Orleans is really good. If you are interested in it at all you should stop reading and go buy it. If you feel like you might need a little convincing, then read on ...
Orleans takes the best parts of deck-building, worker placement, and engine building and successfully blends them together in a way that feels crunchy, fun, and interesting. Aside from the theme, which is rather bland, and the long-ish setup time, Orleans hits nothing but high notes.
Orleans tasks players with "achieving dominance in medieval France" by the tried and true method of collecting victory points. Players can gain victory points in a variety of ways, and there are decisions galore to be made during each play of the game. Since nearly every decision ends with a net gain for the player, there is an ever growing sense of accomplishment while playing.
Players take actions in Orleans via worker placement. Orleans successfully tweaks the worker placement mechanic by hiding each player's workers from them in a bag of their color. As players execute actions with workers, and gain new workers, they are placed into the bag, allowing them to be drawn on future turns. This, in turn, adds a deck-building (or, bag-building, if you will) mechanic to the game that allows players to ever increase the options available to them. As with deck-building games, players need to plan out their bag composition, being careful to keep a mix of workers that play best to the actions that player wants to take. If a player's bag gets too saturated with one particular worker type, their options will actually become more limited as the number of workers drawn each turn, while expandable, is limited.
Bag composition isn't the only strategic concern for players. There are many ways for players to gain victory points, many of which are tied together in interesting ways, none of which can be ignored if players want to remain competitive. There are goods to be collected, development levels to gain, money to be earned, Citizenry to attract, Beneficial Deeds to perform, city expansions to acquire, and Trading Stations to be built.
Orleans also features a dash of area control. Players can move around the French countryside collecting goods and establishing Trading Stations. All cities other than the titular Orleans can only contain one Trading Station. Players can attempt to section off areas of the countryside by being first to move along lucrative routes and establish those stations. While building a Trading Station doesn't prevent the other players from moving into a city, it greatly discourages them from doing so as it limits their point-scoring options.
Options abound, and there is a ton of fun to be had trying out various strategies and playstyles. There are some opening moves that seem more obvious than others, but the touch of randomness added with the bag-draw mechanic keeps the game from boiling down to simply determining the optimum placement each turn and mechanically taking it.
Orleans' timing mechanic also helps keep things interesting and deters players from finding one single strategy and sticking to it every time. Played over 18 rounds, an Hourglass tile is turned over each round. The stack of tiles is randomized from game to game, and there are six different effects that the tiles can have. For example, Taxes tiles drawn early can encourage players to stockpile as many goods as possible, while that same stockpile could be very costly to a player if Taxes come due late in the game. The most successful players will pay attention to the tiles and plan accordingly.
A note on play time: The meat of Orleans, the Followers and Planning phases, in which you draw and place your workers, takes place simultaneously between players. The game switches to turn based only for the Action phase, which moves at a brisk pace, so there is usually very little downtime, meaning the game moves along steadily.
There are some times where players may want to wait until they see what their opponents are planning before they finalize their plans, though. Often towards the end of the game, it becomes more important to make choices based on the actions that your opponents will be taking. In this case, the simultaneous phases can be taken in turn order, which slows the game to a much slower pace but allows for much more careful planning. Very competitive players may wish to play this way from the beginning, which is entirely possible, but it will make the game length increase significantly.
A note on “chrome”: Orleans has awesome components. The cardboard is thick, the coloring and art are bright and consistent and the bags are comfortable to touch and play with. The rulebook is easy to read and understand. Orleans feels like a premium product from top to bottom.
The bottom line:
Orleans successfully marries the sense of satisfaction gained from deck-building games with fun worker placement mechanics, and tops it off with a dollop of engine building and a light dusting of area control. Almost every action taken nets the player more stuff, providing an ever present sense of accomplishment and gain. A well thought out strategy trumps a mad resource grab, though, providing an excellent amount of depth for players who really like to sink their teeth in to games. The theme is thin, and it takes a while to set up, but the gameplay is wonderful.
Get this game if:
You enjoy deck-building games.
You enjoy worker placement games.
You enjoy engine building games.
You like meaty euro games that place an emphasis on planning and strategy.
Avoid this game if:
You need a heavy thematic element to enjoy a game.
The copy of Orleans used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
Orleans can be purchased from Amazon here.
Want a second opinion or prefer watching reviews to reading them? See what my friend Zinger over at Chalkboard Game Reviews thinks of Orleans here.
Orléans is an amazing game. The components, mechanics and level of depth meld together into a cohesive, fun and satisfying experience from start to finish.