Monday, February 01, 2016

French Toast

The "worker placement" game -- a staple of Euro board games, and generally one of my favorites. But of course, that's quite a broad category with room for plenty of variations. I'm always on the lookout for a new one I enjoy, and I recently found one when I tried out Orléans.

Set in medieval France, Orléans has players scoring points by moving around the Loire Valley, where they establish trade stations, gather goods, and seek scientific advancement. Workers are discs that come in a variety of colors, and different combinations of colors must be assigned to the different actions you want to take -- including the action to recruit more workers of the various colors. But in Orléans, you don't simply place all of your workers on each of your turns. Instead, you draw them at random from a personal bag, bringing an element of random chance to the actions you can take.

Orléans does an excellent job of including a persistent element of randomization without making the game seem chaotic or unstrategic. There are a contained enough number of worker colors (including a wild) that it's hard to get shut out of doing anything on your turn. Even on the rare occasion where that might happen, unused workers can be accumulated for use on future turns (paired with new workers freshly drawn from your bag). You might not get to do exactly the thing you'd have hoped for, but you do get to do something.

After a couple plays of Orléans, I'm convinced that the game has nailed the "multiple paths to victory" that keeps a Euro game vital in the long run. There are many ways to go after points, and they all seem viable. I've seen differing approaches work, and I've seen still others come close. My thinking so far is that there's only one area of development in the game that you truly cannot ignore -- the ability to draw a larger number of worker discs from your bag each turn. And while perhaps the "perfect" Euro game wouldn't have even one type of thing you absolutely had to pursue, I'm still impressed by the number of different options Orléans seems to have effectively thrown in the mix.

In my brief overview of the game, I've left out nuances that even more convince me that Orléans could have high replayability in my group. There is a series of "buildings" you can purchase, that allow you unique actions in the game. The distribution of commodities across the game board is randomized in each play, which could make a good-centric strategy more plausible in some playthroughs than others. There's a mechanism that lets players permanently remove unwanted worker types from their bags for different benefits (and streamlined drawing odds), with limited opportunities for use that ensures competition. There's a series of events tiles revealed randomly, one by one in each turn of the game -- the benefits and drawbacks they inflict on all the players will cause things to unfold differently depending on the order they come out.

In short, I'm quite impressed with Orléans, and I hope to play it many more times to come. I give it an A-.

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