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Flash Point: Fire Rescue Variant Rules

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 2011-03-01

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Why Variant Rules?

Why do I feel the need to write variant rules for a game I like and that I would recommend to anyone as it comes out of the box? Simple: The Family Rules are fine for what the name suggests, The Experienced (gamer) Rules add elements an experienced gamer can handle and make the game a bit more vicious and variable, but both have certain elements that are hard to explain to a real firefighter and that contradict real-world firefighting tactics. I know, this is not supposed to be a simulation, but maybe we can nudge some aspects a little closer to reality… just a little bit…

So, my rules variants try to fill these gaps for the Easily Unsatisfied among us gamers. And the game certainly just seems to be designed to be extended, which is one of the things I really like about it.
And of course I just like to fiddle with things to see when they break. It's childish, I know.

So here are some things I thought about:

What Puzzled Me

Before I go into the things I want to modify I want to give a big "Thank you!" to the designer Kevin Lanzing and also to Travis Worthington, who took the trouble and risk to publish this game on a big scale. Often it is only when you try to tweak things that you become aware of all the work that went into a game, turning it from a good idea into something that really works. As Edison said, it usually needs at least as much transpiration as inspiration, and that means tedious work. Make no mistake, that the game is as playable and balanced as it comes out of the box was not at all easy to achieve, and I suspect between them Kevin and Travis consciously scrapped exactly some of the ideas I am going to introduce again as house rules, trying to meet their declared target to create an accessible and exciting game that is not burdened by a lot of book-keeping and fiddly detail. From me, the published version gets full marks for delivering what they intended to.

Here are some things that, from a firefighter's point of view, somewhat bugged me when playing the standard game (when I refer to "standard" rules I think of the "Experienced" rules, not the family game):

To repeat, I can see that the corresponding rules in the game are designed for playability, not for realism, but let us see what we can come up with to combine play- and credibility. There are two ways to handle things you think unrealistic:

The obvious dangers of the second approach are that you may make the game more complicated, or that you break game balance or even the game system itself. After all, the designer of FP:FR has spent years, together with play testers, to design the game the way it comes out of the box; a hip shot at changing things is not likely to be better than the original design.

That said, let's start to tweak things.

Notes on Game Scale

The game does not give a scale for space and time, but when we want to tweak this game a little bit into a simulation (well, sort of, anyway) and want to add further action options, we need to think about scale to keep things in proportion.

Size scale is easy. According to the furniture shown on the board, one space is equivalent to about 1.8 m (6 ft to US, Liberia and Myanmar citizens), which makes the board a scale of 1:35 (good to know if you want to play with firefighter miniatures).

Time scale is more difficult and to a certain extent meaningless because the game "serializes" parallel actions into sequential player turns. Of course a fireman does not wait with his tasks until his colleague at the other end of the board has finished his. We also perceive the "omniscient player syndrome" here, as each player knows the results of other person's actions that would, in reality, happen in parallel.
Note that time scale becomes even more meaningless when considering that the fire advance depends on the number of players (or firefighters) in the game, so in effect the fire has "more time" to advance when more players are in the game. Here we are touching a realism/playability rift again.

Nevertheless, let us take a look at what one action point may mean in terms of time. We know that a fireman moves 5 spaces in one turn (advanced rules), i.e. about 9 m, but we must assume that this is done at considerably less than normal walking speed because of smoke, negotiating or moving aside debris, laying a hose, reconnaissance, communication with team mate and commander, and similar activities. On the other hand we know that a fireman (or team of two) is supposed to create a man-sized breach in a wooden wall at the expense of 4 AP.

My assumption is that a scale of about 2 minutes per player turn would be about right. This gives varying times for the APs firemen can spend because the specialists have different AP amounts at their disposal, but for the generalist it would mean 24 seconds per AP spent. It also means that the house usually burns down completely in about half an hour (this time considering that player turns actually happen synchronously), which also feels about right.
Again, this can only be a very rough assumption, but it may serve to model future action options on a sensible scale.

Notes on Reality

If you have never experienced a big fire, you can probably not imagine what it is like to move and work in such a burning house. Nor can many firefighters, actually, because the situation in the game is the exception, not the rule, and many firefighters are never in their career challenged by something as dangerous and out of control as we have to handle in the game. They train for just such things, to be sure, but fortunately they seldom experience it in reality; considering that fire departments in many countries are also responsible for fire prevention, they work hard to keep it that way.

