A review of Orleans by Tiago Perretto.
1) What is it?
Orléans is a pool building game, blended with worker placement. In it, you hire workers, that are represented by tokens, and the tokens go into your bag. In the next round, you will take a certain number of workers out of the bag and these will be available for use in that round - and you will use them mostly in your personal board, but they, by the use of the City Hall space on the personal board, can be sent to work in big issues involving the city of Orléans (they stay there - is basically the "trash" option).
With the workers (knights, craftsmen, farmers, monks, scholars, etc) you can help the city of Orléans, travel the country by land or river, build trade posts, acquire tools, advance in science, and several other things.
Orléans offers a nice experience, with many paths to follow, and all with a not big learning curve.
2) How do you play?
Every round starts with the players pulling workers from the bag - at the start the number drawn is 4, but this can be increased by hiring Knights. Players allocate their workers, simultaneously, in spots in their own personal boards. There they might activate actions (hiring other workers, travel or building). The activation of actions is done one at a time, in clockwise order. This is important, as timing to do actions can be very important, since several spots on the country only have one good, which is taken by the first travelling there; citizens, that help the end game score, are taken by the first player to reach a certain spot or fill a task required by the city.
Workers can be left in the board from one round to the other, but there is a maximum space for 8 workers in the market (your available workers). Workers can also be left in a spot on the board, awaiting there to complete the action, but they can’t be moved elsewhere.
The goal is to have the most points in the end - coins are points, goods are points and also there is a multiplication that is based in the number trading posts, citizens and level in the science track.
3) Which are the decisions made during play?
There are several, but for most not all that hard to be made. Which worker to hire (in two levels: for the immediate gain and, later, for what it can do); which building to take; where to add a tool (tools are tokens that cover spaces on the personal board, meaning that the worker under to tool is no longer needed in order to do the action); which path to travel; when to use the City Hall (not only to get rid of a unwanted worker, but also to gain coins or science, and the chance of getting a ciziten).
Orléans mix long term strategy with tactical decisions all the time. You hire workers thinking in the now and/or for the future, then, at the start of the round, you draw randomly from the bag and must do the best you can with what you got. Tools and buildings are all in the strategy camp, and you won’t be able to use them in the moment you acquire them, but they can make lots of difference later.
There is also a strong timing issue in the decision-making process. Some actions are better when you have the turn order on your side, doing something before someone else. And you can even set up this - you know that, next round, you will act before X player, therefore, you can delay something, or start something (like helping the city of Orléans) to finish it in the next round.
4) What are the good things in the game?
Constant sense of advancement;
Due to the way scoring works, with goods being hidden, and no one really counting coins, the decision of the game can be a tense moment, in order to discover the winner;
Strategy mixed with tactic;
Very good graphic design and art;
Lots of decisions to be made throughout the game;
Many paths to victory.
5) Which are the bad news?
Luck has its part in the game, mostly in the draw of workers from the bag, but also from the events, but there is ways to decrease the the random chance of the former and knowledge helps deal with the latter;
The game should have player screens, like the ones in Dungeon Petz, as players allocate, at the same time, the workers (you can draw then in the open, just the selection should be done in secret). Doing in player order would just make for some huge and unnecessary downtime, and if doing at the same time, you or someone else can stall, in order to see what everyone is doing, or change, after you see someone, that will act first in the round, doing an action first, which will make yours moot or, at least, weaker. Player screens will solve all of this, so I recommend even DIY some.
6) How do you feel while playing?
Like a successful person. Regardless of the path you choose to follow in the game, you will have some degree of success.
Orléans provides a great sense of advancement, much greater than other deck/pool builders, since you don’t just acquire a worker when you do this (like purchasing a card or a die), but you also gain a something immediately: hire a fisherman and you gain money; hire a knight and your "hand" of workers increase; hire a noble and you gain an unique building to use; hire a craftsman and you gain a tool; and so on. Even when you travel, you gain a good along the way (if there is still any in the path). This works very well in passing a sense of accomplishment even if you are doing poorly, as you keep gaining things.
Although punishing games can be really fun, it can be eerily like life, and can be nice to have unbirthday gifts coming almost every round.
Orléans has a very nice design, offering multiple choices and allowing the players to pick their own path. With the simultaneous allocation of workers and the single action per turn, the downtime is minimal (there can still be some, though, if you are only doing one action, and the others are doing 3, 4, however, this doesn’t happen often). There is a learning curve in the game, specially considering the timing of hiring, travelling and in knowing the events, but even someone playing for the first time, if the person has some prior experience with deck/pool building and work placement, will have a good chance of playing well. And once one learns it, it won’t be required to, later, learn new cards, dice, effects and whatnot, which is usual for other deck/pool building games.
The time of playing is properly laid out: around 90 minutes if playing with 4, somewhat less with 3.
The graphic design works well, being easy to know what things do with a glance, and the game is language independant.
Overall, Orléans goes well recommended.
Complete review and comments available here: BGG Orleans review