ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Orléans Invasion Edition

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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.

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Orléans Edition

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Back in June of 2015, when I was six months into my burgeoning board game obsession/addiction, I learned that a game called Orléans had been nominated for Kennerspiel De Jahres. In gaming parlance, it’s the equivalent of receiving an Oscar nod. Well, sort of. The Spiel de Jahres is actually the award reserved for game of the year, and that award usually goes to something with broad, perhaps family appeal. The Kennerspiel, however, is designated for more intensely gamey games — the titles that are a little more challenging in some way or another. Think of it as the Palm d’Or to the Spiel de Jahres‘s Oscar. This is all an elaborate and unnecessary way for me to say that about six or seven months ago, I heard about Orléans, and I heard it was good.

WELL. I took a gander at some of the early reviews of Orléans, and after seeing the way the game played, I summarily decided that I must have it. The only problem was that the damn thing wasn’t available outside of Europe. I’m a sucker for when people play hard to get, and I guess the same goes for board games because I definitely developed a crush on this bad boy. I waited patiently for months, and then finally, Orléans arrived stateside. In fact, the game’s US distributor, Tasty Minstrel Games, was kind enough to send me a review copy recently. At last I could get my eager paws onto this game; although, full disclosure, my friend Larry bought the game six weeks prior; so, my eager paws had actually pawed about already. But that’s neither here nor there.

Was Orléans worth the wait? Or did my crush merely string me along?

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