Here is my poor attempt of an impression of the real thing:

You have donned breathing apparatus and you know it will give you a safe working time of 20 minutes at best. Inside the house, your visibility is down to a few centimetres because of the smoke (the smoke markers in the game represent just the combustible part of the smoke gas, of course, you have to assume that smoke is everywhere), and that smoke is not just a nuisance but it is also poisonous. You keep to the walls when you navigate the rooms because otherwise you would get lost very soon in those unknown rooms; the hose is your breadcrumb line that leads back to safety. You have to be careful when you feel your way around because you often cannot even recognize exactly what it is you encounter– a pile of rags? A victim? A bed with a half-suffocated child in it? When you are sure that the room is clear, you mark it with a chalk cross and very carefully open the door to see what is in the next room; hopefully the new room will not greet you with a flash of fire that is grateful for the new oxygen that come through the door.
Near the fire the heat is so intense that you cannot even think about taking your heavy gloves off, everything you do has to be done with hands that look like bear's paws. If you are in the first attack team you may have to do with portable equipment until the hoses have been connected; in those one or two minutes you must be careful how to use that limited supply (typically 10 to 15 litres of water) to its best effect. All the time you have to keep an eye on your own and your mate's air supply to draw back before it is exhausted. Of course you cannot really talk to each other, that is impossible in the crackle if the fire, the howl of air sucked into it, and the sound of engines running outside, so you rely on patting his helmet and making hand signs. Avoid getting snagged on some piece of furniture or railing and keep an eye open for things that might fall down on top of you, like a piece of the roof. There you go, trying to get people out before it is too late. A dream job.

To German readers: I can really recommend Hans-Georg Prager's book "Florian 14- Achter Alarm", first published in 1965. Some details of former editions are a bit outdated now, but it is still very much worth reading. The November 2011 edition is revised and updated.
Now, back to the game.


Approved Variants

Approved by me, that is. I worked on them, if appropriate playtested them in at least four or five games, and I still like them. In other words, I like playing FP:FR by those variant rules as much as by the original rules, or even better.

Team Doctrine: The Buddy Principle

Firefighters always move as a team and stay very close together ("2 in and 2 out"); think Siamese twins. I think it is impossible to move two firemen in the game like this, even if they were moved by the same player. It simply does not work.

OK, this is a case of rationalizing what you see. I consider every fireman on the board to represent not a single firefighter, but a two-man team. This makes sense considering doctrine, but also makes some hard-to-believe achievements more likely (wall breaching, for example).

Actually this makes it easier to believe the firefighting force that deals with the house fire. It would be quite insane to tackle a fire of such dimensions with two to six individual firemen. Four to six teams, i.e. eight to twelve men, is more like it, though even then the commander would certainly step up the alarm and call in additional forces.
We also have to assume that additional men are around, manning the pumps, laying hoses to provide a water supply, caring for victims etc. In the original rules the visible example of this is the ambulance with its inherent driver. So what we players manage are only the interesting, dramatic tasks. That's what heroes do :-)

Specialist Abilities

Paramedic

You never re-animate someone in a smoke-filled room in a burning building that is about to collapse. What you do is apply basic measures to give victims the best possible chance to survive and then transport them to the ambulance.
However, I think this can be remedied by re-wording what the paramedic does. Let's just say she establishes basic stability to enable a faster transport, and maybe she provides some means to do so (like a stretcher or Stokes rescue basket). Remember, each meeple stands for a two-man team, so they would be able to carry a stretcher. Voilà, credibility problem solved!

HazMat: If I know were it is, where is the hazard?

Here are some more thoughts about HazMat and Danger markers:

The second method is even more random because you do not even know how many markers there will be, but in doing that it reduces the usefulness of the HazMat specialist and changes balance between the roles.

There is one rule from the original Flash Point game I would like to mention, even if it will seldom be necessary: If you have not enough fire/smoke markers to place on a fire advance roll, remove some of the existing markers by randomly selecting as many as you need (use random location die rolls) and use them for the new fire. Presumably the old fire has burned out for lack of oxygen or fuel. Don't care about the details; if you need that rule you are probably in big trouble anyway.

Fire Advance Variants

I already mentioned what problems I have with the original rule: Hotspots never vanish in spite of my efforts, and fires pop up all over the place. The following two variants address this itch with varying degrees of recklessness.

Implicit Hotspots

The concept of hotspots is removed from the game. Hotspot markers are not used anymore.

  1. Fire advance die rolls are made as described in the rules. When the advance die roll results in an explosion (target field is on fire, or HazMat explodes), roll for one more fire advance after you resolved the explosion. Resolve the second fire advance only if it does not result in an explosion.
  2. As a harder but more realistic variant, try "Resolve the second fire advance only if it does result in an explosion."
  3. Only two fire advance rolls shall be made, whatever the result of the second fire advance.

