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Subject: [Review]Hits the Sweet Spot rss

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Seth Brown
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OVERVIEW
Orleans is thematically a game about increasing influence in ancient France, and mechanically a game about managing your worker pool and using those workers to acquire goods, build houses, and make money. The wrinkle is that rather than accessing all your workers at once, you are pulling a few each turn from your personal bag.

COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
4 high-quality bags, 1 gameboard, stack of cardboard building tiles, 4 individual player boards, wooden guildhouses and track markers, vast quantities of cardboard tokens for workers and goods and money. All solid but not impressive quality.



GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
Everyone starts with their map Meeple on Orleans. Each player also receives 5 dollars, and a worker bag containing a sailor, a trader, a craftsman, and a farmer.
To start the round, each player draws 4 workers from their personal bag, and places them on their personal market. Then players may place any workers on their market onto matching-color spaces on their board. (Any unplaced workers will remain on the market to be placed in the following round.)

Once all workers have been placed, players take turns activating one action area for which all spaces have been filled with the appropriate types of pieces. (e.g. the Farm Hand action requires a sailor and a craftsman, while the Guildhouse action requires a farmer, craftsman, and soldier.) When an area is activated, all tokens used to activate that area (plus any gained) are returned to your personal bag. Areas come in 3 general flavors:

1) Get more workers
*Castle - gain a soldier. Advance on the draw-per-turn track.
*Farm Hand - gain a farmer. Advance on the get-a-good track and get a good.
*University - gain a scholar. Advance on the get-knowledge track and get knowledge.
*Village - your choice of:
*gain a craftsman. Place a gear on a worker space to automate part of an action.
*gain a sailor. Advance the get-money track and get money.
*gain a trader. Advance the building track and get a building. (buildings offer infrastructure or additional action areas)
*Monastery - gain a monk. No additional benefit, but monks are wild and may be used on any color space.

2) Do map things
*Ship - move your Map meeple along a waterway, taking one good if available.
*Wagon - move your Map meeple along a roadway, taking one good if available.
*Guildhouse - Build a guildhouse on your current location if nobody else has one there.

3) Weird stuff
*Get 1 knowledge point
*Exile your worker permanently from your bag and life to gain a few dollars
*Other things on buildings, often involving getting goods or money.

Each round an event tile will be revealed, either prohibiting monk production, awarding money for knowledge/guildhouses, or requiring taxes to be paid on goods or just in general. When the 18th and final event tile is revealed, the final round is played, and the played with the most points wins. (Points are awarded for Goods, money, and knowledge milestones multiplied by guildhouses.



GOOD POINTS

*Aesthetically pleasing with purpose. While naturally beauty is always a matter of taste, the individual player boards with their brightly-colored circles are easy on the eyes, and the menagerie of interesting people with medieval detail work add to the feel of the game. Perhaps more importantly, the artwork makes it exceedingly intuitive to know what you need to do an action - place the right people on the matching circles under the action. Likewise, the map is very intuitive, where a wagon moves you on a road, and a ship moves you on a waterway. Full marks for art that really enhances the playability.

*An interesting take on poolbuilding. I've heard others refer to the game as a bag-builder, deckbuilder in a bag, poolbuilder, &c. But an important difference is that traditional deckbuilders (or even dice or chip -builders like Quarriors or Puzzle Strike) have you add to your holdings and then systematically go through your whole pool/deck/bag before shuffling, thus guaranteeing a balanced feed of seeing each thing you've acquired with the same frequency. In Orleans, your pool is replenished and reshuffled every turn, which results in a lot more randomness. You may draw one of your workers five turns in a row, while another one may never come out of the bag for half a dozen turns.

The result is (appropriately) a mixed bag. I see two main positive effects from this decision. Most obvious is that the additional random elements keep the game from being too solvable, because once you have twice as many workers in your bag as you can draw in a single turn, you have no idea what you're going to draw, and are forced to adapt on the fly. But stemming from that is another interesting effect, which is that precisely because things aren't reliable, there's a much more subtle art to managing your pool of workers. Owning 3 farmers does not mean you will draw 3 farmers over every 3 turns. If you want to reliably take actions that require farmers, you may have to massage your pool by either acquiring extra farmers or removing some other workers. (The main negative will be addressed later.)

*Game feels like you're always doing something. Orleans may not be a terribly fast game, but it never feels slow, since the players are always doing something. Simultaneous bag-draws and worker assignments combine with single actions in table order to keep downtime to a bare minimum. In addition to the low downtime, there's also a constant sense of progress, since most every turn you are advancing on tracks and/or gaining new workers. The result is a game that doesn't bog down, which isn't always true of worker placement or deck-building games.

