.Reviewed by Herb Levy
FLAMME ROUGE (lautapelit.fi, 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; 37€)
It seems like the majority of racing games that make it to the gaming table fall into the auto racing or horse racing categories. (Check out Grand Prix, for example, in this issue.) But, in a change of “pace”, the world of BICYCLE racing takes center stage here. In cycling, the red flag is hung to mark the last kilometer of a race so that the cyclists know when to sprint to the finish. That flag also serves as the name for this latest design from Asger Sams Granerud: Flamme Rouge (Red Flag).
Unlike most racing games where players control one car or horse, players control TWO bicycle racers each: a Rouleur (the slower but steadier rider with 3 each of cards numbered from 3 to 7 in his deck) and a Sprinteur (who is capable of top speeds with 3 cards each from 2, 3, 4, 5 to a formidable 9 ). These racers begin play behind the start line of the modular track. (The track consists of lettered segments joined together. There are a bunch of suggested track layouts so that you can play a variety of races.)
As indicated, each racer has his own deck of cards. The player controlling the rider furthest ahead will draw four cards from the deck of that racer, choose one and move his cyclist ahead the number of spaces revealed. (Cards not chosen are placed, face up, at the bottom of that deck’s discard pile.) When it is time for the second furthest racer to move, the controlling player of that racer follows the same procedure, choosing four cards and picking one to play. Racers can move through other racers but may NOT land on an occupied space. So, if a move would result in a racer occupying an occupied space, that bicyclist must stop at the first open space behind. Once a card is played, it is OUT of the game. When all riders have moved, slipstreaming may occur.
Starting from the BACK of the pack of riders, you need to check if there is exactly ONE space separating a rider from the rider(s) in front of him. If so, that rider moves ahead that one space to join the pack in front. This is done with the next pack (and the next) so that it is possible that a rider will “slipstream” more than once each turn. But taking the lead comes with a price. If there is an empty space in front of a rider, that rider receives an “Exhaustion” card which is immediately placed in that rider’s discard pile.
Now, the next round of play begins and the same methodology followed. The first rider to cross the finish line wins! (If more than one finishes, then the rider who has traveled the farthest across the line claims victory.)
In the current gaming design world, deck building is a very popular mechanism and, as the name suggests, the goal is to build your deck into something more and more powerful. With Flamme Rouge. there is a “reversal”. Here, powerful cards are used (or held in reserve if you so choose) while Exhaustion cards are accumulated that will lessen your ability to speed ahead. Your deck becomes LESS powerful so what we have here is deck DIMINISHING. This means card/hand management is key as you seek to minimize the effects of Exhaustion, take advantage of slipstreaming as much as possible to squeeze as much distance out of each card while determining just when to play your most advantageous cards in your sprint to the finish line.
Graphics are mixed. The game comes with four sets of nicely molded plastic cyclists (a plus). However, although they look different (as befits the different type of racer), the colors are identical. It would have been a good idea to use light and dark gradations of color (for example, a LIGHT blue and a DARK blue) to differentiate each racer at a glance to make things that much easier. The card artwork doesn’t make help either. The colors used are muddy which makes the sets a bit harder to differentiate between the packs of cards belonging to each set of racers. These are things that can be – and should be – easily corrected in a second edition.
The ups and downs of bicycle racing is cleverly captured by using the flip side to some of the track tiles as an optional twist. Some tiles indicate Ascent (going uphill) and Descent (going downhill). Going across an Ascent square limits your movement to 5 squares no matter what card you play and allows no slipstreaming. On the other hand, a played card for a rider starting on a Descent space is always a minimum of 5! (A good way to make better use of those lower valued cards in your deck.) One thing missing from this game that is often found in those of the auto and horse racing genre is the absence of bottlenecks that prevent opponents from racing ahead of you. Here, everyone is racing in a pack so the ability to block others does not exist. (Those more aggressive racers among us may miss this aspect of play. )
Flamme Rouge is a light, tactical, game of bicycle racing. The game has very simple rules (with illustrations) which makes it very easy to teach and play. Yet, there are meaningful decisions at (literally) every turn of the track, with more twists in store for players due to the multiplicity of possible track combinations. The deck diminishing aspect to play, however, is what makes the game stand out from the pack as you no longer can recycle your powerful cards to use them again and again. You need to know WHEN to pull the trigger on each card to maximize your deck and power your way to victory, making this a very nice change of pace from the typical auto/horse racing game (and deck builder). – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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