Flamme Rouge & Peloton

Flamme Rouge   Stronghold Games  | LautepelitBGG  |  Buy

Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
Artist: Ossi Hiekkala
Publisher: Stronghold Games, Lautepelit
2-6 players 30-45 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $60 (base game) / $40 (Peloton)

text-the concept

You’re a cyclist pedaling through the pack, hurtling over hills, around corners, sweat soaking through your jersey when you see it, a flash of color – a signal – THE signal that the real race is on. The red flag, the Flamme Rouge, means only one kilometer separates you from the finish line. Can you fight off exhaustion and challenges from other cyclists to maneuver your team using two decks of cards to take the lead in the final stretch?

text-the components

Flamme Rouge is a race game with a modular board. There are 21 track boards that fit together in dozens of different configurations to form race courses. There are six suggested layouts included but once you’re familiar with the game, you could build your own tracks, too. The track boards include straightaways and curves both sharp and soft. The Peloton Expansion adds 9 more boards with new terrain elements, like hills and cobblestone paths.

Each player controls two colorful cyclists in the game: a Sprinteur and a Rouleur. And each cyclist has its own detailed miniature.

Each cyclist has a corresponding deck of numbered energy cards tailored to that cycilist’s abilities.

The Sprinteur, you guessed it, sprints, so his or her deck has more high and low valued energy (movement) cards. The Rouleur is the steady workhorse, so his or her deck has more cards in the middle range.

The Peloton expansion adds pawns and cards for two additional players so 6 people can play.

There are also corresponding exhaustion cards for each type of deck. You’ll want to avoid these when you can, but it’s almost inevitable you’ll get tired as the race charges on.

Each player has a personal board which has a space for each cyclist’s deck and a notched space indicating where cards should be played.

To begin, simply build a track from the guides included, shuffle each deck and place it on your personal board. Assign starting positions and you’re ready to race!

text-the mechanics

The goal in Flamme Rouge is to get one of your cyclists across the finish line first

Each player has two separate decks, one for each cyclist, so you’ll be cycling (yes, pun intended!) through two different decks on each turn of the game.

The flow of a turn is very simple. Pick one of your cyclists. Draw four cards from that cyclist’s deck.

Select one card from your hand and place it face down to your personal board. The cards you didnt pick go face up at the bottom of the chosen cyclist’s deck.

Reveal all cards and move the selected cyclist the number of spaces indicated. The bike closest to the lead moves first.

If you’re in the clear, it’s smooth sailing. You can even move through spaces with other players since bikes are small but you can never end up in an occupied space. If you’re blocked, you will lose the extra movement. After you finish movement your bike slides to the right most lane when possible.

After each player has moved one of his or her cyclists, repeat the same process with the other cyclist. Draw 4 cards, pick one secretly. Reveal and move each cyclist starting with the front runner. Cards not used go face up on the bottom of the deck.

Choose a bike, choose 1 of 4 cards, move that bike the number of spaces indicated on the card. That’s the essence of Flamme Rouge.

At the end of a turn, we check to see if there are any packs of cyclists able to slipstream and catch up with the group in front of it. A pack can be as few as a single cyclist or several provided they are all adjacent to each other. A pack that is separated by exactly one empty square space moves forward to form a larger pack.

Now look at this pack and see if there is a pack in front of it that is separated by exactly one square space on the track. The result is: it is often very difficult to separate yourself from the pack as the race moves forward. If a pack can stay within a single square, it can reel you in!

This is the main flow of the game. But there’s one element left that will inform every decision you make. Exhaustion.

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Exhaustion is what sets this game apart! The race in Flamme Rouge is driven by a curious kind of deck building.

What’s deck building? It is a mechanism that first came to life in a game called Dominion and has since found its way into hundreds if not thousands of games over the past decade.

A core element in deck building is that players begin the game with identical decks of cards and the decisions a player makes will change the makeup of his or her deck. This means, for good or ill, each deck will diverge and become an expression of each player’s choices.

It is probably more accurate to call Flamme Rouge a deck preservation game instead of a deck building game, because each card you choose to play is removed from the game!

Your Sprinteur rockets down the board with a 9 energy card? Great. Enjoy it. But that 9 is now gone, never to return. And you only have so many 9s available.

So a key decision point each round isn’t simply to find the highest number in your hand, it’s how and when to preserve some of the higher numbers by NOT playing them so you’ll have them to use later on.

You have to manage your energy as the race moves on or run the risk of running low just when you need it the most.

And here comes exhaustion to make this decision even more challenging

At the end of each turn, after playing cards and after slipstreaming to bring packs together, we look at the board and see which cyclists have open spaces in front of them. The leader or leaders at the very front of the race will, of course, have empty spaces in front of them. BUT if the cyclists have spread out, there may be others throughout the track with open spaces facing them. Each cyclist like this must draw an exhaustion card and place it in his or her deck.