*A nice tension between tactical and strategic considerations. The worker-gaining spaces each provide an immediate benefit on the associated track, and a worker which goes into your bag. Usually you will be more excited about one than the other. You may need more sailors to activate the actions you can't fire otherwise, but the immediate track bonus is a measly two dollars. Conversely, you may be excited about getting a gear which permanently reduces the cost of firing an action for you, but getting that gear may also get you your fourth craftsman, which are really starting to clog up your draws since you want to be drawing farmers and soldiers now. Monks are the edge-case, providing the best long-term strategic benefit by serving as a wildcard, but that is balanced by the complete lack of immediate benefit when you acquire them.

You can also manage your worker pool by exiling some workers permanently in exchange for a few dollars, but this itself requires prioritizing long-term strategy over immediate benefits, because on most turns you would be happier sending those workers to do something else, rather than sending them off through the town hall.

*Good "pathing". A feature I always look for in my favorite boardgames is what I like to call "pathing", where your early decisions will bias you towards certain later plays by making them easier or more lucrative, but not so much that your strategy is immutable late in the game. Orleans hits the sweet spot here, where your early decisions certainly matter both in what you are focusing on and the ratios building up in your bag, but it's never too late to shift gears and jump towards something else. That being said, another big advantage of games such as this is that they encourage you to play again and try a different "path", leading to...

*Very high replay value. Between the random distribution of goods on roads and waterways, the different combinations of workers you can grab, the random draws of workers from your bag, and the different special buildings you can acquire from the trader track, there's a vast amount of replayability here. There are not only many different paths to go down, but many different results even from trying the same sorts of things.



BAD POINTS

*Higher randomness than most poolbuilders. As mentioned above, where most deckbuilders have a constant feed slowly going through your entire pool of acquired workers, Orleans reshuffles every turn. This introduces a lot more randomness into the game, where most deckbuilders randomize only the order and combinations of which cards you draw, in Orleans it is random whether you draw your newly-acquired workers at all. You could theoretically buy 4 wild monks within the first half of the game and still fail to draw a single one over the entirety of the game. Some may find this randomness very frustrating, especially if it goes against them. That being said, the randomness can certainly be mitigated in two main ways: Through the exile mechanic where you permanently remove workers to gain a few dollars, and through placing your workers on incomplete action spaces, thus keeping them from returning to the bag before your next pull.

Sadly, harder to mitigate is the random suffering that comes from the "Plague" event, where each player draws a random worker from their bag which is exiled for no benefit. If you draw one of your four starting workers, you do not lose it. This can be highly swingy, where your opponents can draw starter pieces and lose nothing (or draw a piece they wanted to remove anyway but didn't have time to exile), while you draw your hard-earned monk and lose the entirety of the progress you made by activating the monk action.

*Very much a "Gamer's Game". Although the art may help make the game fairly intuitive for gamers, non-gamers may well have difficulty navigating the panoply of different rules and boons for each of the "gain workers" spaces. Add a few easily forgettable rules such as the fact that gaining a worker also moves you on a track and gains you a bonus, or 1 dollar bonus/malus for best/worst farmer, and the game may be slightly complex for those not well-familiarized with boardgames.



CONCLUSION

Orleans has probably been the most enthusiastically repeatedly played game this year at my weekly game night. I've played it maybe half a dozen times, and still wouldn't turn it down whenever it was suggested. I find it difficult to pinpoint precisely what it is about the game that appeals to me, but between the good pathing, low downtime, intuitive gameplay, interesting choices, and the feeling of progress, it hits a lot of my buttons, and I don't see myself turning down a game any time in the near future.

IS IT FOR YOU?

Orleans is a game that will very much appeal to people who enjoy that sort of thing. If that isn't you -- if you are sick of games about assigning your limited number of workers to various actions and advancing cubes and tracks and scrapping for VP -- the neat little mechanics of Orleans are unlikely to turn you around.

But among the amalgam Euros, which take a few mechanics from here and there and put a few new twists on them, Orleans is one of the best. Intuitive for gamers, aesthetically appealing, and filled with replay value, Orleans is absolutely worth giving a try.
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Anthony Ferrise
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I recently got this game and the expansion "Invasion" and absolutely can't get enough of it. I agree with a lot of the points made in your review and can't wait to see if it has the legs you are projecting in terms of replayability.
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Mathue Faulk
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I just wish the game was a little more polished. I think the expansion may help with some of my gripes, but Orleans could have been fantastic...but it's just good IMO.

From my comments on the game:
Quote:
Buildings and worker groups are imbalanced (even ignoring the entire Bath House history), and the game has scaling issues IMO. There isn't as much variety as one would think since certain buildings are simply stronger than others. There are incentives for things that don't need incentives, and a lack of incentives for strategies that could use them. Additionally, the Events are practically meaningless except in the early game where they can feel devastating. Money and goods are really just straight points without any interesting conversions, etc., and the map could be more interesting than it is IMO.


I keep meaning to finish a Photoshop/Printer Studio project to help with some of my areas of concern...but life has just been too busy. I'm still excited for the TMG version of Invasion though, since I think it will address some of my concerns.
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David B
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mfaulk80 wrote:
I just wish the game was a little more polished. I think the expansion may help with some of my gripes, but Orleans could have been fantastic...but it's just good IMO.

