This is a session report with sort of a review mixed into it. I hope to demonstrate, why I feel Flamme Rouge is a very good family game.
But first, some context. I am sure many of you share my gaming problem: I spend most of my spare time with my girlfriend and our kids and far too little with my nerdy gamer friends. This means that many of my favorite games remain untouched on the shelf because they are too complicated and/or require English-reading skills either of which rule out my sons (9 and 4 years old). Other games suffer the same lack of playtime because they are too full of orcs/spaceships/downtime to appeal to the missus. Due to these constraints, I just get more value for money when I buy games that are reasonably simple to learn, fairly fast-paced and with no orcs in sight. And of course, they still have to be fun and exciting for me.
Okay, on to the game. I actually heard rumors years ago about a cycling game being developed by my long time acquaintance, Mr. Granerud. Something about cycle races and playing the right cards at the right time. To be honest, I remember thinking that it all sounded extremely boring. After all, I loathe televised cycling such as the Tour de France. However, my preliminary opinion changed recently, when I read the incredibly slick rules (and the designer’s diary which describes how they were made). Also, the fantastic artwork helped to suck me in. It is fun and flavorful and far removed from the boring image of the medicine-induced, neon-tights-wearing robots on wheels that constitute professional cyclists today. I was intrigued. I had to have it. Now!
And here we are today after my 7th game of Flamme Rouge in 7 days (a very high average in my family for even the best games which can be attributed to the quick & slick gameplay + immediate appeal of the game). I will run through some critical phases of this contest between my BLACK team and the gf’s RED team. I want to show you an “average session”, so I chose a 2-player match without my 9-year-old son participating. The thing is, he often gambles quite a lot with early breakaways which creates intense races, very exhausted riders, and often slightly more luck-based outcomes at the finish line.
We decided to play on one of the 6 pre-designed tracks – the “Ballons Centrale”. Building the track is quickly achieved with a combination of a card with a diagram and a simple system of letters marking each tile. The “road”-components, by the way, are functional, of excellent thick cardboard quality and esthetically quite pleasing.
Initial setup is about getting a suitable position. I had to go first, and while energy conserving driving an staying backfield is often adviced in the first part of a race, there was the small matter of mountain to climb immediately after the starting line (note the red borders on the road at the right side of the Photo below – that means you will be going slowly uphill). I decided that I would begin at the very front, hoping to quickly scale the mountain and then let my riders relax on the way down.
The plan sort of worked. Everybody struggled to the top of the hill, and relaxed on the way down which allowed me to get rid of some poor cards, but also had me pick up a bit more exhaustion than the RED team. I continued running very slowly after the hill, and about 1/3 of the course done, my pack was nice and tight at the back of the field. A good position, but another mountain was looming ahead.
And that mountain became decisive. RED Team decided to go full speed with one rider racing ahead of the main field and over the mountain. Everyone else was trying to keep up, and crucially, I had to burn several high cards to get my team across the mountain without losing too much distance to the RED breakaway rider.
After the central hill it became everyone for himself. Lots of exhaustion cards were picked up. One of my riders fell behind while the two teams’ sprinters tried to catch up with the RED race leader. This is the approach to the final hill and the finish line. I was in a bad position.
Crossing the last hill finally took it’s toll on the breakaway RED rider. The RED and BLACK sprinters caught him as the final race to the finish line began. Everything was still open with 3 exhausted riders competing for best placement. But of course the RED team had two riders with a winning chance making it more likely that they would get the lucky draw needed.
The second last card played, put my sprinter ahead and the RED sprinter fell behind. I now had only 2 squares to go before reaching the finish line. I knew, though, that I had used all my sprint cards (9’ers) and my 5’ers as well. I did get a 4 which was okay, but what did the RED team have left in their exhausted legs?
We played our final cards, and at the last minute RED team found the strength to race ahead. Having, very luckily, drawn the last 6 for her otherwise completely spent break away rider and more importantly still having a 9 for her sprinter, the missus managed to take both 1st and 2nd place. It was a very intense finish.
However, in retrospect, she won the game on the center mountain. By timing her breakaway perfectly, I was forced to spend an early 9 card from my sprinter and waste several high cards from the other rider.
This made one half my team unable to keep up towards the end, while my sprinter could still compete, but only just managed to limp across the finish line to get a 3rd place. A bit of good luck for RED team, but mostly a good gamble at the right time. Very exciting all the way through.
Final thoughts and our family-opinion of the game:
Okay, that was the playthrough. It is a great game for the whole family. Not a very deep game, but fast, fun and with a perfect amount of tactical skill needed for everyone to be challenged, but also enough luck to give everyone a chance to win once in a while. It is also very addictive due to the gradual build-up of adrenaline which mirrors actual races (for those who enjoy such things) – your body and brain simply WANTS to play Flamme Rouge soon after having finished the last game.
We have also had several instances of people jumping up and down with excitement while giggling madly, as they reveal a surprise 9-card to race ahead of everyone else.
Note, that this is the combined view of both a gamer, a non-gamer girlfriend and a young child which is why I am convinced that it is a strong bid for our new favorite family game.
Any negative factors?
There is a grammar mistake on at least one of the French language names of the courses. Oh well, still much better than my English, so no biggie.
The 6 pre-designed courses can look quite similar at first glance, but this is actually not the case, as the location of mountains has a lot of impact on the timing of your clever ploys.
The cards for each type of rider can get mixed up if one is not careful – especially the red-colored exhaustion cards. We quickly got use to telling them apart, so it seems to be a short lived problem.
The only true flaw, to my mind, is the very similar-looking models for the riders. It is easily fixed by marking one of them with a speed marker or, as I have done, use some old Warhammer paint to give them either black or white shorts and wheels. It took 5 minutes and completely solved the issue. Still, it does seem like a design flaw.
However, none of this detracts from the fact that components are of high quality, and the visual feel of the game is amazing. My girlfriend, who pays more attention to those things than I do, absolutely loves the old fashioned style of the box cover, the cards, the player boards and the courses.
In conclusion, it is a very pleasing game for both the eye and the mind, and I think this is why it is such a huge success in my family. I advice everyone to give it try, and I hope you enjoyed the read and the ride...
Of course I've been up all night! Not because of caffeine, it was insomnia. I couldn't stop thinking about coffee.
Fun read, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'm excited to give this game a play later this week. It seems like the feel of cycle racing really gets through. Do you find that the game is better with a larger field so that this feeling is enhanced even more?
I find the game itself works equally well with both 2 and 3 players. But it may add to the fun with more people jumping frantically around as the finish line comes within reach...