Orleans Game Review – 12-27-2017
Designer: Reiner Stockhausen
Published by: Tasty Minstrel Games
I had first heard of the board game Orleans from the BoardgameGeek overall ranking of games in 2016. I enjoy games in the medieval time period, so I took a closer look at it. I watched the Dice Tower review by Tom Vasel. I knew that I liked “Engine Building” game mechanics, so I put the game on my Christmas wish list. I received the game as a gift in Christmas 2016 from my wife and it has quickly become one of my favorite games.
Allow me to explain why.
The theme in the game is solid. While it may not be completely new or unique, it works. You play as a family in medieval France. You have members of your family (workers) whom have diverse talents; a farmer, a boatsman, a builder and a craftsmen. These family members are employed on your own playerboard to fill various slots to earn additional workers whom you may (or may not) be able to draw randomly out of your own bag in future turns to work for you. A significant portion of the game is racing with the other players to acquire more workers, earn “great person” rewards and trade goods which score at the end of the game, travel around the French countryside building guild houses in your color and build key buildings which grant you specific abilities.
There is a lot to do in this game. Some players might suffer from some “analysis-paralysis,” however I did not find this to be a problem for me or the majority of the people whom I have played Orleans with. On your turn you will draw out of a bag a certain number of workers based upon your castle/military rank. These workers are placed on the bottom of your player board and you will strategize about how best to employ them in the current turn. Therefore, your decisions will be based not only upon your overall game plan, but also upon what you currently have drawn and have to work with. You may carry unused workers from one round to the next, however you are limited by the number of slots available on your own playerboard. In the early game this won’t be a big problem, but in the mid to late game, you will be potentially limiting your total number of workers for the turn by having full slots occupied by workers and therefore being unable to draw your full potential. A player may mitigate this by assigning workers to tasks without having all of the required workers. Workers so assigned are tied there until either the task requirements are met or a player spends a “draw action” to pull them back. This means that you end up sacrificing flexibility for space.
Your individual playerboard cannot be blocked by the actions of the other players. However, there is the countryside map of France, where players are competing to build a guildhall in the various cities surrounding Orleans, one hall per city, with the exception of Orleans itself, where all players start. There is a great achievement board, where all players permanently send their workers to complete a variety of great tasks for the good of all. Each individual worker is rewarded for participating, yet the greatest prize is given to the player who contributes the final worker in each task. This creates tension as you want to work towards earning the biggest prize and preventing another player from snatching it out from under you. The number of available workers is also limited. For example, Monks are workers whom are “wildcards” and may fill any role. Therefore, they are highly prized for their flexibility. In most games, players raced to try and acquire as many Monks as possible before the supply was exhausted.
A player’s final score will largely depend upon their technology level at the end of the game. Therefore, in addition to scrambling to gain the desired additional workers, traveling across France building your own colored-guildhalls, amassing trade goods which are worth points at the game end, building key buildings which help advance your game and keeping an eye on the supply of available workers and victory-point earners, you must also advance your technology score. Ignore that at your own peril. A low technology score will mean a low multiplier for final score tabulation.
So yes, there is a great deal to do in Orleans! New players may feel a little overwhelmed. However, with a few plays, you get the hang of it and gain a perspective of what to focus on early, mid and late game.
The game flows quickly and easily.
My concerns with Orleans are fairly minor. First, there is a hefty pile of available buildings that a player may build. They are separated into piles of level 1 and level 2 buildings. When a player chooses to construct a building, he/she searches through the deck of buildings and selects one. This invariable leads to the game coming to a halt while newer players ask for an explanation of what each building does. There is iconography on each building tile, but that takes time to fully master all of them and no one wants to make a mistake of misinterpreting what a particular building does. When a player is able to build a level 2 building he/she is able to build any available building from either the level 1 or the level 2 stack, so this pause can take even longer as all available building tiles are consulted.
Secondly, in the version of the game that I have, the workers are represented by colorful, round cardboard tokens. I am a little concerned that over time, with the tokens going into a cloth bag, and constantly being mixed up and handled, will that result in the cardboard splitting or breaking apart? I would imagine that wooden tokens of the same size might have been more ideal, although I wouldn’t relish the idea of applying stickers on all those wooden disks.
One of the reasons that I enjoy Orleans as much as I do is the variety that the game allows the players. There are many different choices to be made and many different ways to approach the game. I wish to be clear, this is not a multiplayer, solitaire game. Players are definitely interacting with one another and competing for scarce workers, unique buildings, cities for guildhall placement, trade goods, point-scoring “great people” tokens and contributions in great achievements. That competition makes the game shine.
The art work is solid and the playtime is just right for me – between an hour and ninety minutes.
There are events, one per turn, and trade goods are randomly placed between cities which add some variety from game. The events are fairly balanced and do not swing the game too much when they occur. When the “Plague” event occurs, everyone groans and I just know that I am going to lose the monk that I just purchased.
Several expansions have been released and I own a few of them. I liked the additional buildings expansions that you may purchase from the BGG store and the Trade and Intrigue expansion, but I felt that Invasion was too much of a departure from the core of the game and so I skipped it.
As I mentioned, Orleans has quickly become a favorite game of mine and I frequently pull it off the shelf and suggest it. It plays 2 – 4 players and in my experience does well with all player-age categories. A player will enjoy the game throughout and because final score is not tabulated until the very end, so everyone remains engaged and active until the final tally.
I hope that TMG continues to release good quality, additional content for this game.
I highly recommend Orleans as a game for any player.
To be fair, DLP Games is the original publisher of the game, and TMG just brought it to North America. Expansions seemed to be developed and released by DLP first, and the TMG releases it in the U.S.