So, this is a cooperative games blog. Why are we talking about Orleans, a competitive, bag-building Euro game?
Orleans is a game that came to my attention because it could have fit on two of my recent Top 10 lists: Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games (bag-building is a dual of deck-building) and Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively. There is a big box expansion called Orleans: Invasion that imbues this competitive, victory-point-scoring Euro with cooperative and solo rules (and some campaign rules for a competitive game, but we won’t delve into that)!
I’m not sure why I picked this up: Was I curious how to make a Euro cooperative? Yes! Had I heard good things about the cooperative mode? Yes! Was it on sale! Yes! Oh, that’s why I picked it up!
Unboxing The Base Game
Well, the expansion looks great .. but I can’t really get to it until I get into the base game! I just want to say, there’s a lot in here. A lot of cardboard, a lot of boards, a lot of tokens, a lot of rules (but not as many as expected).
This is a bag-building game. Each player will have their own bag, and slowly build their own bad by adding tokens (soooooo maaaaany tokens ….)
Each player also has their own “action selection board” where they can play their tokens (see Blue Player board above). The color is a little muted, but you can see that is the blue player’s board.
There is a main board (see above) with a map (you travel around: this mechanic surprised me a little) and some spaces to do stuff. And places to hold resources on the left (wheat, wine, etc.) … I told you this was a soulless Euro!)
There’s also an auxiliary board to do “side quests” as you play.
If you had any doubt, this is a Euro!! How are they going to make this solo and cooperative? Stay tuned … we are almost there …
So, because the Solo and Cooperative modes are “add-ons” from another completely different expansion, you will have to go through the main rulebook to get the feel of the game.
I’m not a huge fan of when games just “list” components and don’t actually show them (see page 1 above)! I like the kinesthetic experience of matching the components from the rulebook with the components of the box; it helps me absorb the game. A plain “list” mapping listed components to real components becomes that much harder. If I had one major complaint about this rulebook, I’d say it was the lack of component pictures.
But, on the second page is a picture of set-up. Ah! With this, I was to at least have a better idea of what was going on just by setting up the game. This was a good set-up, showing little boxes and arrows and what the game looks like set-up. I will “forgive” the list of components on the previous page because this set-up page makes up for it!
The rest of the rulebook is good. I was able to read through the rules and get a good sense of the game quickly. There are a 7 major phases of the game (see pages above) and the main structure of the game comes across as pretty straight forward.
The rest of the rulebook elaborates on the main rules, main cards, etc. It was a good rulebook in general: lots of pictures, good explanations/elaborations.
What Do I Do Next?
Okay. I’ve read through the main rulebook, and I have set-up a game of plain Orleans (or at least put tokens on the board). What do I now? Do I play the base game first? Can I play Solo first? (That sounds hard! I don’t know the rules!!!!)
So, here’s what I did: In hopes that the solo mode was simple enough (this was a Hail Mary to be sure), I opened Orleans: Invasion expansion and started looking at the Solo Mode … gulp … here goes …
Which Solo Mode?
So, interestingly, the game has not 1, not 2, but 3 solo modes! The first two are simpler and the last one is more complex. Which one to start with? The first one!
First Solo Mode
If I were to repackage this game, I would put the first solo mode (The Dignitary) in the base game! This seemed like the best way to learn the game! It lets you learn most of the mechanics at your own pace and it’s quite fun! (This solo mode also eliminates the resources as well, making the game easier to set-up and play).
You only need three things from the expansion to play the Dignitary solo mode: a white token, the Stage Coach and the “set events” board (see above)!!! This isn’t too bad!
The rule changes/elaboration are described in two pages. Basically, you make this game cooperative by collecting “Dignity” (the little dudes) before you run out of time (ie., the events play out).
You still play the base game fairly normally: build your bag, move your token around the map, and try to collect enough “Dignity” before times runs out.
This DOES mean you will have to have two rulebooks open (the main Orleans and the Orleans: Invasion rulebooks) when you play solo or cooperatively: not a deal-breaker by any means, but not ideal. BUT: the changes are minimal for this first solo mode.
In the end, I would recommend going through the first solo mode (The Dignitary) for your first play. The changes from the base game were minimal … and most importantly, the changes weren’t daunting.
This is the way to learn the game! Your first play should be a solo game of The Dignitary.
The cooperative mode is MUCH more complicated to learn and it has a lot more components needed (see above). I strongly recommend playing the base game or the solo game before playing the cooperative game: there’s “too many rules” to just jump into this.
How does the cooperative mode work?
The Story: The city is being invaded, and players have to work together to collectively “shore up” the city so the invaders can’t get through! Like the solo mode, the game is over when the event deck runs-out … so we’d better get cracking on shoring up the city!
Players have to work together to fill up the Main city board (see below) with the proper type of workers, coin, and resources to defend the city!
Each player also plays a unique character with a unique sub-goal: All sub-goals MUST be completed to win!
So, the cooperative game proceeds very similarly to base game: players build their bag with workers, sometimes having to sacrifice those workers to the City (to protect it) or their sub-goal (to fulfull their protection goals). Although it seems “weird” to HAVE to complete subgoals to win the game, I’d like to think the sub-goals are important to complete because they represent the city being organized enough to fend off the invaders! Ya, it’s my own rationalization.
Finally, the players must fortify all the establishments around the map: this are an important cog in the defense of Orleans! (Recall The Dignitary does not use resources, but the cooperative mode absolutely does! See the map above).
So, in summary, to make Orleans cooperative:
- Add sub-goals (where you lose workers from your bag)
- Adds a city board to be “manned”: Players fill up City Protection Positions (losing more workers from your bag)
- Move around the map collecting resources to fill the necessary stores in the City
- Other minor change (change the event deck, adding cards for each player)
In general, it works. BUT: It’s hard and it adds a lot of rules!
My first cooperative game: We lost, and we lost badly. Here’s the thing: I kept thinking about it about I lost!! “How could I have done better? Should I have done that?” That’s always a sign that you are really invested in the game! And I do want to play it again.
Just remember, don’t play the cooperative version until you’ve played the solo or base game: there’s just too much (rules, components) to play cooperatively the first time.
If I had played this before I did my Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively or my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders, I think this would have made both lists. The expansion is ABSOLUTELY worth getting! The solo mode(s) are interesting, and good ways to learn the game, and the cooperative really steps up the game! Even beyond the solo and cooperative mode, Orleans: Invasion adds scenarios and just tons of content.
In the end, Orleans and Orleans: Invasion really surprised me! I didn’t think it was possible to make good solo/cooperative modes for soulless Euro games, but you know what? They did! Is it worth getting Orleans and Orleans: Invasion JUST for the cooperative and solo modes? I think so. Hopefully this review will help you get a feel if it’s a good cooperative game for you.