We have long known that a spy from the House of Pegasus’ henchmen has managed to get very close to our chosen heir to the throne. They are expecting us to take her out with assassination. But it’s not that easy, because our House Dragon doesn’t have an Assassin and the soldier is nowhere near her. But of course, House Pegasus doesn’t know that. An ambush could be just the right way to lure their assassin on the wrong track and at the same time give us more influence ourselves. It will be our house that ascends the throne and the Oriflamme, the red sun banner, will shine upon it.
Intrigues at the royal court in the style of Game of Thrones are on the agenda in Oriflamme by Adrien and Axel Hesling from Studio H. The king is dead and has left no heir. Various families in the kingdom are now vying to see who will be allowed to provide the new king. With every round, they seek their own advantage and do not shy away from murder.
Rules of the game: All beginning is… easy
All players start with pretty much the same conditions, because each player gets the deck of cards with his house emblem in his hand, which basically contain the same 10 cards for everyone. Three of these cards are removed randomly before the game and six of the remaining seven cards are actually played in a game. So there is a little variance and unpredictability.
The game principle is kept very simple: Each player may play one card per round. This card is then played face down either at the beginning or the end of the row of cards already dealt. When all players have done so, the second phase begins. Here the individual cards in the row are played from front to back. In the case of face-down cards, the owner may decide whether the card should be turned face up and thus trigger the effect, or whether the card should remain face down for another round. In this case, an influence marker is placed on it. You want to collect as many of these as possible, because the player with the most influence at the end of the game is the new king.
Every instrument is right when it comes to the throne
The effects of the cards can be quite different. There are unique effects, like the Assassin removing another card from the row… so he subtly off the person. After that the Assassin’s card also disappears from the row. The target of this assassination can be either a face up or a face down card.
Other cards remain in place permanently after being revealed and repeat their effect each turn. For example, a Spy may take an influence marker from a family that has a card adjacent to the Spy in each turn. This annoying little thing spies on the dirtiest secrets and uses them to its advantage. No wonder the affected players don’t want the card near them for long.
In addition to the Assassin, there is also an archer who likes to shoot at the ends of the line and remove an unwelcome helper there, and the soldier who clears the line with his sword in his hand right next to him. However, both cards are permanent and have to deal their effect every round. This can be stupid if your own helpers are the only valid targets for the murderous craft. Each time a murder is successfully completed, there is an influence marker as a reward.
Taking power subtly and with style
Besides these very direct ways of gaining influence, there are of course some more subtle means. For example, you can leave your Conspiracy card face-down, because after you’ve revealed it, you’ll get twice the amount of influence you’ve accumulated on it in your supply. If you uncover other cards of your own on which influence markers have already been collected, you won’t get this double effect. This is only the case if the cards are not removed by a competitor.
However, not every card that has been lying face down for a long time needs to be removed. The ambush is also only of use if it remains face-down and gives its owner more influence if a player is fooled and wants to remove the card.
Game depth: because they do not know what they are doing
With these cards and some more you can play nice tactical power games. Due to the well-designed layout, the game arouses the curiosity of other players and the few rules make sure that it is explained very quickly and you can start playing right away. In the first rounds exactly that happens: You just start playing. The full tactical possibilities of Oriflamme, which offers much more depth than a Love Letter for example, are not yet exhausted. With more games the power struggle and bluffing begins. Envy, mistrust and the desire for revenge spread around the table and create exactly the atmosphere in which no player trusts anyone else, which makes the game so exciting and atmospheric.
It is closely observed whether the other players play their cards to the front or to the back. Which cards have already been played? What could the others be up to? Will the card just played thwart their own plans? And then in the second phase you hope that your own card and thus your own plan will not be destroyed by the other players before the end of the game. Or maybe my plan will work out and the Assassin will eliminate the very card that has not allowed me to safely reveal my descendant, of whom there can only be one at a time. Mutual stalking and suspense have been put into a little game here, which comes along with a very nice and thematical presentation.
The gimmick: A special packaging
Only the game box itself gives cause for criticism. Here one has taken the trouble to choose an original slipcase box. In practice, however, it proves to be not so lucky. During the first packing up, one of the players had pushed the tray the wrong way round. Without an opening to pull it out, it was difficult to open it again. On another occasion, one of the players had pulled the box out with a lot of verve but the wrong way round and the tokens were flying around in a high arc. In a board game household there was of course a bag in which they could be put to prevent further misfortunes of this kind. So the unfamiliar box did more harm than good here.
Illustrations: The eye plays with
But what really worked out well are the illustrations by Tomasz Jedruszek. He has illustrated cards for Magic the Gathering and contributed images to Fantasy Flight Games for the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Game of Thrones licenses. He has definitely come into contact with the medieval setting before. The thematic proximity to Game of Thrones has also made him the right choice for Oriflamme. The individual characters are well-designed and immediately bring the right mood to the table. The mechanics and the theme fit well together. With the somewhat gloomy pictures on the cards you get quickly into the right mood to spin intrigues.
Oriflamme – A winner among the small games
Oriflamme has been so well received in France that it won the As d’Or – Jeu de l’Année 2020 (the French version of our Game of the Year with the red pawns) in Cannes. In Germany, it is pretty quiet around the little game. Maybe that will change a bit now, because I would like to see more attention paid to Oriflamme. We have spent some intense games with it. I was very annoyed when my soldier uncovered one ambush after another with great accuracy. I was extremely pleased when, through the seemingly harmless movement of a card, I forced my teammate to attack his own card. The ups and downs are close together here.
In the manageable playing time of 20 to 30 minutes a lot of game was packed without getting complicated. When everyone knows the cards that could be in the game, the true strength of the game unfolds. If a player should ever forget which abilities the individual cards have, a look at the excellent player aid helps. Instead of cryptic symbols, the abilities are briefly summarized here in plain text.
There is one small thing to consider though: Because it is a classic bluff game, Oriflamme only works with three or more players. And there can be no more than five players. With more players, more and more randomness comes into play for tactical bluffing. With five players you can’t really plan anything.
I would recommend that you take a look at the conspiracy for the crown with Oriflamme.