/ Jon Seagull / 4 am Wed, Jun 11 2014
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  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue - a game of high-stakes trade-offs

    Flash Point: Fire Rescue - a game of high-stakes trade-offs

    Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a co-operative game about firefighting for 1-6 players. Both its difficulty and its complexity are hugely adjustable, such that it's suitable for anyone from families with elementary-age children to groups of adult gamers. Where Escape: Curse of the Temple is frantic and breathless, Flash Point is deliberate and tense. Jon Seagull reviews.

    The game is played on a board showing the layout of a house with tokens indicating areas that are filled with smoke or actively on fire. There are also a number of “points of interest” that may either be victims in need of rescue or false alarms (you find out when you get there). The goal is to rescue at least seven victims from the building before the building collapses from accumulated structural damage or too many victims are lost.

    Each firefighter gets a small pool of actions (move around, extinguish some fire, open a door, etc.) to spend on their turn or save for a later turn; and after every player's turn the fire spreads based on a dice roll. The spread of the fire is very well done mechanically; making the progression unpredictable (the dice could give you anything from gently spreading smoke to a huge cascade of building-damaging explosions) but not totally random (you can see where bad things are going to happen before they do).

    flashboard Flash Point: Fire Rescue ($28) is available from Amazon.

    What makes the game so tense is the tradeoffs your group must constantly make. Moving victims toward the outside of the house (which you need to do to win) means you're not spending actions fighting the fire (which you need to do to not lose). Chopping a hole in the wall for quick access to a room means adding game-ending structural damage to the house. This means that even the games you win frequently end on the knife edge of disaster; your firefighters pulling the last victim to safety as the house teeters on the brink of collapse.

    The game has a two-sided board with different house layouts, as well as a set of advanced rules for older kids and adults that makes the spread of the fire more dangerous (and accelerates the fire over the course of the game); adds explosive hazardous materials and a driveable ambulance and fire truck; and gives each firefighter a specialized role that makes them more or less suited to various tasks (the Rescue Specialist can move and chop walls quickly, but has a harder time fighting fire for example, while Fire Captain can use her actions to move other players' pieces.)

    Note to parents of young children and squeamish people - nowhere in the game's rules or imagery is death mentioned specifically. Firefighters caught in the blaze are “knocked down,” and start their next turn in the ambulance; while victims are “lost.”

    [Image: Madeleine Ball. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic]

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    1. I love the idea of co-op games, but from my (admittedly limited) experience playing them, "co-op" ends up meaning it's much more likely that one player dominates play by coming up with the strategy, and others just follow along. Do others have the same experience? Which games reduce this effect?

    2. The biggest way of preventing it is by playing something like Hanabi. You're attempting to construct a fireworks show of a variety of different color fireworks (cards) by playing them in increasing order. But you can't see your hand, only everyone else's.

      Everyone at the table can do one of three things: Play a card, hopefully in the right order (you lose a timer token if you're wrong), spend a "hint token" to tell one person which of their cards are a specific number or a specific color (all of them, no cherry-picking), or you can discard a card. Either of the card actions cause you to draw a new one, so your hand stays the same size. You're scored at the end by the number of cards you successfully played. It's thorough in preventing that quarterbacking (it's illegal to make any comments other than the ones with the hint tokens), but it's a real brainburner.

    3. Greatly improved review. Really love seeing game reviews in boing boing, please keep them coming. As noted in the review, Flash Point: Fire Rescue does a wonderful job of forcing players to make hard choices, however, in my experience the range of choices are somewhat limited. Meaning, players typically have to choose between mounting rescues or fighting the blaze. Moreover, the optimal choices can often be fairly obvious. This is not to say that things can not get out of hand very quickly, they can; however, the players ability to overcome challenges have more to do with chance then the quality of their decision making. That said, it is a fun gaming experience and so long a players know that their success may be dependent upon the roll of the dice (which determines where the fire will crop up) or the flip of a tile (which will determine whether a rescue will be successful) then a good time will be had by all. The components are solid, the game play is smooth, the theme is immersive and the mechanics are novel.

      I have noticed a focus in these reviews upon co-op games. In light of this I wanted to give a few thoughts about co-ops so that people heading into this style of game go into it with their eyes opened.

      First, co-op are a great deal of fun, they are a great way to bring new players into "designer" board games. These games make it easier for players to become familiar with the tactics and styles of these more complex games.

      Second, co-op games are typically pretty darn hard to beat. While, most co-op's have scaled difficulty levels (like Flash Point), striking the balance between too easy and incredibly hard is a daunting task. Therefore, when taking on a co-op know that losing (or not winning as you might hope) is very possible, if not highly likely. While the base version of Flash Point: Fire Rescue is on the low end of this spectrum (like other co-ops including the base version of Pandemic and Castle Panic) other co-ops are nigh near impossible to beat (like Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island and Ghost Stories).

      Finally, co-op games are plagued by the alpha gamer problem, meaning a scenario where a dominant players directs the actions of others. Flash Point: Fire Rescue is troubled by this fault. Some games try to overcome this by requiring simultaneous play. Escape: Curse of the Temple is an example. Another example is Space Cadets (though I would recommend the superior Space Cadet:Dice Duels, while technically a team game it still has co-op features). Other games require the players to act autonomously in order to overcome this problem. Examples of co-op games that use this technique are Hanabi, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Dungeon Fighter.

      This said, there are a ton of great co-op games. And while the style is not for everyone, every gamer's collection should have at least a few co-ops within it and if you are a family gamer, Flash Point is a great place to start. (Castle Panic, Forbidden Desert or Mice & Mystics are good choices as well).

    4. @waetherman This is an issue that the groups have, not the game. It was a problem in my group, and the solution for us was that the Alpha Player was told to not say anything unless directly asked.

      It was humbling. I was the one who was told to be quiet. I didn't even realize I was doing it. And I'm the one who keeps bringing the co-ops to the table (Arkham Horror, Pandemic, Flash Point, Castle Panic, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.)

      Don't fear the Alpha Player situation unless it starts happening, then I would suggest just asking them to wait on suggestions until directly asked for it.

      ..

      Flash Point was my most recent purchase and my daughters (11,9,6) have been enjoying playing it with me. We've only played three games, and haven't used the specific role cards yet. We've won each time save the first. Solid Co-Op game.

    5. "Speak when spoken to" is a great rule for alpha gamers to live by.

      Another good compromise is to present people with a couple cases (with pros and cons of each) and let them decide which course to take.

      My favorite solution, however, is to just have a beer and relax. It's just a game, right?

    Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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