Designer: Kevin Lanzing (2011)
Publisher(s): Indie Boards and Cards
# of Players: 1-6
Play Time: 45 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: #302/6.86
Category: Family Game
I’m a big fan of cooperative games, of course, and when I heard about a new coop on Kickstarter that was all about being a firefighter saving people from a blazing inferno, I jumped at the opportunity to support it. As I found out later, it had actually been around for a while on The Game Crafter in an earlier form, but Indie Boards and Cards was going all-out to make it all spiffy and decked out with tons of cool bits and extras. Heck, I even got fireeples out of the deal!
In the months since getting the game, however, I’ve played it a number of times and actually have some mixed feelings about it. But rather than get into that now, let’s start with the…
Game Basics (click here for complete game rules)
Components and Appearance
With the help of the Kickstarter campaign, no expense was spared in producing the components of Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Now, I don’t need to give a complete inventory of all the bits in the game (you can look at the rules for that), but I will call out a few things that stand out to me.
The board is really nice, and making it double-sided is a really fantastic aid to replayability. It pictures an “easy” house on one side and then a more realistic ranch-style home on the other. As a KS backer, I also got the Urban Structures expansion, which has another double-sided board with two more buildings, but I haven’t felt the need to even use it yet because I haven’t at all felt that I’ve played out the core game boards as of yet.
The most dramatic and iconic of the many, many cardboard tokens in the game are the Threat markers, which picture smoke on one side and fire on the other. Between their artwork, color, and the way they seem to multiply all over the board, they do a really great job of evoking the threat that the growing fire poses to the firefighters.
And overall, Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a darn pretty game. Especially when the game is in full swing and you’ve got fire raging through the house and explosions going on everywhere with valiant firefighters diving into the fray trying to save trapped victims anyway, it’s the kind of game that just makes people stop and watch.
At the beginning of the game, you seed the house with a certain number of Threat markers depending on the difficulty you decide on. There are also 3 Points of Interest (POI) markers on the board at all times, which are usually victims that need to be rescued, but may also turn out to be false alarms. You may also place out some Hot Spots and maybe some Hazmat tokens onto the board, then you choose your starting Role (in the experienced game, anyway), place your firefighter pawn/fireeple next to the building, and place the vehicles (fire engine and ambulance) where you want them at the start of the game.
On each firefighter’s turn, they basically get a certain number of Action Points (AP) to spend doing things. In the Family Game, everyone just gets 4 AP, but each Role in the Experienced Game has a certain number of AP and a special ability.
AP can be spent to do things like move (1 AP alone or 2AP when carrying a victim or moving through fire), extinguish (1AP for smoke or 2AP for fire), open or close doors (1AP), chop through walls (2AP to place a damage cube, 2 cubes destroys a wall space), change roles (2AP, only when at the fire engine), or do some other actions with the vehicles.
The goal of the game is to save at least 7 of the 10 victims in the building before the building collapses. So to do this, the firefighters need to keep the fire under control, make their way to the POI markers to see if they’re really victims, and then get them out to safety before they get caught in the fire and killed. If 4 or more victims are ever killed or if all the damage cubes are placed on the board, the players lose.
Advancing the Fire
Once a player has used all of their AP for a turn, they roll both dice to add one or more Threat markers to the board. The house is divided into a grid, and using the coordinates indicated on the dice, you do one of three things:
• If the space is empty, you place a Threat marker there with the smoke side up
• If the space already contains smoke, you flip it over to the fire side
• If the space already contains fire, you have an explosion!
Explosions expand the fire out in all four orthogonal directions. If there’s already a fire token in a space, the explosion travels through it until it either hits an empty or smoke-filled space (putting a fire marker there) or hits something solid (doors or walls). Doors are immediately blown out (removed from the board) by explosions, while walls suffer 1 cube of damage (and rememeber, 2 cubes in any one wall segment totally destroys it). And if a firefighter is caught in the path of an explosion, they are knocked down, which basically just sends them to the Ambulance.
An explosion at coordinate 4-4!
After placing the new Threat token(s) on the board, you then check for Flashover. This just means that any smoke adjacent to fire will ignite and flip over to fire as well. And since this can chain from space to space, it’s cool how one little spark can ignite a room full of smoke into a raging inferno in no time flat.
At this point, if you have fire in any spaces with Hazmat markers, they explode as well. Then, if the spot you rolled contains a Hot Spot, you roll the dice again and start over with the whole process. And, of course, if a POI/victim is ever in the same space with fire, it is lost.
Placing New POI Markers
The last thing you do on a turn is to check and see if there are 3 POI markers on the board. If any have been rescued, killed, or discarded (when a false alarm is revealed), you roll the dice and place a new facedown marker in that space. If the spot is already occupied by fire or a firefighter, there are actually some little arrows in each space that point you in the direction to place it instead.
Players then take turns until you either rescue 7 or more victims and win, or you have 4 victims die or the house collapses, in which case you all lose.
