Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Orléans with Trade and Intrigue (Tasty Minstrel Games)

Orléans is one of the Top 25 games of all time and might quite possibly be my #1 game of all time, and not just because it is one of the few games where I win against my wife. The game takes place during the medieval ages in the city of Orléans (fitting) and the area of Loire around it. It is a game for 1 to 4 players (with an upcoming expansion to add a 5th player) that retails for $60. There are two expansions for it - Invasion ($50) and Trade and Intrigue ($25), as well as numerous mini-building promos ($6 for each set of three). Today, I would like to tell you about the base game and Trade and Intrigue.

Setup and Game Play
Before the game begins, you have to seed the main board by putting Goods Tiles face up on the Road and Waterway spaces of the map. You also sort the neutral Character Tiles by their profession and place them on their appropriate buildings. Each player then receives a Bag, 5 Coins, 7 Cubes, 1 Merchant Token, 10 Trading Stations, a Player Board, and one set of Followers (composed of a Farmer, Boatman, Craftsman, and Trader). Your Merchant is placed in the city of Orléans on the map, and your cubes are placed on the starting spaces of the buildings with all the neutral Character Tiles. Next, you'll want to put the Beneficial Deeds board out. Lastly, you'll want to shuffle the Hour Glass Tiles, which dictates the event of each of the 18 rounds

At the beginning of each round, you flip over the top Hour Glass Tile, which tells you what the event will be that round. The events are mix of positive and negative, ranging from earning Coins to losing a Character Tile. Each player then reaches into their Bag and draws out a number of Character Tiles equal to their level on the Knight's building track. (Note: The first round you will only draw your initial four tiles.) Each player then arranges their Character Tiles on their Player Boards. After everyone has done this, the tiles are removed and actions are performed based on where the tiles were placed. Most of the actions revolve around recruiting a new Follower and moving up the building track of that Follower. However, you can also travel from Orléans to another city, collect a Good, and possibly build a Trade House. You can automate some of your buildings with a gear so you use fewer Character Tiles to activate them, construct a new building, which gives you the ability to perform actions that other players cannot. Lastly, you can send some of your Followers to the Beneficial Deeds board and receive a small benefit. You then take all your used Followers and new Followers and place them back in your bag to start the next round, until all Hourglass Tiles are exhausted.
Orléans was my first introduction to a bag-building game. For those unfamiliar with this mechanic, it is similar to a deck-building game, except instead of having a deck of cards that you keep adding cards to, you are adding discs to a bag. The biggest difference between Orléans and a traditional deck-building game is the unpredictability of what you draw. With a traditional deck-builder, eventually you will cycle through all your cards, shuffle them, and go again. With Orléans, you keep putting the discs back in the bag, and you never know what you are going to draw. Yes, you can increase the number of discs you draw, but you may have some Followers in your bag that you only draw once or twice in an 18 round campaign. It's beautifully frustrating! This is where thinning your bag out of unnecessary workers is crucial. Not only does using the Beneficial Deeds/Trade/Intrigue board give you a boost, it also pares down your bag where you can control what you draw and optimize your points engine.

What I like best about this game is the many paths to victory. Yes, there are certain things you need to do each game, such as getting more Knights to be able to draw more discs each round, but after that the game is pretty wide-open. Gain more goods and a coin each round by getting more Farmers. Use lots of gears to automate your buildings and perform more actions. Travel every round through France and build all your Trading Houses. I repeat...many different paths to victory. What my wife likes best about this game is that there is very little player interaction (also known as multiplayer solitaire). Very little of what you do affects other players, and that is how my wife likes her games. What I didn't really like about the game was the predictability of the Hour Glass Tiles and the Beneficial Deeds board being too wide open. There are 18 rounds in a game, but only six unique events (three sets of six), so you can roughly count the Hour Glass Tiles and get a good idea of what event is coming up next. Yes, the order is different every game, but it's still a degree of predictability. As for the Beneficial Deeds board, it was nice to retire workers there, but in a 2-player game, you were hard pressed to make real progress on these boards and ever complete a lot of the tracks on that board. The Trade and Intrigue expansion fixed both of these problems.
In Trade and Intrigue, there are 34 Hourglass Tiles, divided into groups of A, B, C, and D. You will take four from each group, and two preassigned ones for a beginning and end and make a unique game experience each time. Within these tiles, you will find some repeats from the base game, but you will also find tiles that restrict which Followers you can hire, allow you to pay coins to hire a Follower, pay money for Goods, pay a tithe of your coins, or even shorten the game from 17 to 18 rounds. With no duplicates in this bunch, you never know what kind of experience you are going to end up having, and it provides new challenges to not only build your engine, but maximize it too!

There are also two new boards, one being a new Beneficial Deeds board and the other being an Intrigue board. With the former, it basically tightens up the number of spaces in a 2-player game and provides more/better rewards than the base game. The real game changer is the Intrigue board. If you didn't like the multiplayer solitaire aspect of this game, this board fixes it! Now when you send Followers here, instead of getting something, you take or destroy something of your opponents. There are actions like arson, where you can remove one of their Trading Stations, tax collector where players pay you coins, or hangman where you get money and they lose a Follower (yup, you were the one who hanged their Follower). It adds a nasty and take that element to the game, which my wife will never play, but I appreciate it being included, because it gives options for different groups and different playing styles.

The last changes to this expansion are "more of the same" and "something new." The more of the same is the new buildings included in this game, which I always appreciate because it gives me more variety to choose from each game. I own all the mini-promos, so I have a lot of buildings and this helps adds to the replay value of the game. The new aspect is called Orders. There is a deck of 23 Order cards that you shuffle and deal five face-up. On these cards is the name of a town, some goods, and a point value. On your last action, if your Merchant is in that town, and you have those goods, you may turn them in to complete the order and score points at the end of the game. This is a module of the expansion I don't play with often (or ever when teaching the game), but it feels like it adds some theme to the Merchant traveling around the map. Before, it was just a necessary thing to do to collect goods and score points. Now, your Trading Stations are actually thematically tied in and also help your goods provide more points than they would by themselves at the end of the game.

Before Trade and Intrigue, Orléans was already my favorite game in my collection. Afterwards, it just solidified my decision. This was the expansion I was hoping for with Invasion. It has everything I look for in game expansions - "more of the same," added replay value, and new twists to keep the game fresh and help me discover new paths to victory. I will never play Orléans again without the Trade and Intrigue expansion. Highly recommended!

Orléans was purchased on my own, but Trade and Intrigue was provided to me for free by Tasty Minstrel Games.

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