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Subject: A Non-Coop Gamer's Flash Point: Fire Rescue Review rss

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Flash Point: Fire Rescue is an Indie Boards & Cards game that was announced as a Kickstarter project back in July 2011. The fundraising goal of $5,000 by August 18th 2011 was met and exceeded with the final total of pledges exceeding $51,000. As a past customer of Travis' (Indie Boards & Cards Proprietor), I received an announcement the day the project began and immediately pledged for a copy (in the weeks following I added another copy to my pledge because the game was shaping up to look outstanding).

Regarding the subject line, I'm not an opponent of coop games. I just generally don't care to spend my time playing them because I usually find most of them have too many obvious decisions or too much downtime or just don't have a theme or mechanics to captivate me. I've enjoyed Pandemic a bit, but I still just never find myself going back to coops because I don't get the same enjoyment from them. Flash Point has really impressed, however, and so I just wanted to illustrate that at least for me, this game is just generally great regardless of the type of game it is and I highly recommend everyone at least give it a look and a consideration to see if it might hold something for you.

I also want to note that I don't intend for this to be a "Pandemic vs Flash Point" comparison, but due to the very similar characteristics (and appeal) of the games, I will make a few references to Pandemic in my review mostly for the purpose of analogies to help explain FP more easily (assuming reader has played Pandemic).

Game Summary

Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a purely cooperative game in which players take on the roles of fire fighting personnel to rescue victims from a burning building. Each player controls a pawn of a unique colour. The board is a 6x8 grid of squares which make up the rooms in a structure. As such, some spaces are separated by walls or closed doorways, which prevent fire from spreading from one square to the next (in most cases).

Like many cooperative games, the general flow of the game is: take actions and then make bad stuff happen. On your player turn, typical actions may include: move, move while carrying a victim or hazardous material (hazmat), extinguish fire, open/close a door, etc. Each firefighter has a certain number of action points (AP) to use to move, fight fire, treat victims, etc. After the player has used up all of their APs (unused ones can be carried over), they roll 1d6 and 1d8 to determine a coordinate on the board where the fire will spread ("Roll for Smoke"). The player adds a smoke marker to the indicated space. If smoke already exists in the space, it ignites into fire. If fire already exists in the space, an explosion occurs (you can imagine how this might play out). There are a few more interesting mechanisms not worth getting into detail now, such as hot spots, ambulance and fire engine usage. The game is won when the players have rescued at least 7 victims. The game is lost when 4 victims have perished. The game ENDS (not necessarily in defeat) when the building collapses due to excessive structural damage.

 


Family Game & Difficulty Levels

A nice feature of this game is that it ships with two styles of gameplay rules: Family Game & Experienced. As you can imagine, the Family Game is a simpler version of the game with fewer special rules and fewer decisions. There are no unique player roles, no hot spots, no hazmats, no vehicles, etc.

The experienced game introduces all of the extra pieces and rules to the game and also offers a tiered level of difficulty options (Recruit, Veteran and Heroic). With each increasing difficulty level, you basically start the game with more bad stuff which compounds into EVEN more bad stuff once dice start rolling.

Player Roles

As mentioned above, this game features unique player roles. Similar to the roles in Pandemic, each firefighter can generally perform the same actions and has an average base AP similar to the others, but each role offers a special ability which gives it an advantage over the other roles at performing a particular task. For example, the Rescue Specialist receives 3 additional bonus AP which can only be used for the purpose of movement (and cannot be carried over). The CAFS Specialist is an ace at fighting fires. He has 3 bonus AP which can be used for firefighting actions only (and can't be carried over), but the downside is he receives only 3 base AP for performing other actions (such as movement, carrying, etc). The Hazmat Specialist has the ability to remove hazardous materials from the building very quickly whereas another role without his specialized training would have to slowly carry the materials from the house.

Each role has a pretty large impact in how each character can be most effective to the effort. Now the real kicker that makes this interesting is that you aren't simply dealt a random role at the start of the game and have to play that way. Roles are chosen at the start of the game mutually but are not permanent. At any time, if a player moves outside to the fire engine and begins a turn on the fire engine, that player can spend 2APs to change roles (think of it as changing their equipped gear). They can then continue their turn with the new abilities of the new role.

Conclusion

After having played the family game a couple times solo (with two characters) to learn the game, I decided to get straight into the experienced game when teaching my girlfriend (rather than teach her the family game and then have to introduce new rules later). With young players or perhaps very casual (non-gamer) players, it might be better to start with the family game unless there's at least an experienced player to run the game efficiently. The upkeep in the experienced game is very simple and intuitive once you've done it a few times, but with newer players I could see it feeling fiddly and complicated because there are quite a few conditions which need to be checked every turn but once you have enough plays of the game, these conditions stand out to you the moment they occur and there's really no added time for upkeep once you're comfortable enough that you don't have to stop after a turn to do the checks.

I'm a huge fan of this game. It only took two games for my girlfriend to be charging around the house fighting fires like a woman possessed. The theme is excellent and has very wide appeal. The mechanics work extremely well with the theme. The rules for advancing and spreading the fire are really very intuitive and I find the upkeep easier and simpler than other coops I have played. Also, I think the added unpredictability of the game adds a nice uncertainty to what the obvious best move might be at a given time. To compare to Pandemic for instance, a player with a strong memory may recall exactly which cards have been drawn off the stack so far and thus at a given point can say for sure that neither of those cards will be the next one to be flipped up, making them perhaps lower priority for immediate treatment. In Flash Point, the dice could very well cause an explosion in the same room two turns in a row (it happened to us). So this kind of chaos, which some may dislike, I feel improves this type of game because there should be a great deal of uncertainty as to where the fire is currently moving and where it is most dangerous.

I mentioned in the initial summary that this is a 'purely cooperative' game and by that I mean there is no traitor or 'bad guy' mechanism. Personally, I dislike traitor mechanisms. If I want to play a coop game (which I seldom did before FP came along), I want it to BE a coop game. If I wanted a confrontational game, I'd much sooner play a REAL confrontation game. There's already a proposed "Arsonist" role card on BGG for people who wish to experiment with a traitor mechanic, but personally I don't see it adding anything positive to the game. I only mention this tidbit at all because this is a relevant feature (or lack) to some people who might be reading reviews.

It's also worth noting that while this is an indie game, it looks anything but. The materials, including the mounted board, are all of the highest quality. If you saw the game laid out and knew nothing about it, you'd assume it was the product a major publisher.
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