Dropped by the boardgaming party over in Minneapolis I used to attend regularly and got to play two games tonight. The first was a cooperative firefighting game I’d not previously heard of, entitled Hotshots. The theme is a bit similar to Flash Point: Fire Rescue but it’s a very different game in practice. It’s about fighting wildfires in a broad area, whereas Flash Point involves specific buildings and similarly limited, mostly urban scenarios. Secondly, the goal in Hotshots is to actually put out all the fire, whereas in Flash Point you are rescuing civilians (and sometimes their pets) and the fire is something you tamp down to keep the building intact and navigable while you traverse. I like Flash Point a lot better, to be perfectly honest.
Hotshots involves navigating a roughly circular map composed of individual hexes, each with their own fire tolerance rating and many with some special property, including the base camp you start out at, a lake that blocks fire travel and aids firefighting efforts in its immediate vicinity, special buildings whose loss deactivates the various player special powers, a vehicle depot that allows access to a handful of one shot vehicle tokens with their own firefighting purposes, a mansion that counts for three hexes of destruction against your loss condition of 8, and more. You then need to roll six special dice and try to match between 3 and 6 symbols on that hex to successfully fight the fire there. With 3, you can install a firebreak that will prevent gentle winds or a hex scorching out from spreading fire across it. With 4, you can remove a fire token. 5 and 6 provide additional fire removal along with access to special one-shot equipment tokens and/or firebreak placement. And then you draw a fire card and see how things spread. You can reroll any dice that aren’t helpful, but any time you roll the dice and don’t get a single relevant symbol, the fire blows out and you fail to fight it as well as actually adding a fire token, so it’s risky. (The lake, other players on your hex, and/or equipment tokens can help with additional safe rerolls, though.)
Here’s the problem: unless your rolls are strong, you’re probably clearing at most one token worth of fire on your turn, two tops. Fire cards will frequently add at least that much and probably more. It is a grueling, sisyphean task. We used a couple of difficulty modifiers to make it easy as a learning game and it still took a couple hours and went absolutely right down to the wire. And while close calls can make a thrilling coop experience, slogging around the map barely holding back the tide while everything crumbles around you due to no visible error of your own does not.
The other game we played was a learning game of Aeon’s End (three of us had played a little, but one had not, so, learning game). The newbie took a fairly standard character, us “vets” got a little more wild, and we took on the Umbra Titan. This also came right down to the wire, but felt way more satisfying turn to turn and everyone agreed they would be happy to play it again in future and check out other characters and more complex bosses. I was particularly fond of my character, Indira, who really subverts the usual structure of play with her single (but +damage) breach and multiple ways to play spells directly out of her hand. I had a couple of deeply satisfying artillery barrage turns with her charge power and was the one to finally finish off the boss.