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Angelus Morningstar
New South Wales
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Synopsis: You are a powerful figure in the region of Loire, centred around the city of Orléans. You must work the region, assemble a force of farmers, merchants, knights, monks, and scholars to your aid to rise to power.

To win you must have the most points after eighteen rounds of the game. There are two major sources of points, being goods and money. Both of these you can earn through trading and travelling around the Loire region, by generating them through other means of work. You can also earn and lose money through various means, but usually through the round’s event.

However, there is also a secondary and more nebulous way to garner points. At the end of the game, you total the number of guildhalls (structures you build on the Loire map) with the number of citizens you’ve collected (characters collected at certain game thresholds), and then multiply that total with your level of development. This represents a concerted effort around balancing a few different activities.

Each turn, you will draw a number of workers from your bag and you have the option of sending them out to work. There are fields where you can recruit new workers for your bag, there are avenues where you can build guildhalls or move your merchant around Loire. It is also possible to advance your level of development, or send your workers off permanently in the Town Hall.

It is possible the leave workers inactivated on particular work spaces, but they cannot be reassigned in subsequent turns. You may also leave workers in the market (a staging area), but you will be potentially limited in the number of workers you can draw on the next turn.

Commentary: One of the strengths of this game is the way is combines the elements of deckbuilding with worker placement. Neither of these features are new, but this game brings these elements together in a way that not only works well, but also strongly compliments the other. They create a startlingly cunning form of synergy.

One of the weaknesses (but also fun) of building games is trying to offset the randomisation of your deck (or bag) afterwards. You can make intentional decision to leave certain workers on the board so as to increase the chance of you drawing the ones you need, but also allowing you to trigger a given action when it’s most opportunistic.

Moreover, this also allows you to leave certain tokens out of circulation for a turn or two, and line things up for future turns. You are no longer constrained to manipulating the game state with just the things in your hand at that time. Thus, you can both line up an action for future use, or bank an action where an opportunity was missed. I call these type of strategies as mitigations, as they allow you to manage or control the probability of your draw.

One of the other things that I appreciate about this game is the subtlety of the engine building. Each time I play it, I am struck with the sense of how impressively little I can get done in a single round, only to realise gently sloping increase of activity towards the end. Despite thinking that 18 rounds are never enough, the game always seems to finish at the right time, and usually the results are close. This is telling that the game is very finely balanced.

As a euro game, it does feature more indirect competition than direct. However, there is a very nice tension around the timing of actions. There are some things that are clearly important to get done first. This means your planning phase must be wary of turn order, and how other players before you have racked up their personal mats.

Verdict: A solid game, which I think we will be discussing for years to come.
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