Analyzing Flamme Rouge

You have trained all your life for this. You are ready to give it your all.

But being a team player sometimes means leading the pack, fending the air for your teammates so that they can save their energy, waiting for the perfect moment to sprint ahead in an epic échappée.

Too soon, and they may end up tiring before the end, unable to maintain the lead… Too late, and they may well miss their chance, and get stuck in the masses of cyclists that won’t end up on the podium.

But other teams are watching, hoping to time their own sprint just right, leaving you in the dust… or maybe they simply intend to follow your breakaway, and double you right before the finish line.

This is the world of Flamme Rouge: A professional cyclist race game, and it does a damn fine good job at it.

Flamme rouge: A red flag displayed with one kilometer remaining from the finish line of a race.

What to expect in this post

In the spirit of my first post about Catan, this is a short introductory post about Flamme Rouge that has the dual-purpose of explaining what I like about this game, and to be a Table of Content of articles I intend to write about it.

This post contains:

Now… I’m not a fast writer, and since each post usually involve quite a bit of work, some of it may take some time to get here. But since I already have one (almost two) ready to be published, those are not all empty promises!

Let me know what interest you the most, and if you have suggestions for future write-up about this game!

My Flamme Rouge review

A game for everyone

I discovered Flamme Rouge during the last holidays, and it was an instant family hit. 

Young and older players alike quickly grasped the game, had fun playing together, and were eager to play a second, and a third game.

Not something that is easily achieved!

This is due in good part to the familiar setup of the game: a linear race track, where you move your racer forward. A very simple and engaging play mechanics that echoes the games we played during our childhood. 

But don’t be fooled by the simplicity and familiar setup. Flamme Rouge has a depth that require a bit of strategic thinking…

During a race, you need to position your cyclists behind those of other players in order for them to avoid getting tired, without ending-up too far away behind. So like in a real race, there is constant player interactions where everyone tries to adapt to others strategy. 

While there is a strategic feel to this game, it is far from a game of chess… There is some playful randomness due to simultaneous card selection, and while you can try blocking others from time to time, there is enough uncertainty to make blocking difficult, making this a very friendly competitive game.

By the end of a race, almost everyone will still be seemingly in the race, especially since you are controlling two cyclists each. But the strategic players will have a better chance to win, being the ones with enough high value cards to race to the finish line, allowing for a thrilling race ending most of the time!

Personally I’m not getting tired of this game anytime soon, and I have fun each time I play. I like to play some heavier games when I have the time, but for the moment, I feel it is one of the best game I own! 

In short, here why I think Flamme Rouge is an Excellent game:

  • Strong theme: The game keep reinforcing the idea of a cyclist race, and the game mechanics never diverge from that. It makes it easy to get into the game, and stay entertained.
  • Constant player interaction: You always have to consider what the other are likely to do, and resolving each turn is fun and full of surprises. You never have the feeling of playing in your own corner.
  • Non-confrontational: While I love confrontational games, I know this is not everyone cups of tea. So this is perfect to play with a wide range of people, it is competitive, but manages to be non confrontational, so I think it can appeal to a vast range of people.
  • Easy to understand, easy to play: No lengthy rule explanation, no one will be scared by the game complexity.
  • Relatively short to play: You can play several races back-to-back. Which is fun when introducing new players as they will want to apply what they learn during the next race.
  • Strategic: There is real strategy involved. So experienced board gamer will have as much fun as new players, and you can use a handicap system to balance player strength.

The game play

Each player control 2 cyclists

  • a rouleur: an endurance racer with lots of staying power
  • a sprinter: a slower rider, but with a few very fast cards to be carefully used at the right moment.

Each of your cyclist have his own deck of cards, each card have a value indicating how many spaces to move the cyclist along the track.

A game turn is composed of four phases:

1. Selection phase

Each turn, you do the following for each of your cyclist (one at a time):

  • Draw 4 cards of the cyclist deck.
  • Select one to be played for that cyclist that you put face-down on the table.
  • Put-back the 3 other cards face-up under your deck. (To be reshuffled as needed when no cards are left face-down)

Played cards are never put back in the deck. So each card can only be played once.

