Flash Point: Fire Rescue Review

Flash Point Fire Rescue board game in play

FIRE!!!!  What?  Oh right - that's the theme of Flash Point: Fire Rescue.

Flash Point is a cooperative game in which the players take on the role of firefighters attempting to save victims from a burning building.  As with all fires, things can get unpredictable, and it's difficult to initially know where all of the victims are.  Each turn consists of spending four action points (this can be different on some characters).  You can use action points to move (and the cost is modified if you're moving through fire, with a victim, or carrying hazardous materials), open/close a door, extinguish smoke and/or fire, chop through a wall, drive the fire engine and/or ambulance, change crewmen, or fire the deck gun.  Any unspent actions are saved until the next turn.  Next, you roll dice to see where the fire spreads.  There are lots of rules we won't go into, but this can lead to large numbers of explosions and a lot of smoke turning into fire very quickly.  Finally, if there are less than 3 "POI" (victims and/or false alarms) on the board, more are added.  Once you have rescued 7 victims (by carrying them to the ambulance), you win!  (Or, on a harder difficulty, once you have lost 4 victims, you lose.  Or, if you run out of damage cubes, the building collapses and the game is over.  It doesn't explicitly say it, but I'm going to go ahead and say you lose then, too.)

Flash Point game closeup of Firemen
Cool firemen meeples - feeples!
The first thing that I like about Flash Point is that I can save action points.  Rather, I love that I can save action points.  This game (along with all cooperative games that have come out recently) is often compared to Pandemic, so I might as well start the comparisons now. The fact that I often wasted an action in Pandemic is really nuisancey.  I love the fact that I can save them in Flash Point.  Plus, it just makes sense.  Moving into fire or while carrying a victim costs 2 action points.  If you couldn't save action points, you would often waste them simply because you had an odd number of points left.  Thematically, it seems to represent the fact that you moved halfway to the next location, and mechanically, it works really well, too.  After all, if all you do is save action points, then the fire will overwhelm you while you sit and watch, so it's really a self-regulating mechanic.

Speaking of theme, that is definitely my second pro.  In my opinion (which is the main one you'll find here), the game is bursting with theme.  Now, I don't really care especially much if a game even has a theme, but when it has great mechanics and a great theme, it's wonderful.  I really think that the theme is most noticeable when resolving the end of turn "advance fire" rolls.  I don't know the designer, but I have a hard time imaging him as anything other than a firefighter.  The rules are just too specific for me to think he is anything else - I really think that they came from years of dealing with real fires.  Smoke re-ignites into fire, flare ups in the building can quickly cause havoc all over the place, improperly stored cleaning materials can explode.  Then, you can also chop through walls to get to your POI's - and after all of that, it might have been a false alarm!

Flash Point Imaging Technician card
One of the unique roles
My third pro for Flash Point is that I really like the different roles.  The roles in Flash Point are much more distinct than in any other cooperative game that comes to mind.  Most cooperative games have the same character, but with slightly different benefits.  In Flash Point, the different characters have different amounts of action points, and are very specialized at performing specific actions.  For example, the Rescue Specialist can be a critical part of the team.  She gets her normal 4 action points, plus 3 extra movement points.  However, if she is fighting fire (which is not what she's good at), it costs double the number of action points.  This means it would cost all 4 of her normal action points to put out a fire on a single square.  But, not only do I really like the roles, I also love the fact that you can change out roles.  Now, this is probably one of the more shaky things to me, thematically (along with the fact that you get the same credit for saving a cat as a person - and it takes the same number of action points to carry a cat and a person... I digress...), but mechanically it is very helpful.  If you start your turn on the fire engine, then you can use 2 action points to take one of the unused characters and continue the game with that character.  Again, mechanically, this is amazing.  But, thematically, are there really lots of firefighters sitting around waiting to be tagged in?  I guess to an extent, everyone might not rush in at once until they know more about the situation, but it still seems odd.

The one point of the game that I'll mention before getting to cons is dice rolling.  It's important to realize that, to simulate the randomness of a fire, the "advance fire" part of the turn involves a lot of dice rolling.  As with any dice game, this means that crazy things can happen.  Rolling dice never works out statistically how it "should" (if I roll a 1 on a 6-sided die, and then I roll it again, it's not going to be friendly and go "oh, he rolled a 1 last time - I shouldn't roll that again until he's seen all the other numbers.")  What this means in game terms is that you might be able to extinguish a lot of the early fires and then just deal with smoke popping up.  Or, you might roll flare ups every turn and have the entire building explode regardless of how well you (intended to) play the game.  In the games I have played, the dice have worked well and have been a good balance of explosions and smoke.  However, in one of the games we played, nobody rolled any flare ups until one person rolled about 4 of them in a row.  This is just something to be aware of.

Really, I only have one con for Flash Point.  The advance fire section of the game is a bit fiddly.  I think that there are two reasons for this - first, there are simply a lot of steps that you have to check for and then perform if appropriate.  Second, Flash Point uses similar sounding firefighting terms that aren't part of my normal vocabulary.  For example, what's the difference between a "Flashover" and a "Flare Up"?  I've played the game several times, and I still had to just look up which one was which.  This causes you to spend a decent amount of time grabbing the instructions and going, "ok, what was that again?"  After you play it through several times, this upkeep phase will become much more fluid, but it still remains a touch fiddly.

Overall, I give Flash Point a 9.0/10.  I expected it to be a good game, but what I found was a game that rivals Pandemic or any other cooperative games, trying to be my favorite.

If you want a second opinion, check out the Board Game Family's Flash Point: Fire Rescue. If you want to read about other cooperative games, you should check out Yggdrasil, Space Alert, and Forbidden Island.

I would like to thank Indie Board & Cards for providing me with a review copy of Flash Point: Fire Rescue.


  1. "But, thematically, are there really lots of firefighters sitting around waiting to be tagged in?"

    I think of it as a gear switch- each role can be carried out by anyone, but they need to get the equipment from the truck. That may not make perfect sense (eg is the generalist not carriyng any gear so he can act faster? they why can't the other specialists drop their gear anywhere but the truck? etc), but it seems thematically better than a bunch of firefighters loitering around the truck waiting for their turn.

  2. "I don't know the designer, but I have a hard time imaging him as anything other than a firefighter. The rules are just too specific for me to think he is anything else - I really think that they came from years of dealing with real fires."

    Nope, I'm not a firefighter in real life. Just an enthusiast who did his homework!

    As far as changing roles goes, firefighters often enter in rotating teams (the buddy system). Periodically teams are cycled with others waiting outside. This could be because the original team has used up their air supply (SCBA, or Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus), it's time to bring in new specialists, they're too fatigued/hot to work effectively any longer, etc. Plus, you wouldn't want to commit all your forces if worst came to worst and your original team became the ones in need of rescue.

    Managing an air supply didn't make it in the game because it is kind of fiddly and peripheral. Flash Point is actually not a very good simulation of firefighting, but I hope it approximates some of the really important parts, and doesn't suffer too much with gamers for its indulgences.

  3. Great review of a great game. And what a thrill to have Mr. Lanzing weigh in.

    I've taught this game to a number of people and I'm thrilled with how many young ones pick up on it right away and always want to play again. And it works well solo. On my list I'd put this second only behind Pandemic/On the Brink.

    A lot of people complain about the dice. But that's what random is all about. In most games the randomness is determined by the deck of cards, and then it's not truly random because once a card comes up it's not coming up again. Flash Point can be very easy or very hard based on the dice rolls. That's part of the fun of it.