(P)review The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857, a historic educational deck builder wargame

The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857 combines wargaming and deck-building in a unique way to tell the story of the French invasion of Algeria, specifically the “pacification” of the Kabylia region.

This is a cooperative deck-building game where the players control the Algerian people from six different villages attempting to hold off the French colonizers.

Disclosure: Thanks to Matt from Hit Em With A Shoe Games for sending us this prototype to check out. No other compensation was provided. 

What is The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857 about?

The box for the prototype version of The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857The Red Burnoose: Algeria 1857 was designed by Matt Shoemaker and Roberta Taylor. It features very striking artwork from Ahcene Blibek and graphic design from Helen Shoemaker. Karim Ouaras provided Cultural Consulting and editing was done by Nicole Amato.

A crowdfunding campaign for The Red Burnoose will be launching on Kickstarter on September 14th with plans to have the game published in 2022. This historical game can be played with one to four players with games taking between an hour to an hour and a half. 

Please note that this review is based on a prototype copy of The Red Burnoose. The rules and production quality are subject to change. That said at this point the rules, board design and card effects are complete and might only be updated in regards to clarity and usability. 

In The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857, you take on the role of a Kabyle leader in control of two to four villages. You work with the other leaders to defend those villages from the invading French armies. This is a deck-building game where you start with a set deck containing villager cards like Man, Women, Old Woman and Artisan, which you will play into your villages or use to purchase new cards such as Fig Orchards and Weapons and Moudjahidine defenders. The deck building aspects are combined with classic wargame mechanics where you will be placing and moving cubes representing your defenders on the board in order to stop the French advance which is controlled by an Automata deck. Combat is D6 based using a traditional wargame Combat Results Table. 

What I got in the box with my prototype copy of The Red BurnooseIn the box, you will find five different types of cards including four identical starter decks, eight leader cards, eight different types of recruitable cards, nine village cards and the French Automata deck. There are also four really useful reference cards with the turn sequence listed on one side and the Combat Results Table (CRT) on the other. 

Other components include D6 dice and cubes for each army type in the game, meeples to represent specific heroes, three pawns for the French Forces, wooden cylinders to represent defenses and a small selection of tokens. These tokens include a retreat token, four Submitted tokens, re-roll tokens and three army start location tokens. 

Based on what I received in this prototype I’m certain that The Red Burnoose is going to be a very visually striking game. The artwork here is excellent and I appreciate the fact that they went with an Algerian artist for all of this artwork. The board also looks good and is very effective during play with plenty of room to place troops and a summary of combat right on the board. 

My only complaints at this point are in regards to the card design. The iconography is small and in black and white and could be greatly improved if the icons were larger or colour coded or both. As it stands with this prototype it’s very hard to see the cost of the cards from across the table. 

The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857 Overview of Play

The start of a four player game of The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857You start off a game of The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857 by determining which players will control which villages. This is based on the player count with each player owning two to four villages. Players take the village cards for those villages along with one of four identical starter decks. 

The hero deck is shuffled and players are dealt two heroes each. Players look at both cards and choose one to keep, removing the other (and any not dealt) to the box. 

Players then check their chosen hero card and their village cards to see if they get any additional starting cards or reroll tokens. In addition, cubes will need to be placed into the players’ villages for any units that they get from this. 

Once all starting items are collected, players shuffle their decks and draw a hand of five cards. Note the village cards are not part of your deck but are played in front of you. 

The three Army Start Indicators are shuffled and randomly placed face down on the board, one for each of the three French armies

The Red Burnoose combines deck building with wargaming.The French Automata deck is shuffled and you reveal a number of cards equal to the number of players. Each of these cards shows a number of French units (which come in four types, Artillery, Cavalry, Carabiniers and Sappers, each represented by a different colour of cubes and D6s). The cubes for any units which show on the French Army cards that you’ve revealed are added to the first French army spot on the board. If the total number of cubes meets or exceeds the Deploy number for that army, that army also deploys to the board. Where it is deployed is determined by flipping the Army Start Indicator for that army. Note, during set up, the rest of the text on the French Automata cards is ignored, you only have to look at the units on the card. 

The rest of the cards form a static market of eight card types that players can buy from during the game. Each of these has a cost shown at the bottom of the card, card text telling you what it does and some cards also list resources that they generate for buying future cards. The resources in The Red Burnoose include Food, Influence, Military Power, Tools and Weapons. 

A sample starting hand of cards from The Red BurnoseEach turn players take three actions and then get the option to buy up to two cards. After a set number of players act, based on the player count, the French will act. For four players this is after every two players go, for other player counts this is after all players have taken their turns.  The game ends in a French Victory when either two players are eliminated due to losing a village or when one player is forced to retreat and one player is eliminated. The players win if the Algerians can survive until the French deck runs out. 

