First Impressions - Orleans
Based on two plays with four players.
Designer: Reiner Stockhausen
Artist: Klemens Franz
Publisher: dlp games
Player Count: 2-4
Orleans is a bag building eurogame for two to four players. On their turns, players pull character tiles from their personal bag. In player order, players choose to place their character tiles on action spots on their player boards. Each action spot requires a combination of two or three specific workers to take the action. The majority of actions give you a new character tile and a bonus action. Bonus actions include, using technology to automate part of an action space (so it requires one less character tile to activate), gaining a food resource (worth victory points), gaining money, building a building (a new action spot), moving up the development track (which matters for end of game scoring), or allowing you to draw one additional character tile per turn. Additionally, some spots allow you to move your merchant meeple around a map of the region of France that Orleans is in and build guild halls in the neighbouring cities, which are used for scoring. This is a large part of the game and can score you a lot of points. Finally, character tiles placed on the town hall action spot can be sent away to perform “beneficial deeds”. These tiles are placed on the communal beneficial deeds board and give bonuses for placing and permanently remove the character tiles from your bag. Additionally, the player who completes each beneficial deed, by placing the final character tile, gains citizen tile which is used for scoring. At the end of the round all new character tiles and those used to perform actions are placed back in the players’ draw bags and a new round begins. After the first round of the game events from an event deck will occur each round to add some randomness to the game. Once the event deck runs out final scoring occurs. All money and food tokens are scored for their values. The number of citizen tiles and guild houses that a player has is multiplied by their position on the development track to give them victory points. The winner is whoever has the most victory points.
Before playing Orleans, I had some conflicting feelings towards the game. On one hand the bag building mechanism seemed like a fresh and interesting mechanic, on the other a game about medieval Europe with little to mechanically tie it to its theme and even less originality of theme didn’t feel me with confidence. That said, in spite of my trepidation, I quite like Orleans.
The first thing to talk about is the bag building. On some level I expected bag building to essentially be the same as deck building but with different components. However, Orleans manages to create something new from this simple mechanism. Since you don’t have a discard pile for character tiles that you have used, you don’t work through your entire collection of character cards before reshuffling like you would with your cards in a deck builder like Dominion. Instead, your bag is a probability machine that you build, with additional character cards shifting the probabilities throughout the game. This means that you are never sure of what will come out and never certain that some character tiles ever will. This is not mechanically better or worse than deck building, it is just different. It feels different and requires you to think differently, providing you a new puzzle to tease over.
The game plays quite quickly, with minimal downtime. Since a lot of actions (particularly in the early game) do not affect other players actions, players can plan their turns simultaneously and, once initial actions, which might depend on player order are taken, players can take their remaining actions simultaneously. That said, Orleans is quite an interactive game. The map that your merchant meeple moves along allows for a good deal of blocking, players are incentivised to go up many of the character tracks before their opponents to gain bonuses first, and character tiles are finite, meaning that if you’re the last to try to get some knights, and the associated bonus of drawing more tiles per turn, then you miss out. All this combined means that your opponent’s actions and the timing of your actions are important, Orleans is not multiplayer solitaire.
However, there were some elements of Orleans that I wasn’t as impressed by. Firstly, there is a real lack of setup variability. This means that there are likely opening moves, and even overall strict strategies, that can be pursued every game. I understand that this may not be a negative point for everyone but my preference is for games with higher setup variability where players must discern the best strategy at the start of every game. Secondly, the beneficial deeds board is static and uninteresting. Since the person who fills the last space of each beneficial deed gains the most significant reward (a citizen tile), the board feels overly cagey with turn order playing an oversized role in who gets the bonus. Perhaps it was lack of skill on my part, but I felt like beneficial deeds were only completed when someone made an error, leaving an opportunity for someone else, and I felt that while the mechanism was very important for thinning your bag, players were incentivised not to do so by how cagey it felt. I have heard that the beneficial deeds board is improved by one of the expansions but I’m loathe to buy a game knowing in advance that I need an expansion as the price to value calculation I need to make gets significantly shifted. Finally, the theme doesn’t appeal to me at all. While I think that Klemens Franz artwork perfectly fits the setting and time period, I’ve played enough games with this pasted on theme of medieval Europe.
Ultimately, I really like Orleans. It’s mechanically interesting, tight, and interactive. I liked it enough that after my first game of Orleans (over a year ago), I bought Altiplano (its spiritual successor). After my second game of Orleans last week I’m tempted by it but I’m not sure I need both.