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Games Spotlight: Flamme Rouge

Good racing games are the flavour of the month at the moment. Pit Crew is about fixing a car as fast as possible by playing cards in real time and Down Force is about racing sports cars but also gambling on other people’s cars winning. But Flamme Rouge is the best of the bunch in my mind. A game about pairs of cyclists duelling to get through the mountains and crossing the line first.

Flamme Rouge

Each team consists of a Sprinter and a Rouleur (French for roller. True story), who each have their own little deck of cards. Each card has a number on it, which represents how far that cyclist will go once you play the card. On your turn you pick one of your decks (either Sprinter or Roller) draw four cards and pick which one to play (the three cards you don’t choose go faceup at the bottom of your deck). Then you pick the other deck and do the same thing. Once everyone has picked their cards, they’re all flipped and the riders ride. After all the cards have been played there are a few housekeeping rules that need to be sorted. First, slipstreaming: if one of your riders is exactly two spaces behind the rider in front they slipstream up a place. And this slipstreaming can chain, so if Nicko’s sprinter is two behind Lyndon’s roller who is two behind Andy’s roller, both Nicko’s and Lyndon’s riders will slipstream, meaning that Nicko gets a double bonus! Next, fatigue: any rider that’s at the front of a pack, or riding solo, has to take a measly fatigue card that’ll only let you move two spaces. Then it’s on to your next turn. Run out of cards and you shuffle up your discarded cards and keep playing. Get too much fatigue and you’ll eventually start drawing more and more of them into your hand, meaning you’ll less choices and potentially be stuck spluttering along with those nasty fatigue cards.

That’s it. That’s all the rules you need for your first game. But once you’re familiar with the basics, it’s time to head off into the mountains where things get a little more complicated. Mountains work in two ways. If you’re climbing a mountain and play a card higher than 5, you’ll only be moving 5 (sprinting up mountains doesn’t really work), and you can’t slipstream up a mountain. Start your turn on a downhill and you’ll move at least 5 regardless of the card you choose making downhills a perfect way to get rid of those fatigue cards you picked up earlier.

For a game with such a quick rules explanation and set up time, Flamme Rouge throws a lot of interesting choices and options your way. Do you hide in the peloton letting someone else drag you along getting more fatigued? Or do you break away your two riders early, let your roller lead out your sprinter and hope the cards fall in your favour? The game comes with a heap of different track setups, each with it’s own strategies and challenges, meaning that there’s a surprising amount of replayability built into the box. And if you get sick of the pre-prepared tracks you can just make your own! Like some sort of road laying, incline loving, engineer or wizard or something. And if THAT gets boring there are rules online for a grand tour! And if THAT gets boring there are 5-8 player variant rules! And if THAT gets boring a expansion is on the way that includes cobblestones and supply zones!

I’ve probably played half a dozen races at this point, and each one has felt surprisingly different. One race ended with a single sprinter perfectly timing their break away, having waited for everyone else to exhaust their riders just enough, another had two players neck and neck from the last downhill all the way to the line, ending in a photo finish, a third had someone surging ahead only to lose all their energy two turns from the line and limping across in fourth place. The one thing that was consistent through every race was that it felt like watching le Tour. Having a sprinter drop off the back of the peloton as soon as he hit the first ascent, or perfectly predicting when an opponent is going to sprint ahead and placing your rider in the perfect place to slipstream feel so perfectly thematic.

Flamme Rouge broke out of the peloton as soon as we played it, bursting into first place as Boardom’s favourite game of 2017 so far, just ahead of Gloomhaven. There are still a few contenders lurking deep in the pack (see Pandemic Legacy Season 2, Charterstone, Raiders of the North Sea) so it’s possible Flamme Rouge will be pipped at the post, but whatever happens, this will be our go to game for new players or anyone who’s looking for an accessible theme and insanely variable track layouts in a racing game, this is the one to pick.