La Cour des Miracles game: A four-sided review

The La Cour des Miracles game revolves around worker placement, area influence and clever card play. It’s for 2-5 players and takes around 40-60 minutes.

While area majorities are key to the game, ownership is often fleeting. And while the game has much interaction, it never feels ‘mean’ as it is very much central to the game. Everyone is doing it, all the time.

I say this early on because I don’t usually go for these mechanisms, but am fine with them here. The game is also light on rules, so I think the 10+ age range on the box could easily be reduces to eight-plus for gamer families. Each player represents a 16th Century Parisian guild vying for influence in the city’s poorest regions. While non-essential, the theme is well represented and does help teach the game.

The game’s artwork is stunning and the component quality top notch (with one quibble – see ‘key observations’). Some of the rogue token iconography is rubbish, but thankfully there’s not much of it and everything is well described in the short rulebook. In the box you’ll find the game board, 30 cards, 60+ wooden pieces, 60 cardboard tokens and a cotton bag. For less than £30, I’d say it is very good value for money.

Teaching the La Cour des Miracles game

La Cour des Miracles is a ‘first past the post’ board game, so there’s not a victory point in sight. While it may not feel like it, this is very much a race. Because when a player manages to place their sixth Renown marker on the board, they immediately win.

The rules of the game are very simple. On your turn, you place one of your rogues (read: action tokens) onto the board. Each player starts the game with the same three rogue tokens, each of which has a hidden strength value. And you decide which one to deploy each turn. As the game goes on, you can get a fourth rogue as well as upgrades to your starting ones (giving them all sorts of interesting abilities).

The spot you place in has a simple action, which you execute immediately. Either gain coins or Plot cards, or move the Penniless King (more on him later). Next, you have the option of triggering the action associated with the neighbourhood you placed your rogue in. These areas are contested and once controlled by a player, they profit from this extra action being used. Hence it being optional.

The standoff

Each neighbourhood has three spots for rogues. At the end of a turn where an area fills up, it triggers a standoff between the players there. During a standoff the rogue tokens are flipped over and a simple strength majority earns control (the rogues go back to their owners). Meaning you place one of your Renown tokens there. But wins can be fleeting, as areas can have several standoffs per game (even per round!). Moving the Penniless King can also trigger standoffs, which occur even if a neighbourhood isn’t full.

If you’re a lover not a fighter, you’ll be trying to collect as much money as possible. This can then be spent in a particular neighbourhood to send your Renown tokens to Renown Square. Up to five of your Renown tokens can be sent there, each of which gets a small immediate benefit. More importantly, once there they are safe. But the maths-savvy amongst you will realise you’ll still have to control at least one neighbourhood to be able to place your sixth Renown token and win.

Finally, there are the Plot cards. You may play one of these on each of your turns, at any time. Each is powerful (if sometimes situational), giving anything from cash to moving Renown/Rogue tokens, or triggering a standoff. They add that bit of mystery the game needs, so you never quite know what a player is capable of on their next turn.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I don’t usually like area majority games, but I enjoy La Cour des Miracles. It plays fast while the real emphasis is on clever comboing of cards and actions. Players don’t feel picked on, as disputes are frequent and everyone is involved in standoffs on a regular basis. And as it is first past the post wins, there’s no point picking on the little guy to try for second place. With clever play you can comfortably place two Renown tokens in a single turn – turfing someone out in the process. So no player should ever feel out of the running.
  • The thinker: I also quite enjoyed the game, but it is almost entirely tactical. Sure, you can hold a Plot card back for a particular time. But 99% of your turns will be decided in the moment. Luck also plays quite a big part. Upgrading your rogues is a random pick from a bag, so you can’t choose your tactical direction. While pulling the right Plot card at the right time can make or break your challenge. But at under an hour, that’s fine – just not really for me.
  • The trasher: La Cour des Miracles will never be a top favourite. But it’s a great bridge between heads-down euro games and thematic interactive ones. And its one I’d always happily sit down and play. We’re used to seeing area majority and action selection combine in modern gaming, but usually in longer heavier games. And it’s important that the rules get out of the way fast, while the board is so tight there’s nowhere to hide and play turtle. All in all, a great gateway game.
  • The dabbler: Wow, what a beautiful game! The art is gorgeous, exacerbated by nice extra touches. Such as the board being cut around the city wall, rather than being the normal boring rectangle. And the amazing cover art being a removable poster you can put on your wall. The game itself is super easy to learn and while its mean, you’re all being mean all the time! So I’m not sure that really counts lol. So I like it and will happily play again, but I’m not sure I’d request it.

Key observations

This is a very new game, with very few reviews, so there’s not to much for me to comment on. The only big negative comment mentions the game has a lot of luck – which I’ve already commented on – but also claimed it’s unbalanced. I’d have to take issue with that. Sure, cards and rogues are varied – but I don’t see any killer combos. And as an area majority game, you’re relying on the players to settle imbalances.

Component-wise, getting the cardboard player tokens out of the wooden discs can be fiddly and annoying. You’d think a little thought could’ve seen them easily side-step this issue. Which is a surprise, as the publisher has done a bang-on job elsewhere. There has been some criticism of the rulebook, but this is a surprise to me as I thought it was largely clear, concise and well laid out.

Conclusion: La Cour des Miracles game

When I added this to my Essen 2019 Top 10 wish list I didn’t really see it as an area majority game. Once I got it, I was a little more sceptical. But so far, it is one of my favourite game of this year’s crop. While it’s not full of original ideas, it puts things together in a fascinating way. And while you’re literally just doing, at most, three actions at once; you can pull off some very satisfying combos. It plays to its advertised length, feels satisfying for it, and is an easy teach. What’s not to like?

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