Saturday, 26 July 2014

Disagreeing with SU&SD on Flash Point

I bought Flash Point at Icon 2014 and before playing it, had a look to see what Shut Up & Sit Down had to say about it. It was mostly positive and mostly confirmed that the game would work as I hoped it would.

But when my friend Damon and I finally got a chance to test it on Thursday night, I found it didn't really fit SU&SD Matt's criticisms that much, especially about pre-game setup. He contended that it was slow and complicated, something that would scare off new players. We didn't find that at all, adjusting for time wasted on lack of familiarity. The Family rules game comes with a pre-set board arrangement, and you simply copy that directly out of the manual. The Expert rules require randomly generated board arrangements, and that is a little more work, but hardly by much, especially if you're playing at the lowest difficulty setting (which you would, with noobs).

If you have one player who's done it before and knows the rules, then it can be quickly arranged for the other players. And more than that, I'd make a little story out of it, incorporating setup into the fun. Why did the toilet spontaneously combust? What explosive hazmat did the family store on the coffee table that went up so quickly? Whose smoking habit was to blame for the initial blaze? Matt's complaint that the victims seem too anonymous and bland can be partly cured by this little bit of added fluff. If you're trying to get new people into gaming, then making it about more than pure mechanics seems important to me. I feel an element of roleplaying in most boardgames, and I personally find I enjoy games more if that element is greater.

That said, I have to agree that the victims are the weirdest part of the game, the least smooth mechanic. Rescuing 7 seems to give good game balance, it scales well with the size of the board, but it doesn't scale too well with the size of the house represented on the board. Why are there so many people in a moderate two-bedroom suburban house-ablaze? Why did they all get trapped there? And how do new ones keep teleporting into tiny rooms that we've just fucking cleared? It stretches the suspenders of disbelief a bit too far, and I have a vague feeling that it could be solved by scaling the map differently. Perhaps have a similar grid covering a bigger building, like a school, a floor of an apartment block, or a warehouse (for a big, open map). Then perhaps you could fit all of the POI markers in at once, or find a smarter way to make new ones appear on the board than random magic teleportation.

(New fires also appear randomly, but that makes sense. Heat and small tendrils of flame can fit through narrow gaps and travel under floors or over ceilings, spreading in new spots unexpectedly. It's hard to make a person fit under a door, especially if you know they weren't on either side of the door to begin with. Mixing firefighting and stage illusion seems unwise, and distracts from the game.)

I also have to strongly disagree with Matt that rescuing cats and dogs is somehow beneath the proper dignity of firefighters.

One interesting thing Damon and I noticed in our first game: Firefighters should put out fires. We were both so focused on getting to as many victims as possible that we let the place burn freely (and Damon didn't help matters by chopping through any wall in his way), until it all collapsed down on me as I was trying to get the 7th victim out. In our second game, we thought harder about taking on different, complimentary roles, and that worked much better. I look forward to ramping up the difficulty and adding more players.

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