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Tom Vasel
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So, you have questions about Brass (Warfrog and FRED distribution, 2007 – Martin Wallace), do you?

Q: Yeah, who designed this game, and what's it about?

A: I'll try to forgive you for the first part of the question, as I can't believe you haven't heard of Martin Wallace, one of the greatest board game designers of all time (okay, at least the past decade). Martin Wallace is known for designing deep games loaded with strategy that incorporate elements from war games and the designer games. Prior games include the well-renowned Age of Steam and Perikles, and I'm excited each year to see what game he comes out with this time. Brass is a game that concentrates on Lancashire during the Industrial Revolution. Players attempt to control different industries and production, as the area builds up. I was actually quite interested in the theme – it works well with the game mechanics – although I guess not everyone will be fascinated by it.

Q: How does the game look?

A: Very thematic, and the artwork by Peter Dennis is quite well done and looks like it was pulled from a novel from this period. The tiles are thick and easy to read and see. The only major annoyance I had with the game is that the tiles have to be stacked in piles in a specific way in front of each player, and they were quite easy to knock over by clumsy fingered players. It's a neat idea – stacking them in order, but it didn't always work well in practice. It wasn't always easy to find specific cities on the board, also; although that's more of a lack of knowledge of Lancashire on my part. Everything fits inside a nicely designed box, and the game has an austere, solid look about it while set up.

Q: And the rules?

A: Well, there are eleven pages of full color rules, including a player aid sheet, lots of examples, a reference section, and more.

Q: Sounds like they were a cinch, then?

A: Certainly not! Brass has one of the most obtuse rules sets that I've come across. I played my first game with three people who are used to me dumping new games on them, and this still threw us for a complete loop. We practically crawled through the first half of the game, slowly understanding the rules but not completely understanding the concepts. Finally in the second half everything clicked, but it still was tough going through. Follow up games made more sense, but it's on the far end of the heavy scale – at least when teaching. I've seen several on the internet insist that the rules aren't that difficult, but they are for the most part seasoned gamers. I would warn new gamers to stay away from this game, unless they were taught by an excellent explainer. A few of the rules are only mentioned in the reference section, which is fairly unintuitive for me. I don't think that the toughness of the rules is a detriment to buying the game, but folks should know what they are getting themselves into.

Q: You mentioned halves of the game?

A: The game is broken up into two distinct parts: the Canal Period and the Rail Period. While most of the mechanics are used in both parts of the game, they feel completely different. Many of the industries that are built during the Canal Period are taken off the board at the end of the Canal Period, as well as the canal structure. A player who is not planning ahead may have to start over from scratch, while those who look towards the future may end up making too little money in the first phase. Players are not eliminated during the first phase if they do poorly, but more often than any other game with different phases – a player must prepare during the first phase, or they likely will fail during the second.

Q: What exactly are players doing?

A: Players are building cotton mills, canals, rail links, ports, coal mines, iron works, and shipyards. Each building has its own usefulness. Coal mines and iron works provide resources that players need to build different industries. Canals and Rail Links provide victory points and ways to transport resources to where they are needed. Cotton mills and ports work together to produce victory points, on the other hand shipyards are an expensive way to gain points. Players use cards to build buildings in different locations on the board. This presents an interesting dynamic, since players build using the locations or icons on their cards but are also restricted by the locations on the board. Further complicating the matter is that players must play their lowest tech buildings first, unless they waste an action to discard the lower buildings – allowing them to build better and longer lasting buildings.

Q: Are these choices time-consuming and does this lead to "analysis paralysis"?

A: Strangely, while people did take a bit of time to think on their turn – turns weren't awfully long, and players often were studying the board quite a bit during their opponent's turns. A player doesn't have a huge amount of choices but much thought must go into what players are exactly looking to accomplish later in the game. Choices are few enough that every single one of them impacts the game.

Q: So player interaction is low?