From my comments on the game:
Quote:
Buildings and worker groups are imbalanced (even ignoring the entire Bath House history), and the game has scaling issues IMO. There isn't as much variety as one would think since certain buildings are simply stronger than others. There are incentives for things that don't need incentives, and a lack of incentives for strategies that could use them. Additionally, the Events are practically meaningless except in the early game where they can feel devastating. Money and goods are really just straight points without any interesting conversions, etc., and the map could be more interesting than it is IMO.


I keep meaning to finish a Photoshop/Printer Studio project to help with some of my areas of concern...but life has just been too busy. I'm still excited for the TMG version of Invasion though, since I think it will address some of my concerns.


My concerns are pretty much the same as yours. It felt like nothing I collected throughout the game was used for anything but points. Even the "trading houses" you built on the map were pretty meaningless, except for points. I just ordered Automobiles, which has the same bag building mechanic, but it seems there is more of a purpose than mere point grabbing. I'm hoping, anyway.
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Loren Cadelinia
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mfaulk80 wrote:
I just wish the game was a little more polished. I think the expansion may help with some of my gripes, but Orleans could have been fantastic...but it's just good IMO.

From my comments on the game:
Quote:
Buildings and worker groups are imbalanced (even ignoring the entire Bath House history), and the game has scaling issues IMO. There isn't as much variety as one would think since certain buildings are simply stronger than others. There are incentives for things that don't need incentives, and a lack of incentives for strategies that could use them. Additionally, the Events are practically meaningless except in the early game where they can feel devastating. Money and goods are really just straight points without any interesting conversions, etc., and the map could be more interesting than it is IMO.


I keep meaning to finish a Photoshop/Printer Studio project to help with some of my areas of concern...but life has just been too busy. I'm still excited for the TMG version of Invasion though, since I think it will address some of my concerns.


Well put. Not sure if I could have articulated it better, and even brought to light some things I couldn't quite put a finger on. The events variant helps a bit, but I do hope the expansion addresses a lot of what you mention.
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Seth Brown
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Hmm... while I have no quarrel with the map, it is definitely true that events like Plague lose their bite towards the end of the game. Taxes and Paid-per-guildhouse get a little more oomph towards the end, but don't affect your infrastructure in the way Plague does since, as you say, everything is points. I'm unfamiliar with the events variant.

I've only played half a dozen times so I'm not an expert, but while certainly there are a few buildings I've pegged as priority buys for myself (Lab for gears, Cloth-maker for points), my most recent play had me defeating an opponent who managed to grab both of these, getting all the gears I needed from the Craftsman track, and picking up lots of goods while dropping Guildhouses around the map.
 
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Loren Cadelinia
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Osirus wrote:
Hmm... while I have no quarrel with the map, it is definitely true that events like Plague lose their bite towards the end of the game. Taxes and Paid-per-guildhouse get a little more oomph towards the end, but don't affect your infrastructure in the way Plague does since, as you say, everything is points. I'm unfamiliar with the events variant.

I've only played half a dozen times so I'm not an expert, but while certainly there are a few buildings I've pegged as priority buys for myself (Lab for gears, Cloth-maker for points), my most recent play had me defeating an opponent who managed to grab both of these, getting all the gears I needed from the Craftsman track, and picking up lots of goods while dropping Guildhouses around the map.


Here's the official events variant published by dlp.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1373002/new-official-va...
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imho
Osirus wrote:
BAD POINTS

*Higher randomness than most poolbuilders. As mentioned above, where most deckbuilders have a constant feed slowly going through your entire pool of acquired workers, Orleans reshuffles every turn. This introduces a lot more randomness into the game, where most deckbuilders randomize only the order and combinations of which cards you draw, in Orleans it is random whether you draw your newly-acquired workers at all. You could theoretically buy 4 wild monks within the first half of the game and still fail to draw a single one over the entirety of the game. Some may find this randomness very frustrating, especially if it goes against them. That being said, the randomness can certainly be mitigated in two main ways: Through the exile mechanic where you permanently remove workers to gain a few dollars, and through placing your workers on incomplete action spaces, thus keeping them from returning to the bag before your next pull.

Sadly, harder to mitigate is the random suffering that comes from the "Plague" event, where each player draws a random worker from their bag which is exiled for no benefit. If you draw one of your four starting workers, you do not lose it. This can be highly swingy, where your opponents can draw starter pieces and lose nothing (or draw a piece they wanted to remove anyway but didn't have time to exile), while you draw your hard-earned monk and lose the entirety of the progress you made by activating the monk action.

is in direct contradiction to.....
Quote:
*Very much a "Gamer's Game". .....


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Seth Brown
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Certainly the phrase "Gamer's Game" means different things to different people. I can see how for you it could mean "low randomness", but here as I explain I simply mean that it is not a good game to throw non-gamers into, as they will likely find it confusing.
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