Designer Asger Sams Granerad Pubished by Lautapelit.fi Art by Jere Kasanen,
The best thing about doing written reviews is that I don’t have to attempt to say the names right. If you listen to the Podcast, you will know game designer’s names are my downfall, sometimes publisher’s names and then there is actual game names, that can get me a good mocking by the co-hosts.
In this game, all 3 are throwing me through a loop!
Flamme Rouge was sent to me by the Designer Asger Sams Granerud, via Wilderland Campaigns. And while I was taking a shower, I was thinking how I could review this game in a clever manner, and it stuck me! I could do a sports commentary style write up with 2 commentators going back and forth, to give you a low down. But I was scuppered, when Chris from Creaking Sheaves put out his review and opened with a similar concept.
[WAIT! BEFORE YOU CLICK ON THE LINK, READ MINE FIRST, PLEASE!]
Ah well, back to the normal way.
Alongside my love of deck-builders and worker placement games, racing is a theme that I really like. I like Formula 1 on TV, plus Automobiles making its debut the beginning of the year, doing its bag building thing, and Formula D has made a few returns to the gaming table this year. I was very happy to receive another racing game, but this is about bike racing; I haven’t had or played a game about bike racing before.
Um Reifenbreite is a grail game I’ve been on the look out for ages; another bike racing game that seems to my knowledge share similarities to Flamme Rouge.
Flamme Rouge is a team bike racing game for 2 to 4 players. Each player gets to control two bikes, a sprinteur and a Rouleur (French) and the game simulates the last Kilometer of a bike race, which in a race is indicated by a red flag with a flame on it, hence the name. Each player will have a deck of energy cards for each rider and a player board. Each round, players pick and play a card from each deck to move that bike the number of places printed on the card. The first bike crossing the finish line and travels the furthest is the winner.
Let’s start with the artwork and components: the graphic design for the front of the box is super retro, with the look of a vintage poster you find in a classic contemporary cafe. It shouts, “it’s a bike racing game”. The rulebook is designed like a newspaper layout and goes to page 16… Wait, before you run off screaming! It does contain 4 languages so the whole of the English rules are a four-page detail description of how to game.
The track pieces are really nice and thick, the cards are nice quality and the art is on par with the front of the box. The player’s bikes are plastic moulds that are tricky to tell apart from the Sprinteur and Rouleur (Painting might be required here), but it’s nice of the publisher to give us plastic figures and not standees. And then there are the player boards, you get these very nice thick player placeholders for each deck of cards which I feel is unnecessary, but maybe they found it useful to have these. They don’t even hold useful information, like what the cards for each deck contain or the phases of a round.
The first game to play when setting up, is spending a good 5 to 10 minutes finding the right piece and fitting them together, this in its self is an activity for the players, as the game comes with 6 routes to choose from and put together. All of the tracks use every piece as well. So when you see all this laid out in front of you, you do get lots of expectations when starting to play your first game. But here comes the rules bit…
When I read the rules I had an instant thought, “so there in no track positioning and the corners have no influence on the race.”
The game, its self is just straight line racing, the corners in the game are for you to fit the game on the table and to give it an artistic feel. So it looks like a road winding through the countryside. And by what I mean in track positioning is that you can’t block or be blocked by anyone. Being the lead of the race or a pack is important but can be costly. The track is divided into squares and lanes, 2 lanes in each square. This makes things simple to know who is in the lead and next to take a turn. This helps with finishing a movement. You move up as many squares as the card says and if the lane on the right is free your bike goes there, if not it takes the left-hand lane, if that is not free then they start moving back to the next available lane.
So you can’t block the track and cornering isn’t an issue, so where’s the race?
Well, one thing I didn’t realise at first, is you have to be very conservative how you play your cards. There are 72 spaces on the track, possibly more depending on how far back from the start line you are, and the Sprinteur only has a movement value of 69, but Rouleur has 75. So it is possible for you to run out of cards and then you can’t move.
“Wait, how can the sprinteur get to the end of the race, if he doesn’t have enough to finish?” I hear you shout. (Well, that’s what I think you are saying, but really you are just wanting to get on with it!).