A: Quite the opposite, actually. While players aren't destroying or otherwise directly attacking other players or their industries, there is a feel during the game of a complicated framework, in which all the industries are dependent upon each other. In a perfect situation, a player would build their own cotton mill and port, shipping their own stuff for many victory points. In the game, there are fights for the ports, and players are often forced to work using the resources and help from the opponent's buildings. The hunt for resources is also interesting, as there seems to be plenty of them in the beginning, but they run out at a staggeringly quick rate later on in the game. Players who go last may not have the resources to win, as I have sadly discovered.

Q: What is the economic game like?

A: Brass reminds me of Phoenicia, another game that has come out this year, in that players are attempting to increase their income during the first part of the game then increase their victory points. Players must seek out that moment in the game when their concentration must switch, because a low income will hurt a player at the end; yet income does not win the game for a player. Then there are loans available in the game. Players can take loans but must move their income marker back, causing them a permanent loss of income for a short influx of money. This isn't as debilitating as loans in other games, but it does make a player think twice before borrowing the money needed. Brass is a tight economic game, and players will likely never have all the money they want. It also has an interesting effect on order of play.

Q: What's that?

A: Each turn players place the money that they spent into a box – the player who spends the least amount of money goes first the next round. Turn order is critical in the game, and players are often torn between spending all their money or saving some so that they can go first in a future, more crucial round.

Q: I see that there are rails in the game. Is it a connection game like Ticket to Ride?

A: The rails and canals in the game look like they are a connecting network similar to other games, but it feels and acts quite differently. They are less of a connection feature and more of a points addition at the end of the game. Canals are slightly important, but rails are more so; a player who ignores them is missing out on a lot of potential points. I've seen a player with a lot of rails win the game.

Q: How much randomness is in the game?

A: Not much at all. Obviously there is some in the cards that are dealt out; but since a player can always use up two actions to build a location anywhere, players are never really too stymied by their cards. Giving up an action is certainly a horrid thing – I despise it, but it's better than being locked out of a specific city. There is also some randomness in tiles that are flipped when players sell cotton to a "distant market", but players know that they are taking a chance when doing this – and I haven't seen it affect the end of the game yet.

Q: How would you rate this against Martin Wallace's other games?

A: It's certainly on the heavier end of the scale – outweighing pretty much anything else (except possibly Age of Steam – and even that makes more sense to folk, if only because of the intuitive pick-up-and-deliver mechanic). Its theme won't appeal to as many people as some of the more exciting themes (Liberte, Struggle of Empires), but the game play is extremely balanced. In fact, this may technically be the best game that Mr. Wallace has designed; I think it's exceptionally well done, although it certainly isn't my favorite. That's not to say that I don't like it – I do enjoy it, but it's a tough game to learn and play.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Martin Wallace proves that he is once again the king of board game designers by designing a game that makes sense thematically and has a tight yet fair economic system. It's not a game that I'll bring out on every occasion – it's only for the core gamers, the ones who are looking for a deep, engaging game. It's not too long of a game -- play seems to take 90 minutes to two hours – but it's an intense experience of deep thought and tough decisions. Wallace fans will likely be happy with the game, but beginners should beware and perhaps look at something easier before attempting Brass.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.thedicetower.com
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Bruno Valerio
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Great Review on a great game!
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Jim Cote
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I like the new review format. A trend?
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Tim Condit
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Great review and LOVE the format!!
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Scott Nelson
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In anticipation of playing the game, I read and re-read the rules about 4 times and we still missed a rule. The rules are not that hard, but they are placed in areas you don't think they would be in, the apendix area had a few clarifications that were needed to learn the rule that it applied to. Great review, though I feel a lot of players may think this is too deep for them. In my plays I found those that could handle playing Powergrid could handle BRASS...they did not win first outing, but they felt it was an enjoyable experience. Now, if TtR or Carc are your "deepest games" in your collection, you might steer clear.
 
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Sheamus Parkes
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I too prefer this review format. I must come out and say I did not really gleam much info from your old style.

As for Brass, I'm only 1 game in and loving it.

I admit it's a little difficult to pick up from the rules, *but* I find that all the rules make a logical sense (to me at least). Of course, I've got an economics degree and the whole underlying interaction of supply and demand really interests me. I believe it is done much better here than in Power Grid.

