To see a video playthrough of Orléans, click here.
What is this game about?
Orléans is a bag-building game set in medieval France. Bag building is an interesting variant on deck building, in which you acquire pieces with different uses that you draw from a bag. You may not draw what you want every turn, which makes it important to optimize and to plan.
Essentially, you acquire specific combinations of workers, then deploy them on your player board to take actions. You have several options when it comes to which actions to take: You can use your current workers to get new ones, to travel to different locations on a map, to collect goods, to build trading posts, or to move along the development track. Victory points are calculated at the end of the game, and you can try several different strategies to acquire them.
This might sound very boring, but I love it. As you play, you will focus on ways to maximize your actions and to become as efficient as possible—and you will have to adjust with every game you play, because you will draw different events, buildings, and configurations of resources every time. There are a lot of strategies to try in Orléans, which means it will keep me entertained for quite some time.
How does it play solo?
To play Orléans solo, you also need to pick up the big-box expansion, called Orléans: Invasion. This expansion contains three solo scenarios, as well as a tantalizingly difficult and interesting cooperative one. The solo scenarios are essentially interesting puzzles that require you to make good use of the game mechanics.
The first scenario, The Dignitary, pushes you to acquire supporters by traveling around the map and performing various actions. The next, Capital Vierzon, gives you a set of specific objectives, then challenges you to complete them in a fairly short period of time. The third, Traveling Salesman, requires you to deliver goods to different cities while also coping with interference from unpleasant events. All of these scenarios can be scaled to increase or decrease difficulty, though The Dignitary is definitely the easiest.
There is also the cooperative scenario, Invasion. This scenario is for 2–5 players, but if you are comfortable with managing two characters, you can just play two-handed to enjoy it on your own. This scenario is very challenging and asks you to perform a seemingly impossible number of tasks to prepare for an impending invasion. You can make this scenario more or less difficult depending on how you set it up, but no matter how you play, it's no cakewalk.
Orléans is an extremely fun brain teaser. The theme is pasted on to the point where it barely matters—this is a game of calculation and optimization, not storytelling or adventure. However, it is extremely addictive if you enjoy that sort of thing. I find myself bringing this one to the table pretty often to see how I fare with different strategies or building combinations.
That said, I may eventually tire of Orléans. The solo scenarios have set events that occur in a specific order, which means that you can plan for them pretty effectively once you have more experience with the game. There are only so many truly viable strategies in Orléans, and while you can challenge yourself to try new things, there are only so many new things to try.
For now, though, there is plenty of gameplay left in Orléans for me, and I am enjoying every moment I spend playing it. I usually prefer more thematic games, but thinking through the possibilities in Orléans is something I truly enjoy. Part of it is that I love deckbuilders already, so bag building was an enticing variation on a theme I already like. Part of it is that I love games that start out simple, but quickly branch out and force you to make difficult choices with limited resources. (I also find Splendor highly addictive. Orléans is more complicated, but it gives me that same meditative feeling.)
Do I recommend it?
If you like puzzles, deck/bag building, or thinking through a game until you come up with the very best set of strategies to deploy, then yes! You will enjoy this game. If you prefer more thematic or story-driven games, then Orléans is probably not your cup of tea.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 - I love it!
4- I really like it.
3 - I like it.
2 - It's okay.
1 - Meh.