When it comes to gaming, I’m a big fan of indirect player interaction. What is that? Well, many games rely on players attacking each other, or trying to sabotage whoever is currently winning. Indirect player interaction allows players to feel like they are playing against each other, and not just against the game. Players decisions make an impact on each other. Players are competing for the same thing. In my opinion, this perfectly describes racing games, where the only thing standing between you and the finish line, literally, are the other players sitting at the table.
There may not be a ton of racing games, but most generally well received and make excellent gateway games. I have spoken very highly of Downforce, a Restoration Games reworking that allows players to take ownership of one or more race cars in a high stakes betting race to the finish line. It has simple rules; you play a card and move each car the number of spaces indicated. It plays quickly; each game lasts only 30-45 minutes. And it accommodates a great range of players; anywhere between two to six racers can compete for their share of winnings. This is a game that I can freely recommend to just about everyone, knowing that they will have a great time playing it and introducing it to others. But there’s another racing game that I also recommend, one that from the outside appears even more random, but upon further inspection has a fair amount of tactical considerations. So grab you biker shorts and suit up, because I’m talking about Flamme Rouge.
In Flamme Rouge each player takes control of a two man cycling team about to participate in a race to the finish line on one of the many stretches of roadway in rural France. One cyclist is the Sprinter, ready to burst out in front at any moment, the other the Rouler or “roller”, maintains a steady pace for the duration of the race. Despite having two cyclists, players only need to have one of them cross the finish line first to go home victorious. This outcome is entirely up you, based on what sort of pace you set for your team and how well you can manage their exhaustion.
The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round a player will select one of his cyclists, drawing four cards off the top of their deck. Of these four cards, the player will choose one setting it aside, facedown. The other three cards are returned to the bottom of the deck faceup, indicating the bottom of the deck. Each one of these cards contains a number from 2-9 based on the particular cyclist. Once this has been done, this same process will be repeated for the other rider. After everyone has had a chance to select their two cards, players will simultaneously flip them faceup. Then beginning with the cyclist in the lead, each rider will move the number of spaces indicated on the card chosen by the controlling player.
This may not sound like much of a game, and that’s because you are right. At this point the game could probably be played by 4 year olds, each one just selecting the highest value card from each hand. There are a couple of additional rules that create those tactical decisions I mentioned earlier. First, whichever card you select each round is immediately removed from the game. Gone. Rather than deckbuilding, it’s basically a game of deck deconstruction. Even so, wouldn’t you still just continue to play you high value cards? Not exactly. Time to talk “physics”.
At the end of each round players will evaluate all the riders. Starting with the rider in the back, if there is only one space between them and the rider in front of them then that rider “slipstreams” forward into that space. This can create a chain reaction with some riders getting 3 or 4 extra spaces of movement for free. It does require a fair bit of evaluating the board state and predicting players decisions, but it’s possible. Once all slipstreaming has been applied there should be various groupings of riders. This could be a group of five cyclists, but it could also be a group of one. The racer(s) at the front of each group or pack, end up doing the bulk of the work, breaking the wind for everyone behind them. Because of this extra effort, players will have to add a 2 value exhaustion card into their deck, making it less likely players draw the cards the want at opportune times.
To sum this up, players want their racers to not be winning, because this adds exhaustion in their deck. But at the same time, they don’t want them too far behind because then they don’t get to slipstream, AND could still end up with exhaustion. So what do you do? Therein lies the game. I haven’t even mentioned that there are both uphill and downhill stretches, each modifying the minimum or maximum amount of spacers a cyclists gets to move that round. While the game may feel random at times, there is a lot to consider as you go selecting cards each round for both racers.
Just like with Downforce, I can wholeheartedly recommend this game. Once again, it’s super simple. You are just selecting cards and then moving your racer that many spacers. The game is also relatively quick, although setting up the track can take a good couple of minutes. I do have a few reservations. First, not everyone is going to be able to see the subtle tactics involved with managing your riders movement and positioning each round. This can lead to players feeling like they may not be in control of the situation and that the game is playing them. But with some explaining, by the end of the game their opinions may change.
This is a really great game, albeit a little over priced. It’s a lot of fun walking the line between pushing your riders and holding back. And while you can and should try to predict your opponents actions, having two riders allows them to play off of each other regardless of the decisions of others. It’s also worth mentioning that there are a pair of expansions. One adds a weather elements for various parts of the track, while the other allows for two additional players and introduces new segments of track consisting of cobblestone and supply zones. If this sounds like your type of came and have 1-3 friends that don’t mind older men in bike shorts, I recommend you hunt this one down and give it a try.