Quote:
The hunt for resources is also interesting, as there seems to be plenty of them in the beginning, but they run out at a staggeringly quick rate later on in the game. Players who go last may not have the resources to win, as I have sadly discovered.


This really confuses me. What resources? If you refer to Coal and Iron then I think you're looking at this all wrong. If the supply tracks run low on these resources, that's a perfect time to build more of those resources. Heck, you get immediate income from refilling the track and can often almost immediately flip the industry you just played.
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Ghost
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Excellent choice of format!!! I still feel like I get the same level of information as your older style of reviews, yet I can skim through it quickly and just catch the high points as reference later.

I certainly hope we see some more of these in the future!

As to the game itself, I appreciate the review and the warning. Reading the rules myself (as the typical explainer) has given me some serious doubts about introducing this baby to my group. Hopefully I can get a session in myself with another group later and test it out!

Thanks Tom!
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Huzonfirst
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Well, at the risk of pissing off too many people...

This is an entertaining format, Tom, and probably works well for games that others have reviewed (particularly if they've outlined the mechanics in some detail). But my preference would be when you review unusual games (which you do a lot and I'm always happy to find out about them), that you stick to the old format. You didn't really say how Brass is played (no mention about how income is generated, nothing about the innovative "flipping" mechanic, no details on card play or the five actions, etc.). That's fine; reviews don't have to go into that level of detail and people here, who clearly know something of the game, seem to appreciate the style. But when there's no information on a game, I like to see some reasonable detail on how it's played, just as you usually provide. But good job on trying something different.
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Robert Ramirez
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Larry, I couldn't agree with you more. For a really well-known game (specially if it has multiple reviews already), this new format is perfect. It essentially tells me what Tom thinks of it....and that's really all we wanted to know (again because at this point we know enough about the game in general based on the other reviews).

For the more rare games (with less reviews), I do prefer the older format: I want to know about the rulebook, components, gameplay, etc.

Great job Tom!
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Brad N
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This format was good, but I prefer the old one. Perhaps I am in the minority here; it just seems to me that it was easier for me to get a feel for the game and pull out the details I wanted in the old format. Just my 2 cents worth.
 
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Big Guy
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I'm too new here to know what the format difference is about, but did like this review.

I agree that this game has a bit of a learning curve; you will need to play once just to understand the mechanics and be able to form a strategy, in the next game you will surely want to play.

About those rails/canals: this is definitely a network game. It's just that the network is shared by all players, so you need to consider how a connection placement will benefit you in comparison to how it benefits others. The victory point value of placing the connection is one factor, but there is also the access to resources and ports that a new connection might help create. And there are places on the map where you can build in such a way that you cut others off from building easily.
 
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Raymond Glosser
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Additionally, if you have a few spare £'s and all cubes from the Industries and the demand track are exhausted, you have the option of paying £5 to take a cube from the main supply off-board.
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Tom Vasel
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Well, didn't mean to raise a fuss on the format of the review!

I appreciate those who said they liked it / didn't like it - but it's just a change of pace, not a new style. I only do things like this once in a while. My next reviews will likely be in the same format. Sure, it may be a little boring, but it's uniform.
 
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M C
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Not a big fan of the new format myself. I find it distracting.
 
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Robert Ramirez
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TomVasel wrote:
Well, didn't mean to raise a fuss on the format of the review!


Tom, you know very well we have to make a big fuss about every trivial thing here on the geek.

 
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J Kosec
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TomVasel wrote:
Well, didn't mean to raise a fuss on the format of the review!

I appreciate those who said they liked it / didn't like it - but it's just a change of pace, not a new style. I only do things like this once in a while. My next reviews will likely be in the same format. Sure, it may be a little boring, but it's uniform.


Yeah, this theme is clearly pasted on. I would suggest editing this as a complete Socratic dialog, with Plato interviewing Themocrates about the game rules while their players, Krug and Martin Wallace, square off in the game examples, with the occasional angry interjections of Cthulhu.