2. Movement phase

All players reveal their selected cards at the same time, and movement are resolved starting with the cyclist in front of the pack. If two cyclists are side-by-side, start with the rightmost cyclist.

This gives a slight advantage of being in front, since you are less likely to be blocked.

Move each cyclist by the number of space written on the selected card.

With the following modifier are applied:

  • Going up: If a cyclist start, pass by or ends on a uphill slope, the cyclist cannot move more than 5 spaces this turn. There is no slip streaming from or for cyclists on a climbing slope.
  • Going down: Set the minimum speed of a cyclist starting on a slope to 5. (Perfect time to play the lower cards in your deck).
  • Crowded space: If your movement would end-up on a space already occupied by two cyclists, you stay behind them. There is no problem passing through crowded spaces if you have enough movement to end up in front.

3. Slip streaming phase

After all the cyclists have moved, starting from the last cyclist group: if there is exactly one empty space between two groups of cyclists, you move the whole pack behind of one space to close the gap. You redo this for all cyclist groups. And since this process start from the end, this may allow a chain reaction that could move a cyclist several additional spaces in one turn.

4. Fatigue phase

Every turn a cyclist ends up with no one in front of him, you take a fatigue card of value 2 and add it to it’s deck. If you lead the whole time, chances you will only have those cards in your hand by the end, thus considerably lowering your chances to be able to sprint and win the race at the end!

That’s it! It cannot be simpler than that !

So how does it play out ?

After only a few plays, it is easy to spot a pattern. The goal is to manage the energy of your cyclists in order to keep some high-value cards for the end. But making sure to spend high values cards along the way in order to stay close to the front pack before the final sprint.

Try to benifit from slip streaming as often as possible, limit the turns spent uphill to avoid wasting turns, and make use of the downhill slopes to discard low value cards when possible.

One important part of the game is to use both of your cyclists to work as a team, and try to out think your opponents, which often means slowing down instead of racing in front. It made me appreciate racing in a new way, and I think I now have a better understanding of what strategy is involved in professional racing!

Upcoming Flamme Rouge analysis

Flamme rouge: A study of game variability

In order to be fun, a game needs to offer some form of unpredictability. So each game needs to be different from the last. How can games offer such unpredictability, and how Flamme Rouge implements mechanism leading to this is the goal of this post.

How many unique race tracks in Flamme rouge: A combinatorial study of a modular board game

One common way to add replay-ability to a game, is to use a modular board. This way each time you can race on a different track, and prevent frequent player to get unfair advantage by being too familiar with a particular setup!

To get a better insight for this, I decided to do an in-depth in analysis of how many unique race tracks this game can offer.

This is a good opportunity to do some simple math, and a bit more complex computations!

Flamme rouge: Racetrack generator

It is easy to simply build a random track using the pieces straight from the box. But having a website where it is easy to simply enter the track signature and see how it looks could be fun.

This could make it easy to build a track and share with friends!

I’m  definitively out of my comfort zone when I do web development, but I would like to provide a race track generator, allowing anyone to build a track and share it easily online. I already have a drawing application on my desktop, but it will needs some tweaking to get something web ready.

Hopefully I manage to do this without too much pain!

Here is my own race track generator that I wrote for testing some ideas and checking track validity. It is not finished yet as you can see some display limitation, the web-based version should be more polished!

Flamme rouge strategy guide and simulations.

One of my pet-peeve in game boards, is how much your skills can make a difference as a player.

What is the part of strategy, and what is the part of luck in a victory ?

There are two parts here. First, a strategy guide with good race practice to help you get ahead of your opponent.

Second, I’m curious to back-up this with real game simulations. To see how my advice holds up in a real race. This won’t be some deep AI simulation running here, but at least, we can try to get a better idea how simple play heuristics can interact together in a real game!

I hope to implement some simple strategies, and see if we can defeat them if we know how they operate!

Final Word

So this is the long term plan for my Flamme-Rouge analysis. What do you think? Any suggestions?

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