Introducing Age of Industry



In many ways the nineteenth century can be described as the ‘Age of Isms’, experiencing everything from colonialism, imperialism, Romanticism, to socialism. Amongst all the ‘isms’ of the age, however, surely industrialism stands out as one of the most fascinating and profound developments. The social, economic, environmental and cultural impact of developments like the steam engine, the cotton-gin, the seed drill, the railway and large scale factories simply cannot be overstated – indeed, we continue to feel the remarkable impact of these changes more than a century later.

Well, thanks to British game designer Martin Wallace, you can experience something of what it was like to be an industrial magnate in the late nineteenth century - but from the comfort of your twenty-first century home! In Age of Industry, published by Wallace's very own Treefrog Games, you will take on the challenge of building and developing the modern industrial complex in either Germany or in New England. Players will compete to build cotton mills, coal mines, factories, ports and railways as a means of generating wealth and crushing their opponents!



Sound like your kind of challenge? Age of Industry has already achieved recognition by winning the 2010 International Gamer Award for best multi-player Strategy Game. And its predecessor Brass: Lancashire is highly regarded by gamers around the world as one of the best strategy games of its kind. There's good reason to expect good things from Age of Industry! Read on to learn more!




COMPONENTS

Game box

The box for Age of Industry has been solidly constructed and the cover artwork is aesthetically quite pleasing. Not sure what is about the working class fellow on the cover, but he exudes an undeniable Victorian charm!



The back of the box shows both maps that come with the game along with some of the components, and introduces the Industrial Revolution as the theme of the game.



The box insert proved rather less impressive, however, and it quickly found itself in the recycle bin after being replaced by a number of plastic containers which more securely hold and separate the game components. Age of Industry came with a generous supply of ziplock bags, and these also serve well for storage in the absence of the box insert.

Component list

So here’s what you’ll find when you open the box:
● 1 Board (double sided)
● 5 Turn Order tokens
● 175 Industry counters (35 in each colour)
● 60 Railway counters (12 in each colour)
● 18 Market counters
● 66 Cards (36 Industry cards and 30 Location cards)
● 24 Loan counters
● 70 Money counters
● 60 Resource cubes (30 coal and 30 iron)
● 5 Player Display sheets
● 1 Rulebook



Game board

One side of the board shows the map of Germany pictured above. On the other side there’s the map of New England pictured below, which provides an alternate play experience.



The board is well constructed, folds out nicely and, while it is perhaps a bit minimalist from an aesthetic point of view, is very functional. The rules recommend that new players begin with the German side of the board and progress to the New England map as they become more familiar with the game. The rationale for this is that the rules for playing on the New England map are made slightly more complex by the addition of the ship tokens and the sea lanes that connect them to the ports. Both boards feature various cities where players will place Industry counters.



Other key elements on the board are explained in this reference:



Turn Order tokens

These five tokens will be placed on the board as a means of keeping track of the player turn order.



Industry counters

Industry counters represent various industries, and there are 35 in each of the five player colours: red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. That's 175 counters altogether! They are made of good thick cardboard and are brightly coloured and clearly illustrated. When flipped (reverse side shown in the bottom row below), they'll earn money and VPs.



There are six types of industry counters: cotton mills, factories, iron works, coal mines, ports and ships.



These counters really represent the heart of the game. By building them on the board and then contriving to have them flipped, you will generate both money and ultimately victory points. Each player will have six of each type of counter (with the exception of the ship counters), for a total of 35 industry counters in each colour, as pictured here in their pristine unpunched state.



Note how each counter has also been assigned a specific technology value ranging from zero through four. For instance, each player will have six coal mine counters of which two will be technology level one counters, two will be technology level two counters and two will be technology level three counters. This represents advances in technology as the game progresses.

Railway counters

Each player will have twelve railroad tokens in their colour that they can build during the game. These tokens have also been made of good solid cardboard stock (pre-order customers received wooden train miniatures instead, as you will see in some photos).



The railways have several functions in terms of game play. Firstly, they serve as means of connecting the various locations on the map. Secondly, they provide a means of transporting the various resources that are required to build certain industry counters. Thirdly, the railways play a major role in terms of tallying up the final score at the end of the game. Each railroad that a player builds will generate revenue during the final scoring phase and that revenue that will ultimately be transformed into victory points and the end of the game.

