This is a review of Flamme Rouge designed by Asger Harding Granerud. It plays 2 – 4 players. Realistcally, I’d estimate the playtime at 30 minutes.
Compared to our recent review of Downforce, Flamme Rouge is a much more “pure” game about the race itself. There are basically no other elements of this game to bog it down and a player’s main goal is to cross that finish line, leaving everyone else picking dust and gravel out of their teeth.
Each player starts with two racers on the board and identical hands of power cards, which dictate how far a cyclist moves on a turn. There are two separate (small) decks for each of a player’s racers, because the Rouleur doesn’t have the burst capacity of the Sprinteur.
On a turn, players simultaneously choose one of their racers, draw four cards for that racer, play one in secret, and discard the rest. The same is then done for the other racer on your team. Cards are revealed and resolved in order along the track with all played cards being removed from the game. That’s right, you don’t get these cards back so if you blow those high-value cards early, you may be struggling to cross the finish line.
Next, racers assess their position on the board. Starting at the back of the line, if a racer has exactly one empty space in front of him and behind another racer, the farther racer slip-streams up one space. Players continue to move in this way and reassess their position accordingly – so it’s possible for a single racer to slip-stream several times in one turn, depending on their placement. This is why it’s important to coordinate your efforts between your two riders.
If a rider has an empty space in front of them, is not part of a pack, and does not slip-stream on the turn, that rider takes an exhaustion card, which all have a value of 2 spaces on them. Predictably, if you are taking a lot of these, they begin to choke up your deck.
The beginners game excludes hills, but every other map includes them. The rules for hills are not terribly complicated and I would encourage you play with them as soon as possible. In essence, ascents reduce all cards to a maximum of 5 and descents increase all cards to a minimum of 5, so descents are a great time to cycle out your exhaustion cards and coast.
The winner is the first player to get just one of their racers across the finish. If multiple players do this on the same turn, the player who is farthest past the finish is declared the victor.
Mechanically, this game is very simple and I like that. The cause and effects of blowing your high cards and taking exhaustion are obvious and make the hand management and important, tactical part of each turn. Additionally, having to choose the card for one racer without seeing the other racer’s card makes for an interesting little balance. That component could even lend itself well to a fun “doubles” variant, where each player controls just one cyclist on the team and cards are chosen without conference.
A surprise, for us, was that there is no collaboration during the track setup. Obviously, you can house rule this, but for a game built of modular track tiles, it would have been an easy addition that would also keep players a bit more engaged in every aspect of the game.
Overall, though, I think Flamme Rouge could benefit for most of that stuff. The hills, the idea of teams, perhaps even some rule to make turns a little spicier. The game feels a bit flat, but the simplicity seems to almost encourage house rules and variants.
It’s no secret that I love sports themed games, despite not actually being any sort of real life sports enthusiast. I was so excited for Flamme Rouge because the Tour de France theme seemed like a real blast.
Thematically, the mechanics deliver! You do have to conserve your energy otherwise you’ll lose control of your rider in the late game. This hand management mechanic is the perfect pairing for this theme.
We even listened to the soundtrack of one of my all time favorite films, The Triplets of Belleville, to enhance the mood!
Flamme Rouge has very fun art. The illustrations are whimsical, the pieces and the board look great, and overall the art is immersive and minimalist.
And that minimalism is just fine here. There’s really not much to know or do in this game, so the need for iconography is basically nonexistent and Flamme Rouge’s art stands very well on its own.
Our experience with Flamme Rouge’s pace was similar to that of our riders’ – the end of the race became a bit of an endurance contest…
You “get” this game fairly early on and the points where racers overtake one another and mix things up aren’t terribly riveting. You can expect that players will be pitching low cards on descents, that efforts will be somewhat coordinated between teammates, and in the end, there are few moments of Flamme Rouge that excite and captivate players.
I’m going to have to ding Flamme Rouge here, unfortunately. The insert of my box was totally destroyed upon arrival – all the pieces were safe, but the insert was mangled. Not a huge deal to me, but it will be to some.
What was a bigger deal, however, is that the racers keep falling off their damn bikes! I’m not aware of an expansion that requires the cyclists to be removed from their bases, but it was irritating to reach for your rider, only to have him fall apart between your fingers. These little dudes have a long way to go, and having to precariously handle the pieces was a nuisance, albeit one that a spot of glue can’t fix.
Finally, like I said above, there could be just a bit more stuff in this box. Not component wise, either, just in terms of what the game is and does. Shane and I kicked around a couple of ideas for house rules, such as players take exhaustion cards on a turn unless they move to the outside spaces. Or, while drafting behind a rider, draw a card – if it’s an exhaustion, trash it. Or the collaborative setup mentioned above. It just needs, like, one or two more alterations like that to really be satisfying.
Flamme Rouge is dead simple. You can have this taught in a few minutes, no problem. I always appreciate when games have a “beginner mode” and Flamme Rouge excludes hills until you understand the game, which helps.
Seasoned gamers, however, may struggle to find much meat in Flamme Rouge. It’s fun, yes, but mechanically not very heady. Especially compared to the recent Downforce we played, the experience here is just a bit too flat for our tastes.
Realistically, I don’t see this game coming out much more when options like Formula D and Downforce are also on our shelves.
I sort of touched on this above, but I won’t count on this game coming out much more. Players will “get” the game within the first few turns and from there, there are few surprises.
A fine game and a fun concept, but overall falls flat and feels lacking in substance. This is not helped by the riders falling off their bikes or the lack of collaboration in the track setup. All in all, Flamme Rouge just needs a bit more meat on its bones.