What I Think…
Fiddly, Clunky, Random…
When I first played Flash Point: Fire Rescue, I actually felt a little disappointed by it. The main issue I have with the game is that the management of rolling the dice and placing new threat markers, handling explosions, checking for flashover, maybe doing the whole thing over again if you hit a Hot Spot, and then maybe rolling again to place a new POI or two… well, it can all get pretty darn fiddly. Especially for the first several times you play, you pretty much spend as much time doing all of this maintenance at the end of each turn as you do actually playing the game and making the choices of what to do with your action points. For me at least, as the person “running” the game all the time, it really tore me away from the theme and made the game more laborious than fun.
And in general, Flash Point: Fire Rescue definitely comes off feeling a little clunkier than a lot of other cooperative games that I’ve played before. At the beginning of the (experienced) game, for instance, there’s a lot of rolling the dice and putting things out on the board. But if you roll a location you rolled before, you have to roll again. And often again and again. More than anything, I think this lack of elegance is due to the designer attempting to make the game more realistic, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does sacrifice some level of smoothness in order to include this extra thematic chrome.
The last thing I want to mention that may be somewhat negative is the level of randomness in the game. The difficulty of the game and even the effect of some player actions are determined, to a large extent, by the roll of the dice. But really, this is more just a matter of taste, and the random element is certainly “realistic” to the theme.
But what about the freaking Theme?
Even in trying to talk some about the negatives of the game, I couldn’t help but refer to the strength of the theme more than once. Because, really, Flash Point: Fire Rescue is all about theme.
I mean, first and foremost, fighting fires is the sort of thing that you make freaking movies and TV series about! As much as I love good eurogames with typical euro-themes, if you can still have a solid game and make it about fire and explosions and saving people, how much freaking better is that? It’s relevant and interesting and exciting, and just talking about it to people makes them want to play. So in concept, the theme is all win.
What’s even better is that the theme is actually implemented really well in the game. I’ve talked before about the difference between theme as metaphor and theme as narrative, and Flash Point: Fire Rescue actually does a great job with both.
In terms of narrative, the game certainly tells a compelling story of the brave firefighters beating back the flames and risking their lives to find and rescue helpless victims. Probably because of the randomness in how the fire spreads, you have this nice blend between mounting tension (like when a room is filling with smoke and you know it’ll get ignited soon if you don’t do something about it) and complete surprises that take you completely off guard. If there’s any weakness to this, I can only imagine that most of the stories it tells will be very similar, even while no two will ever be exactly the same.
But for me, the biggest strength of the theme is actually more about how it informs play. You don’t really have to tell new players what to do, because the choices you make as a player are pretty obviously what you would do if you were a real firefighter in that situation. I am not a real firefighter, of course, and I’m sure that those who are would see a lot of abstraction and creative license being taken with the details, but from my perspective as an interested layperson, the game just feels right. The choices you make, even when trying to play strategically, mirror those of real life, and even the winning and losing conditions get right to the core of what’s important in a real fire.
Roles, Tactics, and Skill
Another strength of the game is the inclusion of the different roles. So from the start of the game, each player has something very specific that they can do better than everyone else, which both gives them a niche to fill and also helps to give them direction about what they should be doing. And unlike some other games, players actually get to choose their role and, during play, can even switch to a different role if they want to. In terms of adding both replayability and additional strategy (in choosing different combinations of roles and even when to switch them), this is just brilliant.
For the most part, though, Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a highly tactical game. On each turn, you pretty much have to assess what your priority needs to be and which fires you need to put out first (see what I did there?). You have to be flexible and respond to changes and make tough choices all the time. But at the same time, I also see a lot of room for players learning better and more efficient ways both of handling problems and working together, which I feel that I’ve barely even scratched the surface of myself.
But how does is compare to Pandemic?
As much as I almost hate to even go here, enough people compare Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue that I feel compelled to do so as well. First off, however, I need to say that the games really aren’t nearly as similar as some people would lead you to believe. Other than including a few similar elements (action points, roles, and being cooperative, of course), pretty much all the other mechanics and, more importantly, the whole feel and flow of play is different.
Pandemic is my favorite game, and in rating them against each other, Flash Point: Fire Rescue doesn’t really do anything to threaten that position. But while I prefer Pandemic for a lot of reasons, there are certainly a lot of things that Flash Point does better. I feel like I have a greater ability to affect the outcome in Pandemic since it’s less random, and it’s also a lot more elegant and seamless. But Flash Point is more flashy and intuitive, and is probably a little bit lighter overall if you’re looking for something more along the family-game lines.
And again, being a big coop game fan, I’m very happy to have both in my collection because they really do have their own strengths and scratch different itches for me.
Once I got past some of the fiddlyness of managing the game, Flash Point: Fire Rescue has begun to shine as a thematic and exciting cooperative gaming experience. Even just the base game has a lot for me to continue to explore, and I can see myself, my game group, and my family playing this for years to come.
• Rules: As long as someone knows what they’re doing to manage the game, most players will have no problem picking up on what to do.
• Theme: Totally awesome, and done really well.
• Downtime: Even though it’s cooperative, players can take a little long on their turns deciding how to best use their action points.
• Length: 30-60 minutes, which seems very appropriate for the pace and depth of the game
• Player Interaction: Solid cooperation with both niche protection and lots of teamwork
• GamerChris’ Rating: 7.5 (on the BGG 10-point scale)