reviewed by Herb Levy

Tasty Minstrel Games/dlp Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $59.95

Last year, Orleans hit the gaming tables to considerable acclaim. This year, a new Deluxe Edition of the game has made it to market and not a moment too soon. This is a Reiner Stockhausen design and the Deluxe Edition orleansenhances gameplay by including pieces for 5 players (the original edition only handled up to four), metal coins and, most significantly, wooden character counters (instead of rather flimsy cardboard ones that showed wear all to easily). Orleans is a “bag building game” as opposed to a deck-building game (think of Hyperborea, for example, featured in the Winter 2015 GA Report) and players will recruit to their side all sorts of “helpmates” to help them achieve victory.

All players begin with a bag (in their color), 5 coins, an individual player board, 7 markers, a merchant token, 10 trading stations and an identical set of four “followers”. (These followers – 1 each of a Farmer, Boatman, Craftsman and Trader – are your basic workforce. Monks, Knights and Scholars are additional workers you will be able to add to your bag as the game unfolds.) Place Tiles (additional buildings that can be constructed when the right workers have been activated) form an area to the side. (Tiles are divided into I and II types.)

There are two additional boards as well. The largest board is a “map” of the area with roads and waterways leading from the town of Orleans (where each player’s merchant starts) with various goods randomly placed along those routes as well as tracks to chart the recruitment of additional workers and that player’s “development”. The other board is for “Beneficial Deeds” which will improve life in the community (while granting substantial rewards to the players making these things happen).

18 rounds make for a complete game in Orleans with most actions occurring simultaneously.

First, an event tile is revealed. There are three each of the six types of events found in the game. A “Pilgrimage” prevents you from recruiting Monks that turn. (This event ALWAYS occurs on the first round. More on Monks later.) “Plagues” forces you to randomly LOSE one of your recruited workers. (You blindly draw a token out of your bag and that one gets returned to supply. But if you draw one of your initial workers, you KEEP him and lose nothing!). “Taxes” require you to count the number of goods you have collected and pay 1 Coin per 3 goods. “Trading Day” awards you 1 Coin for each trading post you have built. “Income” gives you coins as determined by your place on the Development track. Finally, “Harvest” forces you to pay 1 food item (grain, cheese of wine) but if you can’t, 5 coins instead. (The significance of these events and their impact on your gaming fortunes will soon become apparent.)

After the Event is revealed, a Census is taken. The player with the most Farmers (as charted on the Farmer track) receives 1 coin; the player with the fewest loses 1 coin. (Tied? Then no one gets or loses a coin.) Now, everyone draws a specified number of workers from his personal bag, placing them on his own individual board, ready to go into action in the next, Planning, phase.orleans2

When Planning, players assign any or all of their workers to spots on their individual player boards. Most spots demand a specific type of worker (to complete an area and thus activate it, two or three workers are usually required). Activated spaces can get you additional workers. New workers go into your bag. Furthermore, each worker has a specific track. When you recruit a new worker, your marker advances on the appropriate track AND you receive a bonus of some kind, exclusive to that track. For example, a new Craftsman rewards you with a bonus “Technology” tile. At the end of the round, that Technology tile can be added to ANY space and PERMANENTLY take the place of a worker needed there to activate an area. (The first Technology tile, however, MUST be used to replace a Farmer.)  Monks can be a very powerful recruit to your workforce as Monks are “wild” and can take the place of ANY other worker. Traders not only add to your workforce but, as you travel along their track, allow you to “expand” your reach by claiming a Place Tile. Place Tiles give you additional areas in which to place your workers, allowing you to receive benefits (more Development Points, additional coins, easier board movement etc.) at a lesser cost. Other activated spaces allow travel on the large board via land or water. Travelling along a road orwaterway that has at least one good allows you to pick up one and only one of those goods, worth VPs at the end of the game (and may come in handy with Harvest occurs). Another space permits the construction of a trading post. Trading posts can be worth mega points at final scoring. Other areas can move you along the Development track and allow you to place one or two committed workers to the Beneficial Deeds board.

Spaces on the Development track will give you coins, other spaces (if you are the first to get there), a Citizen. Each coin is worth a Victory Point but those Citizens can be a really big scoring bonanza. Citizens are also collected by the player(s) completing areas on the the Beneficial Deeds board. Placing workers on that board (and the areas there specify precisely which workers may be placed in which spaces) also earn you coins (or your choice of a coin OR a bump on the Development track)  The player, at game’s end, who has built the most trading posts also gets a Citizen as a bonus.

After concluding the 18th round and with the final Event resolved, points are tallied. Players receive 1 VP per coin and VPs for goods collected (from 1 for each Grain tile to 5 for each Brocade). But the bulk of VPs come from the combination of trading posts, Citizens and Development. Players add the number of trading stations they have built to the number of Citizens they have collected and MULTIPLY that total by their Development level. So, for example, if you have built 5 trading stations, collected 4 citizens and have a Development level of 4, you will add 80 VPs (5x4x4) to your score! The player with the most total VPs wins!

Orleans is a game of engine building that incorporates the luck of the draw (in getting the right mix of workers from your bag) with layer upon layer of decision making. But, of course, since YOU decide which workers to recruit, you can slant the make-up of your supply towards your goals, modifying the luck factor. While each Event is revealed right from the beginning of the round, the Event is only resolved AFTER all actions have been taken so you have a chance to better prepare for what is coming. (In this case, the game resembles Stefan Feld’s In the Year of the Dragon – featured in the Spring 2008 GA Report – where future disasters are known and can be, to a certain extent, guarded against.) Sometimes, however, knowing what is coming is not enough. If you fail to meet the requirements demanded, players will experience “Torture” (aka “bankruptcy”) and suffer the loss, for each coin they cannot pay, of their choice of something much more valuable, from a trading post, to a point on the Development Track, to a Technology tile etc.orleansinvasion

With three areas of play competing for your attention, players are faced with many choices. Do you concentrate on traversing the countryside to build trading posts and gather up resources? Or is rising on the worker tracks with their various benefits (particularly the Development track) the way to go? And what about those Beneficial Deeds with their plentiful supply of coins (worth VPs) and Citizens (which act as powerful VP generators). The variety of workers – and the benefits they can provide – also force you to make some difficult decisions. Gathering up Technology tokens can be invaluable in keeping certain areas constantly active. Monks, as “wild cards” can be very handy in making things happen too. But you cannot forget the power of the Scholars. Scholars propel you onward and upward on the Development track. While you can win the game without utilizing them to their fullest, the potential for game imbalance is here. You have to be sure you prevent your opponents from “cornering the market” on them. Otherwise, winning the game will certainly be an uphill battle. To avoid this possible pitfall, it might have been a good idea to have another scoring line to act as multipliers (Monks or Knights or Tech tiles in some algorithm) to counterbalance the strong Development/Scholars/Trading Post VP source. Bottom line? You can’t do everything and therein lies the game’s pain and pleasure. And, if that wasn’t enough, there is now an expansion to the game.

Orleans: Invasion is the first expansion to Orleans with design credit going to Stockhausen and Inka and Markus Brand (whose design credits include the award winning Village, featured in a past issue of Gamers Alliance Report). Invasion, packaged in a box the same size as the base game, offers new scenarios including several more solo versions to play.

Reiner Stockhausen has been designing games for quite awhile now. (We’ve featured his Siberia and Siberia: The Card Game is past issues.)  But Orleans, with its bag-building, multiple facets and layers of decision-making is clearly his best work to date. – – Herb Levy

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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