Posted by: gschloesser | March 27, 2013

Flashpoint – Fire Rescue

Design by:  Kevin Lanzing
Published by:  Indie Boards and Cards
1 – 6 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser


A few years back, the country music duo Montgomery Gentry enjoyed a hit song with “Some People Change”, which conveyed the powerful message that people can change, even if they were suffering from terrible addictions or behavior.  In a much milder sense the song can apply to me … but only in terms of gaming preferences.  You see, I originally was not a fan of the cooperative game genre.  I found the games could easily be dominated by a forceful player, and many seemed to be nothing more than playing appropriate cards when needed.  They failed to excite or impress me.

Some people change.  My epiphany first began with the release of Shadows over Camelot.  The transformation continued with a steady series of exciting and tense cooperative games, including Pandemic, Ghost Stories and Battlestar Galactica.  Now I no longer attempt to avoid cooperative games.  Rather, I eagerly agree to give them a try.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue by designer Kevin Lanzing is quite likely one of the most accessible cooperative games.  I attribute this primarily to the theme, which most people can relate to and understand.  Everyone is familiar with the job of firefighters:  save lives and property by rescuing trapped individuals and extinguish fires.  Who among us does not admire the bravery and dedication of these fine men and women?  Sure, players do need to learn the rules – which for the most part are not very difficult – but there is an immediate sense and understanding of the goals and objectives.  This makes learning and playing the game far easier than most other cooperative games.

Flash Point began life as a desk-top publishing effort on the Game Crafter.  It was soon evident that the game deserved a more professional publication.  Thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the game saw new life as a quality production from Indie Boards and Cards.  This helped the game reach a far wider audience, receiving considerable acclaim across the globe.  It is one of the biggest successes emerging from the Kickstarter system.

Included in the dense package are two sets of rules, allowing the game to be played with either families or experienced gamers.  Further, the board is double-sided, with each depicting a different home or building presenting various challenges to the firefighters.  Further expansions have added even more buildings, characters and options, keeping the game fresh and exciting.

Flashpoint2The setting:  A fire has erupted in the home, and there are numerous people and pets trapped inside.  In the Family version, players assume the role of nondescript firefighters, while the experienced version introduces the specialists: captain, driver, rescue specialist paramedic, Hazmat or imaging technician, CAFS firefighter and generalist.  Each of these specialists has a unique ability which can enhance the teams’ effectiveness.  In both versions, players must coordinate their efforts to keep the fire contained long enough to rescue the trapped victims.

A movement grid is superimposed on the board.  Each space in the grid depicts coordinates which correspond to the roll of both six and eight-sided dice.  This is needed for the placement of fire tokens and victims.  The board is pre-set with three trapped persons and ten initial fire markers, which in the Family version are placed in specified locations.  The experienced version utilizes a somewhat confusing, semi-random process to place these markers.  Since the victim tokens are placed face-down, players are not sure if they represent actual victims or false alarms (blank tokens).  In the experienced version, the imaging technician can use his special ability to flip a token by expending an action point.  This, of course, allows players to save time by reaching the actual victims quicker.

Players have four actions per turn, which can be used to move, open or close doors, extinguish smoke and/or flames and/or chop walls to create an opening.  Moving from space-to-space generally costs one action point, but this cost is increased to two if entering a space engulfed in flames or carrying a victim.  Smoke is the precursor to fire and can be removed by an adjacent firefighter by expending an action point.  It takes two actions to remove a fire marker, or just one to reduce it to smoke.  Chopping walls can be useful to create openings, thereby allowing quicker access to a victim or an endangered location.  However, this damages the wall, and if the building incurs too much damage, it collapses, ending in the loss of the remaining victims and defeat for the firefighters.

In a mechanism similar to that found in Pandemic, each player’s turn ends with the fire spreading, creating ongoing problems for the firefighters.  Both dice (six and eight-sided) are rolled and a smoke marker is placed on the corresponding space on the board.  The placement of the smoke counter may have effects on that space, as well as adjacent spaces.  For example, if the space already contains a smoke counter or there is a fire marker in an adjacent space, the smoke becomes a fire.  A bigger danger is if the smoke is placed on a space already containing a fire counter.  This results in an explosion, which often causes the fire to spread dramatically.

