Flamme Rouge is a new racing/reverse deckbuilding game for 2-4 players by designer Asper Harding Granerud and published by Lautapelit.fi. A review copy was provided by Lautapelit.fi for this review.
There is also a video review available on my youtube channel DiceTillDawn here : https://youtu.be/9N4GqhYwwfg
I originally got interested in the game after reading the designer diary of the designer and noticed many of the mechanics are among my favorites. I like deckbuilding and the thing I like most in deckbuilding games is thinning my deck. I’ve also been on the look for a good racing game after I was disappointed by Formula D. Well, Flamme Rouge combines these things to give a fresh look on racing games with no dice and actually little luck. Let’s go through the components, theme and gameplay and then my final thoughts.
The box (image by user Ministryofboardgames)
There are 2 decks of 15 cards for each of the 4 player colors, exhaustion decks for both cyclist-types (Sprinter and Rouleur) and stage cards for building different race tracks. There is also an overview card for every player. The cards seem to be of a good quality.
The main component is the race track, which comes in straights and corners which are lettered from a to u and are one of the thickest pieces of cardboard I’ve ever seen. These look like you could use them as doorstoppers! Anyway, they have functional and colorful art on them and clip to each other very nicely, so they are simply of awesome quality and are double sided.
There are also 8 plastic cyclist-figures (2 for each color) that look good. But they are my only bigger problem with the components. It’s actually pretty hard to distinguish between the 2 figures at a glance. Sure, one is standing up more and they have the type printed on their backs with a letter ‘S’ or ‘R’, but I notice I often have to double check if I’m actually moving the right cyclist. I’m not sure how they should have done them, since they look nice and you can tell them apart when you compare them, but I would’ve liked for them to be easier to differentiate at a glance. Still, a small complaint and you can perhaps paint the helmet of another or paint the letter on the back or something if it really bothers you.
Close-up of the game (image by user djfranky)
The theme is a bicycle-race in the early 20th century and I think it’s implemented in a cool way. First, the artwork is pleasant and evocative, but doesn’t get in the way. Second, the cards make sense as your ‘energy reserves’ and especially the exhaustion cards that are added to your deck when you are leading the pack just work brilliantly. You really have to balance your decisions to get the most out of your race. Sure, you could easily mix up a different sports theme for example, but for what it’s worth I really enjoy the theming of the game.
The setup has you first choose a course to race on, there are many possibilities in the game with more uphill/downhill sections and also a tutorial track which has no height differences. The track tiles are labeled a to u and the stage-cards are a good way to make creating the track as easy as it can be. It will still take a little while to actually build the track, but not that much. Other than building the track, setup is extremely simple. Each player just chooses a color and takes the 2 decks and 2 miniatures of that color and their own player board. Then players shuffle their decks and place them on the board and the first player starts by putting their cyclists on the spots they want behind the start line. After everyone has placed their 2 cyclists, the game is ready to start.
During your turn you choose a cyclist you want to start with and draw 4 cards from the corresponding deck. You pick one of these cards (The sprinter has higher and lower numbers (2 to 9) and the rouleur has more average numbers (3-7)) as your card to play for that cyclist and put it face down next to that deck and the rest face up under the deck. Then you do the same for the other bike. After everyone has picked both cards they are all revealed and starting with the current leader (in the lead and on the right lane if even) each player moves their bikes the amount of spaces equal to the card they played. You can move through other bikes and changing lane is free, but you can’t end your movement on the same space as another bike. If this happens, you are left behind that bike.
After everyone has moved their bikes, it’s time to slipstream. Starting from the back, each cyclist that has another cyclist exactly 1 empty space ahead of them gets to move 1 space to end up behind them. This can happen multiple times and if a pack is able to slipstream, all bikes in the pack move at the same time. Same bike can slipstream multiple times a turn. This is the main reason your choices truly matter and you usually want to be behind and use lower cards in the beginning and to take advantage of this ability.
When all slipstreaming is done, it’s time to see if some cyclists are exhausted from leading the pack. Every bike that has a full empty space ahead of them (both lanes are empty) gets an exhaustion card added to their deck, which is a card of value 2. Then players begin a new round and the first bike to cross the finish line is the winner. In case of a tie, the cyclist that got the furthest is the winner.
There are advanced rules when you play a track other than the “tutorial” and they are very easy to understand, but really make the game. Without these rules it would be easier to “math out” the game in a sense and make it less interesting and the choices less meaningful. I wouldn’t use the tutorial track for more than the first game perhaps, although the track itself is nice and has no problems, but the other tracks are just so much more fun.
First there’s uphill. If the lanes are covered in red, it means you’re driving uphill and you have to consider 2 changes to the normal rules. First of all, the maximum movement on or off uphill spaces is always 5. So no matter how big a card you played, if you moved even 1 space on red spaces this turn, you can’t move more than a total of 5. Secondly, you can’t receive or give slipstreaming while on a red space.
Second difference are the downhills, which make one change. If you start your turn on a downhill space (marked with blue edges) the minimum card value is now 5. So no matter how low a card you played (maybe that lousy exhaustion card of value 2?) you will still get to move 5 spaces! Of course, if you play a bigger card, you move that much, the 5 is not added to a card. So if you played a 7 on a downhill you would move 7 spaces.
I really enjoy this game! I’ve mostly played this 2 player, but I have liked it a lot and it doesn’t feel like it’s missing something with just two. It’s actually easier to try and predict your opponent’s movements and there are still 4 bikes on the track, so there’s still slipstreaming and blocking. It’s a bit more chaotic and surprising at higher player counts, but I don’t think this game needs more players to be fun. If anything, the slipstreaming actually makes the higher player counts more random and the card you play has less of an impact, since most players always stay in a pack and slipstream anyway. So weirdly, I might actually prefer playing this racing game with only 2 players! Then again it might be that a 4-player game has you pushing more for the top spots and it would be easier to “lose” movement if you are left behind, so it just might be that 4 is again better than 3 players.
I did actually think about the possibility of playing this 8 players or 6 players as teams of 2 (with hidden information between team members), which could be fun. I also just found the designers “Grand Tour”-rules here on Boardgamegeek and I really want to try them!
I like the fact that it’s a very simple game to play and understand yet still has decisions to make each turn. A 2 player game can easily be played in 30-40 minutes including setup and more players don’t really add to game time almost at all. I also think there are different ways to approach the race, even though the rules are so simple.
When you use the advanced tracks with uphill and downhills, the amount of spaces you move each turn is even more important to actually land on a downhill space or to minimize the turns you spend on uphill spaces and so on. Also, in all the games I’ve played so far there has always been ‘that turn’ when you are thinking “is my opponent going to rush ahead this turn or the next?” and “Should I sprint with a 9 card now or next turn?” Often the winner is determined by the player that reads the situation correctly and makes a move at just the right time. Just last game I was leading the pack and started the final sprint at the same time as my girlfriend, but since we both had enough of the highest cards (in this case a 7) I managed to win the race with that 1 space margin, but if I had made the move a turn later or had a worse deck left, I would’ve lost. Also, there’s sometimes situations when you would actually “want” to have an exhaustion card in your deck. Just last game my girlfriend was actually running out of cards in her sprinter deck and had to use a 9-card when she didn’t really want to yet.
All in all, this is a racing game I can highly recommend and if you enjoy deck thinning, that’s another plus!
Thank you for this post. Great to hear that it works well with two players. I might be getting this sooner rather than later.
Asger Harding Granerud
Early Flamme Rouge prototype
Thanks a lot for the review!