The actions players can take on their turn include:

Play A Card: Use the ability on the card. These abilities include things like being able to move your defenders around on the map, drawing cards, ambushing the French armies and more. A card used this way cannot be used for purchasing later in the turn.

The ability to play cards into your villages is the most innovative aspect of The Red Burnoose.Reserve: Either place a card from your hand into one of your villages or remove all of the cards in one village and place them in your hand. This is the most unique mechanic in this deck-building game and really lets you manage your deck and your hand. In addition to this many of the starter cards include abilities that go off when you play them into a village. These abilities include drawing more cards, earning re-roll tokens, moving cards between villages, and more. 

Mobilize: This lets you move your units, not your heroes, from one village you control to one other village you control. 

After completing up to three actions players then use their remaining cards to recruit new cards. Each card provides up to three different resources which are all added together. You can use these to buy up to two cards from the static market. 

What’s interesting here is the distribution of the resources on the cards and what you need to buy each of them. Seven of the eight cards require influence to buy, all of the units require food, weapons are particularly hard to buy at the beginning of the game as they require tools and only one starter card, the Artisan, has tools. 

The board is a very important aspect of The Red Burnoose, it's not just an afterthought.Two of the recruitable cards represent units, these are Moudjahidine and Sharpshooters. When you purchase one of these cards you place a cube on the map to represent that unit, then the card goes into your deck. When these cards come up later they generate resources but they can also be discarded with a Weapons card to ambush the French, something you are going to want to do as often as you can.

In an Ambush action, you select a number of units to participate and a French army to attack. You must have a path to this army that doesn’t pass through any other players villages. You then roll a die for each of your units taking part and check the CRT to see if you generate any hits. Re-roll tokens can be spent, using one token per die to re-roll. For each hit that you roll you get to remove one French unit of your choice. The French then counterattack. They attack with a number of units equal to half of the size of the force you ambushed with or the number of French units whichever is lower. Hits are calculated based on the CRT. Re-roll tokens can be used here as well. Units are lost based on the order shown on the CRT. Finally, you check to see if the French army has been reduced to or is below its retreat limit. If it has, the army returns to the appropriate French army area at the bottom of the board. If there are any units in the Reinforcement area they are added to the returning army, which could cause it to re-deploy immediately. 

The French armies building up and about to deploy in a game of The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857Again, once a set number of players (based on total player count) have taken their actions and have completed shopping for new cards, the French act. The top card of the French Automa card is flipped. Units indicated on the card are added to the lowest numbered undeployed French Army and placed into the Reinforcements if all armies are already out on the board. The deploy number for each undeployed army is checked and if the number of units now meets or beats that number the army deploys to the board. Note cubes stay in the army area, it’s just the pawn that’s moved onto the map to represent that army. 

Any text on the French card is then followed. This might add cannons to the various French armies, cause players to discard cards, and more. 

Which way will the French go? You never know in a game of The Red BurnooseThen all deployed French armies move following some pretty simple AI rules. In general the French always move towards the closest unconquered village. If there are ever two equidistant villages there are symbols on the map and the army will move onto the symbol matching the last face up French Automa card. 

If the French reach a village they first have to deal with any defenses that the players have built. These defenses come from one of the recruitable cards and are represented on the board by purple cylinders. First, sappers cancel out defenses one to one, removing pairs from the map. Then, if any defenses remain the French lose one unit per defense and will have to stop just outside the village. They will move in to attack again next turn (unless more defenses can be built in the meantime). If the French aren’t stopped by defenses a battle happens. 

All combat is resolved by rolling D6 dice and referencing the Combat Results Table (CRT). Unlike Ambushes, there is a very distinct order to the combat with all casualties having to be removed in a very specific order. 

The Combat Results Table (CRT) from The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857First the French cannons fire, then the Algerian troops attack, then the French counterattack. After casualties are taken you check to see if the French army retreats as described earlier. Then the Algerian player has the option to retreat. The thing is that the Algerians can only retreat once for the entire game. Also, Algerian troops will not retreat from a village that contains any Child or Youth cards in it. The first and only time any one player chooses to retreat they place the retreat token on the village. They discard any cards located in that village and move any retreating units to another one of their villages. 