The process for this is fiddly and a bit confusing.  The fire spreads in all four directions, causing any smoke counters in those spaces to become fire.  Walls in the fire’s path are damaged and doors are blown off their hinges.  If the fire enters a space already containing a fire marker, a shockwave occurs, forcing the fire to expand even further.  Any victims in its path are killed, while firefighters are stunned and removed from the building.  As in Pandemic, this chain-reaction effect can be devastating and turn a manageable problem into chaos.  Thus, there is a strong incentive to not only rescue the victims, but to keep the fire under control by extinguishing flames and removing smoke counters.

The ultimate goal of the game is to rescue seven victims by safely removing them from the inferno.  At the end of each player’s turn, new victim tokens are added to bring the total number of victims inside of the building to three.  As mentioned, some of the victim tokens are blank, so players are never quite sure if their identity until they reach the token.  The firefighting team is defeated if four victims are lost or if the building accumulates twenty-four damage markers.  This usually takes 45 minutes to an hour to occur.

The experienced version has three levels and introduces numerous changes.  In addition to the semi-random nature of the set-up, firefighters must now deal with hot spots – which cause another fire advance roll if engulfed in flames – and hazardous materials, which will explode if reached by the fire.  Fortunately, players have a wide range of specialists at their disposal.  Each player chooses a specialist as a character and can change their specialist during the course of the game.  The specialist abilities can be extremely useful.  For example, the Hazmat technician can remove a hazmat marker by expending two action points.  The fire captain has two additional action points which he can use to command another player.  The CAFS Firefighter has three extra action points that can be used to extinguish fires.  Choosing how to use these powers and coordinating the firefighters’ actions is the key to a successful rescue.

Two vehicles are also available:  the fire engine and the ambulance.  Both can be used to quickly transport players around the perimeter of the building.  The fire engine, however, requires a driver, while the ambulance can be moved on its own by any player.  The fire engine also has a powerful deck gun that can be used in an attempt to extinguish flames in an adjacent quadrant of the building.  The Driver / Operator specialist is well suited for this task, as he is trained on the accurate firing of the deck gun.  He can re-roll his dice when firing the gun, honing-in on the fire’s hot spots in order to extinguish them with a deluge of water.  The main purpose of the ambulance is to rescue victims, as it is no longer sufficient to simply remove the victims from the burning building; they now must be brought to the ambulance.

The experienced version presents players with a significant number of additional challenges and is certainly far more daunting.  It also gives the players wider latitude in terms of strategy and options.  It may be a bit too much for younger children, but gamers will likely find these versions far more interesting and exciting.

As is their nature, cooperative games require players to cooperate in order to have a chance at success.  Such is the case here.  Players must constantly talk to each other, offer suggestions and advice, and cleverly coordinate their actions and optimally employ their special abilities.  The fire can and usually does spread quickly, often causing tragic explosions that move the situation from manageable to disaster.  There is usually a persistent sense of impending disaster that forces players to tend to numerous hot spots simultaneously, while at the same time attempting to reach and rescue trapped victims.  This constant feeling of being on the edge of a deadly precipice is essential for a cooperative game to be exciting and fun.  If it is too easy to accomplish the game’s goals, then the game is simply unexciting.  If it is too difficult and success is rarely achieved, then the game is too frustrating.  There must be a balance, but this balance must be tilted more towards failure rather than success.  This creates the desire within the player to play it again and again so they can try to succeed on the next effort.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue succeeds in fanning the flames of this persistent tension and seems to present players with a task at which players fail more often than not.  Like all the majority of cooperative games, it can be prone to a forceful player dominating the proceedings.  I make a point of warning folks against this whenever playing a cooperative game, which usually alleviates the problem.  My only other real quibble with the game is the rather confusing and complicated manner of expanding the fire, particularly when an explosion occurs.  This, however, does not doom the game.

Flashpoint is a very good cooperative game.  It is usually tense, exciting and challenging, creating a delectable sense of urgency that real-life firefighters must experience whenever they enter a burning building.  When that type of atmosphere can be successfully recreated in a board game – even in a small fashion – it bodes well for the game.

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