Panic Fire from 3 Headed Giant Games is one of the liveliest card games out there. Its base mechanics of card matching and reflexes to grab the trophy from the central table are reminiscent of the time-tested game Spoons. Whereas Spoons comes in a single round, however, Panic Fire continues on with the madness until one player is left standing.
To begin a round of Panic Fire, players are dealt eight Character cards, four of which serve as a set in front of each player while the other four act as a hand. On the call of “Fire!” players reveal their cards in search of a match. Part of the fun of Panic Fire is the wide variety of Character cards, ranging from gangsters to nuns to aliens to zombies to cowboys, vikings, gorillas, and more. Each card is denoted with a number telling how many of that card make a set. High numbers mean larger sets, which may take more actions to get, but also mean that the card is more plentiful, making them easier to achieve. Players will have to quickly deduce from the cards available which they should play and where, since players can play on their own sets or any opponent’s. As soon as a match is made, the “shooting” begins.
Whenever a set is made, the toy gun in the middle of the table is unlocked. The player with the matching set becomes both a potential marksman and a target, blasting another player or being blasted if not fast enough to get to the gun first. Even though the racing speed of Panic Fire tempts players to act without thinking, strategy in choosing targets and when to play is crucial, especially since mixed among the Characters may be Shield cards, which protect players from being blasted. Players shot when they have a Shield must discard it; players without are out of the round.
The last player standing collects one of six Bullet cards acting as markers, and the player with the most Bullet cards at the end of six rounds is the winner. Players will have to be quick on their feet to discard sets and draw up fresh ones to ensure they stay in the rounds.
In addition to its novel ruleset, the high production quality of Panic Fire kicks the familiar game-style onto a new level. The plastic gun is a lot of fun in itself as a toy with modular pieces like a scope, silencer, and laser sight that can let players customize it to maximize weight or minimize grips, whichever best fits their table.
Panic Fire is a matching and reflexes game for two to five players aged eight and up. The rounds are very fast, each lasting only a minute or so. The whole game of six rounds often only takes 10 to 15 minutes, making it a great breather game between longer, more stationary games on game night or as a party game for smaller gatherings. With high production quality and split-second gameplay, Panic Fire will draw players back again and again.
A demo video of the previous version of Panic Fire shows the gameplay in manic action: