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)
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!