• A bold attack pays off as Monsieur Red Rouleur passes the finish line at the mountain-top finish. (Jamie Finch-Penninger)Source: Jamie Finch-Penninger
It's easy to learn, a deep tactical experience, plus it evokes the atmosphere of road racing without having to don the lycra and bang handlebars with the local hubbards.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

5 Dec 2018 - 10:50 AM 

So it's a cycling board game. Cycling is sometimes referred to as 'chess on wheels', so it's a natural to think that a board game would be a good fit for all the wannabee directeur sportifs out there.

Personally, as someone who is involved in the cycling industry and enjoys a good board game now and then, I was really looking forward to playing this.

The one bit of trepidation I had was whether I got my board-gaming friends or my cycling friends to give it a go. There's not necessarily much cross-over between the groups in the past, maybe the exception might be the Nathan Haas-backed 'Attack the Pack' card game.  

Thankfully, I shouldn't have worried too much as it made a good impression with both groups. 

I'd put this down to the simplicity of the rules. The barrier for entry here isn't restricted to hard-core fans that have watched every pedal stroke of the spring classics, but it still offers a satisfying experience for the experts. As a player, you have two riders (sprinteur and rouleur), a deck for each and you then choose from four cards from your deck each turn to determine how many spaces that rider goes.

The sprinteur is your fast man, most of the time he relies on getting dragged along by the pack, but he has a ferocious burst of acceleration when required.

The rouleur is a bit more versatile, he's not nearly as disadvantaged by hills as the sprinteur and he doesn't have to be nursed along constantly. 

Those are your two representatives in the fight against the other teams (up to four players). First team with a rider over the line wins.

So whoever plays the higher numbers wins? Well, no, not really.

Sure you can go charging off the front of the bunch by playing all your nines early, but you're going to pick up exhaustion cards for each turn your Thomas de Gendt impersonator is stuck out on his own, which will inevitably return to clog your hand just as your rider's legs fill with lactic acid.

The other key game mechanic is slip-streaming behind your own or your opponent's riders. There's no more frustrating feeling than thinking you've organised the perfect attack only to see the peloton efficiently slip-stream up from behind to neutralise the move. Or conversely, you could be the one with the smug satisfaction of a perfectly executed counter move.

Add in specific rules for hills (you can't slip-stream and can only move an average distance even on a big card) and descents (you can through away a bad card and still move a fair way) and there's the game.

So does the gameplay work as a board game and does it work as a cycling game? I'd say yes on both counts.

Mechanically, it is quite simple, but the card draw system means you can never do 'perfect maths' to work out exactly how the race will go. You will spend a lot of time eyeballing your opponents to see if they're about to launch a stunning attack or are merely trying to drop to the back of the back of the pack to save some energy.

As a cycling game, it's worthwhile nothing that it's not a simulation of the sport. You can find yourself being dropped in the first turn of the race, leaving your hapless rider fighting to get back all by himself and accruing exhaustion cards when his legs were fine and even the worst rider in the real peloton would be easily still in contact.

Similarly, there's nothing worse than finding yourself trying to play low cards, so you can stop doing the work on the front of the bunch and building up exhaustion, only to find yourself stuck out in the wind without even the recourse of flapping your arms about and remonstrating with the slackers in your group.

That said, it's not supposed to be a simulation, it's more aimed at evoking the emotions and feel of riding a one-day classic. To be more specific, the last 30 kilometres of a classic.

The art on the cards and in the miniatures is based on the between the wars period of cycling, when the tough men ruled the road. That's more the feel of this game as well, not the super slick operation of a modern cycling team and more about the cyclist and the machine versus the next guy.

You really get that gut-wrenching feeling when your poor heroic rider makes a bold attack over the second last climb, makes good on the initial move and pushes on towards the line, only to crack within sight of the finish and get overtaken by the onrushing peloton. 

Your riders struggle up hills and coast down descents, and if you work your strategy correctly, you can get some decent teamwork going. In terms of a cycling experience in a box, it really delivers. 

There are expansions that offer other features as well, like the early breakaway, cobbles and 'auto-play' teams. There's also a semi-official set of rules to play your own Grand Tour as well, with characters from the history of cycling. I haven't fully looked into this yet, but it's definitely on the to-do list. 

Check out this video review from the wonderfully funny Shut up and Sit down team if you aren't yet convinced.