Player Display sheets

Each player gets their own Player Display sheet, which has English on one side and German on the other.



As well as functioning as a handy reference, this display sheet also forms the place where you will place your industry counters and railway counters before putting them on the board.

Market counters

The 18 market counters will be shuffled face down at the beginning of the game and then randomly placed in the market spaces on board. There are more market tiles then available spaces and this helps to ensure that the game will be slightly different each time that you play.



The key function of the markets is that they provide a point of sale for goods produced in the cotton mills and factories that will be built over the course of the game.

Resource cubes

You also get thirty-odd black cubes which represent coal, and thirty-odd orange cubes which represent iron.



These are required for building certain industry counters on the board.

Cards

If the industry counters represent the heart of the game, then the cards are its life’s blood, because they function as the means by which industry counters can be built on to the board.



There are two kinds of cards in the game: Industry cards and Location cards.

1. Industry cards: There are 36 Industry Cards which allow player to build one of six types of industry - coal mines, iron works, cotton mills, ports, ships, or factories.



2. Location cards: There are 30 Location Cards (5 in each of 6 colours), which allow players to build industry counters in certain specific locations, namely, areas on the map marked in one of these colours.



The cards are of decent quality, and particularly in the case of the industry cards they are beautifully illustrated.

Loan counters

So how do you pay for your industries? Well you take out loans! There are 24 cardboard loan counters that come in ten and forty dollar increments.



You will need to make use of them throughout the course of the game. In fact, since you aren’t going to be starting the game with any money you might need them sooner rather than later! Loans require interest payments at the end of every round, however, so you need to be careful not to sink too deeply into debt!

Money

Speaking of money, the game comes with a pile of plastic counters that serve as money – the gold counters are worth five dollars and the silver counters are worth one dollar.



There's appreciable about having gold and silver coloured money, but not everyone will find the plastic money a great deal of fun to work with – especially if you are the one stuck with handing out loans and change every round. But to be fair, it's probably better than paper money, and although some people have suggested using poker chips as a replacement, the money needs to be small enough in size to place in the "Money Spent" boxes that determine player order, and it has to be admitted that the plastic counters that come with the game are ideal sized for this purpose.

Rulebook

One of the best things about Age of Industry is the very clearly written and well organized rule book, which contains rules in both English and German.



The full colour rule book provides many very helpful illustrations that make learning this game a straightforward and relatively painless process. Mr. Wallace is to be especially commended for his very fine work in this regard!



Download the English version of the rulebook here: http://www.treefroggames.com/Rules/AgeOfIndustry.pdf

GAME-PLAY

Disclaimer: This section of the review will deal primarily with the setup and flow of play for games played on the German side of the board. The New England side of the board requires more explanation - consult the rule book for details about necessary changes and additional rules needed for this.

Set-up

Begin by deciding which side of the board you would like to play on – either the German or the New England map – and place the board in the centre of the play area. Each player should now be given a Player Display, as well as a set of player tokens and a turn order token in their colour for the Player Order track. Players should then place their industry counters onto their player display, ensuring that the technology level indicated on the counter matches the space on the player display into which it is placed.



Next, thoroughly shuffle all of the cards in order to form a common draw deck; deal out the requisite number of cards to each player (six in a three/five player game, and five in two/four player game) as a starting hand. Place the remaining cards near the board and take the top two cards from the deck and place them face up next to the draw pile.

Place the money and the loan tiles near the board to form a bank. Now, fill up the Demand Display (top left of the Germany board) with coal and iron cubes and set the remaining tokens beside the board to form a supply. You will also need to place the market tokens on the various market spaces on the board. To do this shuffle all of the market tokens face down and then place one token onto each market space (there will be more market tokens than spaces and the remainder are returned to the box). You are now ready to begin!

Here's how the set-up for a four player game might look (note that the two player display sheets above the board are not pictured):



Flow of Play

Alright, so you’ve set everything up – now how do you play this bad boy? Well my friends, the good news is that Age of Industry is not as difficult to navigate as you might have expected. While the initial learning curve is a bit steep, after a few rounds of play you will find that Age of Industry plays smoothly and quickly and that it is considerably less threatening then you might have imagined.

Each round of is made up of three phases:



Of these phases, the player actions is the longest and most important. The other two phases are much shorter, and are simply about determining the turn order for the next round, and for players to pay interest on the loans they have acquired.