The first option has an equalizing behaviour; the lager the area on fire, the less likely is a second fire advance. The second option is more realistic in the sense that larger areas on fire are more likely to result in additional advance rolls (the heat rises), but they cause catastrophic behaviour (a sinister application of the "he who has shall be given" principle).

My first attempt at this rule was even harder: It said that you keep rolling for fire advances until one advance did not result in explosion. With this variant I found it impossible to survive more than 3 to 5 rounds. Kevin Lanzing quipped that he would use this proposal for a "Fire in the fireworks factory" expansion.

Firefighters Advance, Fire Retreats

OK, this rule really belongs to the "under construction" section right now...

My intention with this variant is to stop fires popping up all over the place. I think it should be rather more probable that the fire would spread from existing fire, but a certain chance to create fires in random locations should exist. Here is an attempt at an alternative system for spreading fires and, if you wish, place hazmat (ignore all references to "red cubes" if you don't).

Replace the Fire Advance phase from the rulebook with the following:

  1. Draw two cubes from the bag and resolve their effect in the order gray, yellow, red. Draw replacement cubes for the red cubes until the sum of gray plus red is 2.
  2. For each gray cube, find the space on fire nearest to the active firefighter. Place a smoke marker with the cube on top away from the firefighter, as far away as possible from that spot.
  3. Exchange any pair of gray cubes on a wall by one black cube. Remove any door with two gray cubes on it. Return the gray cubes to the bag.
  4. Each yellow cube causes a fire advance roll that follows the standard rules: Roll for location and resolve the effects. Return the cube to the bag after resolving the advance.
  5. For each red cube place one HazMat marker on a space determined by a random location roll. If the target space has smoke or fire on it, follow the arrows to a space that doesn't. Re-roll if necessary. Do not return the red cube to the bag but remove it from the game.
  6. Resolve secondary effects: Flashover, knocked-down firefighters, HazMat explosions.

During the action phase, gray cubes cause the following changes:

Note: When playing, it is not nearly as complicated as it reads, though the ongoing cube-drawing is a bit tedious. But so is ongoing dice-rolling :-)
This rule has not yet been tested fully (I made it less harsh and simpler to use after two plays), but the fire advance felt rather more realistic as the original rule. However, the fire appears to be rather harmless with this rule- building collapse is the big danger. After four attempts I had two wins and two losses, and I even forgot to use hotspots (or my replacement rule)! More testing needed, but it looks rather promising.

This rule changes the character of the fire advance and adds another way to produce wall damage; it also adds some tactical options because the position of the fireman relative to the fire will influence fire advance in a predictable way in 75% of all advances. Note that the danger of random fire placement (and this, explosions) rises if many gray cubes are placed on walls; you need to take care of "securing" such walls now.

Obviously it is very easy to fine-tune the challenge by adding more or less yellow and red cubes to the mix.

Knocked-Down Firefighters

I dislike the teleportation of knocked-down firefighters to the ambulance. You could rationalize that as bringing in a replacement team (forget the fallen heroes), but I think there is a better solution: the original rules as used in the Flash Point game, the predecessor of FP:FR.

Kevin Lanzing's Alternative Rule

  1. The pawn of a knocked-down firefighter is flipped on its back immediately, while the fire in his space is extinguished. He keeps all saved AP.
  2. As his only action, a knocked-down fireman may stand up or to crawl one space. Either action uses all his standard APs for that turn, but he may use saved APs for additional actions.
  3. A knocked-down firefighter may be picked up and carried by another fireman as you would carry a victim. After being carried the knocked-down fireman is automatically upright again.
    Note: A knocked-down firefighter may not be commanded by the fire captain.

I took some liberty with the original rule. In Kevin's rule firefighters do not crawl. I also added the bit about keeping saved APs.
This rule should encourage teamwork, to assist each other if necessary. In the few games in which I playtested this it looked good, but I also had sessions in which a fireman never came out of the knocked down/stand up cycle, which, though something that could happen in reality, would not be a lot of fun for that player.


Variants Under Construction

As the heading suggests, these variants are more or less just ideas that need at best a lot of additional testing and that turn out may be complete nonsense.

Synchronicity

To give more options to firefighters and to give an increased feeling that things happen at the same time, you may try this rule:

Untested, may give too big an advantage to the firefighters.

Victim Placement and Rescue

Victims should not pop up in places I already searched, and I should not know exactly how many to expect.

Not playtested, may not be a good idea because of the book-keeping involved.

