Designers: Reiner Stockhausen
Artists: Klemens Franz
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
Play Time: ~90 minutes
Target Age Range: 12+
So when I first told my roommate about the game Orléans, he started speaking with a funny accent, talking about gumbo and jazz and saying things like, “I gerr-on-tee.” I told him that was the wrong Orléans (that was the New one, and this game is about the old one. You know. In France?), but he told me to “stick [my] head in a pot of jambalaya” or else I “ain’t gon’ get no king cake.”
Guys, my roommate’s from Texas.
At this point, I just gave up trying to talk to him. Besides, I like king cake.
The game Orléans (which I’ll be typing without the accent from now on for convenience) is actually about a region in medieval France. (That means it’s pronounced with a French accent.) Each player is trying to achieve financial and cultural dominance in the region by hiring followers who help the player to recruit even more followers, gather resources, and move up the ladder in various developmental areas.
It might sound a little dry, but it’s a lot of fun.
Orleans is an engine-building game like Dominion, Clank!, and Dice Forge. Much like Dice Forge, however, this one’s got a bit of a twist. Rather than building a deck, players are recruiting different types of followers, represented by cardboard tokens, and placing them into a cloth bag. Each round, the players draw a number of these tokens out of the bag and can assign them to work in various locations in their town.
Each building has different requirements for which type of workers need to work there. When a player has assigned the full complement to a building, they get a benefit that can range from a new follower, additional points on the progress track, the ability to move the merchant along the map, or a new guild hall to place in the merchant’s current city.
Players can also assign their workers to the Town Hall to do public works, each of which offers different rewards. When a player completes a public work (by placing a worker in the last available slot), they gain a citizen token, which works as a multiplier during the final scoring phase.
Over the course of the game, players can also construct additional buildings that are only available for them to use, represented by two stacks of tiles. These provide benefits that only they can use, like generating resources with fewer followers or even the ability to use some followers as though they were a different type.
It seems like a lot, but it’s really several variations on the same basic rules. Once you understand the fundamentals of assigning workers, the rest is pretty easy to pick up.
Visual/Physical Appeal (7.5/10)
While I wouldn’t say that the components of Orleans are “Great,” I’d definitely class them in the high range of “Good.” I enjoy playing the game, the tokens are a good size and easy to handle, and nothing feels cheap.
I do love the bags that players draw their tokens from. They’re bright and colorful, and they’re made of a soft, velvet-like material that feels nice in your hands. That’s important, because you will be handling them a lot as you play the game, reaching in to draw tokens to use (or lose, in the case of the Plague event).
I worry a little bit about the tokens themselves. They’re a really good size and weight, but I’m slightly concerned about the material. It’s thick, and it seems rather absorbent. Because players are handling them so much, I worry about how much they would tend to soak in the natural oils on people’s hands. (Or, if you’re the type to allow snacks while you’re gaming, the fats and salts that may stick to their fingers.) I worry that, over several plays (and it probably would still take a lot), it might have a tendency to make the tokens a little gross. I didn’t actually see anything like this, though, so take that concern with a grain of salt.
When it comes to the game insert, there simply is none. Orleans is just a large, open box with several plastic baggies (as well as the velvet player bags) to hold all the separate components. If you’re not careful about organizing things as you put the game away, it can wind up a bit chaotic, but if you’ve got everything separated out into individual baggies, it’s not too big of a problem. It would be nice if there was a little bit more to the box, though.
Setup Time (~7–10 minutes)/Play Time (~90 minutes)
Probably the most tedious part about setting up Orleans is laying out all the resource tiles on the map. To put it simply, there’s a lot of them, and the more players in your game, the more there are. Fortunately, they don’t have to be laid in any place in particular (they’re supposed to be distributed randomly across the map), and so you don’t have be too careful about how you’re laying them out. If you’re playing with only two or three players, you have to put in a little more care, because there are specific spots on the board that are marked for use only with 3 or 4 players, but overall, it’s not too complicated.
Beyond the map, you also need to lay out the various advancement tracks players use as they recruit each type of follower. The stacks of tokens for each type of follower go on their corresponding tracks, and you’ll need to remove a certain number of tokens based on the number of players you’ve got.
Other than that, it’s really just a matter of giving each player their set color-coded set of pieces—their merchant piece, their starting followers, and several wooden guild hall markers. Since each player has their own bag, though, it’s really convenient to just put all the pieces in the matching bag each time. That way, players can just choose the bag they want and have everything ready to go.
The game is played over the course of 18 rounds, which may seem like a lot; however, each round moves pretty quickly, and for most rounds, players can even take their turns simultaneously. (In some instances, a player can request that everyone takes their turns in order, but in most cases, that’s not necessary.) A typical game takes about an hour and a half or so.
Complexity (Rank 7.5)/Teach Time (10 minutes)
Because there are so many types of followers and actions players can take each turn, it can take a little bit of explaining to make sure players understand everything they need. It’s not so daunting that it will drive off most people who play board games, but it could overwhelm some more casual players. Fortunately, even though there are a lot of moving pieces, each type of follower is consistent in the way it works, so once you get the basics, it’s easy to understand.
While Orleans is a lot of fun to play, it does suffer a bit after several games. After a number of playthroughs, it started to become apparent that, while there are several different paths to victory, the same strategy was winning every time. For players who are a bit more casual, not focusing on maximizing every single turn, it likely will have a bit more longevity, but if you’re a strategist who likes to plan out every play, it might start to lose its savor after five to ten games.
All that said, there are a number of expansions that can add some variety to your gameplay, including one that adds a fifth player and one that actually creates a co-op campaign where players must work together to fend off an invading force while pursuing their own personal goals. Some expansions even include scenarios for solo play. I haven’t personally played any of these expansions, however, so I can’t give a personal opinion on them.
Orleans is a great engine-building game that’s a lot of fun to play. It could stand a little bit of balancing, since sticking with the exact same strategy each time you play tends to be the way to win, but I’ve heard good things about the expansions, so those might fix the problem. But it’s definitely worth at least a few plays. If you like deck-building games or other mechanics where you’re developing a points mill from the ground up, you should definitely check it out. You won’t be disappointed.