Flash Point: A Great Firefighting Co-Op game (in need of some better roles)

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flashpointFlash Point is an indie co-op game, designed by Kevin Lanzing and published through the Game Crafter, where a group of players (1-6) fight against a spreading fire in a house, trying to pull out all of the victims before the house collapses. This review is based on having played the Java version of Flash Point (pictured below) several times.  First of all, I have to say that the Java program for this game has got to be one of the best PC versions of a boardgame I've ever seen. My only complaint is that there's no way to turn off or lower the sound (you have to copy the Sounds folder and move it), and I wish it moved a little faster. Seriously, it's really amazing.  Here's the link, so you can try it yourself: http://www.mediafire.com/?93km82o9tpd601p



Flash Point ScreenThe Java version wouldn't matter at all, though, if the game wasn't any good.  But thankfully, Flash Point is a very good game.

At the beginning of the game, a fire begins spreading around a house.  This is done with a dice system where a 6-sided die and 8-sided die provide coordinates for where the fire hits.  Each fire token has two sides, one for smoke and one for fire.  If a space in the house has a fire token, you will first have to spend an action to flip it over to the smoke side, then another action to remove the token altogether.  If a space in the house is already on fire and gets hit again, an explosion occurs, which spreads the fire and also damages the walls.  There are 30 damage tokens for the walls, and if they all run out, the house collapses and you lose.  The clever thing about that is that sometimes you want the walls damaged... if a wall section has two damage tokens on it, you can pass through it.  You can also spend 2 action points to specifically add a damage token to a wall with an axe.  There are also several doors in the house which need to be first opened with one action point before they can be moved through. 

The point of the game, though, is not really to douse the fire (the house is doomed, anyway), but to rescue the survivors.  There are several "point of interest" (POI) tokens, with three of them on the board at any given time.  Several of these POIs are victims, and you'll need to get them safely outside the house to the ambulance (which can be moved around the house).  If too many victims perish, you'll lose the game.  Some POIs are just shadows and a few are hazardous materials, which need to be removed from the house to prevent further explosions.  If all POIs have been accounted for, and no more than 2 of the people died in the fire, then you win.

I like how the fire spreads and the house slowly collapses and how you can save up unused actions for later turns (a unique mechanism for these types of games).  Finding and rescuing the people is a cool idea and sometimes you have to really plan your best route around the house to make the most of your available actions in order to get them out.  It's definitely comparable to Pandemic in overall gameplay quality, while also feeling different enough from that to stand on its own.

FlashPointRolesWhere Flash Point falls a little short for me, though, is that the roles are kind of blah.  Well, to clarify, the roles make sense for what they are depicting and the special abilities tie into their thematic connection, but the strength of the roles is often very weak. Several of the roles can't really do much of anything with their abilities that's very "special" a lot of times. For example, the Driver; you might use his ability a couple times in the game... maybe.  Being that there are only two vehicles outside the house (in addition to the Ambulance, the Fire Truck can be used to move around, and also to splash a desperate high-pressure water cannon), they are hard to get to and may only rarely come into play.  Same with the Hazmat Technician (a particularly blah ability; he can eliminate a HazMat POI by spending 2 actions). 

And the roles that do have really useful abilities are hampered in some way, which almost seems worse than having a mediocre ability.  The Firefighter can remove fire and smoke with just one action, which is great, but it costs him 2 AP to move anywhere, so he's really tedious to move around and can't really accomplish all that much, especially if he's trying to carry a victim out (it costs 2 AP per move to carry a victim or HazMat, and 4 AP for the firefighter, or basically, his whole turn to move just one space). It would be like the Medic in Pandemic requiring 2 AP to move from one place to another. How useful would the Medic be in that case?  It kind of ruins what could be great about the role. Then there's the Rescue Specialist, who can move diagonally and chop through walls for 1 AP (instead of 2). That's great, but then he can't extinguish anything at all, ever. :shake: The Fire Captain can spend AP on his turn to move other players, which seems fine in a Pandemic Dispatcher kind of way, but without the Dispatcher's ability to move people to each other (which wouldn't make sense here), it ends up being something you rarely feel is worth using, and if you do use it, then the Fire Captain didn't really get much of a turn for himself. 

The role card for the Fire Captain says that when using his ability, you have to match the AP of the person moving... meaning that it will cost 2 AP per move for the Firefighter and 2 AP per move for someone carrying a victim or Hazmat.  I think the role would be much more useful and fun to play if the Fire Captain's ability provided a better return for the investment, so to speak... So perhaps it could be something like, "once per turn, spend 1 AP to move any other character (including the Firefighter and people carrying victims/Hazmat) one space".  It would still be limited in power, but in that case it would actually have some power to it.  You would gain a net of 1 AP from the ability and could help set up someone else better for their turn in the process.

I mean, I like characters in games that have both positive/negative attributes and abilities, but it seems like in this case the negatives really cancel what would make the characters more fun to play. I'm thinking they could still have negatives, but less restrictive ones. For example, perhaps the Rescue Specialist could only extinguish smoke, but not fire. Maybe the Firefighter could move normally in most instances, but could require an extra AP when moving through doors and walls (which would fit thematically with his encumbering equipment).  Something like that would still be restrictive and help balance out their positive abilities, but not feel so debilitating. 

As far as the other roles, the Paramedic (can treat victims for 2 AP so they're easier to carry out, not costing any further AP to carry), the Generalist (5 actions per turn instead of 4) and the Imaging Technician (spend 2 AP to look at a POI counter anywhere in the house) are all okay, if not spectacular, but at least nothing cancels their good ability.

FlashPointBoardThe thing is, sure, the game is still winnable as it is with those roles exactly as they are (I've won about 3 out of 12 games so far), and by changing those players' abilities the game would otherwise have to be balanced to be more difficult (and there are already ways to do that within the setup rules), but the end result would be that those roles (and I think the game in general) would be more fun to play.  Some of the roles just aren't that fun to play, really. I think games like this really shine when the different abilities of the roles can work together and be a real factor in the outcome, and I'm not getting that feeling like it seems that I should from these roles. I'm at the point where I start the Java game over if certain characters are chosen randomly, and that's unfortunate.

I guess the solution for me as far as the roles is that with the hard copy version of this, I can always make variant roles to play around with. Speaking of which, I should mention again that the hard copy of this is provided through the Game Crafter.  I know that Game Crafter's production quality has been criticized a lot, but I think this is one case where everything looks and works pretty good.  For the $28.50 price, what you get and the quality of the artwork and components is certainly better than a lot of Victory Point Games, by comparison.  I'd say that designer Kevin Lanzing has not only made a very polished game, but has also made the best use out of the Game Crafter capabilities.  I would like to see this game get more attention and possibly a larger publisher, and I think it would definitely deserve that, especially if the roles were improved.

Order Flash Point through the Game Crafter here: http://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/flash-point

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