A friend of mine once told a joke about Lancashire. He drove across from the Yorkshire border and got lost. There were no road signs, none! He drove for miles down back roads and highways and still none. And then he realised how stupid he had been. Of course, people from Lancashire cannot read.
I live in Yorkshire, and we don’t like no Lancashires around heres. Still I think Brass, a game about the Industrial revolution in Lancashire (It started in Yorkshire) is Martin Wallace’s best game, and is in many respects the definitive heavy euro.
A brief mechanical description
In Brass the object is to industrialise a map by building stuff on it and scoring points for what you built. You get a hand of cards (7 or 8 i think), on your turn you will take 2 actions spending a card for each. If the action relates to building something on the board the card either needs the place name on it, or the building type. So if I have a Manchester card I can build in any of the mill or mine slots in Manchester, If I have a coal mine card I can build on any coal mine on the board. You basically spend a card, spend some cash then put one of your tokens on the board and you've built something. You can also do research to discard your crap tokens and get to the good ones faster, or you can export goods for sale. When you build a tile like a mine, or a mill it doesn't get any cash or points straight off. You have to spend the goods it produces. For mills this means using the a market system I cannot be botherd to explain, but it earns less cash the more its used. Also there are canals and rails. Yeah this is really a game about route building. When you build a coal or iron mine it gets a bunch of cubes on it. You only score that mine once players have used up them cubes building other tiles. They can only build ports and some of the other better tiles if they can connect down a rail to a coal mine. The game has two scoring rounds where you get points for the canals built (or in the second round rails) and the tiles you have flipped over. Victory points and money are separate, but thematically it is all wealth. There some other stuff like taking loans too but thats enough to get the gist of it. It is not that complex about on par with Agricola, perhaps a little simpler.
image: Geoman (BGG)
Its a game about euro things cutting off other players by taking routes or building locations they wanted, spending resources from the market when they are cheap and exporting when it'll net you most cash. You think euro thoughts like if she builds that coal mine there, I can ensure the iron mine I build here gets used etc.
You might read this and wonder why I like this game. My description basically lands it in the realm of competent but standard heavy euro. What makes it good?
- Geography matters. Lew Philosophers blog posts can basically be summarised; spatial relationships = good game design, euros that just track information = bad. In brass there is a network that develops, it is not just a game of action selection and engine building which essentially every worker placement game now is. There is some engine building, but I’d actually argue this is side line in the game, its really about timing and networks.
- Scoring sort of makes sense. I prefer cash, or cash related scoring, it feels more real. My experience with Agricola, is that i pour my energies in building this agricultural paradise and then Uwe Rosenberg, like some vindictive serpent, crawls out the box lid at the game end and accuses me of having a poor goat to sheep ratio “ minus 4 points!”. Screw you Eweay, I build the farm the way I want too. A bit of a tangent but the point is valid, so many euros give seemly arbitrary score systems designed to ‘balance the strategy’. In Brass, build industry, get rich, get points for having been rich.
- Industrial revolution. I think this is what generally makes Wallace one of my prefered euro designers. I don't think he always generates the tightest games or even thematic masterpieces, but he does pick themes that are actually of interest to me. His mechanical choices are a good compromise between simulation and playability. Brass is a game about the industrial revolution, or at least how its physical landscape developed, and how people made money off it. The game doesn't have much to say about the factory serfs.
What’s rubbish? Not a lot I guess. I could see it degenerating into high school maths challenge with certain players. Also some people complain about the way iron mines work being unthematic. This is because the know nothing about iron vs coal quantities. I did eventually purge my copy. Its a game I would still like to play but I beat the guys I played it with soundly in each game so they tired of it (hint standard euro strategies work in this game).
Ryan Sturm gives a good rules lesson @ http://howtoplaypodcast.com/episodes/episodes-1-10/episode-9-brass/
This review is dedicated to Gary Sax
The title is a line from one of Rabs RPS reviews
Image credit Geo/Geoman at BGG
What Wallace games do you think are good?
I’ve played; this, Discoworld (ok), A few Acres (not great), Field of Glory card game (ok). I keep trying to get struggle empires in a trade and i'm bummed I missed A Study in Emerald, I have Moongha on KS order.