Hotshots Review - Excellence Through The Fire And Flames
Quick Glance: Hotshots by Fireside Games
Game Type: Co-Operative
Number of Players: 1-4
Mechanics: Dice rolling, Push your luck, Modular Board
Introduction/Overview: The forest is on fire! Collect your crack team of wildfire fighting experts and with a lot of strategy and just a little bit of luck, save the forest from burning down! By the way, is that propane tank over there on fire??
Gameplay: Hotshots takes place on a grid of hexagonal pieces. One of the more interesting ways to adjust the difficulty of a game I’ve ever seen is to change the shape of the grid. Want an easier game? Make it a tight map with the lake right in the center. Want it difficult? Stretch the map out thin, and put everything useful right next to the propane tank.
After building the board, players each choose a role to play. The role gives the player a special ability to use during the game. It also gives the player a “home tile” if that tile ever scorches during the game, the player loses their ability. So it’s important to watch those tiles especially closely.
Once the map is built, the players are chosen, and the map is seeded with the starting fires it’s time for the game to begin!
A turn of Hotshots always takes the same three steps in the same order. First, a player moves up to 2 spaces. If they walk into a space with fire, they must stop. There are some small extra details, but that’s basically it.
The next phase is the meat of the game: fight the fire! There are two ways to fight the fire. The first is the direct way: stand in a tile with fire, and roll the special dice! Most of the tiles have a series of 6 icons on them (if you’re standing on a tile without those symbols, you’re probably drowning in the lake...you should probably rethink your move). Each icon relates to one of the faces of the dice included. At this point, the player begins rolling the dice trying to match the symbols on the tile. Each successful match brings you closer to being able to do something good. You may freeze the matching symbols, and reroll the remaining dice to try and improve your action. However, if you ever make a roll, and don’t add another icon, you bust and the tile you are on blows up. Spoiler alert...blowups are bad.
The other way to fight the fire is to use a vehicle. If you are standing on the air attack base tile, you have access to an airplane, helicopter, and a brush rig. These vehicles are one use per game, so use them wisely! They each have a special ability which can greatly help in the fight.
Once you’ve fought the fire (regardless of your success) the fire then gets the chance to spread. Flip the top card from the fire card deck, and do whatever it says. Spoiler alert: I don’t think any of these cards are good for your team. There are cards that change the wind direction, potentially making some of your precious firebreaks worthless. There are gusting wind cards that flat out ignore your firebreaks. There are even ember cards that can cause previously extinguished tiles to spark anew.
If a tile ends the round with the same or more fire tokens as the number on the tile (its “Scorch Value”) the tile...scorches. It is flipped over, and one fire token is added to the adjacent tile with the lowest scorch value. This can cause a chain reaction scorch to occur. These will ruin your day. There’s one tile that acts just a bit differently, that’s right, the propane tank! If the propane tank scorches, it EXPLODES and sends fire to EVERY adjacent tile. This can be a truly devastating event. If there is a positive aspect to tiles scorching, it’s that they can never, under any circumstance, catch fire again.
If ever there are 8 or more scorched tiles, your team loses. However, if your team can extinguish all the fire tokens on the board, you win! Which does lead to one thematic disconnect that I like to call the Avengers Conundrum (TM).
In the first Avengers movie, there is an extended fight scene that takes place in a major city. Buildings are destroyed, and undoubtedly thousands of people are killed, yet...the good guys “win” the fight, so it all has a happy ending. In Hotshots, a similar feeling thing can happen. It’s nearly impossible in my eyes to win this game without letting at least a few tiles scorch. Every game I’ve won so far, 6 or 7 tiles have been flipped to the scorched side. It feels a bit disingenuous to say “we won” when a full 1/3 of the board is dead...but a win is a win.
Turns are quick, and games usually clock in at right around the 45 minute mark.
Rulebook: Hotshots has a great rulebook. It lays everything out in clear, step-by-step manner. Plenty of pictures and examples help make this a very easy game to get into.
Theme: Wildfire fighting has been done a couple of times as a theme, but it’s been quite a long time at this point. There is also another popular fire fighting game on the market (Flash Point Fire Rescue). None of that takes away from the fact that fighting fires, while extremely dangerous in real life, is always an awesome theme.
Set-Up/Takedown: Setting up the game takes a few minutes. You have to choose a board shape, and a difficulty level. If you’re like my group, you’ll just shuffle everything up randomly and go...but that way can lead to wide variances in difficulty. With a bit of care, you can fine tune the experience to a level you prefer. Tearing down the game is pretty quick, as there’s nothing that really needs special organizing.
Components: Plastic fire tokens. ‘nuff said. Seriously though, all the components are fine. I wish the vehicle tokens were a little bit beefier, and maybe the player tokens were a touch bigger, although at this scale they really show how menacing the fire is. Those fire tokens though...if only there was a way to make them light up and flicker.
Final Thoughts: I think Hotshots is a pretty terrific game, and I’m typically not a huge fan of cooperative games. I love the luck factor with the dice. The dice mechanics are very similar to Elder Sign, a much more complex Cthulhu themed co-op I also rather enjoy. The decision to risk a blow up in order to try and put out just one more fire toke is always a tough one. Hotshots is a great choice for a family co-op, or for groups that have newer players to the hobby. It offers a good amount of tension, without ever bogging you down with a huge number of decisions. Also, have I mentioned the fire pieces?