Asger Sams Granerud / Lautapelit, Danmark / Finland, 2016
Three or four years ago I received an email from a young Danish game designer who told me he has an idea for a game mechanic that fitted perfectly to a cycling race. He told me he had read my texts and that he was convinced he was on the right track. He sent me a sketch of his ideas, asked me my opinion about them, and asked me not to disclose them. I did not even mention them in the unpublished games section.
At the time he already had the game's name, which I though (and I still think) is a great name. It is hard to find a cycling-related name for a game that sounds good ans has not been used yet. (Check the alphabetical list of names and see if you can find a good one that has not been used yet).
When I read the rules I told him that they might turn into a good game. How could it be otherwise coming from someone that had studied my cycling game theory my texts? ;-) What I did not tell him is that I have received sketches of rules before, some of them also promising, some even by authors that have already published other games, and that, unfortunately, it is very hard to see cycling games commercially released.
So, I just waited for news but I did not hope much. At most I could expect a self-published release or a kickstarter attempt. Even when a couple of years later Asger wrote again to tell me that the game was going to be released, I thought it was going to be a modest edition, and I was not so surprised to learn that the release had been delayed (that was one year ago).
Finally the whole thing sped up. When I saw the first sketches of the graphic design, and I could read the definitive edition of the rules, I realized that this was much better than I had thought. When I finally received the boxed game, saw the games components, and played the game properly, I was amazed. Flamme Rouge may easily be the (cycling) game of the year. Did I say "of the year"? Maybe I meant "of the decade"!
Flamme Rouge is supposed to represent a one-day race though, since there is a small pack of just eight riders, the game is played in around 30-45 minutes, and the name of the game is that of the red flag displayed with one kilometer remaining from the finish line of a race, I prefer to think that the game represents the last, say, 20 or 30 kilometers of a classic race. If you consider it so the game turns out to be quite realistic!
Information about the game is easy to find: you can download the the English rules (and also the French ones) from the Lautapelit website and you can check all the comments and even download the first game variants on BoardGameGeek, so I will just add a few things here.
The game does not have a "board" but instead has 21 double sided track segments Marked by letters, small case on one side, capital letters on the other) which can be assembled in different ways to make your own stages. In the box are six possible configurations, but I expect many more to be created by fans. (Here is mine for a hilly stage: amcSqtRNBDHoIeGlkfju - the first I is a capital "i", the second is a small case "L").
The mechanics of the game are easy to learn. Each player manages a team of two riders, called Sprinteur and Rouleur, with different capabilities. Each rider has his own deck of cards (it can be considered a deck building game) from which they chose one. When all the players have chosen one card for each cyclist they reveal it simultaneously and move the riders accordingly. The simultaneous play solves (well, almost) the problem known as "analysis paralysis" (players taking too long to move their riders) and makes the game very dynamic.
The Rouleur and Sprinteur decks are different, though each players' decks are equivalent. Sprinteurs are quicker but Rouleurs are stronger, as can be expected: Sprinteurs will win in mostly flat stages while rouleurs have better chances in mountain stages. Players will manoeuver to have the worst rider work for the best in every situation. The drawback of each player having two different decks is that you have to reshuffle two ever-diminishing decks of discarded cards.
The strongest point of the game mechanics, IMHO, is the slipstreaming rule (combined with the exhaustion rule) which makes the pack stay together as a single group in most cases, at least while the road is flat and the riders are protected from the wind. Breaking away from such a pack is hard, though not impossible. A simple but effective rule for the climbs and descents causes the group to split when the road goes uphill and generally regroup on the descents. All in all, a very realisty "cycling feel" with a very simple set of rules. Clever!
It is interesting to mention is the winner rule, which combines first-past-the post and further-past-the-post rules in an unusual way. (Check the theory here in case you do not know what I am talking about, or just forget this last sentence). There are only five squares (a tile) past the finishing line. In the case (which does not happen often, but which MAY happen) of the riders having to move further than that, they just occupy those five squares, the winner being the one further away on the right side of the road. This rule, which does not make much sense in a normal game, is essential if you want to play the Grand Tour variant (more on variants below).
By the way, the flat stage (called "Avenue Corso Paseo") will probably be used the first time you play, as the climb and descent rules are easy to learn and good for the game, though of course you can add a flat stage to a stage race. The possibility of playing stage races is given as a print-and-play download (that is why I class this game in the one-day races section) but in fact you just download a table to keep track of the times and a rule that just says how the time is counted.
Other downloadable variants are the rules to move the teams if you are less than four players. You can use "hard" rules to make the robot teams stronger. And of course you can play solo against three robot teams.
I did not mention that the game is supposed to represent a race from 1932. Look at the realistic vintage-looking riders. Some players have complained that the two riders are too similar. It is true that it is better if you paint the cap of one of them. I personally complain that Sprinteur is the rider that looks like a climber, while Rouleur is the one that looks as a Sprinter.
Rouleur on the left, leading for Sprinteur
Another strong point of the game is the fantastic work of illustrator Ossi Hiekkala in giving this game its 1932 feel. If you are interested, he explains how was his work with this game in his blog.
There are two different editions of the game, the "international edition" with rules in English, French, German and Spanish (as I said above, translated by yours truly) and the "nordic countries edition", with rules in Suomi, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. However, the contents of the box are the same except the rulebook, which can be downloaded anyway.
Since I have both boxes, I will investigate the possibility of making longer stages, using not only the road segments from both games, but only using twice as many cards for each rider. This is an idea I am having lately: that it is a good idea to have two copies of the games that have modular roads. You never know when you are going to want to play a really long stage.
By the way, I know I am being quite enthousiastic about this game, and this is not common in me. Well, these things happen. In cas you wonder, I am NOT involved in any way with the games' makers (though I translated the rules into Spanish). I did NOT know the game designer before, and in fact I can barely say I know him: I just met him at Essen 2016 and we did not have much time to talk since he was very busy demoing the game. Maybe next time ;-)
Update: There is a big excitation around this game, and there are are many ideas, variants, fan-made stage, etc posted almos weekly in BoardGameGeek. I cannot mention all the updates, so you'd better follow them yourselves in BGG's Flamme Rouge page.
Click here to see the game on the Laitapelit website
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