Phase 1: Player Actions

The first thing that you need to know about this phase of the game is that, as a general rule, each player must perform two actions during this phase. There are two exceptions to the mandatory two action rule:
1. In the first round you may only carry out one action.
2. In subsequent rounds you have the option of combining your two actions into a single action (i.e. you may choose to forgo the ability to carry out a second action) in order to build an industry counter in any legal location of your choice.

Ok, so each player is required to carry out two actions per turn – what actions are available to you? Well, there are six possible actions that you can choose from. Since each choice represents a distinct and self-contained action, you may even choose to execute the same action twice during a given action phase. Here are the possible actions:



Before considering how these actions actually work themselves out, a brief word needs to be said about that issue of money. One of the most important details to remember as you proceed from phase to phase is that any money which you expend during the player action phase must be placed in the box next to your token on the turn order track. This is a crucial rule, because the order of play for the next round will be determined by the amount of money that each player has spent during the current round. We’ll say more about this later when we take a closer look at phase two of the round – but don’t forget this rule!

Build an Industry counter

Alright then, let’s start with the most complicated and important action – building industry counters. Building industry counters really represents the heart of the game, since it’s via the construction and eventual “flipping” of these industry tiles that you will generate both income and victory points. The good news is that once you understand how this action is carried out you will have surmounted the most challenging aspect of the game!

The first step in building an industry counter requires the payment of a card from your hand. There are two types of cards which can be used to make this payment and each type of card has different restrictions about how it can be used.


photo by Henk Rolleman

Building an Industry counter with an Industry card

The first type of card is the Industry Card and there are a number of things to be noted about its usage. In the first place, an industry card may only be used to construct an industry counter of the kind of industry depicted on that card, e.g. an industry card which depicts a cotton mill can only be used to construct a cotton mill counter.

There are also a number of restrictions about where you can place the counter that you are trying to build. To build an industry counter in a given location at least one of the following conditions must be met:
● You must connect to the location in which you wish to build via one of your own railways.
● You must already have at least one other industry counter on a space in that location and that location must be made up of four or more spaces. Note: you may never construct more than two industry counters in any one location.
● If a space already contains one of your industry counters, you may overbuild that counter as long as you overbuild it with a counter of a higher technology level - it need not be the same type of industry counter.
● If you have no other industry counters on the board then you may build said industry in any legal space.
● If you played a ship card, then the space in question must be connected to your own port, or another player’s port that you connect to via your own railway.

Building an Industry counter with a Location card

The second type of card that you can use to build an industry counter is a Location Card. Location cards, which are differentiated by different colours/symbols, allow you build an industry counter in any legal location that has a colour/symbol that matches the card which you have played. In this instance, you do not have to be connected by rail to the location in which you wish to build.

What happens if you lack the required card you need to build an industry counter? Then you have the option of combining your two actions into one action: you may discard any one card from your hand, and may then proceed to build an industry counter in any location that you could legally build. But if you use this option, it represents the totality of your turn – i.e. you may only carry out one action on that turn if you choose to proceed in this way.



Restrictions on building industry

Having the correct card to build an industry counter is, however, only part of the battle. There are a number of additional restrictions that are imposed by the space/location itself. To begin with, coal mines can only be built in a space containing a coal mine symbol and port counters can only be built in spaces containing a port symbol - a fairly intuitive rule. By contrast, cotton mills, factories and iron works can only be constructed in clear spaces without a symbol.

You are also restricted to building counters that represent the lowest current technology level of the industry that you wish to build. Note that the industry counters on your display have been arranged in ascending numerical order, so you are required to build those counters by proceeding from left to right. Now, a keen observer will note that some of the industry counters have been assigned a value of zero – and it is important to understand that these counters can never be built. Instead, they can only be removed from your display by means of the development action. We will have more to say about the development action below, but the short version is that you can develop an industry by using one of your actions to discard a card from your hand and removing a counter from your player display.

Coal and iron

There are also monetary and eventually resource costs that must be paid as part of the building process. For instance, to build a technology level one cotton mill will cost you four dollars. In addition to monetary costs, building some industry counters will also require the payment of resources (coal and/or iron). So how do you go about getting your hands on these resources? Well, you can acquire coal and/or iron from one of two locations.

