Moe's Game Table: Flamme Rouge Review
Game Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes
Flamme Rouge is the new game from Asger Harding Granerud, co-designer of 13 Days from Jolly Roger Games and published by Lautapelit.fi. It’s a quick and very fun, family-friendly bicycle racing game for 2-4 players simulating the final lap of a race that plays in about 30 minutes. The intuitive mechanics do a fantastic job of capturing the essence of a cycling coda, full of nail-biting tension, tactical movement and daring last second passes.
I’ll be honest; I was a bit skeptical when I first spoke with Asger about this one, his first solo design. Not that I doubted his ability, I’d already played and really loved 13 Days, so I knew he had the chops to accomplish the task. What I was skeptical about was the theme, I mean, bicycle racing? Well, I may just have to eat my woolly hat because my skepticism was unfounded. I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun Flamme Rouge is to play, well done Asger!
No training wheels required
The gameplay of Flamme Rouge is very straightforward and rules light, consisting of a lean four page rulebook with two of them covering setup and components. At the heart of the game is the management of independent decks of 15 energy cards for your two riders, the Roller and Sprinter. The decks are comprised of five unique movement values (three of each), and are specific to each riders role.
Roller’s are strong and steady, well-rounded racers with better average movement than your sprinter. They do lack that extra kick that the sprinter has at their highest movement value. Being stronger means they will often be in the lead and in doing so will absorb a lot of exhaustion cards, which we’ll talk about below. If possible, try to keep the Roller towing the Sprinter so they can save that big sprint card for the finale.
Sprinters are the gazelle’s, maintaining good speed but their strength is in their short burst that surpasses the Roller’s best card by a couple of spaces. Keeping them in the front is a bad idea because exhaustion cards can delay getting to their nine space movement card.
All players draw four cards for one rider first; select one to play face down while recycling the others back to the deck face up. Then repeat the same steps for the other rider, except now you will choose a card with the knowledge of what you’ve selected for the first rider. After players have made their selections, all cards are revealed simultaneously and acted on in the movement phase.
All energy cards played in this step are removed from the game, making your choices have permanent effect. This adds a nice layer of strategy and makes decisions more meaningful the deeper in the race you go. How far out to do you want to risk moving, or do you stay with the pack and bide your time?
Movement is carried out based on track position, with lead riders moving first. This is where those card choices and thinking ahead become critical, but even the best laid plans may not work out perfectly if another player can cut you off.
If the spot you would move to is already filled by other riders, you’re forced to drop to the spot behind them. So a movement card of 5 may advance you only 4 spaces, or even 3 in a full field! While that may not be what you wanted, being in front for too long isn’t always the best place to be as we’ll see in a moment.
After the movement phase is completed, any rider or group of riders that is within one space of another group gets to close ranks with it. This is the benefit of slipstreaming, exactly the same as a tow in Formula 1, or draft in NASCAR. The group ahead is cutting through the air, limiting resistance to the group behind and allowing them expend less energy while gaining a slight movement advantage.
Riders at the point of individual packs, with open spots in front of them, gain exhaustion cards. Since movement cards are played only once and then removed from the game, there really aren’t a lot of throwaway cards. Each card played thins your deck but it gets back-filled with weak, 2 movement point exhaustion cards, if you’re in the front. They’re a neat way to simulate a tired rider and make good movement cards a little harder to get to. While a general detriment, they are great to use in downhill segments of a course.
What I find compelling with the card play is that each draw is chosen separately, without foreknowledge of what may be available for the other rider. You’re hedging your bets that the draw for the other rider will have a complementary card for your chosen strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and that uncertainty keeps things interesting and entertaining.
This isn’t a complex game nor are the decisions but I like that your choices have lasting effects. Adding in the exhaustion cards for those who always want to be at the front is both thematic and a clever way to nudge players towards a balanced strategy.
Not all tracks are simple and flat, there are also uphill and downhill stages to negotiate. Uphill stages limit movement to five spaces and don’t allow slipstreaming, so try to avoid wasting movement cards higher than five. Downhill is a great way to dump exhaustion cards since all movement is five spaces. Not only is slipstreaming back in effect here, but two space exhaustion card will move you five spaces!
As you battle through the course, you’ve got to save something for the final stage. Winning the race is not always about getting across the finish line first, but farthest. If multiple riders cross the finish line, whoever gets further wins the race. Another good reason to try to keep your strongest energy card for that final push.
First or second place?
Flamme Rouge is mechanically easy to grasp and can be taught in just a couple of minutes. This means more players on the course to create an experience full of tension, gambles and a lot of fun!
You get six courses of varying difficulty and challenges, providing great replayability. With over 20 interlocking, double-sided track pieces there is a wide variety of course layouts that you can easily design your own.
The game’s hook is in its clever deck thinning card play and how that can be affected by your positioning, with taking on exhaustion cards. Forcing you to choose that first card blindly in hopes that your second rider will have a card that will work with it adds a fun sense of uncertainty. Then you need to mitigate or improve upon that with an appropriate choice for the second rider. Always having to weigh the risks of where you may end up, depending on what other players do. This half-blind card interplay gives a sense of having two unique riders who have are intent on working together but still have different mindsets. It makes them feel less robotic and more alive. I see it as injecting a little human unpredictability, one of the things that makes sport so interesting.
One niggle I do have is with the cyclist miniatures. Although very nice and sturdy and looking really great in a pack on the table, they can be a bit difficult to discern at a quick glance. There are different poses for each to help differentiate them but they look similar enough to cause issues at times. Applying some paint or other marking can correct this but it was the one area that we found a tad frustrating.
All in all, the design decisions and easy mechanics combine to make Flamme Rouge a heck of a lot of fun to play with friends and family. The uncertainty of the cards, and how they factor together with the fluid track positions of other players, creates an exciting dynamism that will have everyone cheering on the action.
I say go grab a copy and give it a spin right now!
Company Website: http://www.lautapelit.fi/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/Lautapelitfi
Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.