Wot I Think – Flash Point: Fire Rescue

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Flash Point: Fire Rescue is the digital adaptation of a board game about rescuing people from buildings on fire. The basic premise is simple: a house is aflame. You command a squad of firemen and penetrate the place, trying to rescue as many survivors as possible before the building collapses. Big question marks randomly appear on the map. Some of them hide survivors, other are false alarms. Once you find a person, you need to drag them outside the building, possibly avoiding catching fire during the process. This faithful recreation got successfully funded on Fig last year, and now is here for us all to enjoy. Who is it for, though?

It has a single-player mode, but is better enjoyed with friends, so I kidnapped a flatmate and forced her to don the shiny garbs of a firefighter. She doesn’t usually play games, so she was a perfect specimen to test how accessible the game is.

The starting screen offered us two game modes: Family and Experienced. It feels a bit barebones at the moment, but the developers have promised to add more features from the board version, like new maps, new firemen and the possibility to tweak the rules as you wish. (I feel compelled to point out that the original board game features playable rescue dogs. This is very important.)

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After selecting Family mode, we immediately found ourselves squinting at a dense wall of text. The tutorial is just a big instruction manual, and while it explains the game rules, it doesn’t really explain how to play― the buttons to press, the way a turn works. It all feels abstract at first, and we only truly understood our situation after a confusing first playthrough.

The game plays like a collaborative strategy game: firemen move on a grid, and each unit has a pool of Action Points to spend every turn. Some actions (smashing a wall, dragging a survivor, putting out a fire) cost more than others (moving, closing doors, walking).

Every time a firefighter finishes their turn, a shiny spark of ember wanders the map, spawning a new puff of smoke in a random spot. Smoke becomes fire when next to another flame, and when too much fire fills the same room, it explodes. The house has a number of hit points, and after sustaining too much damage, it’s game over.

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Even in its most basic state, Flash Point can be overwhelming. The minimalistic UI doesn’t help: opaque symbols, scarce explanations, and icons all too small for my myopic eyes. For a game that begs to be played in company, Flash Point seems unsuited to be shown on a TV screen.

The lack of a “cancel action” button also feels needlessly cruel, especially when paired with extremely sensitive controls. Too many times we reached a survivor only to step over them and leave the room because we pressed the wrong button.

Once you get the hang of it, though, Flash Point becomes a joy to play. I like the way the controls work, fiddliness aside: every time you move, the game automatically selects your most probable action from a ring menu. Step near a fire, for example, and the game understands you probably want to extinguish it. Step near a door and you are ready to open it. I can only imagine how cumbersome to play the cardboard version is, considering the number of rules, but the turns on PC are snappy and a match never takes more than 30-40 minutes.

Once we overcame the initial confusion, my flatmate and I easily cleared the first maps. The fire never felt too threatening, often blocked behind closed doors while we focused on rescuing the civilians. We’re good at this, we thought. Let’s tackle Experienced mode, we are ready.

Folks, we were not ready.

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Experienced mode immediately throws at you an additional set of rules. First you get vehicles: a gurney where you must bring the survivors and a firetruck to douse the flames. Both can be moved around the map, and you can also use them to transport your crew.

Firemen now have specializations and special abilities, like the opportunity to heal survivors (dragging them around costs fewer APs) or the chance to dispose of hazardous materials. Have I talked about hazardous materials? If a spark falls on them, they go kaboom. There are also hot spots on the map that can make the fire propagate faster, and rules about when and how to utilize the firetruck, the possibility of swapping your crew, and…

Long story short: we died. A lot. This game is absolutely ruthless.

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I fared slightly better playing alone, taking my time to mumble and reflect. Victory still eluded me most of the time, but I think I’m learning. My flatmate and I were playing the game all wrong: we focused on rescuing the survivors as quickly as possible, escaping from the flames instead of treating them as an enemy. You can’t really beat fire, but you can try to contain it. Keep it under control as you rush to grab some survivors in another room.

This game excels at portraying the catastrophic nature of a fire: a primaeval monster out of human control, prone to outburst and unexpected behaviours. That’s why failure doesn’t really feel frustrating, even as everything crumbles around you. The battle was never supposed to be fair. Horrible accidents are expected, and always greeted with a shrug and disheartened laugh. It’s a nice change of pace to the endless RPGs where fire is at your complete disposal, a fireball to throw at your enemies with a snap of your fingertips.

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However, while I didn’t dislike my time with Flash Point, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t really made for me. It surely wasn’t made for my flatmate, who spent most of her time being bossed around and feeling confused. This is a game that truly shines if all players are on the same page, throwing around suggestions and pondering strategies together.

If you’re looking for a simple co-op game to play with your family, Flash Point is not for you. But if you want to suffer with another strategy games enthusiast, or wish to play with a distant friend who loves the board game (online multiplayer is coming soon), then Flash Point will probably give you many hours of painful joy.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue is on Steam and Itch.io for £14.99/$19.99

17 Comments

  1. Sin Vega says:

    My top tip for this, ironically: start ith Experienced mode. I’m guessing it’s different in co-op but in single player, “Family” mode is basically impossible, you just don’t have the tools needed to get the fire even slightly under control. I couldn’t even finish the first level on family mode, it was ridiculous. The fire just spreads faster than you can move. But once I tried Experienced mode, the access to expert extinsguishers and speedy rescue folks made it possible to actually get a foot in.

