Firefighting seems to be an underserved genre in tabletop gaming. I can count on one hand the number of games that use this theme and still have a few fingers left over. Which is too bad, because it’s really a theme that can suck people in. Perhaps veteran publisher Fireside Games realized this when they debuted their new game Hotshots at Gen Con 2017. Hotshots will have players battling a forest fire in a cooperative, push-your-luck dice game.
The game board is made up of 18 randomly placed tiles, each of which has a specific scorch limit that players must be aware of. To combat the fires, each player will control a firefighter with a special ability.
During the game, a player’s turn is composed of three parts:
1. Move – A player may move up to 2 tiles.
2. Fight the Fire – Roll all six dice and attempt to match as many symbols shown on the tile as possible. Any matched dice can be set aside, but at least one die must be matched after a roll. Any remaining dice can then be rerolled. If a player isn’t able to match a symbol after a roll, the attempt fails and a flame token is added to the tile.
If a player stops rolling before failing, they gain a number of benefits depending on how many symbols they matched (a minimum of 3). These involve removing fire tokens, gaining reward tokens, or installing flame breaks on the tile.
3. Draw a Fire Card – The fire card will determine how the fire spreads. Some burning tiles may gain additional tokens, or adjacent tiles may catch on fire depending on the direction of the wind marker. If a tile ever has enough fire tokens equal to its scorch limit, the tile becomes scorched and is flipped over.
The players win when they’ve put out all of the fires, and lose when 8 tiles (or just their Fire Camp tile) are scorched.
I remember walking through the dealer hall in Gen Con 2017 and being drawn to the Fireside Games booth because of Hotshots. The main reason, of course, was the great looking components in the game. From the thematic art to the fun 3D fire tokens, Hotshots does a good job in creating a thematic experience with its presentation.
But you are probably more curious about the gameplay. As you can infer from above, Hotshots is a very accessible game that mixes in familiar cooperative gameplay with a healthy dose of push your luck dice rolling. Overall it works well and players will have to make some tactical decisions to keep the fires in check.
This is mainly due to the scorching mechanic, which I thought was pretty inventive. In our first game, we worked diligently to keep every fire from scorching a tile. This quickly resulted in us being overrun by fires. After that, we realized that by allowing a few, strategic tiles to scorch, you are creating a natural firebreak that will help stop the fires from spreading. While I know zero about fighting real fires, I’d imagine this could be a real world tactic to use.
However, as much as I enjoyed running around and fighting fires, players will quickly realize that Hotshots is a heavy luck based game. To fight fires, you are rolling dice with only a minimal way to mitigate bad rolls (support or special powers). After that, you are drawing fire cards from a deck that might range from inconsequential to painful. That being said, I never felt like the game was unfair, and as long as you are ok with the randomness, Hotshots can be quite enjoyable.
Finally, one thing I really liked is the variety in the game. Many of the tiles have special abilities on them that will alter the course of the game. Some will explode when scorching, while others will provide a little bit of extra juice in fighting the fires. In fact, each player has their own “home tile” that if scorched, causes the players to lose their special power for the rest of the game. This has actually caused some players to lobby for saving their home tiles while the fires are raging, add a nice bit of diplomacy to the game.
Hotshots is a solid cooperative game with some really nice production values. As long as you are aware of the randomness going in (and are OK with that), you can have a lot of fun running around trying to stop this forest fire. If you are a fan of the Forbidden Island line of games, I think Hotshots would slot right in with those on a similar complexity level.
Hotshots can easily be enjoyed as a family game, or as lighter faire for your gaming group. Personally, I’m looking forward to some future expansions to help up the replay value with some more variety of tiles and firefighter abilities.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A solid cooperative game with some really good production values, just be aware of the luck-based nature of the gameplay.
• Not many ways to mitigate the luck