Tom, next time can you do a review in the "IM IN UR" style?

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J Kosec
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TomVasel wrote:
Well, didn't mean to raise a fuss on the format of the review!

I appreciate those who said they liked it / didn't like it - but it's just a change of pace, not a new style. I only do things like this once in a while. My next reviews will likely be in the same format. Sure, it may be a little boring, but it's uniform.


Seriously, though, I did think this was a nice format.
 
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Ricky Gray
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Quote:
The hunt for resources is also interesting, as there seems to be plenty of them in the beginning, but they run out at a staggeringly quick rate later on in the game. Players who go last may not have the resources to win, as I have sadly discovered.



Quote:
This really confuses me. What resources? If you refer to Coal and Iron then I think you're looking at this all wrong. If the supply tracks run low on these resources, that's a perfect time to build more of those resources. Heck, you get immediate income from refilling the track and can often almost immediately flip the industry you just played.


Like the previous poster, I am curious as to what you meant by this, Tom. There is no resource hunting in Brass. And, like the fellow says above, the absolute BEST time to be building is when coal and iron are really low on the track.

Remember, too, that even if the tracks are empty, both iron and coal can be purchased for $5 per cube directly from the stock. For coal there needs to be a connection to a constructed port, of course. But there is never a time when there are no resources. They may be pricey, but they are available.

Ricky
 
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Huzonfirst
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Curry, Iguodala, and Co. are just too much for the valiant Cavs (and the amazing LeBron) and give Golden State their first NBA title in 40 years!
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I assume he meant that players might find themselves priced out of building as coal and iron supplies run low. If both tracks are wiped clean, a level 3 Cotton Mill's price jumps from 16 to 26. If you had planned on taking two actions, you may find that what you thought was sufficient cash is no longer able to do the job.
 
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Tom Vasel
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Sorry, I meant that the players who go last can't afford the resources that are left - since they are too expensive.
 
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John Brier
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Interesting review, although I'm really surprised that you're managing to pull this off in as little as 90 mins - our four player games last at least 3 hours!! I think this is due to the fact that the game requires planning ahead yet plans must so often be reformulated because of the options that are closed/opened by other players' actions.
 
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Ricky Gray
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Quote:
Sorry, I meant that the players who go last can't afford the resources that are left - since they are too expensive.


Ah, ok.

But this is what makes the variable turn order mechanic so cool. Part of the challenge - and strategy - in this game is working a turn or two in advance so you can (hopefully) plan to not be going last when coal and iron are scarce. Not that it always works out, mind you. But it is a significant consideration in the game to plan for. And it can make a huge difference.

Ricky
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Isaac Citrom
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You know, we're not speaking of cosmology or contemporary philosophy. I know my tone might sound overly abrasive, but I'm getting tired of these arcane near-English rulebooks. Frankly, there are too many great games out there for me to bang my head against the wall for the sake of yet another publisher who confuses ink on a page with actual content, regardless of how interesting the game might sound.

Moreover, I'm not sure that being a "seasoned gamer" has anything to do with deciphering poorly written and organized first drafts. Because I may or may not be used to involved game mechanics does not mean I am inclined to re-read paragraphs eight times to try and figure out what the heck is being said.

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David Whitehouse
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I like both review formats, and I intend to torch the thatch huts of anyone who disagrees with me.
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Andrew Swan
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isaacc wrote:
You know, we're not speaking of cosmology or contemporary philosophy. I know my tone might sound overly abrasive, but I'm getting tired of these arcane near-English rulebooks. Frankly, there are too many great games out there for me to bang my head against the wall for the sake of yet another publisher who confuses ink on a page with actual content, regardless of how interesting the game might sound.

Moreover, I'm not sure that being a "seasoned gamer" has anything to do with deciphering poorly written and organized first drafts. Because I may or may not be used to involved game mechanics does not mean I am inclined to re-read paragraphs eight times to try and figure out what the heck is being said.

I share your dislike of rulebooks that have this problem (think Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit #1), but I think the Brass rulebook is quite good. Could you perhaps quote some of the bits you find to be badly written?
 
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