Designer: Asger Harding Granerud
Publishers: Lautapelit.fi & Stronghold Games
Time: 30-45 minutes
Games Played: 9 (with a review copy provided by Stronghold Games)
My ability to speak French is nicht sehr guht. Yes, I know that’s German, because that’s a language which I can (barely) speak/read. Which leads me to the beginning of this review.
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to say the name of this game.
I’ve been calling if “flaw-may rouge”… but then I hear Stephen Buonocore (the English publisher) call it “flaw-mmm rouge”… and as I noted a couple of paragraphs above, I don’t know enough about French to hazard a guess which is correct. I feel like a tourist that doesn’t know how to find los baño. (And that’s Spanish – which my vast knowledge of consists primarily of curse words and food items.)
Regardless of how you say the name, Flamme Rouge is an excellent game that occupies a particular niche in my game collection: sports games that capture the feel of the sport without being simulations.
“Three – is a magic number.”
My personal theory is that there are three basic types of sports games:
- Simulations – games that use real-life player/team statistics to simulate classic sporting contests, entire seasons, and/or “what if?” match-ups. Some games that fit into this bucket include:
- Dynasty League Baseball/Pursue the Pennant
- Decathlon (Avalon Hill)
- Bowl Bound and Paydirt
- Representations – games that use some level of statistics, strategies and history of the sport in question to create (or re-create) games and/or seasons. Some game that fit into this bucket include:
- March Madness
- Soccer Tactics
- Pizza Box Football
- 1st & Goal
- “Feel All the Feels” – games that manage to capture the feeling of the sport without relying on statistic-based simulation… or sometimes even a clear representation of the actual sporting event. Some games that fit into this bucket include:
- Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball
- En Garde (Knizia)
It will be no surprise to my gentle readers that I’m a big fan of Bucket #3. (For the record, I’d throw Snow Tails, DownForce and Winner’s Circle into de derde emmer – Dutch for “the third bucket”. I’m a veritable linguist today.)
But a great sports game experience can come from any of the three types – one of my favorite gaming memories is playing Dynasty League Baseball and Pizza Box Football on the same night with a crew of sports/board game fans at Gulf Games.
Still, when I’m choosing a sports game to play, more often than not I’ll choose something simple yet evocative… like Flamme Rouge.
“I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike…”
One of the first games I bought from directly from Germany back in the late ‘90s was the 1992 Spiel des Jahres winner, Um Reifenbreite (which loosely translates as “By the Width of a Tire”).
The description on The Game Cabinet (which was the landing page for board game geeks before BGG appeared) had me practically salivating… so I ponied up the big bucks to have the team from Funagain Games scour the used game stalls at Essen to find me a copy. And, true to their word, they did.
Um Reifenbreite uses a combination of roll’n’move with card play (to simulate pushes to the front or climbing ability) along with a random event card to evoke the feel of team cycling. Each player has four cyclists and they can draft off other riders as they race around the board. The board design allows for four different races (two shorter, two longer) that can be chained together into a series of stages for a “Tour de Spelrum”. (The last phrase – “Tour de Game Room” – is brought to you by the mashup of French & Swedish – let’s call it Swench. Or Frendish. You pick.)
I have few complaints about Um Reifenbreite – it’s been in my top 20 games for nearly two decades. Probably my own concern is how difficult it is to get to the table – due in part to the cartoonish French art style and the roll’n’move nature of the game.
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.”
Fast forward to Essen 2016… and the nice folks from Lautapelit.fi in Finland released Flamme Rouge. (Ok, kids, say Terveydeksi! to our Nordic friends…) Seeing pictures (and positive reviews) from the folks across the briny blue just made me want to play Um Reifenbreite again.
That is, until I had the opportunity to play Flamme Rouge – and suddenly all of the “thumbs up” noise began to make sense.
The game itself is a model of streamlined design – the rules only take four pages, and that includes the cover & components list. Players start by choosing a track from a selection of six different tracks and then build it in the center of the table. (You can, of course, build it on the edge of the table… heck, march to the beat of a different drummer. But if you’re playing at my house, it goes in the center of the table.) The track itself is a series of double-sided straights, gentle curves and right angle curves.
