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Jason Perez
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*For the original version of this review, including original pictures, please visit us at our website: http://boardgamersanonymous.com/hotshots-review/

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What, another firefighting game??? When will the market stop getting flooded with these?

I kid, of course. There are not very many other noteworthy firefighter games out there, with one shining exception - Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Both are fairly light, family-style games where players work cooperatively to manage fires, so comparisons are inevitable. As opposed to using action selection to fight building fires, though, Hotshots employs a "push your luck", dice driven mechanism to fight forest fires.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the gamers who bought and enjoy Flash Point are the very same ones who might buy and enjoy Hotshots. However, Flash Point has a big head start, due to a very good reputation and loads of expansion content. Hotshots has some catching up to in order to carve a space out for itself. Does it have the legs to do so?



How to play Hotshots

You begin by setting up 19 hex tiles which constitute your forest. You then seed the board with some starting fire, according to setup rules. After that, you select a firefighter (two if you play solo). Each firefighter has a simple special ability that will be useful in almost every turn of the game, so be sure to take note of it. Put all of the other game tokens and dice nearby, and setup is done! Easy, right?

During a typical turn, each firefighter will move their standee up to two spaces and attempt to fight fire in that area. Once you land on a space, you then roll to determine how much fire you will actually fight.

You must match as many symbols as you can to those depicted on the tile. If you are able to match at least one symbol, you can pick up all the dice and re-roll them. If you match at least three fire symbols, good stuff starts to happen! You can remove fire tokens, put up "breaks" which block the fire from spreading, or even gain bonus tokens which provide one-time buffs.

If you fail to match any symbol on a roll, though, you lose your saved dice and... well, just try to avoid doing that too often.

To avoid too much failure, bring a buddy - for every other firefighter in your square, you get one free reroll.

Like any good cooperative game, after you finish your turn, the board fights back! You will pull a card from the event deck which will either grow fire that's already there, or trigger a gust of wind that spreads fire to neighboring tiles. The game comes with a little flag standee to indicate the direction of the wind, which will change as the event deck progresses.

Each tile has a number on its right hand side - the "Scorch limit". As the board fills up with fire throughout the game, you will take any tiles that reach the Scorch Limit and flip them over to their burned out side. That tile can no longer receive any fire, which is good. However, if you get eight burned out tiles, the game ends in a loss. Also, if your main base burns down, you lose.

As mentioned previously, each firefighter has a special ability which you will probably use on most rounds. In addition, you can launch special vehicles from the Air Attack Base tile which provide powerful but one-and-done benefits, like dumping a bunch of water into one space, or strafing multiple tiles with water.

Both the individual firefighter abilities and the vehicle one-and-done powers are tied to spaces on the board. If they blow up, you no longer have access to the relevant power. I ask you, how can the Crew Boss radio for help if the radio tower burned down?

If you put out all of the fire everywhere, though, you win! Who needs victory points?


What I liked about Hotshots

When I set up Hotshots at my local game store a few nights ago, people were instantly drawn to the little fire tokens. I wouldn't say this game has amazing components, but that's probably a good thing since it's a family game meant to have a low price point. I like the fact that, even though most of the components are middle-of-the-road in quality, at least they managed to work in an aspect (the fire tokens) that added some pop. 

If you want to enjoy this game, you have to be cool with rolling dice LOTS and LOTS of times. With regard to the dice, I felt that the push-your-luck aspect was integrated very well. The odds are greatly in your favor that you will roll three needed symbols, which guarantees at least the minimum amount of success.

The interesting decisions come when you want to go for four or five successes. At that point, you need to calculate odds, use your tokens, plan for support, and weigh the general benefits of success and failure. I found those decision points very tense and satisfying.

You might get really, really hosed and match only two symbols on a turn, even with all the support in the world. However, as horrible as that feels when it happens in the moment, I think the game was designed to handle that and not let it portend automatic doom. I think I had that happen at least once in all of the games I played, and I was still able to recover... some of the time.

So, even though you might look at all of the dice and think "total luckfest", I found that the basic design of the game, as well as its resources for mitigation, more than countered the risk of losing due to sheer luck. That's a neat design trick to pull off in a dice-driven game, so kudos to Justin De Witt for that.

Finally, I loved how each of the firefighter powers were tied to spaces on the board. Many times, the group would come to a consensus about a course of action, but then a player would try to convince the group to save their personal power tile instead. That created some great back-and-forth table talk and tactical decision making.