The villagers of Akbil are forced to retreat in this game of The Red Burnoose.If no side retreats during a battle you fight through another round of combat with this continuing until one side is either eliminated or retreats. Note many of the villages affect these combats, (for example reducing the effect of Artillery or making it so that it’s too steep for Cavalry to attack) as can many of the leader units. Re-roll tokens can also be used to re-roll dice for either side in the conflict. If a player ever loses a battle, just one battle, they are removed from the game. All of their Moudjahidine units join the French army that conquered them and a Submitted Token is placed onto each of that player’s villages. Note if two players are eliminated or if a player is eliminated after the recruit token is already in play, all players immediately lose the game. 

The game continues until either the French deck is exhausted or the players lose. 

Final thoughts on The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857:

Playing The Red Burnoose with my family.I love discovering a game that’s doing something new and different and that’s exactly what we have here with The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857. This a game that takes static market deck building and combines it with a bunch of traditional wargame elements, while also making it a cooperative game where you play the indigenous people resisting colonization (instead of playing the colonizers) and I love all of that!

The theme in The Red Burnoose really stands out. Included with my prototype was a historical reference that I assume will be included in the game that describes the various French incursions into Algeria starting in 1830. It details the valiant efforts of the Algerians in holding back the French conquerors and the role of Lalla Fatma N’Soumer one of the leaders of the Algerian resistance movement. 

Early in a two player game of The Red BurnooseThis theme really hits home when you start building your starting deck and realize that it only consists of 2 Men, 2 Women, 2 Young Men, 2 Young Women, A Youth, A Child, an Old Man and an Artisan. Those are your starting “forces” in this wargame. Meanwhile, before the game begins you can already see the French army building up with its Carabiniers, Cavalry and Artillery. 

Even the rather odd rule that a player is eliminated from the game, and their troops will join the French, if they are defeated even once, is based on historical fact. The Algerians used a saff system of alliances between the various Kabyle tribes. The French took advantage of this system, playing on the fact that if one saff was defeated all tribes in that saff were also forced to surrender immediately. Added to that they then had to follow the French and turn their riffles on the remaining independent tribes. 

Placing your various cards into villages also feels rather thematic. You end up filing your villages with Men, Women and Children in order to bolster your forces, which also combines with that other thematic rule that you can’t retreat from a village with Youth or Children in it. 

The Fatma hero card from The Red BurnooseThis ability to place cards onto the table, out of your deck and into a village is the most unique and interesting part of the deck-building mechanics in The Red Burnoose. We very quickly learned just how powerful the Reserve action can be. It lets you do things like place Weapons in a village so that you can take them out when you need them later. It also lets you build up a lot of influence in one place in order to purchase high cost cards. You can even set up a combo where you pick up your cards from a village just to put them back again to draw more cards or earn some much needed reroll tokens. While that may not be as thematic as other elements of the game, it’s a neat system to discover while playing.

Cooperation is the key to winning in The Red Burnoose. The French have three different armies coming in through three different mountain passes. While each army deploys one at a time, you start the game not knowing where each army is going to come into the map. This makes it hard to build up defenders as you won’t know where you need them. This leads to lots of player interaction, working together to move defenders to where they are needed, sometimes at the very last minute. 

Something that I didn’t mention in the rule summary that’s another big aspect of play is that almost everything in the game is in limited supply. There are only so many Weapon Cards available, so many Sharpshooters you can recruit and so many reroll tokens to be earned. Due to this, you have to really watch out for hoarding. You don’t want one player building all of the defenses, so that no other player can defend their villages. 

A French Automa card from The Red BurnooseThe Automata system for the French works really well, and the rules make it very clear how French armies deploy and how they act when they deploy, though these are some of the most complicated rules in the game, so it may take some re-reading. Just be sure to take everything in the rules literally. 

One thing that may turn people off of this game is its reliance on dice. This is a D6 driven wargame after all and all conflicts are determined by rolling D6 dice and looking up the results on a Combat Results Table. This table indicates which French Units act first during a counter attack, the number of hits caused on what rolls and the order casualties must be taken for both sides. Each type of unit in the game has a different distribution. For example, the French cannons hit on only a 5 or 6, but do two hits on a six, Algerian Sharpshooters hit on a 3 or higher but only ever do one damage, etc. 

Earning re-roll tokens before going into battle is a must in the game to help offset the vagaries of the dice, but remember that the supply of tokens is limited so make sure one player doesn’t hoard them all. 

It's not looking good for the Algerian villagers in this game of the Red Burnoose.One thing I do want to talk about is the difficulty in The Red Burnoose. I expect cooperative games to be difficult. You shouldn’t win every time or even the majority of times when playing a cooperative game. I find that the most fun cooperative games are those ones where you get really close to winning only to fail right at the very end, leaving you with the need to try again. This is what makes Pandemic such a big hit. Unfortunately, The Red Burnoose hasn’t quite found that perfect balance and that balance is also widely affected by the player count. 

