- Designers: Adrien and Axel Hesling
- Publisher: Studio H
- Age: 10+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Studio H
Oriflamme is a game that I surely would have guessed was French if I had sat down to play it and didn’t know anything else about it. And, I am not using “French” as a pejorative adjective; this is a card game with plenty of take-that, with wild swings in action often based on the action of a single card. Bruno Faidutti has made a career out of similar sorts of games, and this game clearly relies upon its Gallic predecessors. I could make your read of this review short – if you like games such as Mascarade or Citadels, I’m pretty sure that you’ll like this one.
It has been fairly well received since its debut at SPIEL 2019, most recently winning the 2020 As d’Or (the French award for Game of the Year) To help put this award in context, other nominations for this year included party board game Fiesta de los Muertos and dino-park sim Draftosaurus. The complex game award for the year went to Res Arcana…
I initially played this game just after SPIEL, and with my regular group, it received a lukewarm welcome. I had actually expected this as that particular group does not enjoy a lot of take-that mechanisms. As a result, the game got shelved as I waited for a more suitable group to play it with. At the time, I felt it would be a poor time to write a review knowing that it had not gotten a fair shake. Fast forward to the start of the coronavirus confinement. I was stuck at home, but had two teenagers around who are definitely not afraid to mix it up. This, it turns out, would be a much better group for Oriflamme.
The goal of the game is to have the most Influence points at the end of the six rounds. Each player starts with the same set of 10 cards (color coded to your player color); but before play starts, each player randomly discards three of the cards from the game. Thus, at the start of the game, each player has 7 cards in their hand, and each player likely has a different subset of 7 cards from the starting pool of 10.
Each of the cards has a unique ability (and, yes, their actions will make more sense as you read on and see how the game goes):
AMBUSH – if revealed by an opponent’s card, discard the attacker and gain 4VP. If you reveal this card, discard this card and gain 1VP
ARCHER – Eliminate the card on either end of the queue
ASSASSINATION – Eliminate any card on the table and then discard this card
CONSPIRACY – Gain double the VP accumulated on this card when revealed; then discard this card
HEIR – If there is no other card revealed with the same name, gain 2VP
LORD – Gain 1VP plus 1VP per adjacent card that is in your color
ROYAL DECREE – Move a card wherever you want in the queue. Discard this card
SHAPESHIFTER – Copy the ability of an adjacent revealed character
SOLDIER – Eliminate an adjacent card
SPY – Steal 1VP from a player who has a card adjacent to your Spy
So, the game is played over 6 rounds, each with two phases. In the first phase, the players place cards. The first player chooses any card from his hand and places it facedown in the table. Any card which is facedown is considered “unrevealed”. The next player must then choose a card from his hand and place it on the table; it can be placed to the left or right of all the previously played cards – a card can never be placed in between previously played cards; it must always go to one end or the other. Note that there is a fixed direction of card resolution in the Queue which is set at the start of the game; so when you place your card you are designating when you want it to be resolved relative to the other cards in the Queue. This continues until all players have chosen a card and placed it in the Queue.
In the second phase, the cards are resolved from start to end in the Queue. Starting at the front of the line, the first card is resolved. If it is face up, the action on the card is applied. If the card is facedown, the player chooses to reveal it or not. If the card remains unrevealed, 1VP is placed on it. If it is revealed, it is flipped over, the action read aloud and the action is completed. Also, if there were any VP placed on this card on previous rounds, they are collected at this time. Continue down the queue until all cards have been dealt with. Early on, it might even be possible that no cards are revealed in a particular round. As noted in the list above, card actions may cause cards to be eliminated or discarded – if so, they are removed from the queue. Otherwise, faceup cards remain in their current location.
At the end of the round, the start player marker is moved clockwise and the process repeated. From the second round onward, there is one additional option in the first phase. You may now elect to create a stack of cards. To do this, you play a card from your hand, facedown on top of any card of your color in the queue – regardless of location; thus, you are not limited to playing on the extreme left or right now. The card or cards which are covered simply do not exist; they cannot be targeted, they do not have an action to exercise, they do not gain VP if they are passed in the second phase. If the card on top is removed/eliminated, then the card underneath now becomes immediately active. Thus, you can set up strings of actions where you essentially get two turns in a row – the card on top might be Assassination; which you resolve, and then the card underneath is revealed and it can then take its action.
The game continues through 6 rounds (each player will end with one card unplayed). The player with the most points collected is the winner. Note that any VPs left on cards in the queue do not count towards your score. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most cards left in the Queue at the end of the game.
My thoughts on the game
This is another game that I think must be played with the right group. We played this in Essen last October, and we were a bit tired, and I think someone (likely me) didn’t read the rules right. We somehow either missed reading the rules on stacking cards or missed the importance of the ability. The game we played was fine, but was missing that certain something. We also played with just three players, and I think I have come to the conclusion that I much prefer this game with the max count of 5 as opposed to three.
The game ended up on the shelf until around the holidays, when we finally had a larger group to play – and a group that was willing to role play a bit and have fun with the cards and actions. With a full complement of 5 players, and knowledge of the stacking rule, the game was a fast and furious adventure, with plenty of unexpected twists. As each player already has a pared down hand, it’s impossible to know for sure what each person was playing facedown each turn.
A few players tried to simply leave their cards facedown and tried to accumulate VPs that way. Of course, as those cards received more VP chits on them, they became bigger targets for elimination from their opponents. The fortune of a player (or players) often quickly shifted after cleverly designed plays – often taking multiple rounds to set up.
It helps to have a thick skin, as it is quite possible for all of the players to gang up on another. Not my usual sort of thing, but it works thematically with this game. Also, this is the sort of game where it doesn’t pay to take the early lead (or look like you’re in the lead) as this surely leads to multiple attacks against you. This makes the timing of your plays critical. You’d like to wait until the last possible moment to reveal your main strategy and put it into action. However, if you wait too long, you run the risk that someone will remove one or more cards that you are trying to use, and you might end up with nothing.
The artwork in the game is distinctive, with a unique rough oil-painting like look to the illustrations. For me, it’s a nice change from the sometimes overpolished game art that is all the rage now. Each player also gets a concise review card which helps remind them of all the actions of the ten possible cards.
I think that Oriflamme is a great choice for the French game of the year. It is a nicely produced game, and one that relies upon clever, tactical, attacking plays that results in wild swings in fortune as a result. As you’re reading this blog, you probably already know if you like this sort of “French” game, and if you do – this one will surely hit the spot. If you are unsure, it’s a great one to pick up and see if the style is for you. For me personally, it’s one of the better “French” games, up there with Citadels. I’ll probably never love it, but I’ll happily play this one if suggested by others.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y
Not for me…