1. Getting coal and iron from Industry counters. In the first place, whenever you build a coal mine or an iron works a specified number of cubes of that type of resource will be placed on that counter (the required number of cubes for each type and level of industry counter is indicated on the player display). For instance, if you were to build a technology level one coal mine, then three coal cubes would be placed on that counter. The same holds true for iron; if you were to build a technology level three iron works, then five iron cubes would be placed on that counter. These coal and iron cubes will then be available to all of the players as a means of paying the required resource costs for building industry counters. So if you need coal and/or iron to build an industry counter, you may take the necessary resources from a coal mine and/or iron works that has such cubes available.

Secondly, although the industry counter from which you acquire these resources need not belong to you, you must be able to move the resources that you need along railway connections to the space in which you wish to build. Finally, you must take the cubes from the closest available source on the board – as measured in completed railway connections. Cubes which are used to build industry counters are removed from the board and returned to the supply.

Here the Blue player uses a Cotton Mill card to build an industry in Magdeburg, taking a coal cube from the Yellow player's coal mine in Poland to do this:



At this juncture a brief word needs to be said about the flipping of coal mines and iron works. Whenever the last cube is removed from either a coal mine or an iron works, that counter is immediately flipped and the player owning that counter immediately receives income (the amount is indicated on the player display) from the bank. As an example, if the last coal cube was removed from your technology level one coal mine, you would immediately receive four dollars from the bank.

2. Getting coal and iron from the Demand display. The situation may emerge, however, in which you wish to build an industry counter that requires coal and/or iron, but there is no source on the map that you can take the necessary resources from. In these circumstances, you may use the demand display in order to try and get the resources you need. Here too, several conditions need to be met. In the first place, the space in which you wish to build your industry counter must be connected by railway (yours or another player’s) to either a port counter (it does not matter if the port counter belongs to you or not; nor does it matter if the port counter has been flipped), or to a location that has a distant port symbol. If this is the case, you may then purchase coal or iron from the demand display. You must take cubes from the cheapest available row, and you must pay the amount of money indicated by that row in addition to any other normal monetary payments. It is also possible that the situation can emerge in which no coal/iron are available on the board and the demand display has been depleted of the necessary resource - then you may still purchase the cubes that you need, but the cost will now be four dollars per cube.



It should also be noted that, as the game progresses, any empty spaces on the demand display will be replenished by the construction of new coal mines and iron works. Whenever any player builds a coal mine or an iron works, if there are any empty spaces on the demand track, that player must move cubes of the relevant resource from their industry counter to the demand display. This will only occur, however, if the newly constructed industry counter is connected by railway to either a port counter or a location with a distant port symbol. The cubes moved to the demand display generate income for that player equivalent to the value of the row in which the cube was placed.



Overbuilding industry counters

It is also possible for you to overbuild one of your own industry counters and, in certain circumstances, to overbuild one of your opponent’s counters. In order to overbuild your own counter, you must employ a counter that is of a higher technology value than the existing counter; that counter need not be the same type of industry counter. So you might choose to overbuild your own level one cotton mill, for example, with one of your level three factories. Of course, a coal mine must always be overbuilt by another coal mine of a higher technology level, and the same holds true for ports and ships.

To overbuild an industry counter which belongs to another player there are a few additional restrictions. In the first place, you may only overbuild an opponent’s counter if it is a coal mine or an iron works - you may not overbuild any other type of industry counter that belongs to an opponent. Additionally, you may only overbuild another player’s coal mine if there are no other coal cubes anywhere on the map and if there are no coal cubes available in the demand display. Finally, the counter used to overbuild the previous counter must be of a higher technology value. The same rules hold true for overbuilding an opponent’s iron works.

Phew! That takes care of the first of six options – you’ll all be glad to know that things get easier from here. Let’s consider the five remaining actions.

Build a Railway

You may also choose to build a railway as one of your actions. The first thing to be noted about railways, is that only one railway counter can be placed on a link between two cites and, once placed, that railway counter cannot be moved. The first railway counter that you build will cost you one dollar, while all subsequent railway counters will cost one dollar plus one coal and one iron. For this purpose you must be able to move the necessary coal and iron to one or the other of the two locations at the end of the link that you wish to build. It is also very important to remember that you may only build a railroad on a link that connects either: (a) to a location containing one or more of you own industry counters, or (b) to a location that you already connect to via one of your railway counters.

