In this Flamme Rouge review, Board Crazy looks at the unique bicycle-racing board game designed by Asger Harding Granerud, and published by Lautapelit.fi and Stronghold Games. In this game, players control a team of riders as they race to the finish line in order to be champions!
D reviews Flamme Rouge
(Author’s note: this review is meant to accompany our gameplay video and will not go in-depth on the game’s rules. If you’re interested in learning how the game is played, please watch the video. It’s not bad.)
I came to Flamme Rouge not really knowing anything about it, beside that fact that it was a bicycle racing game. I came away from Flamme Rouge really impressed by its ability to offer a tight, exciting experience despite its surprising simplicity. I was sort of expecting it to be a low-tech Formula D clone, but the two games don’t actually have too much in common beyond the obvious and artificial. There is no dice rolling in this game (which is good), the track is customizable (also good), but it’s always two lanes wide (less good), and there are no unique rules for taking corners. So if you like Formula D, but wish it were a bit simpler and involved less randomness, then Flamme Rouge might be up your alley.
I’m going to focus a bit on the stuff I like less before I get to the positives. For instance, I do wish there was a bit more variety in the tracks, featuring sections with more lanes or only one lane for the riders. The reverse sides of the track pieces, which we didn’t feature in the video, do offer an optional “mountain” mechanic, where “inclines” lower the ceiling of the cyclists’ speeds to five and “declines” raise the floor of their speeds, also to five. This adds a bit more strategy to the game and adds more value to the option to customize the track layout, which otherwise is just a superficial feature. Still, I think the game could have benefited from greater track diversity. Also, the decision to have the rider and bike pieces come as two separate pieces is a frequent frustration. It wouldn’t be such an issue if they were easier to keep attached, but even the lightest touches can cause the riders to come loose. I don’t know if this was done for the purpose of customization or simply because of molding difficulties, but it’s a frequent, minor irritation.
Fortunately, everything else about Flamme Rouge is pretty darn good. While the track design is a little simpler than I’d like, I think it does allow for the game to constantly provide really tight contests. The lack of randomness and the really pleasing “slipstream” mechanic combine to ensure that races in this game always come down to the wire between all players. And what more can you ask for from a race? Additionally, the exhaustion cards really add another layer of strategy to the game. You’re unlikely to be forced to actually use them, but towards the end of the game they might be the difference between you getting that really big card you want in your hand or it remaining in your deck, as I proved in our video.
I also really dig Flamme Rouge’s art, which does a good job of capturing the aesthetic of an early-20th century European sporting contest. The characters, track pieces, and even the newspaper-style rulebook do a surprisingly good job of creating a sense of place and immersion, more so than Formula D does with its cartoony racers, despite using real tracks. The components and packaging – outside of the annoying cyclist pieces – are well-made and attractive, especially the heavy cardboard track pieces.
But wait, there’s more! An expansion called Flamme Rouge: Peloton is scheduled for release later in 2017. Not only does it add two more teams and increase support for up to six players, but it also includes new rules for solo play as well as a one bike-per-player twelve-player variant. Most excitingly though, it will have new track tiles featuring one-lane and three-lane sections. So while Flamme Rouge is already a really good family game that I will gladly recommend, you might want to wait for the release of the expansion before picking it up, as I suspect that will offer the ideal package.
D’s Rating: Four Stars out of Five.
Will Reviews Flamme Rouge
Like a lot of people, I’ve never enjoyed cycling or the Tour de France. I guess I understand the appeal, but cycling and I have never clicked. So when I heard that a cycling-inspired tabletop game was coming out, I initially had little interest beyond wanting to see how the board/track looked. I’m really glad that minuscule amount of curiosity forced me to take a peak at that game because Flamme Rouge is actually pretty cool.
From a visual and physical standpoint, Flamme Rouge is attractive and well made. All of the artwork properly adheres to the 1930s, French cycling theme, which helps with immersion. I’m especially fond of the rulebook that is presented as a newspaper from Paris in 1932, which is a smart touch. As for build quality, I would rank the track tiles and cards as above average. The cyclist miniatures are similarly well crafted, and they also look pretty neat. Unfortunately, the cyclist is not attached to the bicycle he’s sitting on, which means that you often have to stop the game to quickly reattach him. This is a minor problem, but in a game that’s called “fast-paced”, it can become a nuisance that slows down the works. Then again, because the cyclist mini is not attached to the bicycle, you could easily mix and match colors to your liking. I think a red cyclist on a black bike would look pretty sweet.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to gameplay, and I have to say that Flamme Rouge’s pleasantly surprised me, for the most part. Once the track is set and the cyclists are placed behind the starting line, each player draws four cards for each of their two cyclists. They choose one card for each racer and discard the other three to the bottom of their decks. Finally, they play the two cards and move their cyclists up the amount of spaces designated by the number on the card. It’s that simple. One of the biggest strengths of Flamme Rouge is that it’s really easy to understand, which means you can get to playing really quickly. Once you do, the first handful of rounds move really fast, and the appeal of a bike-racing tabletop game becomes apparent. But I know what you’re thinking: it’s too simple, and there’s not much strategy in selecting numbered cards and moving a few pieces around a two-lane track. Well…
You’re kind of right, but at the same time, you’re kind of wrong. I’ll be the first to admit, there is little to no strategy during the first half or so of any race of Flamme Rouge. For me, I basically chose my cards willy-nilly and went with the flow, and so far that strategy has worked for me in the sessions we’ve played. There is a tiny bit of strategy in the first half – you’ll want to make sure you stay close enough to enter into the slipstream of the cyclists ahead of you. Basically, if your cyclists are within one space of another cyclist, you automatically move forward one square at the end of the round. In other words, your only strategy in the first half of a race should be to stay close to the rest of the pack. All in all, the first half of Flamme Rouge moves faster, but it’s also kind of mindless.