    • beleester says:

      I can’t imagine playing with just one person. There’s always multiple things happening on the board – anywhere you’re not putting out fires, smoke will slowly accumulate and eventually flash over. Even with the extra AP granted by specialists, you’re going to have a tough time.

  2. trjp says:

    There’s a trend in digital boardgame conversions which creates games where it’s really hard to find the fun/often hard to even understand the game.

    I feel this is because a core part of boardgames is the shared learning and the fact that losing is part of the fun?

    Physical boardgames are complicated because they’re attempting to create a lot of functionality with some bits of plastic and cardboard – and this is also a big part of their appeal?

    No-one expects to struggle to understand the rules of a digital game and there’s an expectation that you can win every time?

    Hell, most boardgamers I know make-up their own rules to suit themselves and often SEEK failure (with comedy on the way!) That’s just not how digital games work.

    There are some lovely conversions (esp on iPad) but I cannot think of a single one which betters it’s physical equivalent outside of enabling play-at-a-distance and portability?

    • Faldrath says:

      I think the main advantage is simply the book-keeping. I played a ton of Ascension on android, bought all the expansions, played even some matches with all the expansions on (so a 500+ card deck or something). A few months later I bought the physical base game, and the sheer amount of time lost to simple shuffling per match drove me nuts.

      The secondary advantage, of course, is cost – digital board games tend to be much cheaper than physical ones, especially when you factor in all the expansions.

  3. GomezTheChimp says:

    Out of my modest collection of around 150 board games, this is usually the one I introduce to non-gamers, mainly because most will never have played a co-op board game, and it`s simple to teach and easy to grasp the concept.
    I agree with Sin Vega; ignore the family rules and go to the advanced game. I normally play a mix of both advanced and family, using the different roles and the ambulance, but ignoring hazmats and hotspots until players are more familiar with the game.

    • GomezTheChimp says:

      Obviously I`m referring to the board game version. The designers suggest that players mix and match the rules to find a level which offers them the best experience. I don`t know what options are available in the digital version. Looks nice though.

  4. Scobie says:

    The board game is comparatively rules-light and simple, this adaptation must have done an impressively bad job of explaining it.

    • beleester says:

      Agreed. Firefighter actions are fairly simple; the bulk of the rules are about how fire advances: Roll a random square, smoke becomes fire, fire becomes an explosion, explosions travel in the cardinal directions until they hit a wall or empty space.

      You’d think that this would be ideal for a computer game – the computer can handle all the between-turn complexity without taking anything away from the individual players’ experience. Not sure how they messed it up.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s possible the author simply isn’t used to boardgames, period. Even something as light and intro-friendly as Flash Point would probably seem intimidating to a newbie, or someone who’s only played your oldschool roll and moves and whatnot.

      • malkav11 says:

        This sounds more condescending than I meant it to be. Just was thinking there’s no reason a videogame journalist would necessarily play boardgames on the reg.

  5. Neurotic says:

    Bloody Barry, messing around with the timelines again.

  6. sagredo1632 says:

    Never played this before, but is it like Pandemic? The outbreaks, role specializations and whatnot make it sound very similar. If it is, it’s crucial to know if there’s in-game (preferably voice) chat for the online release, because it’s crucial to coordinating gameplay. Just as important, listening to the mutual wails of despair is simply a fundamental mechanic of co-op board games.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s broadly similar and of a similar weight and depth (which is to say, pretty light and not all that deep, at least with the base game). I think it’s a much better game – it does far more to convey the theme in its mechanics, the ability to swap roles at the fire truck makes roles feel much less rigidly determinative of your turn to turn actions, and even the base game offers a couple of different board configurations with their own challenges, while the various expansions add a whole lot of new scenarios with situationally appropriate special rules. For example, buildings with multiple floors that must be moved between. Subway fires where you can’t use a fire truck (but can activate a sprinkler system) and have to clamber across tracks and move through stopped train cars. Vessels at sea where your rescued victims have to stay on the board until you’re ready to evacuate, and remain at risk of fire. Etc.

  7. mande1br0t says:

    The game is just like the board game except for the ability to adjust rules to make it easier for newbies.

    If you want to beat the maps, play with at least 4 fire fighters. That can be 2 per person if playing with a friend. Give each fire fighter a role (even on Family mode) and make sure that they stick to that role. The roles should be Fire control and Rescue. If you control the fires, then you can rescue the POIs. Don’t forget that you can also drag a POI, and unlatch them in a safe space. Make the Rescue person drag the person to the outside unless you’ve got all fire under control.

    Also, be sure to save your APs for future moves. Don’t end your turn beside a fire, save your APs and then tackle the fire on your next turn because that fire can explode or expand to your space very quickly.

    When it comes to Experienced games, the CAFS is your fire fighting machine but I’ve preferred the 5 AP role since it’s more versatile for fighting fires and maybe a rescue. The Medic is your rescue role and should be working non stop to get to POIs.

  8. unacom says:

    How does it compare to the Emergency-series?

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    Lo says:

    I don’t think it’s for me, but I enjoyed the read anyway!

  10. Matt Gambler says:

    Not sure in what state the game was at the time this review was written but it’s worth mentioning that the game has changed repeatedly in a notable way since I got interested in it. The UI alone underwent changes so drastical that I have rarely seen such an overhaul in another game once something servicable was in place. I appreciate that and will keep looking at the game again and again until release.