In the example below, the yellow player builds a railway between Regensburg and Bohemia:



Sell Goods

You could also choose to sell goods as one of your actions. In order to successfully carry out a sell action, the cotton mill and/or factory counter in question must be connected by a railway (and/or sea lane) to an unused port or market counter. When selling goods you may use any series of railways (it does not need to be the shortest available route) to connect to said port or market, and those railways do not need to belong to you. Whenever you sell goods from a factory/cotton mill to a port/market, both the industry counter and the port/market counter are immediately flipped and the player (or players) who own these counters immediately receive a specified payment (again, the amount is indicated on the player reference sheet) from the bank. Once flipped, these counters remain flipped for the remainder of the game and they may not be used again to perform a selling action. Finally, although you may carry out as many sales as you wish during a single selling action, each port/market counter can only facilitate one sale before it is flipped. Remember too, that a technology level one port is only able to sell cotton, whereas, a technology level two or three port can sell both cotton or factory goods. Further, with respect to the market counters, it must be noted that some markets can only accept a specific kind of good, e.g. it is not possible to sell from a factory to a market counter that only depicts a cotton mill on it.

In the example below, the red player uses the railroad connections to sell goods from his cotton mill in Hannover to the yellow port in Hamburg (earning him $8 and earning yellow $5), from his cotton mill in Magdeburg to his own port in Danzig (earning him $8 plus $5 for the port), and from his factory in Leipzig to the market in Poland (earning him $16).



Development

The fourth action that you can carry out is the development action. Development allows you to remove one counter from your player display at the cost of discarding one card from your hand. This is the only way to remove technology level zero counters from your display. Of course, you can also discard a card to develop any of your industry counters to the next technology level and this may be an important option if you want to overbuild a counter later in the game.


photo by Henk Rolleman

Draw 2 Cards

As a fifth possible action you can choose to draw two cards. You may (a) draw two cards blindly from the deck, (b) take both of the face up cards that have been set beside the draw pile, or, (c) take one face up card and one card from the draw pile. If the face-up cards have both been drawn you must then draw cards to replace the cards taken from the face up display. Players have a maximum hand size of nine cards, and this may never be exceeded.


photo by Nuno Sentieiro

Pass

The final action you can take is to pass. If you do not wish to carry out any further actions you must perform a pass action, which you do by discarding one card from your hand. If you have no cards in your hand and no cards remain to be drawn from the draw pile, you may pass for free.


photo by Henk Rolleman

There – those last five actions weren’t so bad were they! And the good news is that the remaining two phases of the turn are even easier to explain, and quick to carry out.

Phase 2: Turn Order

In this phase the player tokens are arranged on the turn order track based on the amount of money spent by each player during the Action Phase. The player who spent the least money will occupy the top position on the track, with person who spent the next least following them and so on, with the player who spent the most money going last.


photo by Henk Rolleman

Phase 3: Interest

In this phase, players are required to pay one dollar in interest for every ten dollars in outstanding loans that they possess. If you are unable to make the required interest payments you must take out an additional loan to make that payment (you don't need to pay interest on the new loan that you have just taken).

A final word about money and loans: you begin the game with no money! So whenever you need to pay for something, if you do not have the necessary funds, you may take out loans in ten dollar increments to obtain the cash you need. You may pay back loans at any time. The thing to remember with loans is not to be afraid of them – you are going to need to take out loans at various points in the game. However, you don’t want to go hog wild either because the interest payments can quickly become quite prohibitive.



Well, that about covers it! All that remains is to total up the scores and figure out who gets bragging rights!

End Game and Scoring

The game ends at the end of a completed round in which one or more players has completely exhausted their hand of cards and the deck of cards has also been exhausted. As a reminder, at no point in the game will the discard pile ever be shuffled to form a new draw pile. Final scoring now takes place.

To calculate the final score, follow these steps:
1. Collect the profits from your railways. Each railway counter on the board earns you two dollars, plus one dollar for every occupied spaces at the end of each link (it does not matter whether a counter in that space has been flipped or not – and this includes markets, also flipped or not).
2. Repay any of your outstanding loans.
3. Score 1VP for each $5 dollars that you possess.
4. Score VP from the industry counters that you have on the board. Industry counters (flipped or not) score VP equal to their technology level.
5. Subtract 5VP for every $10 of loans that you were unable to pay back.
The player with the highest score is the winner!



