Board Game Review: Orleans – The Highest Form of Deck Building | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: Orleans – The Highest Form of Deck Building

If you’ve played euros before, chances are that you’ve already built a city or two. And Orleans attempts to distinguish itself in that same thematic territory. And it does so. Big time. In Orleans, the players recruit various types of workers and use them to accomplish their task. But the game relies on a deck-building style engine that turns this standard euro into something remarkable and enjoyable.

The Basics. Players begin with just four workers – a boatman, a trader, a craftsman, and a farmer. And, on a given turn, they can pull four workers from the bag. Easy peasy that first turn. But it just goes wild from there.

Each player has a personal board filled with various actions. They can recruit additional workers, more of the same or scholars, knights, and monks. As the players recruit, they also get access to special abilities. For example, each knight lets the player draw more tiles on a turn. Meanwhile, scholars move you down the development track and craftsman give access to technology tiles.

Everyone has their benefits

But it isn’t just about recruiting. Players can build trading posts in the various nearby cities and travel from place to place along roads and waterways. Plus, there is a separate and special deeds board that all the players can access. Players can place their workers there to permanently remove them from their bag. They generally provide a small reward unless placing the last worker for the deed.

Players can expand their actions by adding new places to their city. And, even if a player doesn’t have all the workers needed to activate a particular place, they can still place the workers they do have. The action won’t trigger, but it does remove the workers from the bag and make it easier to trigger the action next turn.

A few of the basic places you can add to your deck – more development or making goods

Each round, there is also an event that must be dealt with. Events include plagues which can cost you workers or taxes which cost you coin. And you need to be able to pay. If you don’t have the funds, you’ll end up paying with far more precious materials.

The game concludes at the end of eighteen rounds. Points are awarded for development, citizens, and goods. The player with the most points wins.

Some of the advanced actions can do some wild stuff

The Feel. Orlenas is an incredible mishmash of mechanics that becomes something altogether new and exciting. The deckbuilding element is strong. Rather than build a deck with cards, you build an assortment of workers in a bag. But that element is just a means to an end in acquiring goods and taking actions – which should be enough to bypass the objections of most deckbuilder haters.

Meanwhile, the game is not about the deckbuilding. Instead, that is merely the primary driver for what is essentially an action selection game. The actions you can select are pretty basic. Recruit more dudes, move your merchant, or build a guildhall. If you could select them without restriction, the game would be pretty dull.

Plus, it isn’t really deck building if you have to put everything in a bag, right?

But that’s where the random action of the bag comes in. On any given turn the draw dictates your available workers and then you have to work within that constraint. So, you may have wanted to recruit a boatman, but the right workers didn’t show up. You’ll have to rethink your approach and make the best of your draw.

Orleans is hardly random, though. In fact, the game prompts you to create a city with a grander strategy. It’s just that, to get that strategy successful, you need to pull the right workers. And that doesn’t mean relying on luck. If you rely on luck, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, you need to ensure that the contents of your bag line up with your needs. If your strategy requires few knights and more scholars, then that’s what you need to grab.

In fact, the game does a great job of letting you thin your deck through the Deeds board. On any turn, you can send one or two dudes to the deeds board, getting them out of your bag entirely. You even get a little reward for it. But it isn’t without risk. The spaces are limited and the last player to put a guy on a particular location on the deed board gets a special bonus – a citizen worth end game points. Sometimes, you may not want to put a guy on the deeds board if it helps someone else finish it off.

The player board starts you off with basic actions available to all

You can also hide guys in your market. After the draw, you place your tiles on the 12 spaces of your market. Typically, you’ll have fewer than 12 tiles, so there’s no worry about running out of room. But if you want to remove a guy from the draw, or save him for a later turn, you can also just leave him on the market. He won’t be drawn next turn, and you’ll still have access to him.

It’s also about obtaining your workers with the right consistency. As you get workers, you get benefits. And the game does a great job of balancing those out. You tend not to need many knights, but they confer the best benefit. On the other hand, there tend to be many uses for boatmen, but they only give you coins (coins aren’t so great in Orleans). But even though the benefits are key to your master plan, you can’t really go all in on one particular worker. Otherwise, when it comes time to draw from your bag, you’ll only get that worker and few sites need just one type of worker to prevail.

That give and take between implementing a grand strategy by grabbing the right powers, while still maintaining a consistent deck of workers to effectuate those actions, is a constant struggle. And central to the joy of Orleans.

The countryside of Orleans is ready to have its goods snatched up

Components: 4 of 5. Orleans is what you might call a highly produced euro. Sturdy chits, and nice cloth bags for each player. Unfortunately, the artwork is drab – evoking the time period represented. But otherwise there are no complaints here.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 5 of 5. Orleans has what must be termed a perfect blend. Taking certain actions means grabbing certain workers. So the long term plan must be balanced with the short term reality that you need to maintain a consistent “deck” of tiles in your bag. It’s really a sublime tension.

Mechanics: 4.5 of 5. The mechanics force you to constantly shift between long term benefits and short term payouts. It’s a delightful system that happens organically within the constraints of the game, rather than being forced in through a layer of new rules. In fact, the game is rather simple to explain and grasp, but that belies the complexity of performing well.

Replayability: 3.5 of 5. Orleans has a ton of replay value baked in. The random draws will keep your turn-to-turn decisions shifting, and thus the experience as a whole. However, I suspect it may get stale after a dozen plays or so. Players may fall in to favored strategies and simply grab the same buildings over and over. If players don’t make their own variety, then the set build orders are liable to dull some of the game’s most brilliant aspects.

Spite: 1 of 5. There are no take-that elements, and no way to directly damage someone else. There are methods of direct and indirect competition, though. Maybe you grab a farmer to deprive someone of census coins. Or you get to a town and build a hall before they can do so. But it doesn’t feel like spite. It just feels like someone got there first.

You’ll have to be prepared for the unfortunate events

Overall: 4.5 of 5. Orleans is just a fantastic experience. Experienced gamers will see a bevy of familiar mechanics, but an entirely new game. The game pulls you in different directions. While it relies on random draws of tiles, it provides numerous tools for players to achieve the deck composition that they want. The whole thing is a marvel and immensely enjoyable. Play it if you can.

(A special thanks to Tasty Minstrel Games for providing a review copy of Orleans)

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