This review of Flamme Rouge appeared in Episode 84 of The Five By. The following is the script I used when recording the podcast, and, as such, there might be some discrepancies between the text and audio due to editing for time and flow.
The French countryside scrolls past you as you pump harder and try to catch up to the pack of riders ahead of you. In the distance, further down the road is the flamme rouge, the red flag that signals the last kilometer of the race. It’s time to give it your all and cross that finish line.
Flamme Rouge is a game for two to four players from Stronghold games. It was designed by Asger Granerud and features illustrations by Ossi Hiekkala. In Flamme Rouge, players race down a modular track, striving to be the first player to reach the finish line. Each player gets two cyclists miniatures, two decks of energy cards, and a charming player board to keep things tidy.
One of your riders in Flamme Rouge is a rouler which in the bicycle racing world means that they are suited for all types of terrain. Your other rider is a sprinteur, a rider that is good at sprinting. The sprinteur and the roulers’ card decks reflect their respective riding styles. The rouler’s cards range in value from three to seven while the sprinter’s cards have values of two,three, four, five and a nine!
During a round, each player draws four cards from one of their two energy decks and chooses one to play. They then do the same with their other rider’s deck. Once each player has chosen a card for each of their riders, everyone reveals their cards and, starting with the rider in the lead, movement is applied. Energy cards represent the effort your rider is putting into the race, so if you decide to play a six, your rider moves up six spaces up the track. The card you just used for movement is permanently removed from the deck, so managing your cards is super important.
The other cards you drew are placed face up at the bottom of the deck. Once you cycle through your deck (lol) and those face up cards turn up, you then shuffle the deck. But the game isn’t just about drawing cards and playing your highest card. Much like in the actual sport of competitive cycling you have to pace yourself in order to avoid burning out, or so I assume. I’ve never been a follower of the sport. The last time I rode a bike, which was sometime in the nineties, I veered off a trail to avoid flying off a cliff and ended up hitting a tree. But that’s neither here nor there.
After all players have moved their riders, slipstreaming happens. Starting with the riders in the back, groups of riders that are exactly one space behind another pack of riders, move up a space, joining the group that’s ahead of them. Slipstreaming is handy because not only does it get you closer to the finish line, it’s also a great way to add some value to your cards. In a game where you’re constantly discarding cards, gaining a point of movement here or there is pretty crucial.
If you’re the foremost player in a pack, you add an exhaustion card with a value of two to your deck! If you’re constantly playing your highest cards and pulling away from the pack, you’re adding punitive cards to your deck and you’ll eventually start drawing more and more of these low value cards. Which makes thematic sense. After all, if you keep pushing yourself to the limit and are constantly concerned with being in the lead, you’re gonna burn out.
There’s also terrain to keep in mind in Flamme Rouge. Mountain zones affect the amount of energy you gain from cards. This is another nice touch where theme and mechanisms converge. If you are starting on, moving through, or ending on a red mountain zone all energy cards are capped off at 2 movement points.These red mountain zones represent an ascent up the mountain that taxes your energy reserves. There’s also blue mountain zones that let you boost the performance of your energy card. Thematically, these areas represent going downhill. So, playing a low value card while in the blue zone, will boost that card up to a five. Playing a card that’s higher than a five while in a blue zone will still net you it’s full value. But you want to use those low value cards in order to squeeze out more movement points. Strategic use of your lower value cards comes in handy here and a well-timed two can add some value to your deck, saving those stronger cards for later.
The card play in Flamme Rouge encourages you to constantly consider the state of the board. Finding the perfect moment to break away from a pack to join the pack that’s ahead of your rider makes for some interesting choices. Of course, carrying out such maneuvers is always subject to your hand of energy cards as well as the other player’s card selections. There’s a good amount of input randomness in Flamme Rouge, so players who are averse to such randomness might think about steering away from this otherwise excellent game.
The game offers a good amount of variability with six suggested track layouts. There’s also more track designs online from an unofficial app that also offers a campaign mode.
I really enjoy Flamme Rouge for what it is: a racing game that’s approachable, quick to teach, and looks great on the table. It’s a game you can bring to most game nights and teach in about ten minutes. It offers the thrill and excitement of the last kilometre of a long distance race in about an hour and keeps you indoors and in the relative safety of your home.