At two players using the rules as written, we found The Red Burnoose to be far too easy. We haven’t lost a game yet and have been able to call the games a few turns before the end due to the fact there was no way the French would be able to even reach our villages again before the game ended. In most of these games the third French army never even got a chance to deploy, due to our constant ambushes on the first two armies. 

Trying to decide what to do in a game of The Red Burnoose.When I noted this to the designer, he suggested we try having the French go after each player’s turn and that turned two player The Red Burnoose into a real game. When upping the difficulty this way, things became a real challenge and while we have been able to win each time one of us has had to retreat and losing was always a die roll away. 

At three players, by the proper rules, things felt tenser than with two. All three French armies did manage to hit the board and there were some tight battles near the beginning of the game. However, once all three of us had improved our decks, the French didn’t have a chance. 

Now four players is where this game really shines. Here we finally found the tension I expect to find in a cooperative board game. Things start tense and never really ease up. Every victory feels like it was fought for and numerous times battles came down to one die roll. We’ve so far lost every game we’ve played with four, but it always felt like we had a chance, that we could have done some things better. 

I do know that a sliding difficulty scale will be something included in the production copy of the game with sliders including how often the French get to act, removing village abilities and removing Hero abilities. I think this is going to be a necessary thing to keep the game enjoyable not only at different player counts but to keep it challenging as players learn to master the game.

A hand sadly missing any much needed Weapons in a game of The Red Burnoose.My only other complaint about this game, based on my prototype copy, is the current card design. This is in regards to the clarity of the resource icons as I mentioned above as well as where the card name and resource generation icons are located. They are currently in the middle of the card. I’ve suggested they move that line of icons to the top or the bottom so that it makes it easier to stack cards stored in villages in a way that you can still read the pertinent information on them.

Another improvement I would like to see is some way to track the five resources in this game as you play cards. Due to the fact that you get two different purchase actions a turn and each card generates up to three different resources, we found we were spending a lot of time trying to figure out exactly how much we had to spend each turn, especially after buying our first card. 

Something else I think I should note is that the Wargame nature and theme of this game shouldn’t scare you away. This isn’t a big heavy long wargame filled with lots of little rules like terrain types and combat modifiers. I would say this is one of the lightest wargames I’ve actually played, but that’s not to say that it’s too light either. This isn’t a gateway game. It assumes you are already familiar with the basics of deck-building. To me, The Red Burnoose is a solid medium weight game designed for at least semi-experienced players. 

My daughter trying to decide what cards to buy in a game of The Red BurnooseOverall I have to say I’m very impressed by The Red Burnoose Algeria 1857. This is a very cool new way to use the deck-building mechanic and combine it with many elements of a traditional wargame. The setting that was chosen is a fascinating one and I love the fact that you are fighting against the colonizers and not the other way around. This game did what a good historical game should do and got me to actually do some research on my own about the Algerian revolution. I greatly appreciated the historical references that were included in the game, and I’m very impressed by how well they are tied into the mechanics of The Red Burnoose

If you love deck-building games and want to see something new being done with that now classic mechanic, you should check out The Red Burnoose. The ability to store cards on the table only to pick them up and use them when you need them is something I would love to see in more future deck-builders. 

If you are a history buff, or perhaps a history teacher, this is a great game for showcasing this particular period in history which started with the French pacification invasion of Algeria in 1830. The way the theme is tied into the mechanics could make for a great teaching tool and the included historical reference is fascinating enough that it got me doing additional research. 

Defending Algeria in The Red Burnoose a deck building war game.If you are a wargame fan you may want to check this game out. It’s definitely not your traditional hex and counter game, though it does use some mechanics you will find familiar like the combat resolution table. If you like your wargames long, heavy and detailed, this probably isn’t for you. 

As for everyone else, I suggest you at least give this game a look. There isn’t anything out there quite like it, and that alone is an achievement. While the difficulty level could use a bit of tweaking I found a lot to like in this historic deck-building wargame.  

I’m a huge fan of deck building games and am always looking for a game that does something different, like the chambering mechanic in Tanto Cuore, or the mash up of folk on a map area majority and deck building in Tyrants of the Underdark

The Red Burnoose is another example of this, a deck-building game that does something totally new. It’s also a mash up of wargame and deck-builder, like Tyrants of the Underdark, but it approaches things in a very different way. Added to that it features mechanics that give you unprecedented control over your deck with the ability to place cards into villages and take them back into your hand when you want. 

What’s the last game you played that impressed you by doing something totally new? What is a game that took mechanics you know and love and added something new to them or used them in a unique way? Let us know in the comments below!

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