3 games this week! Almost like playing games that you already know how to play enables you to play quicker and get more games to the table!
This week we started with Flamme Rogue by Asger Harding Granerud. In Flamme Rouge you control a Rouleur and a Sprinteur. You’ll have a deck of cards for each cyclist, each deck has a different distribution of cards. The Sprinteur’s deck contains both very high and very low cards, while the Rouleur has a much more even distribution of medium cards. They’ll never be so slow, but they lack the ability to sprint to the front of the pack. On each turn, you’ll draw four cards from one of the decks, and secretly commit one to be played, then draw four cards from the other deck, and secretly commit one to be played. Once everyone has committed their cards to be played, they’re all revealed, and starting from the front of the pack, the characters all move up the track according to the cards they played.
If you land on a section of track that is full due to other riders, you’ll be bumped back to the next available open spot. After everyone has finished moving, starting from the rear of the pack, you evaluate slip streaming. If there is one empty space between two riders, the rider in the back is granted a bonus movement and closes the gap. The continues all the way until either someone has ‘broken away’, or the cluster of riders are close together. At this point, the players who are not slip streaming (behind another rider) take an exhaustion card that they put into their discard pile. Exhaustion cards can be played like any other card on a turn, but their value is a 2.
To complicate matters, players will need to deal with ascensions (which do not offer slip streaming and limit movement to a maximum of 4), downhill sections, which make every card a minimum of 5, narrow cobblestone paths creating brutal choke points, and more. the player who gets just one of their two cyclists across the finish line first is the winner.
What sets Flamme Rogue apart from other racing games is that you’re not building momentum, going faster and faster as the game goes on. Instead, you’re challenged to manage your exhaustion by slip streaming behind other players, keeping with the pack while conserving just enough energy to sprint to the finish line. Being in the front of a pack can be advantageous because… ya know… it’s a race. But cyclists at the front of the pack also pick up exhaustion cards which will clog their deck. It’s not uncommon for a player who was leading the pack for the entire race to have a turn where they draw nothing but exhaustion cards (which the professionals call ‘hitting a wall’).
Flamme Rogue is rich in both short term tactical decisions and long term strategic payoffs, if you can play your cards right! It’s those strengths (and the funny moustaches on the cards) that makes Flamme Rouge a joy to play.
Alhambra, by Dirk Henn was the Spiel des Jahres winner in 2003, and it still holds up to this day. In Alhambra, players are tasked with acquiring buildings to be placed within their Alhambra complex. Each tile has a colour and a number. The number is the value of the tile; how much you’ll need to spend in order to acquire the tile, and the colour will help you score points during the 3 scoring phases of the game. Alhambra has 4 different currencies, Yellow, Green, Orange, and Blue, as dictated by cards with colours and values on them. The market board has 4 slots that each hold 1 tile at a time, and each slot is dedicated to one of the currency types. On your turn, you can buy a tile from the board (if you pay the exact value of the tile, you get another turn), which you’ll either place into your reserve, or place directly into your Alhambra. You can also take money from the money market (which is just a row of 4 cards. You can take multiple cards, as long as the sum of the cards you take is 5 or less), or engage in reconstruction, which will have you taking tiles out of your Alhambra and putting it into your reserve, or vice versa.
Scoring happens at 3 points in the game. Each colour of tile is evaluated, and the player who has the majority of that colour of tile earns points! In later scoring rounds, there are points awarded to whoever has the most, second most, or third most tiles of a colour. If two players tie, they share the reward. Tiles also feature black boarders, called walls. When placing tiles into your Alhambra, you have to ensure the open sides of the tile are touching another open side, and there is always a path to the central fountain, making some interesting and sometimes frustrating situations where you really want a tile that’s in the market, but the walls are completely wrong, and you’re unable to place that tile into your Alhambra. However, having a long continuous line of walls will earn you points during each of the scoring as well.
Alhambra is a classic, and for good reason. It’s fast, easy to play and learn, and offers great choices. I know Queen Games came out with a Big Box edition that included 5 expansions. Now, I haven’t played with any of them, but I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to try any of them. While I think the base game of Alhambra is perfectly good without expansions, I love discovering new wrinkles on games I love.
Speaking of love games, here’s one I actively dislike. Now, I don’t hate Love Letter, but I’ve never been a fan of hidden role or social deduction games. In Love Letter by Seiji Kanai, each player is dealt one card, three cards are burned off to the side, and the rest of the deck is placed in the centre of the table. On your turn you draw one card, then play one of your two cards, resolving its effect. The guards have you guess at what card someone else has, and if you’re correct, they’re out of the round. The Priest lets you look at another player’s hand, the Baron has you compare your remaining card with someone else, and the player with the lower value is out. The Handmaid protects you from the effects of all other cards for a single round, the prince requires a player to discard their card and draw a new one, the King lets you trade your remaining card with someone else. The Countess forces you to discard itself if you happen to have the King or the Prince in your hand, and the Princess is simply “if you discard this card, you are out of the round”
The goal of love letter is to either force everyone else out of the round, or, when the deck is exhausted, be the player with the most powerful card. The winner of the round gets a favour token, and the player to accumulate 4 favour tokens is the winner.
There is some delicious tension in Love Letter when the cards fall the right way. If you get one of the interesting cards, or something happens to give you some information that you have the ability to act on, it’s great. More often than not, however, I find my turns arbitrary. First turn of the game and all I have are 2 guards. “Bigfoot, you’re a Baron, right? No? Oh well.”
Love Letter consists of 15 cards, with a third of them being guard cards. In a 4 player game like we played, if no one is eliminated from the round, you’ll only get 3 turns total. There are exciting situations, like when two players compare cards using the Baron, and one of them discards the countess. Now everyone else knows who has the princess. It’s in those moments that I enjoy Love Letter, but over all, I just don’t like games where some of my actions are going to be arbitrary. Luckily, each round of Love Letter is over quickly, and a full game takes less than 30 minutes.
Oh, I also have a truly awful poker face. I cannot lie or bluff worth a damn. Unless we’re playing Battlestar Galactica, then I’m a damn good cylon.