scored amazing points!) Players also get points for the face value of their cards at the game's end.

You might think a game revolving around souls in Hell would be depressing, but Burn in Hell is impressively lighthearted and challenging. While some special abilities are used against other players (usually to steal a card that was needed for their upcoming Circle), play usually focuses on one's own cards instead of hurting the other players. The combinations that can make up Circles are quite varied -- one player went for numerous small Circles, while I usually made fewer ones with more cards for more points -- and the comical illustration keeps the game from getting depressing. (The biographies on each card are quite informative.) So if you want a challenging game where everyone from Cain to Osama Bin Laden are grouped in Hell for victory when it freezes over, take out Burn in Hell and play with the souls of the damned -- for fun!

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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