Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Flash Point

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Flash Point is a cooperative game about fire fighters trying to save people from a burning building. Working together, the players need to save at least 7 out of 10 victims to win.

The game starts with three victim markers on the board. Some parts of the building are already on fire and some walls damaged. Fire fighters start outside the building. On your turn, you get 4 action points to spend, and once done you do fire spreading before the next player's turn. You can spend action points to move, to open doors, to break walls, to carry victims and to fight fire. To save a victim, you need to carry him (or her, or it; yes you have to save pets too) outside the house, and call the ambulance to pick him up. Whenever a victim is saved, or is killed by fire or found to be a false alarm, a new victim marker is added to the board. So you plunge into the burning house again to answer the next distress call.

After actions are done, bad things happen. You roll dice (one 6-sided and one 8-sided) to determine where smoke will appear in the building, which is a 6x8 grid. If the new smoke appears on a clear space, the space becomes smoky. If the space is already smoky, it bursts into flame. Any smoke adjacent to fire immediately lights up too. If the space is already burning, an explosion occurs, spreading fire or damaging doors and walls in all four directions. An explosion also occurs if fire reaches hazardous materials, which are seeded on the board at the start of the game. There are also hot spots. If the smoke roll hits a hot spot, you must do an extra smoke roll and add a hot spot. If your second smoke roll hits another hot spot, you keep on rolling. Things can get out of hand quickly if you are unlucky. Damage to walls can be good or bad. A collapsed wall section lets you walk through, i.e. it's a shortcut. However, if the building takes too much damage, the whole thing comes down and the game ends.

Fire fighters can barge through burning spaces, but if caught by fire (smoke lighting up, or an explosion occurring in an adjacent space), they are knocked down and are transported to the ambulance. Victims caught by fire simply die.

Each player picks a specialist to play at the start of the game, and can switch roles during the game. Each specialist has a different special ability, e.g. the paramedic can give first aid to revive a victim, so that he can walk by himself and need not be carried. The different abilities can be useful under different situations.

The Play

I did a 4-player game. All of us were new to the game except for Allen who is partially new - he has played a computer implementation before, but the rules are slightly different. I struggled a little with explaining the rules, even though I have read it a few times before, because of the various terms they use. Once things got underway, gameplay was smooth. I guess I needed to physically see how things work before everything clicked.

We kept getting explosion after explosion. It was a race against time to save 7 victims. Like Pandemic, there is a tension between long-term and short-term goals, the long-term goal being to save people, and the short-term being to subdue the fire enough so that it doesn't get out of hand. It can sometimes be tough to decide which to prioritise.

When I explained the game rules earlier, I had explained that among the victim tokens were some false alarms which could be ignored and simply discarded. I asked my fellow players to imagine discovering a cat instead of an unconscious victim. When we actually played, we found that there was a cat token! It was only then I realised I had given a bad example. The cat needed to be rescued too and should be treated as a victim. Sorry, all cat owners.

The round blue markers are victim markers. When placed on the board, they are face down (i.e. showing the question mark). Only when a fire fighter reaches them they are turned face up. The one on the right has been confirmed to be a victim. Now the green fire fighter needs to carry her out of the building.

One funny thing that happened in our game was we kept discovering victims at one particular bed. After carrying one victim from that bed away to safety, we again heard calls for help from the same spot. Must have been some wild orgy. People kept crawling out from under the bed.

Due to the many explosions, many of the walls were damaged and the building started to get shaky. One of us had to switch role to the structural engineer to quickly fix some of the walls so that the building didn't collapse. We came very close to losing the game due to the house collapsing - just one bad dice roll away. Thankfully we eventually managed to save our 7th victim to win the game. At that point, one victim had died in the fire. We decided to try to save the last two. Unfortunately we couldn't, the building finally collapsed soon afterwards, ending the game.

We played the full game and not the introductory game, but we used the easiest level. At harder levels, there are more initial fires, hazardous materials and hot spots.

The dining room in the top left corner is burning very badly. An explosion had spread the fire outside the building. The toilet in the bottom left corner is in a bad condition too. Explosions have damaged the walls.

The fires at the dining room (top left) and toilet (bottom left) are under control now, but the kitchen in the centre is now burning very badly.

The Thoughts

Flash Point feels quite Euro, and at the same time most aspects of the game tie well with the setting. The setting feels real and is something most people can relate to. This can work well as a family game, but probably an adult will need to handle the smoke and fire spreading aspects initially. Actions are easy to understand, and the behaviours of the fire and explosions are intuitive once you see them in action. There are a few illogical aspects, but I think they are acceptable compromises to maintain balance and playability.

Flash Point reminds me of Pandemic, another cooperative game, and I can't resist comparing them. Pandemic is a little tighter, has fewer rules overhead and fewer moving parts, and has that delicious tension of the tendency of infected cities to get infected again. It is more abstract. Flash Point has a completely different setting that players can relate to more directly, as if they are present at the scene of the fire. Using memoryless dice instead of recycleable cards to determine where smoke appears means Flash Point probably has higher randomness, but I see this as a feature, not a strength or weakness. Despite the seemingly higher randomness, Flash Point feels quite balanced. Maybe the many dice rolls average out in the long run, so good and bad luck even out.

Noble Knight Games - Buy, sell and Trade! New and Out-of-Print RPG's, Board Games, Miniatures, Dungeons & Dragons

No comments: