#818 – Pompiers!

Base price: $27.50.
3 – 5 players.
Play time: 30 – 50 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy directly!
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Pompiers! was provided by Big Cat Games.

It’s been surprisingly difficult to get doujin games reviewed, lately. Just a casualty of playing games with typically less-experienced players, and I find that I tend to save the doujin titles for folks that have played a few more games. Thankfully, I’m starting to cobble gaming groups back together with some frequency, so I’ve been able to play a few more of the titles I’ve been really excited to try, like Rise of the Metro, Hi Fuu!!, and now, Pompiers! Let’s check it out.

In Pompiers!, you play as firefighters tasked to rescue folks from a building that’s currently ablaze! You’ll have to be smart if you want to complete both the Basic and Emergency Missions in time, and they’re never easy, since you’re competing with other firefighters! You’ll have to be quick and strategic if you want to rescue as many people as you can. Will you be able to brave the inferno?

Contents

Setup

Very few. Each player gets 5 counter chips on the black side:

Spread them out so that you can place a card above and a card below; this will be important later. Essentially, they’re called room spaces and they represent rooms of the house that are currently on fire. Next, prep the cards:

If you’re playing with four players, don’t use 13 – 15 of each suit (the Wizard cards). At three or five, use all cards. Finally, shuffle the Emergency Mission Tiles:

Set those aside, face-down, and place the five Basic Mission Tiles in the center of the play area:

Place one Emergency Mission Tile face-up below the Basic Mission 3, as shown. After doing that, shuffle up and deal out all the cards! You should be ready to start.

Gameplay

A game of Pompiers! is played over five rounds, as players try to complete missions via trick-taking shenanigans. To kick off a round, each player is dealt 10 cards. The remaining cards are placed in a pile. From those cards, if a single player took 0 tricks in the previous round, they’re dealt three cards and allowed to pick one of them to become the trump suit (after seeing their hand). Otherwise, flip the top card of the stack.

From there, players play 10 rounds of trick-taking, starting with the round’s start player. If you haven’t played a trick-taking game before, every player plays a card from their hand, and the highest card of the “led” suit wins (the led suit being whatever suit the start player for that trick played). If you have a card of that color, you must play it. If you don’t, you can play whatever color you want. One exception to this rule is that if a trump suit card is played (a card whose color matches the trump suit color), then the highest card of the trump suit wins, instead.

After all cards have been played for a trick, determine the trick winner, who takes the cards from the trick and places them above or below the corresponding trick counter token on their side of the play area. They lead the next trick! Once the tenth trick is finished, the round ends.

At the end of the round, determine mission completions. First, check the Basic Missions from left to right. Completing one of those five will generally allow you to flip the corresponding chip from the black side to the green side! If multiple players have completed the mission, the player with fewer flipped chips flips theirs (nobody else). The exception to this is the 2 / 7 chip; all players who took no tricks in a round can flip that chip.

Next, check Emergency Missions. Here, if a player achieved that mission exclusively, they get to keep the token. Otherwise, it’s set aside until the final round. After checking missions, take the cards and re-deal! The player who won the final trick of the round becomes the start player for the next round.

After five rounds, the game ends! The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

I think Pompiers! becomes most chaotic at five players. There, there’s a big distribution of cards between players, so you’ll see a bit more variance in which players take what tricks. The key reason why that’s interesting is that the number of Missions does not scale with player count, so there’s a lot more fighting over them (and consequently, you’ll see a lot fewer tiles actually get taken). It’s quite easy for more than one player to get 0 red cards or 0 black cards in around, given that several players may want to take more than the average two tricks. I find that three or four players is a bit of a sweeter spot, for me, since there’s still a bit of that chaos (as you’d expect in a trick-taking game), but it’s a bit easier to be the only person who takes zero tricks in a round and you can quickly get a sense of what the other players are after. I still enjoy Pompiers! at five, but I’d probably be more likely to play it at three or four.

