Back when I was a kid, there were only four T.V. channels on the air. We could, on a good day, get three. If we were really lucky, the picture would even remain in full colour for the whole duration of the programme we were watching.
This was important because very frequently the best thing on was an old (even then) disaster movie and explosions just looked cooler in colour than they did in black and white. A key issue to an eight year old on a Sunday afternoon too wet to play outside.
Fast forward thirty years. I’m laying on the sofa surfing the web for board games during an unseasonably warm afternoon in October. The kids are seemingly perma-glued to the 57 channels that exclusively show cartoons and my wife is fabric shopping on her phone.
I quite unexpectedly come across a game that just looked so cool. A board game equivalent of the Towering Inferno. “Who wants to play firemen?’ I exclaim.
My wife is non-committal and the kids ask me to rewind the T.V. because they didn’t hear that last bit. I take this as an enthusiastic “yes, please” from all concerned and one-click another game into my collection.
That game was Flash Point: Fire Rescue, the eighth step on my board game journey. And, yes, you get to play firefighters dashing in and out of buildings rescuing people while explosions roar and buildings collapse. It really is like the best parts of the Towering Inferno. Only set in a bungalow. One that seems to have an unending supply of people standing around next to open doors waiting to be rescued.
Flash Point is a cooperative game in which players are members of a fire crew attending a domestic fire. There are people trapped in the building and the aim of the game is to rescue seven. If you lose four or the building collapses the game wins.
There are a range of different actions that can be performed depending on which game mode, beginner or advanced, is being played. The basic actions are broadly the same in both games. The player can move, open doors, extinguish flames and smoke, carry people and use their fire axe to chop their way out of the danger area.
The advance game offers a few extra options. A fire engine or ambulance can be driven to a different part of the board. Flammable material can be made safe The water hose on the fire engine can be used to extinguish large sections of fire. In the advanced game, player roles or characters (specialists such as a paramedic or an imaging technician for example) are introduced which further alter the available actions based on the character being played.
Each action has a point cost which varies depending on the action. Moving a square is one point, carrying a victim is two, firing the fire engine water hose is four points and so on. Each player has a limited number of points available during the each turn. Generally, this is four, however, the total can vary depending on role in the advanced game.
Choosing what to do on your turn therefore is a key decision. There are rarely enough points available to do everything you want or need to do. Do you keep fighting the fire or carry a victim out to safety? Should you chop your way out of trouble or risk moving through a smoke filled room? A decision made even more interesting by the knowledge that you can do less on a turn in order to save action points for a later turn. Do nothing at all and you can potentially save all your action points for effectively a double turn later. Time it well and the next turn could be a fantastic feat of derring-do. Mis-time it and the building could collapse around you.
As interesting as the choice of actions available to your model fire crew is, the really interesting part of this game is the fire.
At the end of each player turn two dice are rolled which act as coordinates for where the fire spreads to next. Smoke slowly creeps into rooms unaffected by fire. Explosions damage the walls and doors increasing the chance of a building collapse. Firefighters get ‘knocked down’ and victims ‘lost’. Flash-fires rage in chain reactions that ignite entire rooms. The longer the fire burns and the more hazardous the material in the building the greater the chance of the fire spreading. All determined from this one dice roll.
It really is a fantastic mechanism that fits perfectly with the theme of Flash Point. The ease with which your imagination can be swept away as a result this involving theme is remarkable and it makes the game experience a thoroughly enjoyable one.
However, Flash Point is not without its flaws. Quite significant ones at that.
The set-up is fiddly and there are components that don’t seem to be used. In both the advanced and beginner game three victim tokens are removed as they ‘will not be used in this game’. When these will be needed is not clear. The rule book is not particularly clear generally. This is not a hugely complicated game, yet the rule book, at least for me, seems to defy easy navigation and some key rules are not in the places you might expect.
In the case of the Fire Captain character, the rules summary on the role card is incomplete with a key piece of information only found in the rule book when it would be really handy to have it printed on the role card.
The biggest issue I have with Flash Point though relates it’s surprisingly divisive theme. While I love the theme, the rest of my family don’t. To be fair, the kids are a bit young. My daughter in particular is confused by the action points and seems slightly disturbed when the fire causes a victim to be ‘lost’. “Did the doggy die daddy?”. Not an easy question to answer.
My son on the other hand seems to enjoy the theme and finds counting the actions manageable. Yet every time he plays points out some new issue with the game that I had been able to overlook.
‘Why does the fire start on opposite sides of the house?’. ‘Why does the baby’s room have so many things in it that might explode?’. ‘There are so many people in this house. Were they having a party?’
My wife just hates this game. She summarises her dislike quite nicely: “I don’t want to play any game where people burn to death no matter how they phrase it in the rulebook”.
A dislike of the theme does not make Flash Point a bad game. Many people will enjoy the theme and have a great time playing. However, it’s worth noting that the theme may not be ‘family friendly’ for all families. Something for the parents out there to bear in mind and use their judgement on before buying.
Being cooperative is this games’ saving grace in my house. It means I can play the game solo. It works well in this format. Simply by playing multiple characters, I can have an enjoyable solo game which plays identically to the co-op version. It’s both challenging and fun.
I personally play Flash Point solo often and very much I enjoy it. Sadly, however, it currently does fall in the bracket of family games that are not suited to my family.
Maybe in time it will be. I may well revisit this and other games in this bracket in a year or two with greater success. For now though, this acts as a lesson learned. Namely: buying games because they remind you of 1970’s disaster movies is not always the best decision.