What I didn't like about Hotshots

To answer the question I posed in my intro, I do think that Hotshots does enough to stand on its own and distinguish itself from Flash Point. However, Flash Point maintains its edge, at least for me, for a few reasons.  

In Flash Point, fighting fire is only a secondary goal; you must rescue a certain number of victims from the burning building before it collapses. Every turn in Flash Point, therefore, presents a push and pull between your short term and long term objective - fight the fire that's raging right next to you, or move to achieve the longer term goal of saving people.

In Hotshots, all of the objectives are short term - fight fire in this tile, or in that tile. In that way, Hotshots resembles the more well known Fireside product, Castle Panic, where your only overall goal was to defend the tower and your choices consisted of which enemy to fight. I like Castle Panic and feel it has rightly earned its popularity. However, I won't play it without Wizard's Tower expansion (which added spells and more unique monsters) because I find the base game alone a little flat and repetitive.

I think Hotshots does a bit better job of mixing things up, via the dice, than base Castle Panic. However, I still felt I was doing many of the same things every turn - move and roll, move and roll. The support tokens can help that. However, you only get them if you roll five successes in a turn. I had a friend in one game who didn't get a single support token. He was sad.

Could the addition of some longer term goals - saving campers or animals, for example - change up gameplay and bring in more of that tense, push-pull feeling? Perhaps a 'forest animals' expansion is in the works!

That's my main complaint about Hotshots; I have two other minor ones. First, I felt that the Spotter role (who gets to peek at the event deck every round) had a bit too much of the spotlight. His power created the most interesting tactical decisions in the game. If he saw some nasty cards come up, or some changes in wind, he was able to shout that out and inspire some changes in plans. Two of the other roles - whose powers are to count two faces of the die as one another - are much, much simpler. I felt very strongly that Hotshots wants adults to play the Spotter and Crew Boss, while the kids play the other roles. That's great for families, but didn't go over so well among gamers of equal capacity.

(The Spotter, btw, is also completely overpowered in one and two player mode because he allows you to see every event before it happens).

My other minor complaint is that victory might occur via chain scorches, which feels slightly unsatisfying. In one game, we had the fire contained to one side of the board. We realized that we could let all of those tiles burn to hell (remember, burned out tiles don't catch fire), then just put out the little baby fire that was left in order to win. Some of my friends found that fun. Maybe that happens in real life more often than I think. It still seemed like kind of a heartless and/ or "gamery" way to end the game.


Final Verdict - Who is Hotshots For?

Like Castle Panic and, in a lesser way, Flash Point, I think Hotshots could use some expansions to liven up the gameplay and break some of the repetitiveness of the turns. However, on the whole, I enjoyed it! I think it manages to pack some good tactical decisions and tense moments into a very simple, family-friendly package. Fans of lighter weight cooperative games, or of the theme, might be very happy to pick this one up.

Rating: 7 out of 10
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Kevin B. Smith
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Great review!

If you're looking for more co-op firefighting action, there are:
Ablaze!, which is also about wildfires, but is more abstract and puzzly
Dead Men Tell No Tales, where you're fighting fires while also looting a burning ship, and fighting monsters

Those are the only others I can think of.
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Jason Perez
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I knew about Ablaze, but I don't know that one is very good. I'm not sure why my mind blanked on DMTNT. It's pretty good, but I think it's very samey to Pandemic/ Flash Point. Not enough to distinguish. I at least give Hotshots credit for trying different things within the formula.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Popesixtus wrote:
I knew about Ablaze, but I don't know that one is very good.

"Very good" is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I don't like it, as it's not my type of game. But I think it does what it tries to do quite well.
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Jason Perez
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Popesixtus wrote:
I knew about Ablaze, but I don't know that one is very good. I'm not sure why my mind blanked on DMTNT. It's pretty good, but I think it's very samey to Pandemic/ Flash Point. Not enough to distinguish. I at least give Hotshots credit for trying different things within the formula.


I'd say Ablaze does what it wants to do, but I don't know that what it does is worth doing - basically, turn a spreading fire into a math puzzle. I know there's different modes in that game, it's still a hard pass for me, and an out of print one at that.

Still, my hyperbole in the intro about firefighter games is too strongly worded. It's worth tidying that up.
 