Strategy

  • One of the best things you can do is to try to find an overlap between the Basic Missions (always in play) and the Emergency Missions (one round only). Often, the overlap is winning 0 tricks. There are a lot of Emergency Missions that reward not taking any cards of a certain color, so if you take 0 tricks, well, you don’t take any cards of any color. Sort of tautologically, but you get it.
  • This game is only rarely about taking the most tricks; instead, focus on taking the right tricks. Taking all the tricks is a perfectly reasonable way to go about things, but you’ll often miss out on certain missions. Also, honestly, it’s very unlikely that you’ll take all of the tricks, unless you have a ridiculous deal. So if you’re just taking tricks with reckless abandon, you might miss out on getting Missions completed by taking the right tricks at the right time.
  • Taking no tricks in one round allows you to essentially choose the trump suit (from a range of options), so taking no tricks in round 4 may let you sweep round 5, which could earn you a lot of Emergency Missions. At the very least, it gives you a lot of control. If you wanted to take zero tricks in the final round, for instance, you could even set yourself up by picking a trump suit that you have none of, thereby boosting your opponents’ chances of winning tricks. That can be a huge benefit in the right contexts, depending on what the final Emergency Missions are.
  • Generally, some Basic Missions go together, so if you can get those to work, you’re in business. Last trick and vertical tricks can play together, consecutive tricks and vertical tricks can, in some cases work together, and of course, consecutive tricks and last trick can work out nicely if you can pull them off. These synergies can also include Emergency Missions, but ideally, you’ll get at least all five Basic Missions completed before the end of the game.
  • Just keep in mind that there’s a cap on how many points you can earn from Basic Missions, so don’t sleep on the Emergency Missions either. You get 5 points per Basic Mission completed, but there are only five total, so, that kind of keeps you limited to 25 points total. Suffice it to say, nobody we’ve played with has ever won with only 25 points. You need to figure out how to earn points from Emergency Missions as well if you want to come out on top.
  • It’s often worth saving a trump suit card to either lock down a mission you need or to prevent an opponent completing a mission. Save them as best as you can, but keep in mind that if you’re forced to play them, well, you have to. Keeping a couple tucked away can potentially make a difference if you absolutely need to win a trick, but you also have to drop cards of other colors before then so that you can actually throw off.
  • Similarly, getting down to only having cards of suits matching “No X Cards” Emergency Missions can allow you to sabotage your opponents by throwing off high-value cards of that color, ensuring that they’ll take them. I try to ditch other cards when there’s a “No X Cards” Mission so that I only have cards of that color left. Most of the time, players don’t keep cards of that color since they don’t want to take any, so they’re vulnerable to you throwing off cards of the forbidden color since they won’t win the trick anyways. Just watch out for if that forbidden color is the trump suit! Throwing off works less well, then.
  • More generally, if your goal is losing tricks, make sure you get rid of your high-value cards in tricks that they can’t win, so that your odds of being forced to play one are relatively low. As trick-taking games go, you’re likely going to be forced to play a color that you weren’t necessarily super excited about playing at some point, so just make sure that you’re aware that that’s a possible outcome and prepare accordingly if you want to make sure you’re losing tricks. You just want to try and get set up with a hand full of the absolutely wrong cards.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • What a fun theme! It’s a firefighting game, sure, but it’s inherently a silly one, rather than the more serious ones I’ve seen (like Flash Point). I think that this is more my speed, as a result.
  • The wizard firefighters are weird, but I like that they’re weird. I have no idea why some of the firefighters are wizards beyond “I suppose it would be more convenient if they are”, and, frankly, that’s fine. It’s fun. Games are allowed to be fun. Et cetera. I think it makes the game come off as quirkier, which also helps make the game’s theme seem more fun than serious. It also helps that we’re focusing on the firefighters as characters, rather than the impact of a building being on fire, but that’s kind of a given for “fun game” over “serious game”.
  • I really like this game’s mission-based approach to trick-taking. It adds good competition and lets players focus on something less abstract than “take the most tricks”. I think that a lot of players struggle with being new to trick-taking as a genre because they often don’t have clear goals beyond “maybe take tricks?”, which, implied. Having specific missions for players to shoot for allows them to start developing strategies and seeing strategies in play that they can incorporate into their toolbox in subsequent rounds. I’ve seen players rapidly improve over the course of a single game of Pompiers!, and I really like that as a teaching tool. It’s one of the reasons I tend to introduce players to trick-taking with The Crew; having the missions as microgoals can help focus players on immediate goals rather than challenging them to take on long-term ones.
  • The “vertical tricks” challenge is weird, and very cool. I like when trick-taking games try to play with the space a bit, and treating the tableau of completed tricks as rooms and dealing with the vertical adjacency of those spaces is interesting! It forces players to care about rounds R and R+5, which I don’t see a lot of in trick-taking games. It’s hard to specifically plan for those, admittedly, but you can occasionally make it work.
  • I also like the distinction between Emergency Missions and Basic Missions. Most players get a fair number of the Basic Missions completed by game’s end, so having the Emergency Missions is not just critical from a gameplay differentiation perspective but also just an interesting way to change up players’ approach to specific rounds.
  • I’m a big fan of how the third Basic Mission is always just a permanent version of an Emergency Mission. It can really mix up the flow of a game. At a higher level, this is kind of the same thing as the previous point (having variable missions makes individual rounds more interesting), but incorporating a randomized mission as a challenge that every player has to do can be interesting, too. It might incentivize winning specific tricks or taking zero tricks, as needed. A permanent Emergency Mission can make the game a lot harder, especially at five (if the challenge is “take 1 trick”, for instance).
  • Having all remaining missions happen in the final round is fun, too. It adds a lot of chaos to the final round of the game, which can shake up the points balance quite a bit. It’s definitely the time to go all-in on taking tricks (or not, depending on which Emergency Missions shake out). Conceptually, I think it works really well, and practically, I’ve quite enjoyed the experience.
  • Very portable. It’s a small-box game; it fits most places. I used to travel a lot more, so portable games were my go-to for a while. Less so, now, but hopefully that will change again.

Mehs

  • At five, it’s very easy for multiple players to take no tricks, which makes it hard to get the “No X Cards” of certain colors. It just ups the difficulty of those missions, which is kind of a bummer. That said, it’s still possible to take tricks and avoid taking any Red / Black / Blue / Yellow cards; that’s just challenging in an entirely different way.
  • The “R Tricks” and “R + 5” tricks are surprisingly not intuitive for most players. I think people just don’t immediately associate R with “number of rounds” like they would N or X. Honestly, even #R would have been a bit more intuitive, I think? That at least makes people think of a number rather than just a letter. I didn’t have this problem when I was playing, but I noticed it a bit more with more players.

Cons

  • If a player wins too many of the Emergency Missions, they can break away from the other players score-wise and be almost impossible to catch. It’s not the most likely circumstance, but if you have a round in which one player successfully takes no tricks and a lot of the “take 0 {COLOR} cards” missions are in play, they can get accelerated far enough ahead, score-wise, that it may be difficult for any other player to catch them. At that point, game’s pretty much over. The fix for this is, of course, not letting anyone take 0 tricks that round, but that’s sometimes easier said than done.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

Overall, I think Pompiers! is great! For me, it evokes classic trick-taking while still adding a fun spin on top of it in the form of these challenge-based missions. What that enables is a learning experience for new players, since they have more direct, concrete goals than the often-abstract “take a bunch of tricks” goals that some light trick-taking games can have. This is probably the closest I’ve gotten in a while to an almost purely trick-taking game, especially since there aren’t special cards or abilities or tokens; just challenges. Pompiers is, in many cases, essentially a competitive version of The Crew, and given how much I like The Crew, it’s not surprising that Pompiers is hitting a similar spot in my brain. I think what differentiates the two is that Pompiers! is obviously competitive, which, being honest, I prefer the cooperative gameplay of The Crew. But there are additional differences! Pompiers!’s missions are a bit more abstract and gameplay-based than The Crew’s explicit “take this card” missions, and I do prefer that. So much so that I think Mission Deep Sea has more missions similar to Pompiers!, so I’m excited. I like the mechanics around mission selection and the randomness as well, so I think there’s a lot of good happening in Pompiers!. It’s a great way to learn trick-taking, which I still think is an extremely tough genre to play well, for beginners. If you’re looking for that sort of thing, you want more firefighting-themed games, or you just like trick-taking, I’d definitely recommend Pompiers!, though! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s