Flamme Rouge – Review

Type: Race

Time to play: < 30 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

The cross over between board games and cycling is not obvious; and even if you wanted to, making a board game about a team sport with years of training feels like an uphill struggle (pardon the pun!). However, Flamme Rouge has done just that. It’s created a fast paced game of managing your deck – managing your fatigue – to get these cyclists over th line.

In this review, I will cover only the base game – there’s an exciting expansion that takes this to six players and throws in more road tiles of different types, but let’s save that for the future!

So, you start this game by setting up the road – building it out on the table is a quick and easy set up. Once you have set these tiles in, you take your two riders and in turns place one at a time before the starting line. Turn by turn, you simultaneously select and then reveal a card for each rider. Each rider’s pack is different, and the choices are limited to four cards drawn each turn from each. Having moved, you then see if riders are at the front of a pack or indeed can slipstream off a rider one space in front!

This exhaustion or slipstream is a key mechanic. Get your positions right and you get to squeeze up a one space gap to the cyclist in front (if they move up too, then you are pulled with them). I have seen players squeeze four free moves out of this – that’s more than a whole card. However, find yourself two spaces behind other riders or at the front of the pack, and then you will take an exhaustion card – a two point card that might restrict your future movement!

Add this to mechanics from the terrain: uphill and downhill segments that set a cap or floor to your speed and you can gain or lose additional points of movement off these areas. In all the tracks, you have enough to get to the finish line but these small differences are the opportunity to get ahead.

Lastly, choosing your point of attack is key. Coming into that last turn, and finding all your high cards in one hand – well then perhaps you are too late. Attacking off the front of the course, and your sure to be drawing hands full of exhaustion by the end of the race. Balancing these two mechanics is difficult; and perfecting it to get that front space over the finish line is even harder. It’s not about crossing first, it’s about crossing and finishing furthest ahead – I have seen plenty of races where the lead changes after the line!

These mechanics all come together to strike lighting quick turns, and for great stories. Opportunities for two players to work a breakaway if they are careful with how they play there cards. Chances to slipstream large gaps between riders. That single rider breaking away two turns to the finish or the one who caught him on the line! All these stories come out of reading your opponents, planning the course and managing your deck.

It may sound easy but it’s not, and course variety gives you a vast amount of replay-ability. However, this is a race game with little direct interaction and a fair bit of luck in the last few hands. If you want to block, or stop an opponent there is little you can do – this can at times feel like a solo game for four players. It also can at times feel crushing when that sprint card is the only card of five you didn’t get in the final straight. Sometimes that’s just the way it happens.

The only other thing to watch out for is that this game strongly favours experienced players. New players will struggle to predict the slipstreaming and will plan an attack too late on average – leaving those high value cards too late and sometimes unused.

All that being said, this is still a game that I enjoy and am really enjoying the expansion!

Last notes:

  • If you like fast turns and a variety of maps – this game brings that and more!
  • If you want to build or develop an engine, or push other players back – this is a simple race game.
  • If you win at this game, try a new course – one that favours the other rider! However, you are probably odds on to win against new players!

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