  1. New concept: Rooms are considered "searched" if firefighters have spent as many movement APs in the room as it has spaces. Only "simple" movement APs count, APs spent for other actions do not. Any APs used in connection with carrying victims or HazMat also do not count. It is not necessary that the APs are spent consecutively, in one turn, or by one particular fireman, nor is it necessary to have actually visited all spaces of the room.
    Example: The kitchen on the front map has 8 spaces, so it you need to spend a total of 8 movement APs in it to consider it searched.
    You need to set up some book-keeping, for example markers or a checkmark list, to keep track of movement APs spent. You can also vary this rule for specific rooms, like rooms that are particularly easy or hard to search.

    A searched room keeps its "searched" status even if has an open connection to an unsearched room (open or missing door, destroyed wall).
    A playability concession, obviously.
  2. POI markers can never be placed in searched rooms, in addition to all other restrictions as by the normal rules. POI markers with a placement roll that points to a searched room are moved along the arrows, just like POIs on fire and other forbidden spaces, and re-roll if necessary. If no placement is possible by that method, do not place the marker.
  3. When rolling for POI replacements, try to place as many replacements as needed to have the standard number of POI markers on the board again.
    Sometimes it will be obvious that no POIs can be placed in a turn. Players must still attempt to fill up the number to normal in the next POI replacement phase.
  4. The game ends when all POI markers are accounted for or when it is clear that no more POIs can be placed in this game (because all rooms are "searched"). In any case you need to recall your men (get them out of the house) to end the game.
  5. When using this rule we need to adapt victory conditions: You win the game if you save more victims than you lose, otherwise, you lose. Killed firemen count as lost victims in this equation; in addition, if a fireman was killed, the best result you can achieve is a draw. The standard rule that you lose the game if the building collapses still applies.

This is a compromise between playability, trying to keep as many of the original rules and an attempt at realism. I am not at all sure whether it actually works as intended.

Notes:

Water Supply

Some ideas, but no real testing done yet. I think this could work. Problem is, things are hard enough without further complications. May not be worth the hassle.

  1. Define one supply point (wye) outside the building before placing your firemen. Use a marker to define the location of the wye. The engine is also a temporary supply point in any position it occupies.
  2. Place a new supply point in any space outside the building at the end of each round, up to a total of four.
  3. A supply point can supply water to any number of hoses.
  4. Each fireman who starts movement on a supply point automatically draws a supply line (hose) along his path (marked by matchsticks or similar) from this supply point to his position. The hose follows his movements and lengthens or shortens automatically, it also re-arranges automatically to avoid fire spaces as much as possible; it passes through spaces the same way a firefighter could walk. Usually the apertures (doors, broken walls) through which the hose runs defines its course with sufficient precision.
  5. If a hose is broken by a space on fire or by a closed door, the fireman needs to pick up a new one from a supply point before he can continue to extinguish fire.
  6. A fireman who starts without an assigned supply point can ignore the above rules but only carries a water supply equivalent to spending 4 APs for extinguishing actions (he/she is carrying a portable extinguisher, mark his supply with blue cubes or similar on the player card). The water supply can be replenished at the engine or at any supply point.

The Deck Gun

Some ideas, but no testing done yet. Problem is, things are hard enough without further complications.

  1. In any turn, you may either use the deck gun or move the engine, not both.
    In reality, the deck gun requires an external water supply, the onboard supply of the engine is not sufficient for its high water throughput. The rule is a moderate reminder of this fact.
  2. The deck gun may be used as described in the rules; in addition, it may attack spaces immediately behind any apertures in the complete outside wall facing the engine (entrance doors, destroyed walls) without requiring a die roll, but in this case it only extinguishes the fire in that one space.
    Example: An engine parked next to 5-8/6-8 could extinguish any fire in the "8" column if an aperture exists. An engine parked next to 1-7/1-8 could extinguish any fire in the "1" row if an aperture exists.

Of course the deck gun cannot be used for interior attacks if the roof is still intact, so we have to assume that the roof has gone in the spaces it is aimed at. Usually this is believable, as the deck gun (because of AP cost involved) is used mainly when large areas of the house are on fire. The lack of precision may also be explained by the fact that it tries to force water through jagged apertures.
To apply the deck gun to a burning building ("oceanic attack method"– thanks, Jochen!) would be an act of desperation and means that there is no hope anymore to save the building as such and that any damage to property no longer matters compared to the rescue task. However, the game seems to represent just such a case.

Vehicles

Some ideas, but no testing done yet. Problem is, things are hard enough without further complications.

Multi-Floor Buildings

Some ideas, initial testing done but not complete.


Notes on Real-World Firefighting Doctrine & Tactics

Fire brigades follow certain doctrine in firefighting, developed from experience and adapted to the local situation (think of building materials, climate etc.). Doctrine is reflected in organisation, equipment, training and command structure. In Germany, communities are responsible to organize their fire brigades and to pay them, but equipment and doctrine are standardized on a federal level, mostly through the work of a federal roof organization (Deutscher Feuerwehrverband). The doctrine is put down in service regulations (Feuerwehr-Dienstvorschrift).

Here is a very short and rough overview of German doctrine:

The basic unit of any German fire brigade is the squad (Löschgruppe) with 9 men (or, of course, women), manning a fire engine (Löschgruppenfahrzeug). The roles are squad leader (Gruppenführer), runner/signals man/assistant (Melder), driver/operator (Maschinist), and three two-man teams (Trupp), each with a designated team leader (Truppführer) and one man (Truppmann). Teams are designated "attack" (Angriffstrupp), "water" (Wassertrupp) and "hose" (Schlauchtrupp); all men are trained to take any of the positions in their squad at a moment's notice (the concept of universal firefighter, "Einheitsfeuerwehrmann"). Teams always operate as a very close, inseparable unit. This is particularly important when operating under Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA, aka air pack, always used when fighting indoor fires); when using SCBA, security rules state that a backup team with air packs must stand by.

The basic operational unit is the platoon (Zug) with one fire engine (Löschgruppenfahrzeug, LF), one fire engine/water tender (Tanklöschfahrzeug, TLF), one turntable ladder (Drehleiter, DL) and one ambulance (Rettungswagen, RTW). Both engines carry a supply of water (typically 800 l for the engine, 2400 l for the engine/water tender) that may be connected to a fast-attack hose that can be reeled out and used without preparation.
The standard C-size nozzle delivers 100 to 200 l of water per minute at a standard water pressure of 5 bar, a bit less less when switched to spray mode. However, many firefighting units have switched to fog nozzles (Hohlstrahlrohr) because of its better efficiency; the water throughput of fog nozzles varies widely, depending on the exact type of nozzle and the way it is handled.

The Standard Firefighting Attack of a Squad

The leader gives the order how to attack the fire and orders where to place the wye (Y-connector, splits the B-size (75 mm) supply hose into one B and 2 C-size (42 or 52 mm) attack hoses). The attack team carries the nozzle and (usually) a portable extinguisher, leads the way to the fire and begins to rescue and to fight the fire.
The water team lays the hoses from the water supply to the pump and from the pump to the wye (this roughly means that they handle the B-type hoses). Which connection is built first depends on whether the engine carries its own water supply or not. Then, it becomes the second attack team.
The hose team provides hose connection (usually C-type) from the wye to the nozzle, supports the water team if necessary (for example if suction hoses have to be used to supply water to the pump), and then becomes the third attack team.
Depending on the situation, all teams may have the primary task to rescue victims.
The driver/operator stays at the engine and operates the pump. The signals man supports the squad leader.

Today, the doctrine as described above is mainly used in basic training and competitions. Professional fire departments do no longer follow it strictly, owing to personnel cost and, above all, the changing spectrum of operations. For my hometown Berlin, where the fire service is also responsible for emergency ambulance services, the 2010 statistical figures are given below; figures for other cities are similar.
Roughly 80% of all their 354,000 yearly missions are emergency ambulance assignments (of these, a big percentage of "helpless persons", "helpless" often being a synonym for drunk). The remaining 20% are split between "technical assistance" assignments (7%, traffic and other accidents, plus the occasional cat-in-a-tree rescue), firefighting (2%) plus a remarkable 11% of false alarms. Of the fires about 80% can be put out by the attack team with their portable extinguisher (small kitchen and Christmas tree fires, burning dustbins and such). You see that the average fireman does not often experience a real big fire. However, the firefighting missions still add up to more than 500 persons saved from fire each year, and 20 to 30 persons are killed in fires each year despite all efforts.

In the consequence of these statistics, in Berlin fire engines have mutated to a combination ("rescue engine", Hilfeleistungs-Löschfahrzeug, LHF) with reduced firefighting equipment and enhanced equipment for technical rescue tasks (cutters, hydraulic lifters and such). They are typically manned with a half-squad (Staffel) of 6 men, cutting the signals man and one team. Most professional firemen in Berlin are also fully qualified paramedics (Rettungssanitäter).

Fire texture courtesy of http://suicidecrew.deviantart.com/


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, last change 2013-03-18