You’ve made it hundreds of miles, weeks of racing. Legs pumping hour after hour, keeping up with your team, keeping up with the pack. With strategy, strength, and pure human will you’ve blazed ahead. Now it’s the last leg of the race, the ride home, and you’re up front with the best riders of the best. Hope you’ve got your second wind – or maybe your third or fourth – because it’s time to make a break for the finish line and win that coveted yellow jersey.
Let’s assume you’re familiar with Flamme Rouge, and you’re here to see if the expansion is worth adding to the mix. If not, I’d start here with my review of the base game.
Peloton adds a slew of new tracks, riders, and variant rules, but as there are no significant gameplay changes I’m going to forgo the usual rules rundown and jump right in.
First and foremost, Peloton allows you to play with a whole lot more people. Two new riding teams allow up to 6 human players in the standard game. Yes, that would be quite crowded on a normal track, so you’ll be pleased to hear that the new track tiles have sides with 3 spaces per square, allowing more cyclists to fit in a tight pack.
I don’t always have a group of six players, but these new riders and tracks are a welcome addition. When I’m playing more casual games like this, I tend to have at least 5 people. Since play is simultaneous, adding 2 more people hardly extends the length of the game, although it does make the outcome of each round harder to predict. You’re more likely to run into a crowd and lose out on a few movement points, even with the wider tracks included, making the game feel more chaotic. Still, it doesn’t prevent you from playing strategically. You just have a few more elements to consider. Arguably, it’s worse to get stuck at the rear of the pack in these larger games; on the other hand, I’ve seen people gain 3 or 4 spaces via slipstreaming more frequently, so there you have it.
In case you want the bigger crowd but don’t have 6 players, Peloton includes rules for NPC players, with two variants on how the teams are driven. The “Peloton” team runs off a single deck, meaning the two riders always move the same number of spaces, with two exceptions: two special cards are added that drive the rear-most Peloton rider 9 spaces forward, and the front-most rider 2 spaces. Alternatively, the “Muscle” team uses the two standard decks and shuffles in an extra 5 to the Sprinter deck. While you can only add 1 Peloton team to the mix, you can include up to 5 Muscle teams. For either NPC team, you simply reveal the top card of each deck to determine movement.
I thought it was actually pretty enjoyable to throw these in with a group. They add a bit of unknown to each turn, sometimes helping and sometimes hurting. I wouldn’t use them every time given the random nature of their outcomes, but sometimes you just want to see that big crowd of bikes on the table.
You can also use these riders to play the game solo, although I’m not sure how often I’d do this. A big part of the game is trying to guess what other players will do, and since the AI is pretty random you can’t outguess or outplay your opponent. Still, be aware it’s an option, especially if you really enjoy the game and don’t have a lot of opportunities to play with a group. At the very least, maybe you can practice your personal strategy.
If your problem goes in the opposite direction and you have too many players around, Flamme Rouge now supports up to 12 players with a single-cyclist variant. Yes, some will be playing Sprinteurs and some will be playing Roleurs, but it’s each player for themselves in a knock-down drag-out race to the finish line. Full disclosure: I can’t say I’ve had the opportunity to play with such a large group, but I imagine it would be entertaining – even if putting each individual player into the hands of fate more than the standard game.
Beyond riders, there are a few new track features to play around with. The first is called the Breakaway zone. At the start of the game, after riders are placed at the starting line, everyone has a chance to bid for an advanced position several squares ahead of the starting line. Each player essentially bids two cards for one of their riders, and the highest total gets to jump ahead (With 5-6 players, two riders get the jump). However, if you win the bid you have to discard your cards from the game and replace them with exhaustion cards.
It’s an intriguing variant, but it has a bit of a learning curve. At first glance it looks great to jump ahead, but you have to remember you’re spending movement cards to get there. If your starting place is at the back of the pack, it may be worth bidding up a bit to get a better starting position. You might gain a few extra spaces from your movement cards – say, if you can bid a total of 6, win the bid, and move ahead 8 spaces. The people in front have less incentive to bid high, as they’ll only be gaining 3 or 4 spaces.
On the other hand, putting yourself way out in front makes you vulnerable to exhaustion cards. With 5-6 players, two riders get the boost and that gives you someone to work off of, but more than likely you’re going to be utilizing the jump start to get rid of low cards early while staying near the front of the pack.
Basically what I’m trying to say is, it’s very difficult to gauge the value of winning the Breakaway bid. It seems like the space isn’t quite far enough ahead to be worth the bid, especially given the inherent likelihood of absorbing a lot of Exhaustion cards. Also, it’s entirely possible to draw your higher cards when it comes to bid, and even playing the lowest cards in your hand still end up way over-bidding for the position.
The more interesting addition, in my opinion, is that of cobblestone paths. These sections of track are similar to Uphill squares, in that they prevent slipstreaming. They do not, however, limit speed. Also, these sections are very narrow, alternating between 1 and 2-space squares. This forms a bottleneck that really forces you to think about your strategy leading up to and through these tiles. If you’re not careful, you can lose a ton of movement points in a crowd. You may end up spending your very high cards to get through them quickly – but if you’re not in a good position at the start of the cobblestone, this is where you get in trouble. It’s a lot of strategy without a bunch of complicated rules, and the simple variance in the track width shows off the versatility of the system.
The other new tile type is the Resupply zone. These are like downhill zones, only the minimum movement is 4 instead of 5 (if you play a 2 or 3, you still move forward 4). In addition, these sections are long enough that you can potentially gain the benefit of the boost twice. Once again, these new tiles add a little strategy as you think about how to enter and leave the supply zones to maximize the benefit. Ideally you can turn two 2’s into 8 movement, but you can’t just wing it and hope it happens. You’ve got to jockey for position to make sure you can do what you want to do. Fortunately, the supply zones are extra wide, allowing 3 riders per square in a 5-6 player game.
Also worth mentioning, the changing widths of tiles adds some more tactics to think about, especially when it comes to slipstreaming. When a 3-wide space converges down to 2, only 2 riders can slipstream forward. If you’re the 3rd rider on the track you can lose out on that free movement even as every other rider around you jumps forward. That is to say, playing carelessly can get you into big trouble. (Admittedly sometimes bad luck can get you into trouble as well).
That about covers the new gameplay content. With all these new tiles, you get a number of new track layouts, each of which includes 2-4 player and 5-6 player variations. Also, if you’re itching to put your own races on the table, some guidelines have been put in the rulebook for building your own tracks to make them fair and playable.
As you can see, there’s a good chunk of new toys to play with in Flamme Rouge: Peloton. I love the additional riders, and the new track features add new strategies and tactics to think about. It just goes to show a little bit can go a long way. The expansion adds a lot of versatility as well, now allowing solo play or a huge group event. If you enjoy Flamme Rouge, I highly recommend getting your hands on the expansion. It’s everything a good expansion should be.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing a review copy of Flamme Rouge.