Exhaustion cards are all ranked 2, the lowest cards in the game.

This means the longer you are in the lead, the more tired you get. The more tired you get the more exhaustion cards become part of your deck. Of course, at the same time you’re spending higher ranked cards that are permanently leaving your deck, too.

That makes Flamme Rouge a game of exquisite balance.

You dont really want the lead but you want to be close to the lead. You can’t play too cautiously or you’ll lose the main pack and get exhausted just trying to keep up! Even deciding which cyclist to move first can become deliciously tricky since you might be able to help each other out or you might be able to cause problems for others when moved in the right sequence.

Such a rich and rewarding challenge confronts you from the moment you see that red flag waving. Deciding how to preserve your energy, your cards, becomes the main goal at some point BUT knowing when to spend it is just as important if you’re going to make a push to finish first.

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Without the Peloton expansion, Flamme Rouge is a worthy recipient of the Major Fun Award Since it relies on such simple actions and decisions, you can teach it to a wonderfully wide range of players, regardless of experience. Draw 4 cards, pick one, move that number of spaces. Check for slipstreaming. Then anyone with open spaces in front takes an exhaustion card. There’s the game in a nutshell. You can start playing without even knowing or appreciating it’s subtle emphasis on balance and you’ll see how that game will reel everyone in for a fun and exciting finish. 

But Flamme Rouge is also a game that will open up to more thoughtful and strategic decisions the more you play.

With the addition of the Peloton, Flamme Rouge also earns our Spiel of Approval! There are now track spaces with additional considerations to factor in. Cobblestones add chokepoints to the track which create a race within the race to avoid getting blocked or slowed down. There are rules for breakaways, building your own tracks and adding a peloton and muscle team to the race, driven by a simple set of AI rules. None of these elements clutter the game. They only serve to enhance the experience and make it a more rich experience for those who want to explore it more. You can even split up the teams of cyclists to allow 12 players in one race!

Flamme Rouge is a wonderful investment for many different kinds of fun. This is a rare find indeed. It retains its core identity as a beautifully simple race game built around balance: when to reserve and when to spend your energy. And the more you play, the more you can change the game to suit your mood or your playstyle or the people you’re playing with. And each time the game will give back to you in a new way.

The race game as a general concept is one that any player will understand almost instinctually. The most common image you might conjure up when someone says board game is a simple track with pawns racing to the get to the end. Flamme Rouge manages to find its own balance between this childhood classic and the world of modern games. Just like the cyclists in the game, the game itself tries to preserve simplicity of gameplay while providing players with the motivation to dig deeper and explore its subtleties. You dont need to win every race or any race when you play Flamme Rouge to discover the fun it offers. And that’s the kind of beautiful balance each of our awards strives to celebrate!

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Pioneers

Release: 4/1//2018    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 82 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Westward ho! Immigrants from around the world have flocked to the United States to start a new life. As the country expands its territory to the Pacific, more and more pioneers set out, using stagecoaches and wagon trains, to reach new cities and towns along the way.

Each town has its own needs – a barkeep here, a farmer there, bankers, merchants, soldiers, innkeepers, and even a gold digger or two. Your job in Pioneers is to help these folks find a place that suits them by building roads and using your stagecoach. The player who does the best job settling this new generation of Americans will win the game

Pioneers is a gateway game to a new generation of players just discovering the hobby. It’s easy to learn, easy to teach and each time you play, you’ll discover new layers of depth and fun by charting a different path, literally.

Each pioneer you settle will give you a new way to see the game. And best of all how everyone else plays will change your decisions. Their choices will let you see the game in a new light every time.

Listen in for a full review and discover why Pioneers deserves BOTH the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval Awards!
Pioneers

Queen Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Emanuelle Ornella Artist: Markus Erdt

Publisher: Queen Games

2-4 players  60 min   ages 8+   MSRP $50

For info on the Game Sommelier segment featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

Music credits include:

Let Your Yeah Be Yeah  by The Pioneers  |  the song

Pioneers  by Tunng  |  the song

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The Great Dinosaur Rush

The Great Dinosaur Rush   APE Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Scott Almes   Art: Mr. Cuddington   Publisher: APE Games
2-5 players  60 min. ages 10+  MSRP $50

text-the concept

There’s little doubt today’s world is dino-crazy. Few things fire our imagination like seeing the bones of these massive reptilian beasts that once ruled the Earth. And yet this was not always the case. Dinosaurs became part of popular culture due to the Great Dinosaur Rush over 120 years ago!