There are 3 ways to get more distance. Slipstreaming is one; this is where your Rouleur comes into play. After everyone has played and there is an empty square between your bike and the bike in front, then you and the bikes adjacent (in the pack) to you, can move up and fill this gap. If you are really lucky you could move a few spaces doing so, but it also means you are at the back of the race.
Sad face. However, you are biding your time and energy for a late breakaway.
“Descending Mountains” is a help, if you play a low-value card on the descending part of the mountain then you always move 5 spaces so you could play a 2, 3 or 4 and move a total of 5 spaces. This is useful when you have a lot of exhaustion cards in your decks, too.
“Exhaustion cards you say, what are these?”
These are, in a way, negative cards that get added to your energy decks if one or both of your bikes are in the front of the pack of bikes. These Exhaustion cards have a value of 2, and once you receive one or many, they will come back around limiting your hand of cards with low movement values, but this is another way to get more movement. And if you can chain them with slipstreaming or downhill riding then you will gain extra spaces in doing so.
What goes down, must go up? Well yes, and this is a nice bit of the racing and gruelling at the same time.
First, in the Movement Phase: a rider starting on, moving onto or going across any red Ascent square can never move more than 5 squares. A higher value card can be played, but its value is capped at 5 and excess moves are wasted.
From the rulebook.
That says it all, no matter what position you are, at the start, middle or end of the climb of the hill you are capped at 5 or less. Plus, there is no slipstreaming. Some hills can be a long battling climb.
So what are my dislikes of this Flamme Rouge? Well, it is very much luck based with drawing up your cards. At the beginning of a round you draw up a hand of 4 cards and once you select a card to play, you discard the others to a recycle pile. So on the next round you draw a fresh set of cards up, so you’re in a random lucky draw in my opinion, but it could just be me. I just draw cards on a hope and a prayer. But having the 4 cards to choose from gives you a good choice most of the time. Also, I do wish there was a bit more to it, events, team abilities, or corner effects. It is only a 4 player game, a 5th team would have been nice but maybe made it a bit crowded on the track.
I also found a rule a bit silly; when you have picked a card and placed it down, you “recycle” the rest of the cards face up under the draw deck. I found this fiddly and time-consuming, so I house ruled over it and just said to make a discard “recycle” pile below the player board.
Side note: I have been informed by real bike riders, that the game’s nature is true to how bike racing is.
Now, down to what I like; the simplicity of the whole thing, rules are short and simple to learn. The gameplay is so quick. The box says 30 – 45 minute play time, and that is almost true like I said building the track can become an activity of its own, but a fun activity for all the players to do. This could be a game, to start or finish a game-night because of how quickly it can be played.
Most games I have played have been close races which are a good thing because with a lot of racers you can get a runaway leader that is hard to catch. I was in one race and so close to winning but the cards I drew for the last round, left me one space short of the finish line. Sad face again. And everyone else was loving the moment!
I said that I wished it would play more players, well I did play it with 5 people because someone turned up just as we were starting, so he and another guy joined forces and played a bike each. It worked out nicely.
The exhaustion also works well, and here’s another example; In another game I played, I put my Sprinteur out in the lead from the beginning but by the middle of the race he was exhausted, as I was only drawing exhaustion cards but my Rouleur took the lead and won the race.
Flamme Rouge fills the gap that Um Reifenbreite, leaves for me. The game I can’t get because it is out of print, so FR will make up for it. It is helped by its simple rules and playing time. It fills the slot of not too complicated and fun racing. And with this, I leave you with…
“Team Flamme Rouge, in red, are in the lead down the final straight to the finish line, Um Reifenbreite the yellow team are close behind, but I believe the red team has it in the bag and they do. They crossed the finish line ahead of the old firm and celebrate their victory. What are your thoughts, Tom?”
“Yes Joel, all the riders found the hill climbs difficult, but the yellow teams early push meant they expelled a lot of energy at the beginning, and now their age is showing. However, Flamme Rouge show intuition and wait to use the downhill sections effectively and prove they are the new kings of bike racing.”
“Well, there you have it folks the Flamme Rouge is the new racing hotness that everyone, even the family can enjoy. This has been another review by Devon Dice Sports. Say, goodbye Tom”