Flamme Rouge brings road bicycle racing to the gaming table. No other sport is as interwoven with my Flemish roots, because “Flanders is cycling and cycling is Flanders”. Our annual Tour of Flanders is one of the 5 monumental cycling races together with Milan-San-Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia.
This cobbled classic was first held in 1913 and had a short interruption during WWI. From 1919 on however it has been organized without hiatus, making it the longest uninterrupted streak of any cycling classic (Yes, even during the horror of WWII the race went on!). What makes Flamme Rouge such a joy to play? Read until the finish to find out!
What is Flamme Rouge like?
The “Flamme Rouge” is a red flag displayed with one kilometer from the finish line. In the game Flamme Rouge players take control of 2 riders, a Rouleur and a Sprinteur, who are about to enter the final sprint.
Players move their riders forward by drawing and playing numbered cards which show how far each rider moves. All players start the race with identical decks for their Rouleur and Sprinteur.
At the start of every round all players simultaneously draw 4 cards and play 1 for both decks. Next up all players reveal their played cards and, starting at the front of the race, move their Sprinteur and Rouleur accordingly. The played cards are then removed from the game and slipstreaming and exhaustion are applied.
As each card can only be used once throughout the game and high movement cards are limited, players need to aim to end the round following the wheel of another rider to benefit from slipstream. If there is exactly 1 empty square between 2 packs of riders then the rear pack is moved forward. As the slipstream effect is applied from the back to the front of the peloton, players can profit multiple times in the same round of these free extra movements. With finite movement at hand, slipstreaming is much-needed to make it to the finish line.
If after applying slipstream a Sprinteur or Rouleur isn’t comfortably sitting in (riding in the middle of a bunch, protected from the wind) but instead has an empty square in front of him, the players needs to add an exhaustion card to that rider’s deck. Exhaustion cards have a mere movement value of 2 and thus potentially slow players down.
“Potentially slow players down?” Yes! These exhaustion cards can also be used in various smart ways:
-Sometimes moving only 2 spaces is enough to catch on with the peloton and slipstream along. Therefore exhaustion cards might aid players in saving up higher movement cards for later in the game.
-When cycling up or down a mountain players don’t want to waste high cards anyway.
“Mountains?” Yes! Going up a hill the value of all played cards is capped at 5. Excess moves are wasted and there is no slipstreaming. While ascending all played cards count as a minimum of 5 however. Suddenly those exhaustion cards aren’t that bad anymore..
The players’ goal is to be the first to cross the finish line with one of their riders. The catch is that when more than one rider crosses the finish in the same round, the one who gets furthest across wins. So, if you can’t get rid of them in time, exhaustion cards might neck you at the end of the race.
Flamme Rouge is a winner in my gaming group. The quick set-up, uncomplicated rules and relatively short gameplay make it easy to get to your gaming table, no matter what crowd. Road bicycle racing is probably not as popular elsewhere in the world, but I urge you to get over any reservations and give Flamme Rouge a try. It’s designed in a way that both non- and hardcore-gamers can enjoy it. Things can work out for a player because of clever card play or because of sheer luck. It’s never really clear which of these has the upper hand.
My one disappointment is that the base game doesn’t offer a lot of variety. If your gaming group likes it, the Peloton-expansion becomes a necessary addition very soon.
- No early runaway leader problem
- Gameplay is both uncomplicated and realistic
- Not yet another car racing game (though they can be fun too!)
- The gradually depleting decks make the tension build up slowly but surely
- The base game doesn’t offer that many track variety (Luckily the Peloton expansion adds cobble stone-track tiles that create narrow sections and don’t allow slipstreaming. Furthermore Peloton includes a solo variant with dummy teams and expands the game’s player count from 1 – 12!)
- The plastic rider tokens are fragile
Flamme Rouge to me is one of the most accessible race games out there. Setup and rules explanation doesn’t take more than 10 minutes. Its straightforwardness allows every player a quick start. Key in this race is to find the correct pace though. Slipstream along in the belly of the peloton and thoughtfully time your surprise escape to the finish line!
Players: 2 – 4
Playing time: 30 – 45 minutes
Suggested age: 8+
A little more history…
The first Tour of Flanders held in 1913 counted 37 contestants (nowadays it’s close to 200!). The French cycling team had to withdraw from the race last minute as their team leader found the track too dangerous. The winner of the race was Paul Deman (see picture) from a small Flemish town called Rekkem. He finished after 12 hours of racing at an average speed of 27 km/hour (in 2018 the average speed of the race was 41,64 km/hour!). A few years later, during WWI, Paul Deman operated as a spy bringing secret messages to the allies by… bicycle!
Our Flemish cycling heroes are called Flandriens and Belgium counts several museums that document their walks of life and achievements.