To look at Flamme Rouge, you’d think it was a child’s puzzle with some little toy bicycles on it. It’s a few Hot Wheels, a Care Bear and a tin of home dried mint leaves (don’t ask) away from looking like something I’d have loved as a kid. That said, the front of the box shows enough awards to make it worth a deeper look.

Flamme Rouge is a race game for 2-4 players (you can add 2 more with the expansion). The game board is double sided and modular, meaning that you can get a lot of different layouts from these parts. The pieces of the board (and the player boards) are made of super thick and weighty cardboard and popping these out was one of the most satisfying punchcard experiences I’ve had in a while.

Setup is pretty simple, the game comes with 5 route cards which show you how to lay out the pieces and which way up. Players then take turns to put their bikes in the starting area. The inside lane of each square counting as being in the lead.

Each player gets two cyclists – a sprinteur (slow, with occasional bursts of speed) and a rouleur (who keeps a more steady pace) – as well as two decks of cards – one for each of their grumpy bike boys (seriously, all the cards make them look really miserable).

Players will draw 4 cards from one of their two decks, pick one to play, and then lay it face down next to their player board. The other cards get put face-up on the bottom of their deck. Then they move on to the other deck and repeat the action. It’s this incomplete knowledge of what the other cyclist’s cards are going to be that can really ramp up the tension, and make or break your strategy.

Once everyone has picked their cards, players go in sequence from the race leader, turning over their cards and move the number of spaces shown. The played cards are removed from the game, never to be seen again (I think they get taken out and shot, or something).

Next comes the slipstream section. Starting from the last racer, players check the number of empty spaces between them and the cyclist in front. If it’s only one space the racer(s) move up and fill the gap. This then forms a block and the process starts again. If there’s only one space between that block and the rider in front, the whole block move up to fill the gap. And so on until everyone is either bunched up in a pack, or too far apart to benefit. Any riders who find themselves with an empty space in front of them after this process takes an exhaustion card (only 2 movement) and add it to their deck.

Because of this, it’s not advisable to get too close to the front of the pack as you risk exhaustion, but if you don’t, it’s very hard to try and pull ahead. As such, you can find yourself sticking in the pack for most of the race, only daring to sprint at the last minute. That said, if you’re saving all your high value cards for the end of the game, you could end up with one rider drawing a hand of just these cards, long before you’re ready. Meaning they’re forced to go flying by, flicking the v’s at opponents as they speed past. Sure, they’re way in front now, but they’ll be picking up exhaustion and looking pretty silly if the others finally catch or overtake.

As you move through your deck, it’s easy to get a grasp of roughly what’s in there, so you can plan ahead to some degree. Once the face up cards you’ve been recycling hit the top of your deck, it’s time to shuffle and move on. Suddenly those exhaustion cards you picked up are in the mix and you’re at risk of having a handful of low value cards when the pack pulls away.

In addition to these basic rules, some of the track layouts include hills. While entering or going up an incline, you can’t move more than 5 squares. So if you’re 6 blocks from the bottom of a hill you can’t move onto it with a card showing 7, you’ll have to finish your turn early, before you start the climb. If you played that 7 on the way up, you’d only get to move 5 spaces.

Furthermore, as you fight your screaming muscles to push on up, you get no slipstream benefits and as before, if there’s a gap ahead of you at the end of the round, you’re getting exhausted.

Conversely, if you start your turn on a downward slope, all cards are treated as a minimum of 5. Meaning you may be able to spend away your exhaustion cards for far more than they’re worth.

Because the decks are so small, you’ll find yourself moving through them very quickly, especially late game (if you’ve managed to avoid too much exhaustion). This limits your options in really fun and interesting ways. There’s a reason one of the awards on the box is from Mensa.

While a game of Flamme Rouge isn’t exactly long (30-45 mins at most) it’s a lot of fun and there’s every chance your table will be up for setting up a new track and going the extra kilometer.

Pros:

  • A well paced race game.
  • Deep enough that even seasoned gamers will enjoy.
  • Modular board means there’s plenty of replayability.

Cons:

  • The game comes without anywhere to store cards, so they just rattle around the box.
  • Could do with some more course cards as 5 single sided cards seems a bit of a waste.

Final Score: 8/10

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