The second half is when the strategy and math really kicks into gear, but it’s also when the game slows down. The closer you get to the finish line, the more you realize that it’s time to think and count the number of spaces between your foremost cyclist and that line. A number of questions will occur to you: How long should I stay in the slipstream? Should I try to jump to the front? Should I utilize my highest numbered cards now or save them for the last couple rounds? While slower, I can say that this stage of Flamme Rouge is really fun and surprisingly nerve-wracking. In real life, I don’t give a damn about cycling, but in the tabletop realm, I really want to win and be top dog (you know, without the steroids). I commend this game for getting me to care about it in such a passionate way. But then…
I realize that all of this (the math, strategy, and constant shuffling) slows down this supposedly “fast-paced” game. And when I say “constant shuffling”, I mean it. Toward the end of a game of Flamme Rouge, you’ll be shuffling your cards almost every round, which destroys the pacing. I strongly dislike games with a lot of downtime, but Flamme Rouge makes up for it with its quick playtime, clever mechanics, and strict adherence to its theme. Those three traits are what separate this game from the pack, and they’re what will keep me coming back to this over time. Flamme Rouge is definitely replayable, but a few alterations could make it even more addictive. Luckily enough, it looks like the upcoming expansions will make those changes (choke points, more cycling teams, more cards). All in all, Flamme Rouge really entertained me in more ways than one, even though it had some issues. I still couldn’t care less about cycling and the Tour de France, but the tabletop version is pretty nifty.
I give Flamme Rouge a: B
Graham reviews Flamme Rouge
I can safely say that Flamme Rouge is my favorite tactical, bicycle-racing board game of all time. Well, I guess it doesn’t have much competition, but honestly I don’t know if that would matter. Flamme Rouge found a way to be simple, deep, exciting, and brilliant all at once, and it’s one of my favorite board games I’ve played to date. The rules are very easy to learn, and everything makes sense from the beginning. Also, the game is fast-paced and exhilarating. But above all else, the theme and mechanics mesh extraordinarily well. I can honestly say I felt like I was actually in a bicycle race.
In Flamme Rouge each player controls two cyclists, a roller and a sprinter, and your goal is to get either of your cyclists past the finish line before any of the other racers. Each cyclist has their own deck of cards, and each card has a number value on it. Every turn, you draw four cards for each of your cyclists and choose one of those cards to play that turn. The numbers on the cards represent how far you move. There are some important mechanics that setup strategy, such as slipstreaming and exhaustion. A slipstream occurs if one or more cyclists are two spaces behind another group of cyclists, in which case they can use the slipstream to move up one extra space. Exhaustion occurs when a cyclist is leading a group and has either no one in front of them or it has at least two open spaces between them and another group (which means it’s too far to use slipstream). When exhaustion occurs, the player takes an “exhaustion card”, which is a very low-value card that you’re forced to place in your deck. There are some other minor rules, but this pretty much sums up Flamme Rouge.
I know that I, as well as my cohorts, have said time and again that simplicity is great. Well, Flamme Rouge takes the cake when it comes to simplicity. It probably took a total of five minutes to learn the rules, and maybe five more minutes to understand the basic strategy. I don’t want to make it sound like I hate complicated games because that’s totally not true, but it is special to be able to comprehend a game and play it confidently within a matter of minutes. It also makes it easier to introduce people to games when the rules and strategy are so intuitive. If I tried to introduce the hobby to a beginner with a game like Axis & Allies or Twilight Imperium, they would probably be bored to tears. I could easily bring this game on a family vacation or to a party with friends and get everyone involved.
Another wonderful thing about Flamme Rouge is the fast-paced and exciting gameplay. Like I said, it actually feels like you’re in a bicycle race. As soon as you take your turn, you’re drawing the next set of cards and trying to read your opponents in order to figure out the best way to position yourself. I can’t ever imagine Flamme Rouge having a runaway leader problem because of the clever exhaustion mechanic. Each game I’ve played came down to the wire, and it’s very cool how the tension builds as the game develops. It’s the very same feeling you get when you watch bicycle racing, auto racing, etc.
Finally, my favorite thing about Flamme Rouge is how well the theme and mechanics meshed together. The designer, Asger Harding Granerud, really did a terrific job building the game’s mechanics around its theme. It all just seems so natural and realistic. For example, the sprinter has the highest value card (9), but has more low value cards than the roller. On the other hand, the roller has a lot of mid level cards, but its lowest card is a three. There is also a mountain mechanic that we didn’t use in our playthrough that decreases your speed when cycling up a mountain and increases your speed when going down it. All of this, combined with the slipstream and exhaustion mechanics that I previously described, provides a lot of immersion into a unique theme. My only issue with Flamme Rouge is that I wish they provided more track pieces as well as more obstacles on the tracks. For example, the designer could have created choke points on some of the tracks that could cause a major traffic jam.
Overall, I had a ton of fun playing Flamme Rouge. If only I could burn calories while cycling in this game… Well, board games unfortunately don’t really count as exercise, but Flamme Rouge is still an exhilarating and brilliant game nonetheless. I give Flamme Rouge two thumbs up.
Flamme Rouge Game Review – Board Crazy’s Ratings