Orleans The Review
Orleans Designed by Reiner Stockhausen Illustrated by Klemens Franz Published by Tasty Minstrel Games and DLP Games
Orleans is a worker placement, action selection game where 2-5 players(with the deluxe version) fill their bags with the characters that will best allow them to compete to become the most influential and dominant player in various areas of Medieval France. While fighting for this dominance players will collect various goods, coins and victory points in hopes that at the end of the game they have the most points and therefore, the most influential in all the lands, or at least your table.
Orleans is played over the course of 18 rounds with each round having 7 phases.
In the first phase of the round, the first player of the round will flip over the topmost hourglass tile from the hourglass stack. These tiles have two purposes in the game, the first being that it is the timer for the game and secondly each tile has one of 6 events that will affect the current round.
The second phase is a simple check to see if anyone is alone in the lead on the farmer track, if they are, they gain 1 coin from the bank. Also, if there is anyone alone in last place on the track, they owe 1 coin to the bank. If there are ties for first or last, no one gains or owes a coin.
Third phase of the game is where you get to pull your characters from your bag, yup, this is where the bag building fun starts to rear it’s head. Each person simultaneously pulls character tiles from their bag equal to or lower than the number indicated by your location on the Knight track, at the beginning of the game, everyone starts at four, thus you’ll pull all four of your starting character tiles from the bag and place them on your marketplace which is located along the bottom of your player board. Each player can pull as many characters as their Knight track allows, but can not have more than 8 characters on their Marketplace unless they have a building that allows more, ie The Gunpowder Tower.
Now is when we start planning, each player simultaneously assign their characters from your market to activate actions in Places that are on your player board. Each of these Places will have different actions associated with them and different characters needed to activate them. Place the required characters on the corresponding action spaces of the Place that you want to activate, a Place is considered activated as soon as all of its action spaces have a character tile.
Phase 5 is where everyone gets to carry out the actions that they have activated. In player order, starting with the first player, everyone completes one action around the table until all of the players pass. We’ll dive into the actions after the phase summary. Resolve the event shown on the Hour Glass Tile of the current round, one tile does not need to be resolved, Pilgrimage affects the entire round as opposed to having one affect at the end. Pass the starting player token to the player on their left and rinse and repeat.
In that action phase is when a majority of the action of the game takes place, through these actions you are going to build your pool of characters and execute actions that will move you closer to your dominance. When you activate one of the buildings on your player board in the City, you get to take the action associated with it. For example the Farmhouse requires a Blue Boatman and a Brown Craftsman to activate it, when you place those characters on the required spaces to activate it, in return for activating the Farmhouse you receive a Farmer character to put in your bag, you move up the Farmer track and collect the goods according to where you are on the track. Pretty simple, other tracks will let you acquire Knights, the red characters that allow you to increase your draw based on where you are on the track, at most you can pull 8 characters, but remember, only 8 can be in your marketplace. In the Village you get the choice between three actions when you activate it, The Boatman allows you to get Boatmen and gain money for your hard work fishing, The Craftsman allows you to move up the Craftsman track and gain a technology tile which you place permanently on a character spot on your board, the first one has to go on a Farmer space, and there are a couple other limitations. Last in the Villages is the Trader, he moves you up the Trades track and gains you access to a building that will become yours to use the remainder of the game, those buildings grant different effects and still have to be activated just like any other spot on your player board. The University allows you to take a Scholar tile, advance on the track and then gain the depicted number of Development Points. The Development Points and the track are pretty important, as you move up the track, you can gain coins, you can gain followers and you can gain an increase of Development Status which is important to end game scoring as it increases your multiplier, which we’ll touch on at game end. The Monastery action allows you to gain a Monk, these Monks are wild Character tiles, they can be used in place of any of the other Character Tiles.
There are a few other spaces in your village to cover as well On the main board there is a map of France and you have a Merchant, who starts in Orleans. On this map are routes, some roads, some are rivers and there are goods along these routes that your merchant can pick up. The goods are worth varying amounts of points at the end of the game, which once again, we’ll talk about later. But back to these other actions, you can ship, which allows your Merchant to move along the river to the next town and pick up a good along the way. Your Merchant can also use the roads by taking the Wagon actions and do the same thing, except move along the road. Lastly you can build a Guildhall in the town which your Merchant is located. Only one Guildhall can be located in each town, except Orleans which can house one of each player’s Guildhall. If you have the Deluxe version of the game, the Tavern, a building that the Trader action allows you to build, will break those rules and allow you to build a building in the same location as someone else.
The final two action spaces on your player board that I haven’t talked about are the Scriptorum which allows you to move up one spot on the Development track and then the Town Hall which is the only action that permanently removes Characters from your collection. The Town Hall action requires one or two character tiles of your choosing to activate. When you take the action, move one or both of your Character Tiles from the Town Hall to any free appropriate space on the Beneficial Deeds Board. You receive a bonus of coins or Development Points, whichever is appropriate where you have placed your characters. Once these Characters have been placed in the Beneficial Deeds Board, they are there to stay and do not go back to your bag.
So for the most part that is the game, there are some other smaller rules, but we won’t get into those here. Such as penalties if you can’t pay for Census or Taxes. But at the end of the game points are tallied and the winner is whomever has the most. Coins gathered are worth 1 point a piece. Goods are worth varied points from 1 point for Grain to 5 points for Brocade. Your Trading Stations and Citizen Tiles are added together, with the person who has built the most Trading Posts getting the bonus Citizen Tiles. That total is then multiplied by your Development Status point. Add all that together and that’s your points for the game.
Orleans is by no means a heavy, thinky game, but it is an absolute joy to play. The bag building works perfectly here and with the deluxe version there is really nice tactile feeling to pulling your characters from your bag. Now, as with any game that has you randomly pulling things from a bag, there is a certain bit of luck to the game in the drawing and I've been on the wrong side of that luck a handful of times and it can be downright frustrating, but with Orleans, there are so many ways to mitigate and so many different things you can do, that will still allow you to progress towards your ultimate goal of more victory points.
I like how the designer has integrated a "culling" mechanic in this and made it a benefit to do in more ways than one, because along with thinning your bag and allowing you to get the character pulls you need, you can also gain benefits by culling them to the Good Deeds board. It's a nice touch, rather than just sluffing them off like some deck builders where the only benefit you gain from it is that it's no longer a part of your deck or in this instance, draw bag.
I've heard rumors and folks saying the game is broke, but I kind of feel like I'm doing the game a disservice by even bringing it up, because I have yet to see it in our games. Our strategies have been varied and minus one game where Gabby wasn't all that competitive at the end, all our games have been tightly competitive in the scoring department. It can be a bit point salad-y, and it can honestly it's more than a bit multiplayer solitaire, especially in the lower player counts, but with more players there are a couple ways to interact or at least negatively affect what your opponents want to do rather than just being a free for all. Honestly, that's my biggest gripe, it's too solitary and I like multiplayer solitaire games for the most part, but Orleans just screams for some interaction, some blocking, some honest to goodness meanness, something to push it into that Top 10 of mine. So while I do enjoy Orleans quite a bit, it's missing that one thing, maybe that's a good thing, I'd hate to have to bump one of my Top 10 games out of the Top 10, but it could happen.
I wonder what Orleans Invasion brings to the game.
And I do recommend the Deluxe version, while some may say the cardboard chits for the goods are easier to randomly pull from a bag to put on the map, I don't care, the deluxe bits are fantastic. But, if you can't, or don't want to spend the extra money on the Deluxe version, go ahead with the regular, I don't think you can go wrong here.