In the late 1800s, rival paleontologists scrambled to be the first to discover and promote new species of dinosaurs. They often stooped to devious and underhanded means to compete with and embarrass anyone who happened to get in the way. This Wild West approach to science left a black mark on American paleontology but this race for bones led to the discoveries of over 142 species of dinosaurs in a just a few year’s time! The flood of new bones to museums sparked public interest and the dino-craze that still rages on today!

In The Great Dinosaur Rush, each player is a famous fossil hunter from this era in history. Over three rounds you will search the American prairie for bones and use them to build the best dinosaurs and place them in museums. But beware, your opponents may try to sabotage your efforts along the way! You may need to play a little dirty to win, but if you gain too much notoriety, you could lose everything!

text-the components

The game comes with a bag of 210 wooden dinosaur bones. The bones come in five different colors, each color representing a different part of a dinosaur’s skeleton. Some will go on the board and the rest go in a drawstring bag.

There’s a game board representing the dig sites where you will discover the bones and several museum score tracks.

Each player has a screen (which you will use when building your dinos) plus a wooden paleontologist meeple and some scoring cubes.

There’s a bag of 45 notoriety tokens. The tokens are numbered 1-3. When you do underhanded things, you’ll have to draw from this bag.

There are 15 paleontologist cards, each one representing an actual fossil hunter of the era, complete with a small bio.

Last but not least are the 21 Dinosaur Bonus Cards. These cards show a specific layout of bones to create named dinosaurs. Some you may know and love and many you may not.

text-the mechanics

The game is played over the course of three turns. Each turn you has three parts: field, build and exhibit.

The field phase has the most parts and is the real meat of the game.

In the field phase, players collect bones, move their paleontologist on the board, adjust the museum score track and then take an action. Some of these actions are normal and some are notorious. If you take a notorious action, you will have to draw from the dreaded notoreity bag which can hurt your chances at winning.

Let’s look at each part in a little more detail.

You collect bones based on where your paleontologist is on the board. On the first turn, each space has three bones. Empty spaces will fill in with two on turn two and one on the last turn of the game, meaning you’ll collect the most bones early in the game and the least bones later on.

You move your paleontologist in a straight line as far as you want. You can pass other players but not tar pits. Remember, wherever you land, you’ll be picking up bones there to start your next turn.

On the board there are five museum scoring tracks. Each one corresponds to a different aspect of the dinosaur you’re going to build: size, height, length, ferocity, uniqueness. You choose one track and move its score cube up or down. This is your chance to improve or diminish the scoring potential for one particular aspect.

So after collecting, moving and adjusting the museum track you have one final choice to make: what action do you want to take?

There are three normal and three notorious actions from which to choose.

Normal actions go like this.

Publicize: You can move a score cube on one museum track up or down again.

Donate: You can get rid of three bones to score points or get rid of a notoriety token.

Research: You can draw an extra dinosaur bonus card.

Notorious actions go like this.

Sabotage: You can draw and place a notoriety token on the board. Anyone who moves through this space will have to pick it up.

Dynamite: You get rid of the three bones on the space where you stand and then draw three new bones from the bag and keep them.

Steal: You can steal a bone from a space adjacent to the one where you stand, including a space with an opponent.

Notorious actions come with a catch, though. You must draw a notoriety token from the bag. The tokens are numbered 1-3. Keep your tokens secret. They will either help you or really hurt you when it comes time to score at the end of the game. Playing a little dirty is ok, as long as the other players are dirtier than you!

It might seem like a lot to take in the first turn but each part flows nicely to the next. There’s a nice aid with the actions on your player screen so you can see all your options at a glance.

Even better, there’s a family version of the game included that ignores notoreity altogether, so you can ease yourself into the game if the many actions seem too much at first.

Players will repeat the field phase three times each turn and then move on to Build and Exhibit, which brings us to….

text-apart

All the decisions you take in the field phase, to acquire bones, to move and position the museum track – all the actions you take are driven by one goal: build the best dinosaur you can!

Now this isnt some theoretical task. You actually get to take the bones you collect and physically build a dinosaur behind your screen!!

Remember the colored bones correspond to particular parts, so each dino must have a head, a neck, a spine, ribs, two limbs and might even have some unique features. There’s a helpful chart on each player screen outlining the various requirements for building your dino.

The important thing to remember is that within these general guidelines, the sky’s the limit. You can arrange the bones to make your own personal dinosaur any way you can imagine.

Dinosaurs like these!

Behold the Dogosaurus. Notice the spiked tail and horns. A reptilian cousin to man’s best friend?

Next up is the Squareadactyl. Graceful wings lifted this gentle square headed beast into the clouds.

The mighty Triangasaurus Rex hopped like a kangaroo on its massive hind legs and attacked with the massive triangular cudgel on its tail.

