Deck Building games, where you improve your deck during the game, are a staple of my collection. I started with the purer deck builders like Star Realms, Xenon Profiteer and Legendary Marvel.
Then games started mixing in other mechanics, area control in Tyrants of the Underdark, or dungeon diving in Clank! Then I heard about Orleans and bag building, sort of deck building with cubes or tokens in a bag. The same premise of manipulating that pool of resources in your bag to serve your purposes better.
Essen 2017 saw the anticipated release of Altiplano from Reiner Stockbausen. The reason it was so anticipated is that Reiner's previous game was the seminal Orleans. The standard Orleans, from DLP Games (TMG did a version on Kickstarter), comes with a lot of punch board. The main component is the character disks, about the size of a penny, that fill your bag and are available to improve it during the game. When they are in your possession (bag or board) they are called followers.
Your objective is to try and score as many points as possible. There is a variety of ways to do this. You can put your followers to use, earning more valuable characters which can be used to open up more options. Usually taking one of these tokens pushes you up a track for that gives you specific bonuses.
Most tracks include citizen tokens which are hugely important for scoring, along with trading stations that you play on the map.
Oh didn't I mention the map? Well, half of the board is a map, you will move around picking up resources and building trading stations. To do this you must, of course, assign your followers to the correct action spaces on your board. This is the main thrust of Orleans, getting the right type of followers in your bag to perform the actions that will most benefit you at the right time. For example, to gain a new farmer you must commit a boatman and a craftsman to the relevant spaces on your player board.
At the start, you only have four followers but you will soon increase this. The question is how will you go about this? The knight is useful for movement on the map but also increases how many followers you can draw from your bag. Then again the scholar pushes you along the development track, which is a points multiplier and gives you citizens.
Orleans is a game rich with choice.
Playing Orleans Board Game (Credit: Muse23PT BGG)
At the start of the round an event is drawn, which are mostly bad and sometimes good. Will the plague event come out followed by the inevitable groan? The event deck also acts as a game timer, the game ending on the round the last event is drawn. Next is the census stage where the player who is furthest ahead on the farmer track gets a coin, and the one at the back loses a coin.
After this, players simultaneously draw followers from their deck up to their limit (remember the knight track!) and if they can place them in their planning area. They will move these around deciding how best to place them to get what they want.
When everyone has finished this, the players will take those actions in turn order. Followers that have gone towards an action are placed back in your bag unless they have gone to the 'Beneficial Deeds' board via the Town Hall space. This board is the only way to trim down your bag to the followers you really want.
When everyone is done, the event tile drawn at the start of the round is resolved, and the whole thing is repeated with a new start player.
Of course, the emphasis is on building your bag to secure points. Some of the characters you will recruit are all about points, but some are about making you more efficient. Every time you choose to add a character to your bag, you move up their track, and the tracks all offer a different bonus.
Want more gold? Recruit boatmen, more resources, farmers. Craftsmen offer technology which can be permanently added to one space on your player board - making it cheaper forever. The trader gets you a choice of extra buildings, which are basically extra action spaces for you. The monks act as a wild follower and I've already mentioned the knights and scholars.
If you find yourself a bit follower heavy you can always send some off to the town hall to attempt to earn some other bonus. After the last round points are totaled from money and goods, then you total trading stations and citizens are added together and multiplied by your level on the development track.
Orleans Board Game - Gameplay (Credit: LouisSparda)
I love Orleans. The game is hugely satisfying. It's one of my favourite games of all time. It's interesting coming back to it after playing Altiplano, which simplifies the scoring but adds movement to the actions. I like the openness of Orleans, but it's fair to say that to be in with a chance of winning, you must get up that development track.
Also, in the base game, the Town Hall Beneficial Deeds board is a bit boring, but it's the only way to thin your followers from your bag, so you will use it. Player interaction is mid-range with it mainly be racing to get the citizens or build in the nearest areas on the map.
Orleans can be a little overwhelming at first as you try to get to grip with the options. The gameplay is straightforward though, and everything on your player board makes sense. It's especially important to have everything out and set-up as you explain how to play. Set-up is going to take a while too. I've upgraded my copy with the fan kit which lets you use meeples instead of the cardboard chits for characters, and technology, plus a fifth player.
Despite these quibbles, which are addressed in the expansions, the game is tremendous. Once you know what you are doing it plays at a reasonable speed too. There is something satisfying about pulling followers out of your bag and making your moves while trying to improve your options. It is a game that starts strong and improves the more you play it. If you like deck building and/or bag building then Orleans is worth a shot.
So what about the follow-on, Altiplano? Should you skip Orleans and just get that? This is a difficult choice. Altiplano plays very similarly but feels very different. Part of this is the addition of movement. You have to be on the correct 'island' to perform an action as well as assigning the correct resources (followers in Orleans).
However, unlike in Orleans, there is not as much to do with the harder to get resources, other than score points. This makes things simpler, as everyone is broadly following the same path to attempted victory, but you lose the options you have in Orleans.
It feels easier and more valuable to thin your bag out in Altiplano, by storing goods in your warehouse, and also it adds the equivalent of a discard pile. Instead of going straight back into your bag when used, your resources go into a container. They only move into your bag when it's empty.
So which? Orleans narrowly takes it for me, having the expansions and the options within the game. However, I do like the movement and streamlined nature of Altiplano. Maybe get both?!
Nick can also be found at Board, Deck & Dice