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Subject: Floating on a sea of fire rss

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Michael Debije
Netherlands
Eindhoven
The Netherlands
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Hot Spot was designed by W. Armintrout and published as #15 in the Microgame series by Metagames in 1979. It is playable by 1-2 people in about an hour.

What You Get

The Microgames are pretty ‘bare bones’ as far as components. Inside a little rules booklet (with a good cover illustration, by the way) you get a yellow foldout map on slightly thicker paper. The map is as plain as they come: a bunch of hexes with a gray seven-hex feature in the middle, and a couple tables scattered at the edges. An artistic triumph it is not, but serviceable. The counters are wafer thin and need to be cut out, in the exciting colors of brown on white or white on brown. The counters are so thin and the map so cramped that I had difficulty moving them around. Normally, I let a lot go, but with stacking limits approaching nice counters, this becomes impossible to manipulate without making a big mess. What’s more, there are paper cutouts that represent floating platforms your pieces must stand on, and if these shift about, it can knock over the counters, and given the facing of the platforms is important, it is hazardous to touch anything on the board. Overall, then, not a convenient package- I’ve seen it done better. The rules are pretty straightforward and clear, going sometimes into exhaustive detail how to handle platform movement, but also have a nice back-story. You need to provide your own dice, and a paper/pencil set each to record secret information.

What You Do

The premise of the game: there are some valuable elements on the surface of this molten planet you are squabbling over. One player has to defend, the other must try and take the centrally-located fortification. Trouble is, due to the magma surface, the defending units only can stand on floating, mobile rocks. The invader comes in on platforms, but these will melt in four turns, so you have to hurry and make landfall fast, or your transporter, and all troops/vehicles on them, will be lost. Defender sets up first. He has more units, but they are quite weak in battle. He does control all the rock ‘islands’, which he can use to ram, potentially sinking transporters, or even other ‘islands’, especially useful if your opponent has taken them away. The attacker then sets up, entering from any or all of the six edges. You’re ready to go. Setup is fast and you get right into the game.

It’s a basic ‘I go, you go’ format. Defender first moves his islands, with a whole couple pages devoted to how they move, but basically pretty simple. Single hex islands move 3 hexes, double hex two, or one and pivot. Triples move one or pivot, and triangular ones pivot of move one. If they ever move adjacent to something else floating, a die is rolled in secret to see if damage is inflicted- a ‘1’ indicates the island/platform has taken a blow. If a certain number of damage points are sustained, the island/transport breaks apart and all troops/vehicles lost at the end of the turn. After the island movements, the troops move. The defender has a few hovercrafts which can skim above the magma surface, but everything else in the game confined to these solid surfaces. Any location where units are both stacked, combat occurs.

Combat is very easy: take an odds ratio, roll on the CRT (combat results table). This game really promotes attack: nothing bad can happen to the attacker, and you even have a 1 in 6 chance to inflict a point of damage on an opponent, even outnumbered 1:4 or more. This helps keep things moving. After combat, the defender gets one more chance to move the hovercrafts (only) but cannot further attack with them.

Now, it’s the attacker’s turn. Movement and combat are basically the same, but they have no hovercraft. They do have engineers, whose duty it is to try and gain control over any floating islands where the defense has been eliminated. Without control, the defending player will continue to move the islands farther and farther away from the central goal: if they are floated off the map, the troops are lost. Control is established by a 1-2 on a d6.

That’s the game. The attacker wins if he gains control of the central platform. Defender wins if he doesn’t. There is only one scenario for the game.

What I Think

First of all, the premise is really cool. I like how the attackers have four turns to reach some sort of solid platform before their own dissolve. The ‘dance of the islands’ is kind of nice, but the damage to them is rather infrequent, so ramming less devastating as I should have liked, and near the mid/end game it is a little ponderous slowly swinging these rock behemoths around.

Combat very much favors the attacker, so don’t sit around. There’s not much in the way of special units or rules, although they do have step losses for troops, and there is an awfully big chance of the entire defending stack to be eliminated in one roll.

It is too bad that the components cause such a headache in this one. The game is fun but manipulating those wafer-thin counters on the overly-tight map is not. I have so far played only solo, so the ‘fog of war’ aspect of not knowing the total strength of the opponent’s stack is lacking, as is the extra tension of potential platform breakups (does it have only one hit left, or two? Dare I try ramming again?)

Overall, I’d say this is a pretty decent addition to the Microgame line with a unique and interesting setting, some interesting mechanics, and playable in a short space of time. It is not something that will convert the uninitiated into collecting these types of small games, but it is among the better ones of the genre.
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Brian Train
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Thanks for this!

One thing I've done with a few of my Microgames is mount the counters onto thicker cardboard, or stuck them to spare die-cut counters from other wargames. Every Microgame (at least in the platic-baggie era) had single-sided counters, so you're not spoiling the reverse side. It makes things a lot easier to handle.

I've also known some people to copy the maps to larger sizes of paper, to have a little bit more room to put the pieces. This would not work with Hot Spot unless you also blew up the counters, but again, it makes for much easier play.

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Frank Paldino
United States
Youngstown
OH
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Ziegler Corporation hovercrafts cannot skim above the magma surface. They are destroyed as are all other units that do not stay on the crustals. Crustals are not rock islands. They are artificial platforms.
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