After placing their two riders in the starting grid, the race begins. Players have two decks of cards, one for each racer – a rouleur (I call him “mountain guy”) and a sprinter. Simultaneously, players choose one of their two decks and draw a hand of four movement cards – then they choose one and place the other three under that deck face up. Then the player does the same with the other deck, leaving them with two cards ready to play.
When all players are ready, they turn over their cards and resolve movement in order from the front to the back of the racers. Cyclists may move through other riders but cannot stop on a full space (one with two riders). After all the riders have moved, drafting is calculated, starting at the back of the pack and moving forward – any group of cyclists who have exactly one space between them and the next group slide up a space to close the gap. When all movement and drafting are taken care of, the lead cyclists in each group have to take an exhaustion card and add it to their discards at the bottom of your deck.
There are a couple of twists – there is no drafting when going uphill (and your maximum speed is 5). By the same token, your minimum speed if you start on a downhill slope is 5, regardless of which card you play.
The first rider to cross the finish line wins the game for his team. If multiple riders cross in the same turn, the one who goes the farthest first wins.
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.”
As I finish typing up this description, I’m reminded of one of the many reasons I love this game: it is unbelievably easy to teach. While folks have varied in their ability to figure out winning tactics, no one has come away frustrated that the game was too difficult to comprehend.
Another element I love is the way in which these simple rules create a game that “feels” like team cycling. I’ll admit I was skeptical – what with my deep love for Um Reifenbreite – about a team cycling game with only two cyclists… but much like StreetSoccer’s five player game of fußball, Flamme Rouge manages to capture the ethos without getting bogged down by fleshing out a full cycling team. There are attempts to break from the pack, lagging to conserve energy, blocking to hold back leaders, slow starts, fast starts, breakdowns due to exhaustion… it’s all there.
Flamme Rouge is also a quick game – once everyone has a game under their collective belts, races should clock in at about 30 minutes. There is an unofficial iOS app (link) that allows groups to create stage race series if you want to link races together – but the game works just fine playing stand-alone races.
“Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.”
Flamme Rouge is best with 4 players, though it works very well with 3. Two players is fine – but you really need more riders on the track to get the full feel of the game.
The Peloton expansion was released last month at Essen and it adds the ability to play with 5 or 6 players… something I’m looking forward to greatly. (Stronghold Games will be bringing the expansion over in early 2018.)
We’ve played all of the official track configurations in the game – and the only one we’re unlikely to play again is La Haut Montagne. (Reason: it ends with an uphill climb – which is would be fine in a stage race situation but is a little anti-climactic when you’re playing one-off races.)
“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.”
While Flamme Rouge has not replaced Um Reifenbreite in my collection, it has hit the table over and over throughout 2017. The short playing time is certainly a factor – and as we get to add the Peloton expansion, it will be suitable for a wider variety of player counts. So with the attractive production (we love the cyclist pawns), the variable tracks, the easy-to-learn rules and the excellent fit between theme and gameplay, this is a winner – a maillot jaune. (I couldn’t end this review without one more linguistic bon mot – ok, make it two.)
Quote References (in order of appearance)
- Schoolhouse Rock, “3 is a Magic Number”
- Queen, “Bicycle Race”
- H.G. Wells
- John F. Kennedy
- Charles M. Schultz
- Mark Twain
A Trio of Extra Cycling Quotes for Your Enjoyment
- “Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” — James E. Starrs, US book editor
- “The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind.” — William Saroyan, Nobel prize winner
- “Bicycles are almost as good as guitars for meeting girls.” — Bob Weir, Grateful Dead singer, songwriter and guitarist
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Greg S: I was excited to play Flamme Rouge, as, like Mark, I am a big fan of Um Reifenbreite. I was told that Flamme Rouge was shorter, but packed the same excitement. Sadly, that was not my experience. I found the game had far fewer important decisions to make, and lacked the excitement and tension of Um Reifenbreite. Indeed, I found it rather pedestrian and nowhere near as much fun. I’d play again if a group wanted to, but it certainly is not my preferred bicycle racing game.
