The Roof Is On Fire – Flash Point Fire Rescue

Fire. The hot burney. It’s warmth, light, tasty foods, your un-pissed on enemies getting their comeuppance. Despite all these benefits, fire can also be destructive (who knew). At such times of firey destruction, true heros step up to save the day.

Flash Point sees players taking the roles of firefighters as they attempt to control the Big Yellow Toasty and rescue those trapped in its too-warm embrace. 2-6 players grab a mini in their preferred colour and prepare to tackle the blaze.

Action takes place on a 8 x 10 squared, double-sided board. Each side is laid out as a home, with kitchens, bedrooms, living areas, bathrooms, and closets taking up the middle 6 x 8 squares with a single space a border around the building where a fire engine and ambulance can be placed.

Initial setup is done by rolling a six and an eight sided dice three times to decide where the initial fires have broken out. The dice are then rolled three more times to place points of interest. These could be a person, a pet, or the empty nothingness of the void, a reminder of the endless abyss that awaits all things come the heat death of the universe (which is to say you probably heard a noise but it wasn’t produced by anything sentient (that you know of)).

In harder difficulties, (of which the game has 3, plus suggestions for other ways to make things more or less difficult) you will also roll to place hazardous materials which could explode in the event that they catch fire. Additionally, the initial fires will be marked as flash points. These can be made temporarily safe by extinguishing the fire, but should you roll that space again, you’ll not only place more smoke there (which can turn into fire in an instant), but you’ll also be rolling again to place more smoke. If the second roll is a clear space, or even just smoking, it becomes a flash point. If not, you’ll keep rolling again and again, placing more and more smoke, until you do. As in real life, a house fire can escalate really quickly.

When you roll a spot that is already on fire, you’ll have to deal with other chain effects. The spaces around that spot will be affected. This may mean more fire in each cardinal direction, but more than that, it could mean structural damage. Walls can be destroyed if they’re hit twice, turning them into smoking doorways, doors themselves can be permanently destroyed, and the more open an area is, the easier it is for fire to spread. Plus, if the building takes too much damage, it may collapse on you, ending the game.

Once you’re out of family mode, you’ll also start using uniquely skilled firefighters. These may have more or less actions per turn and will have their own abilities. This could be providing movement actions to a fellow firefighter on your turn, to have a number of free fire suppression actions, or to be able to heal survivors – making it easier to get them to safety.

The main goal of the game is to rescue seven people, however, there’s nothing to stop you going for the full complement of ten. As mentioned earlier, hidden among these “points of interest” are some blank tiles. As such, you could go tearing across a burning building to investigate a space, only to discover it was a waste of time. Time that has allowed the fire to grow to new heights.

People are rescued by getting them outside, to the ambulance, which can park on any of four spots, and can be radioed to move to another location for precious action points. This means you can just dump someone outside on an ambulance spot, return to fighting the fire, and then arrange for the ambulance to pick them up once things are under control again. I’m sure the ambulance will see them there, and not accidentally run them over. They’re having a bad enough day as it is.

If the fire reaches a point of interest, you turn it over to find out if someone has been flambéed or if you saved yourself a few action points you can use to tackle the fire. Either way, at the end of that player’s turn, you roll to add another point of interest to keep the total at three. Should you lose four people at any point, that’s the game over.

Quick, important note here: at the start of the game, it asks you to remove two people and a blank tile from the pool of points of interest. This pool does include a dog and a cat. If you think losing either or both pets would be distressing to you, you can make these the two you don’t play with.

In addition to the ambulance, there’s the fire engine. Here you can change roles to a different fire specialist, take a ride to another engine parking space, or use the mighty (ish) deck gun.

The deck gun fires a big burst of water into the building, based on where it’s parked, and can help deal with heavily affected areas… if you roll well. You see the deck gun is based on dice rolls, you have to roll within the section of the board you can reach from it’s current parking spot, but on top of that, land it on the wrong side of a wall, and you’ve just rolled to make the carpet squelch, while the kitchen continues to be a raging inferno. When it works, it’s great, when it misses your target, it’s a massive sink for your action points, and that fire is still doing its thing.

I’ve found that you start to develop little narratives about the building as games proceed. A spot you keep rolling to catch fire becomes “that spot on the couch someone accidentally spilled a whole bottle of whiskey last Beltane”; the new point of interest you rolled, that is in the other bed spot, next to where you just rescued someone becomes a whole thing about someone hiding under the covers, worried that firefighter was an angry partner coming home to catch you. I wasn’t expecting it, but it seems to happen every game. “Who keeps smoking in the damn closet?!”

The varying difficulty settings mean this game can be played for family board game nights with kids as young as ten, all the way up to top strategists who can think 8 moves ahead. The double sided board adds additional replayability and there’s about 5 major expansions that add additional, double sided boards, as well as new features (such as windows you can open to climb through and fragile walls).

I wasn’t expecting to like Flash Point as much as I do, I’d taken it for Pandemic, but with the disease being fire (it’s not). What it is is fast paced, thoughtful and strangely fun, considering the subject matter.

Pros:

  • Lots of difficulty levels mean you can play with different ability groups.
  • It’s an easy teach.
  • Lots of fun.

Cons:

  • Sometimes you will encounter extreme difficulty spikes due to rolling in the same areas on consecutive rolls (the joys of randomness).
  • You might need to play a few games at a new difficulty before you work out how to even begin to manage.

