Friday, December 07, 2007

Brass Impressions

The Appalachian Gamers got to try Martin Wallace’s Brass for the first time this week, and the initial impressions were favorable. I heard several comments along the lines of “There’s a lot to think about in this game, and it may be one of those games that needs to be played two or three times before I really know what to do.”

Martin Wallace may be my favorite designer; I certainly cannot think of anyone whose games I look forward to with greater anticipation. I will need to play Brass several more times before I can determine where it ranks in my esteem compared with Railroad Tycoon or Struggle of Empires, but at the very least Brass will be among my favorite games of this year.

Brass is an economic engine game based on the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire, England. Players spend their turns purchasing industry counters, placing them on the board, and then trying to get their counters turned over to their backside which generates income and victory points. Much of the complexity in the game comes from the different conditions that will turn over counters; each industry has its own special requirements. For example, coal mines and ironworks counters are placed on the board along with a number of coal and iron cubes. When these cubes are consumed, the counter that generated them is flipped. But cotton mill counters can only be flipped if they are connected by rail or canal to a port or external location, and then the owning player must spend an action to sell cotton. Ports and shipyard counters have their own special conditions as well.

Each particular industry also has its own ratio of income and victory points. Some industries generate a lot of income but relatively few victory points. Coal is the prime example of this type of industry. Other industries generate more victory points than income. For example, shipyards generate little income but they create a literal boatload of victory points.

Also adding to the complexity is the requirement that many industries be connected by canal or rail to ports or coal mines. Players will have to construct a network of canals and rails to make their economic empire work.

All this complexity gives players strategic options, but also makes the game fiddly (a favorite Appalachian Gamer word). Players may need to play the game a couple of times to memorize all the special rules for coal, steel, and selling cotton.

The biggest reservation I have about the game concerns the victory-point-extravaganza shipyards. Both the winning and second place player in our game built shipyards, and it may be that building shipyards is a necessary part of any winning strategy. If that is the case, then game play will be a little more predictable and scripted than if shipyards were of equal importance with other industries.

Brass is a fine addition to the collected works of Martin Wallace. I wonder what he is working on now.


huzonfirst said...

Nice overview, Kris. Brass is one of our current favorites and is neck and neck with Agricola as our favorite Essen game. It's my second favorite Wallace game, behind only Age of Steam (mighty high praise indeed).

There are indeed a ton of exceptions to the rules and it takes a while to get your head around the concepts. But the reward is a deep, textured game that doesn't take all night. It's also proven to be surprisingly replayable, as our games have have all played out very differently.

I've been focusing on shipyards in our games, but have yet to win. I think if anything is a killer strategy, it's the railroads, which are cheap and can be worth a ton at the end of the game. But we're still formulating our strategies.

slovakiasteph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
huzonfirst said...

"Brass is a fine addition to the collected works of Martin Wallace. I wonder what he is working on now."

Sad news. According to the latest edition of Counter, Wallace won't have a new Warfrog game next year. He'll be taking a bit of a break after a lot of design work over the past half dozen years. Plus, there may not be much in the pipeline. Well, I rather he take his time, particularly if it means more games like Brass. With any luck, we'll at least have AoS 3rd Edition (or whatever it winds up being called) to keep us busy!