And last but not least is the Overbitetrodon. Its massive head and bottome jawis held up by an ultra-strong neck. It feeds itself using arms on its head and twin tails.

And if you’ve done a great job collecting the right bones, you may even be able to build one of the dinos depicted on your bonus cards. These will score extra points.

I cannot adequately express how fun it is to be in charge of creating your own dinosaur each turn. You must use all the bones you collect so you may have to get creative with extra long tails or a giant head or a really really long set of arms. It’s a bit like a puzzle but it’s a puzzle that you can form and reform until you find the shape that pleases you best and (you hope!) will score you the most points. Best yet, you keep the bones you dug up on previous turns, so as the game moves forward, you’ll build bigger and bigger dinosaurs.

And honestly, regardless of your ultimate scoring potential, so much of the joy of the game comes from putting your dino together in a way that will cause the others to laugh and marvel when they see your creation!

When everyone is ready, you reveal your dinos and move on to the Exhibit, the last phase of each turn. Look back to the museum tracks and score based on the position of the cubes on each track.

Who has the largest dino? (the most ribs)

Who has the tallest dino? (neck plus the longest limb)

Who has the longest dino? (tail plus spine)

Who has the most ferocious dino? (head plus shortest limb)

Who has the most rare dino (most unique bones).

First second and third places score, so even if you’re not the longest or tallest, you can still rack up points. If you’re able to build any of your special dino cards, show them and score those points too.

So there’s planning during the field phase, the joy and strategy of making dinos in the build phase, and then the payoff with scoring points in the exhibit phase. Each turn ends with its own payoff which makes each turn almost feel like a game in and of itself.

At game’s end the high score wins the game BUT…

Remember those Notoriety tokens? The player with the most notoriety has to SUBTRACT his or her total notoriety taken throughout the game from his or her final score. Other players get to ADD their notoriety to their scores! This means if you play too nicely, you may miss out on a bunch of points and if you play too dirty, you run the risk of a huge negative at the end of the game. The trick is to be a little mean but not so mean you cost yourself the game. It’s a terriffic challenge – very cleverly implemented but easy to understand.

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The Great Dinosaur Rush is certainly at the higher end of the complexity scale when it comes to Major Fun but it is a worth recipient of both honors due to the inclusion of the family rules and the outrageous amount of fun and freedom players have in creating new dinosaurs every turn.

As a Spiel of Approval winner, the game provides great payoff for strategic thinking and the notoriety mechanics give each decision several layers to think through. There’s also a great deal of effort to bring the actual history of the period into the game. Each paleontologist not only has a short biography but they each have a special power that is in synch with the person’s story as well.

For instance, you can play as Mary Anning a noted fossil hunter who discovered one of the first and most complete pterodactyls. She was the inspiration for the tongue twister “She sells seashells down by the seashore. ” Since she was such a prolific fossil hunter, her ability allows her to draw three bones from the bag and place them in her space on the board if that space is empty.

Or you could play as Barnum “Mr. Bones” Brown. He was the cheif fossil hunter for the American Museum of Natural History. His preferred method of searching for fossils was dynamiting fields and picking through the rubble. Naturally, his ability involves dynamite. If you take the dynamtie action, you get to draw an extra bone from the bag.

I love games that can be appreciated by many different players on many different levels. The Great Dinosaur Rush is a wonderful example of a game that strikes a fantastic and fun balance between strategy and accessibility.

Plus, did I mention you get to build dinosaurs every turn?

Easy to see why this game has won our hearts. Give it a go and I think there’s a good chance it might stomp and roar its way into your heart, too.

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Favor of the Pharaoh

Release Date: 5/2/2016 Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Running Time:   48 min Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Roll like an Egyptian!

Favor of the Pharaoh is a recipe filling roll-and-keep dice game based on an earlier title: To Court the King. Starting as a lowly peasant, you rise through the ranks of ancient Egyptian society by rolling increasingly difficult combinations to gain abilities, bonuses, and special dice. When the final round begins, the player who rolls the most dice with the highest matching number will gain the Favor of the Pharaoh!

This is the first game to merit BOTH the Major Fun and Spiel of Approval awards! The basic game is easy to learn and adaptable for younger or less experienced players. Double sided level bars allow for more strategic and thoughtful play. Put simply, you can tailor the game to fit almost any group at your table. Familiar yet fresh, Favor of the Pharaoh is a worthy recipient of both honors and, perhaps, a spot on your game shelf, too.

Favor of the Pharaoh

Official Site  |  BGG  |  Amazon 

Designer: Tom Lehmann  Publisher: Bezier Games

2-4 players  45 min.  ages 12+  MSRP $59.99 

Special edition also available with 64 additional dice: $79.95

Music credits include:

Walk Like an Egyptian  by The Cleverlys  |  the song

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