Final Score: 8/10

Pretty Wrong – Stuffed

Stuffed first caught my attention on Kickstarter, and like most boardgames I’ve kickstarted, it actually arrived (woo!). The biggest pull is the amazing artwork, which admittedly isn’t the best thing to base a purchase on (no shit Janey!).

The component quality is amazing. The custom dice have nice art and a really nice weight. The card art is incredible, the box opens like a story book which is held shut with a magnetic clasp, there’s enough space to have sleeved cards in there, and the vacform tray is very nicely designed to show everything off.

The plot of Stuffed is… *makes slightly embarrassed noises*. Luckily, it’s not well conveyed in the game itself, which is probably for the best because it’s a massive yikes once you put in the context of some of the cards. Those who were destined for great things, but fight their destiny, waste their talents and let time slip away, fail at their purpose. Their vice leads to the penalty that they become adorable, but troubled stuffed animals.

This is the only time ‘vice’ is brought up, usually the game talks of burdens (or rather, birdens). So what does the game consider a vice or a personal failing that sees you damned to the plush realms? Hatred – sure, addiction – makes sense I guess (if you completely ignore the underlying issues of addiction), self pity – I… suppose, regret – shaky ground, fear – what?!, broken – huh?, depression – oh do fuck off.

See at this point I just want to shake the designers and ask how they didn’t see the problems here. These ‘vices’ are mostly just mental health problems. You made a game where if you had mental health problems from anxiety, to depression, to trauma, to anger issues, and so on, you’re doomed to be punished for that in the next life. You done goofed. You’ve done a bad job, game designers *baps on nose with a newspaper*.

Why didn’t I notice this in the Kickstarter? Because the plot and the birdens (get it? They have birds on) weren’t shown together. Indeed, the use of the birden cards is considered an alternative play style (more on that later).

I genuinely think that if Certifiable Studios had framed it as: those who had, through their own failings or lack of bravery, failed to do the things that really mattered to meet their destiny, and then changed the titles of each birden, that this all could have been avoided.

Stuffed sees you trying to complete a mission by putting a dedicated team together and gathering the necessary supplies to complete it. That’s it, no need to blame people who have mental health problems. Just adorable stuffed animals (some of whom happen to be mercenaries) going on a quest together. Even with the birden cards in play, you can read it as “we came together as a team, and overcame those birdens”. They simply had to avoid framing them as vices or personal failings.

Ok, major glaring issues addressed, time to talk about gameplay.

Players take turns rolling 8 custom dice to earn money, gain advantage cards, gain loyal companions and specialists, or hire mercenaries. Each ally (and the player’s avatar) allows you to spend a die with a matching symbol to manipulate one or more dice. The avatars always allow you to spend one paw symbol die to re-roll any number of other dice. Others may ask you to spend a leaf to modify one of the dice to your favour. It’s this ability to re-roll and modify dice that takes a lot of the frustrating randomness out of the game (which is always a risk with dice rollers).

Loyal allies only require you to spend the correct symbols from dice in order to join your team, but specialists will also want you to spend gold to recruit them. Whereas mercenaries may even want you to part with your advantages as part of their cost. Luckily you can trade in three matching symbols for a coin or four for an advantage card (unless you rolled birds, those pesky birdens ruin everything). Advantages can be played for various benefits such as a free re-roll, an additional resource, to modify a die, etc. Some may even be played as allies in their own right.

As you progress through the game someone will eventually hire a mercenary. Once the first one is hired a new, pink die goes into the mix. This is rolled with the other dice on each player’s turn and should it land on a symbol matching a merc in play, their current employer gets a benefit. That could be extra gold, to steal gold from another player, to manipulate one of the current player’s dice, remove dice from the current player, etc. However, they wouldn’t be truly mercenary unless you could do the most devious thing, and just hire them straight from whoever hired them last, instead of from the pool of available companions.

Basically that’s the base game. The mission will have a description like “Break the curse and wake up the sleeping town of Totta”, but what it requires is (with a single exception) the same thing: have 2-4 teammates, 1-2 must be a mercenary, then spend 5-6 resources (dice of the correct type and possibly some coins or an advantage card). Once that’s done, that’s it, quest complete, game over.

That said, there is a rules variant which tries to bring in some of the plot, but even then only loosely. At the start of the game, each player can be dealt two birden cards (*angry hisses at birden cards*) depending on the card they will have different requirements in order to overcome them – such as spending 4 coins to rid yourself of anxiety, or dealing with your personal issues by hiring two mercenaries (sounds serious), or dismissing a teammate (who is not a mercenary) to rid yourself of depression (as someone with clinical depression, I can assure the designer that pushing your friends away is not how you deal with it). Once both your birdens are removed, you can complete the mission. It’s pretty flimsy but stops people rushing to the end game. Even so, you’ll probably be done in 20-30 minutes.

Stuffed has such beautiful art (even when it’s being kinda dark), but the story and the flavour of some of the mechanics really let it down. It feels like they had someone with incredible talent design the cards and then they just spitballed the plot while drunk and high. A real shame, and the reason I’m not that interested in Certifiable Studio’s next Kickstarter project. My advise is, if you’re going to play it with friends, let them know the rules and then put the manual away.

Pros:

  • Amazing art.
  • Custom dice have nice art and a lovely weight.
  • The box opens like a story book.

Cons:

  • The game treats mental health problems like personal failings.
  • Doesn’t really tie all it’s concepts together very well.

Final Score: 6.5/10