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Derek Pugh
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This review is pretty bang-on. I played this on Saturday night with my wife, and the game did in fact end via chain scorches. Once it happened we realized the game was over and just kinda shrugged. Very unsatisfying. Not saying that would happen every time, but once you're aware of it, it's definitely something you could work into your strategy and it just feels really odd to think about, given that your one job is to put out fire. I almost feel like the 8 scorched tiles trigger is too generous.

My other big problem with the game is that it feels too close to Pandemic for me. I try to keep my collection around 50 games at all times, so having something that feels this much like a game I already own means I have to give up one of them. In this case Hotshots is gonna get the boot, which is unfortunate because I love the theme and the push your luck mechanic, but it ultimately just falls short of Pandemic for me.
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Chris Janiec
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However unsatisfying it might be in a game, a chain scorch victory is how fires are fought in real life: you don't put the fire out, you contain it and let if burn itself out in the limited area. Hopefully an expansion might address this with more tiles/cards and goals of saving targeted locations (a housing development, a school, a power plant, etc.) rather than just limiting the scorching. That said, the common measure of success or failure is often "acres burned," so in that sense the game gets it right.

Those who want to try their hand at a more realistic game of wildland firefighting should try Smokejumpers. It's a realistic, more complex solitaire game of wildland firefighting, very different from the others mentioned here.
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Jason Perez
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Chris Janiec wrote:
However unsatisfying it might be in a game, a chain scorch victory is how fires are fought in real life: you don't put the fire out, you contain it and let if burn itself out in the limited area. Hopefully an expansion might address this with more tiles/cards and goals of saving targeted locations (a housing development, a school, a power plant, etc.) rather than just limiting the scorching. That said, the common measure of success or failure is often "acres burned," so in that sense the game gets it right.


I see that perspective. The more I learn about firefighting (a necessity, given our present circumstances in California), the more I learn that containing fires and allowing them to flame out is actually very realistic. However, the way it plays out in Hotshots, you can accomplish that without really doing anything special with your player actions. For most of the game, you go to different spots, manage risk, and do all this fun stuff. But when you realize the fires will burn themselves out (or when you set it up that way), you just kind of stop making moves and let it happen. That's what I mean by this approach feeling unsatisfying. There's ways around this, especially by making the game more difficult. But for someone who is just breaking into the game, they might run into that and not have the greatest impression.

I do like the game, though. It's just a niggle I found.
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Rob Koch
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Chris Janiec wrote:
However unsatisfying it might be in a game, a chain scorch victory is how fires are fought in real life: you don't put the fire out, you contain it and let if burn itself out in the limited area. Hopefully an expansion might address this with more tiles/cards and goals of saving targeted locations (a housing development, a school, a power plant, etc.) rather than just limiting the scorching. That said, the common measure of success or failure is often "acres burned," so in that sense the game gets it right.

Those who want to try their hand at a more realistic game of wildland firefighting should try Smokejumpers. It's a realistic, more complex solitaire game of wildland firefighting, very different from the others mentioned here.


I'll vouch for Smokejumpers as well. It is a great simulation and more abstract in "winning" which is usually trying to just keep within budget. The way fire spreads in it is modeled wonderfully. I hardly win but it's more tactical in the way it plays out and there is little luck as the only thing random are the condition changes / wind shifts. You are must both contain the fires advance and put out fires where you can.

I have both and they each scratch a different itch in the same theme.
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Chien Lin Chen
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House rule suggestion:
What about playing a session of Flash Point every time a player tries to fight fire in a tile with building?
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I was reminded of Forest Fire, when I first saw this game.
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Andrew MacLeod
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And when, exactly, are we playing Churchill again?
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Haywood wrote:
I was reminded of Forest Fire, when I first saw this game.


Thanks for this, Haywood! I had been completely unaware of this game.
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amacleod wrote:
Haywood wrote:
I was reminded of Forest Fire, when I first saw this game.


Thanks for this, Haywood! I had been completely unaware of this game.


I owed you one, from many years ago, Lewis & Clark, thank you thumbsup . Sorry it took so long to pay back the favor .
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Kevin B. Smith
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amacleod wrote:
Haywood wrote:
I was reminded of Forest Fire, when I first saw this game.

Thanks for this, Haywood! I had been completely unaware of this game.

Me too!
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