Life is a mixed bag — or so the expression goes. I think. Is it an expression? Someone has surely said it. Either way, very few board games literalize the idea of a mixed bag like Orléans, a nifty title from 2015 that has players actually pulling tokens from a soft pouch in the hopes of garnering influence and prestige in Medieval France. Rumor has it this is an accurate representation of how Charlemagne himself ruled Gaul.
Anyhoo, I wrote a warm review of Orléans last year, extolling the game’s use of the “bag-building” mechanic. The whole experience was like a fresh croissant: delicate, flakey, and full of butter. Actually, no. That’s just a description of a croissant. BUT, much like a fresh croissant, Orléans eventually grew a bit stale for me. Don’t get me wrong: I continue to play it (and yes, I would still eat a stale croissant too), but the magic has faded. I blame part of this on my friend Guy — who’s French, incidentally — because he loves Orléans so much that we wound up playing it, like, 1,000 times in one week. I’m afraid one can only eat so many croissants.
What I came to realize about Orléans was that the decisions weren’t always terribly interesting to me after a while. Even with some of the variants proposed in the game and online, I found myself wafting towards the same strategies over and over again, and while I concede that this is a Ben problem, not a game problem, I would also like to concede that it’s sort of a game problem too. Orléans, while pleasant, is sort of a “samey” experience for me. It lacks some of the tense choices that a potentially “samey” game like Concordia or Railways of the World offer. Sure, there are rounds where you pull a bunch of crappy tokens out of the bag, and you have to figure out a way to make the most of what you’ve got, but there’s rarely a sense of urgency in Orléans. If you don’t do something this round, you’ll just do it some other time. And if you don’t do it, then, well, that’s usually okay too. A “beneficial deeds” board sometimes creates a bottleneck of opportunities, and game events gently needle players with annoyances, but Orléans never puts its players’ feet to the fire. More like a space heater turned on low.
With its flaws exposed, could I ever truly embrace Orléans again? Perhaps. A new, kind-of-huge expansion called Orléans: Invasion promises to breathe new life into the game, and thankfully the good people of Tasty Minstrel Games sent me a copy to review. This, of course, begs an immediate question: should people drop the extra $$ on this expansion? And does it reinvigorate, or even improve, Orléans? Answers after the jump.