Designer: Justin de Witt
Publishers: Fireside Games
Time: 60 minutes (I think this is long… our games last 30-45 minutes)
Games Played: 14 (with a review copy provided by Fireside Games)
I grew up in Southern California… where wildfires are common when the dry Santa Ana winds blow in. I still have memories of looking up at the hills a few miles north of my suburban home and seeing the flames licking at the top of the ridge, black smoke billowing from the fire.
In the new cooperative game Hotshots, you aren’t watching the fire from your driveway – you are part of a team trying to beat back the blaze before it destroys the hotel, the campground or even your fire team’s base camp.
Fight Fire With… well, dice
Played on a board made of hexagon-shaped tiles (the basic board configuration is shaped exactly like the mythical isle of Catan), each of up to four players takes on a role as part of the fire-fighting team. The board is seeded with a beginning amount of fire and (similar to many cooperative games) the blaze will grow and expand at the end of each player turn.
A player turn is relatively straightforward – a firefighter can move one or two hexes. (There are limits even to this simple rule: firefighters can’t normally move through fire and it takes a full turn to move into the rocky ground hex.)
After movement, the firefighter can attempt to remove fire from the hex by rolling a set of six custom dice. Each hex has a specific set of six dice symbols that show what tools are needed to fight fire in that space. After each roll, the player must lock at least one of the dice. If they fail to do so, they fail and the fire grows.
Sidebar: The Curse of Playing a Lot of Games
I have a confession to make – I played the first 4-5 games of Hotshots with an incorrect rule that made me think that the game was WAY too easy. This cautionary tale is brought to you by the Lost & Found Rules page I built years ago for my now-defunct gaming website, Game Central Station. (For those of you who are really interested, the Lost & Found Rules are in The Tanker Car.)
Basically, I missed the failure rule – we played, similar to other dice-locking games, that failing to lock a die meant you had to take what you had rolled previously – rather than suffer.
So, kids, read those rulebooks carefully!
Back to the Game…
Firefighters can support each other if they’re in the same space – giving the active player a “free” failure that doesn’t end his turn. The same is true of any hex tile that is next to the lake.
If the player matches dice (and stops in time), they can extinguish flames, cut firebreaks and/or draw a random special power chip that can assist them in a later turn. Firefighters can roll dice in hexes without fire to attempt to set firebreaks as well.
If, on the other hand, the firefighter pushes his luck and fails, the fire grows, possibly scorching the space. (When a hex scorches, the the fire spreads to an adjacent space and the players lose a die from the pool until one of the firefighters makes it back to the fire base hex.)
Following all this activity, the fire spreads based on a card drawn from the Fire deck. In some cases, hexes already burning will increase in danger. The deck also has cards that will change the direction of the wind… causing the fire to spread to new areas.
I’ve Got the Power
There are four player roles in the game – two that allow players to manipulate the dice, one that can move other firefighters and one that gets a “look-ahead” on the Fire deck. Structurally, this is similar to Pandemic (and many other cooperative games).
The difference in Hotshots is that the scorching of certain tiles “kills” the special power of that firefighter, meaning that players have to weigh which tiles they spend time & actions fighting to save and which ones they let go.
In fact, about half of the tiles have bad consequences when they scorch – fire may spread more quickly (the propane tank or the lodge), special abilities can disappear, and you can even lose the ability to draw reward chips.
What About Flash Point: Fire Rescue?
Pretty much every gamer I’ve shown Hotshots has asked, “Well, do you think it’s better than Flash Point?”
Actually, I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison – especially since Flash Point has been able to release a number of expansions. So, in the interest of science, fairplay, and all that is good & holy, I’ll attempt to compare Hotshots to Flash Point: Fire Rescue without expansions.
- Both games do an excellent job of evoking the fire-fighting theme – even though Hotshots concentrates on wildfires and Flash Point on structure fires. Either game has the ability to crank up the dread of fires overwhelming your team of firefighters.
- While Flash Point uses action points for movement, firefighting and the rescue of people & pets, Hotshots has a set movement allowance and challenges players to roll & risk to put out fires, cut firebreaks and acquire tokens.
- Flash Point uses dice to determine the spread of the fire. Hotshots has a fire card deck to randomize the blaze.
- As befits a game about structure fires, Flash Point uses a set board – the variety from game to game is accomplished through varying other elements. Hotshots’ variable hex board lends itself to a wider variety of terrain to struggle with… and that’s a good thing.
- Both games have fiddly bits – Flash Point’s fire generation system is a little arcane and really needs an experienced player to keep it moving. The fiddliness in Hotshots comes from the wide variety of symbols on the hexes and reward tokens – these make teaching the game and reading the game state tricky the first few times you play.
I wasn’t sure about Hotshots after my first couple of plays (once I got the rules right!)… but I kept wanting to bring it to the table again. As you can see at the head of this review, I’ve played it 14 times in the last nine months.
Here’s what draws me in:
- the variable board – I especially enjoy the suggested national park inspired layouts found in the rule book
- the need to defend multiple points on the board – the wildfire threatens to explode into a conflagration, but it can also nickel & dime away your abilities & resources
- the push your luck decisions – each game, I’m torn about the rewards & penalties that await the siren call of “one more roll”
- the solo capability – the solo mode in the rules and just playing multiple characters both work very well
- the suggestions – the back of the rulebook has a list of suggestions to tune the game difficulty, depending on the group you are playing with
Here’s what concerns me (though not enough to keep me from playing the game):
- The symbols make sense… once you understand them. This makes your first game or two a little slower as you are looking up symbols on reward chips & hexes. (BTW, I have the same issue with the Leaders expansion for 7 Wonders.)
- The game felt a tad slow with 4 players – I think the sweet spot is 1-3 players.
Like I said earlier, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how often this has hit the table. It delivers a solid punch for a simple yet challenging game – and writing this makes me want to head back downstairs and play it again.
Hotshots Soundtrack (curated by yours truly)
- Burning Down the House (Talking Heads)
- We Didn’t Start the Fire (Billy Joel)
- Fight Fire with Fire (Kansas)
- Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
- I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen)
- Disco Inferno (The Trammps)
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it…
I like it… Mark Jackson
Not for me…