Doug G.: This one goes in the category of “glad I played it, but not something I need to own. Shelley and I both liked it (me moreso) and that parenthetical definitely means we are unlikely to get it to the table, especially with the more interesting Um Reifenbreite sitting on the shelf.
Dale Y: I agree with Mark that this is a “feel” sports game. I love cycling, and I spend almost every July watching the Tour de France on my phone and on my TV at night. I like the fact that this game offers you short races – the games here take maybe 30-40 minutes, and that’s enough for what the game offers you. The game itself offers a bit of strategy, especially in trying to get your two cyclists to work together – or somehow piggybacking off the other player’s cyclists – but in the end, almost every race that I’ve played has ended up with a fairly bunched up pack at the very end. And… this is what makes this a great “feel” game. It’s like watching a flat stage in the TdF – you have five hours of racing, and it all comes down to the maneuvering in the final 600 meters; who has the right line around the last bend in the road, and then BLAM! It’s a sprint to the end, and whichever player happens to be able to put it in the best gear on the final turn will end up winning. In that sense, the game is almost a perfect re-creation of that rush and excitement at the end. For a game player though, it makes you wonder why we played those first 35 minutes – maybe we should just set up the peloton with 11 spaces to go, draw 4 cards each and play one round and see who wins?! It’s a great experience game, and one I would gladly play if asked to – but it’s not one that I would volunteer to bring to the table either. If asked to play a bike game, I think I would still prefer Breaking Away or Um Reifenbreite.
Joe Huber (3 plays): Every year, there is at least one game in the Essen crop that sits right on the borderline between games I need to own and games I’m happy to play. In 2016, Flamme Rouge was that game. My first play was good, but unspectacular. My second play had me thinking about picking up a copy. And my third – convinced me it wasn’t quite necessary. Which, in some sense, places Flamme Rouge behind Um Reifenbreite for me too. But – to be perfectly honest, if sitting down to play one or the other, I’m not sure which I’d choose. Flamme Rouge is a very clean and enjoyable game, even if it didn’t quite make it to my collection.
Jeff Allers (1 play): As a fan of cycling, and a fan of elegant racing games like Ave Caesar, I was looking forward to trying this. During a summer road trip to Tennessee, I found myself in Mark’s basement game room and was excited to see Flamme Rouge and get to try it with his family. I bought a flea market copy of Um Reifenbreite some time ago but have not yet gotten it to the table, and my only previous cycling themed game was Leader 1, a 3-hour experience that simulated a grueling stage of the Tour de France quite well. Despite the learning curve, that game had a great story arc and I will never forget the exciting finish, when my breakaway towards the end of the race was passed up right at the finish line. Could Flamme Rouge create the same kind of exciting story arc without the high learning curve and time commitment? My first race with the Jackson’s was quite fun, and had all the jockeying for position I remembered from Leader 1, as well as a similarly close finish. The rules were simple and elegant, and the whole thing was over in a half hour. I pulled out a win due to my ability to rest my riders and make sure I was drafting most of the race.
My concern, however, was that this “ability” seemed to mainly be due to luck. The card play actually reminds me of the blind bidding in 6 Nimmt! (Slide 5), in which you can plan a little, but in the end, you are at the mercy of your opponents’ cards. Similarly in Flamme Rouge, there are lots of groans and cheers when the cards are revealed and players find out how they actually affected their positions in the race. This is perfectly acceptable for a family game, and I would rather play this than 6 Nimmt!, but it lacks the control of other racing games, including Ave Caesar. It’s still just a “first impression”, of course, and I would have to play the game another time or two to see if there is more to it. Unfortunately, Mark is the only one I know who has the game, and I am now much too far away to make another road trip to that wonderful basement game room. Instead, I will probably try to finally get Um Reifenbreite to the table.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it… Mark Jackson, Nate Beeler, Craig Massey
I like it… Joe H., Jonathan Franklin, Doug Garrett, Eric Martin, Jeff Allers; James Nathan
Neutral… Dale Yu, Greg S.
Not for me…