Old Orleans

Tried out a new board game last night: Orleans. Played 3-handed against myself. I’ve bought several of the new games in the past couple of months, most of them terrific. This is the first one where I’ve felt the designers kind of missed the boat.

If you haven’t played it, the following probably won’t make much sense. This post is partly just a memo to myself, but it may interest somebody or other. Maybe I’ll re-purpose it into a review.

The good news is, the Intrigue expansion fixes several of the problems noted below. Don’t think of it as an expansion, think of it as a fix! If you buy Orleans, get the Intrigue expansion at the same time. I’ve also made a list of suggested rule changes, which I’ll note as we go along.

Orleans is mostly about acquiring stuff (coins and agricultural goods). By the end of the game, you have a pile of stuff. In the base game there’s not much of a mechanic for paying out stuff in order to get better stuff. You can pay out the little circular “tiles” (farmers, merchants, boatmen, etc.) to the Beneficial Deeds board, but the payback is small and the danger of giving an advantage to some other player is significant.

In the expansion, you can deliver goods you’ve already acquired to certain towns in order to gain points. This makes a stronger game. Also, you can use the Intrigue board instead of the (revised) Beneficial Deeds board. I recommend it.

The play takes place over 18 rounds, which basically means 18 turns for each player, though as the game builds up steam you’ll be able to do 2 or 3 actions per turn. At the start of each round a new “hourglass tile” is turned over to indicate some special event that will happen at the end of that round. Sadly, the special events in the base game are boring. In three of the rounds you can’t acquire monks (yawn). In three of them you get a coin for each “trading station” you’ve added to the map (yawn). Think of the trading stations as if they were houses in Monopoly. You won’t be far wrong. In three of the hourglass events there’s a “harvest,” but that just means giving up 1 agricultural goods token. Since you’ll certainly have acquired some wheat tokens, which are worth a measly 1 point each, the tax amounts to costing each player a single point. Double yawn.

The hourglass tiles in the expansion are much, much better. There are 32 of them, but using them all would make the game too long. The rulebook advises you to choose 18 at random, but my suggestion would be to choose 18, 20, or even 22 that you think are interesting, and then shuffle them so they’ll show up in a random order while the game is being played.

The map supposedly shows a portion of Medieval France, with roads and waterways between the town. You get to move your “trader” around on the map; in the process you’ll be picking up agricultural goods tokens (grain, cheese, wine, etc., which are distributed randomly along the roads and waterways and are worth varying numbers of points). You can also build trading stations in the towns. The map is rather arbitrary, and not very imaginative. There’s just not much you can do with it, but in the expanded version you can make deliveries of goods, as noted earlier.

The rule book has a few gaps. For instance, when the event in a given round is paying taxes, you have to pay 1 coin for each 3 goods tokens you’ve acquired, but there’s no indication whether to round up or round down if you have 2 goods or 4.

As you acquire more farmers, knights, monks, artisans, scholars, boatmen, and traders during the course of the game, they all get tossed into your bag. At the beginning of each round you draw a certain number (between 4 and 8, depending on how well you’re progressing) from your bag. In a deck-building game you can rely on each of the cards you’ve added to your deck appearing in your hand once each time you cycle through your draw pile; but Orleans doesn’t work that way. If you have, let’s say, 12 tiles in your collection and 3 of them are monks, you might never see the monks, because you’re drawing blind from your bag. In game design, a certain amount of randomness is a good thing, but again and again I found myself getting frustrated because I had drawn, let’s say, 4 knights and no traders. In this situation you may be unable to make a play that will keep you competitive.

My first suggestion would be to treat the bag the way you would treat the draw pile in a deck-building game. Don’t fill it again until it’s empty. Set your used follower tiles to one side and wait for the bag to empty, rather than putting them back into the bag immediately. I also suggest a “follower swap” rule. During the planning phase, you may return any two followers (not including monks) to the supply in exchange for one other available follower (not including monks).

The game starts slowly and builds up as you acquire more resources, but by the end — in my first play session, at least — the road got rather narrow. Too many of the possible plays just weren’t useful anymore. In the last couple of rounds, too many of the tiles that were drawn were simply wasted, because there was nothing I could do with them.

In particular, once you’ve reached the end of one of the tracks, there’s nowhere to go, so there’s not much point in taking the action that would advance you on that track. My suggestion would be, when you’ve reached the end of a track and take an action that would advance you on that track, you can instead move one of your opponent’s markers backward on that track. This introduces more competition to the game.

When you’re delivering orders of goods to a town, I suggest the following: If an opponent has a trading station in a town where you’re delivering an order, you must pay the opponent 3 coins as a commission. If you don’t have 3 coins, you can’t make the delivery. If you have a trading station in that town, instead of removing the goods from the game, distribute them to the vacant goods locations nearest the town, starting in the north and proceeding clockwise and starting with the least valuable goods.

With these changes, I feel it’s a much better game.

This entry was posted in games and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s