Pictured above is part of a helpful score sheet by Scott Agius (available in the BGG File section here).

New England board and other Expansions

The fact that the board is double-sided is a real bonus. The German side of the map is indeed the correct place to begin when learning to play and appreciate the game. However, after a number of plays it can feel a tad ‘samey’. Solution? Flip the board and tackle the slightly more complex and strategic challenges of New England! Friend and neighbours, this game has been constructed in such a way that it allows you to grow with the game – and that, well that’s really smart. Not to mention the fact that you are getting good value for your hard earned pesos!


photo by Antonio Izzo

One final comment with respect to the board and expandability: Martin Wallace has stated on his website that expansion boards for Age of Industry may be developed in the future and that these expansions would make use of the components which were included with the base game. One of his posts on BGG also observes "New maps will be released next year, probably in June to coincide with the UK Games Expo" (see a thread with more discussion here). Thus there is a very real possibility of even greater replayability and new challenges down the way.

CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?

Industrial theme: Martin Wallace is noted for often beginning his game designs with a strong theme, often steeped in history. With Age of Industry the theme of the industrial revolution is tastefully incorporated into the game. The board represents various resources well, and you have a sense of building a little industrial empire, as you build factories and iron works, and build railroad tracks to the places that need goods. There's a good industrial feel to the game, and it reflects some of the history of the 19th century.

Streamlining of Brass: In the Designer Notes in the rulebook, Martin Wallace states that game system behind Age of Industry is essentially the same as Brass, but that he simplified and streamlined several elements specific to the industrial revolution in Lancashire that necessitated complex rules in Brass for thematic reasons. Furthermore, unlike Brass, Age of Industry was also designed as a game that would have the flexibility to be played on several maps. It's worth noting that Brass enjoys a healthy ranking of #8 on BGG at present, so that gives Age of Industry an impressive pedigree. When commenting on how elements of Brass have been simplified in Age of Industry (e.g. the loans system and the use of cards), Wallace observes: "I have no idea why I did not come up with these ideas when I was working on Brass, otherwise I would have included them in the original game." This appears to suggest that Age of Industry is a smoother and improved Brass. To what extent Wallace has succeeded in doing this will remain the subject of debate. Not having played Brass, we're not in a position to compare the two, but you will find ample discussion from others on this point in the BGG forums. To me it seems foolish to insist that one is better than the other, when both games have advocates willing to argue that the one is superior to the other. Clearly both Brass and Age of Industry are excellent games, and your personal preference will be a subjective matter, depending on your taste. So it seems sensible to acknowledge the virtues of both games, and appreciate the differences between them without detracting from the strengths of each. While Age of Industry has removed some elements from Brass, it has the advantage of being more accessible and is likely a better entry point for most gamers.



Rewards of repeated play: Age of Industry is a game that’s best thought of in terms of a marriage, rather than a one night stand. If what you want in a game is an easy hook-up that doesn’t require any real investment and offers nothing more than a no-questions asked night of quick and dirty fun – well, than Age of Industry probably isn’t for you. But if what you’re looking for is a committed relationship in which you gradually come to know and appreciate a game over a longer period of time than Age of Industry must just be your perfect match! Age of Industry is a definitely a gamer’s game and, as such, you’ll need to be willing to invest some time up front in order to learn to play properly. Equally, you’ll need to be prepared to play a game or two before you come to appreciate the elegant ways in which the various facets of the game combine to form something special. To be sure, Age of Industry won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but what we can say is that, like any good marriage, it more than adequately rewards commitment and attention!

Card driven mechanic: One of the most endearing things about Age of Industry is that, even though it is a Euro game, in a number of ways it plays and even feels slightly like a card driven war game, in the sense that the cards in your hand drive the actions available to you. Having cards also limits your choices and prevents the game bogging down with analysis paralysis, since the actions available are somewhat dictated by the cards in your hand. This also means that the game will play differently each time.

Scalability: Age of Industry seems best with three to four players. It has been designed to play with three to five players and it is certainly fair to say that the game provides a different experience depending on the number of players. The first thing to be noted here is that the game is not really at its best when played with either two or five players. To be sure, two and five player games remain enjoyable and they provide their own unique experiences and challenges – but the game really comes alive when played with three or four. Why? When played with two players, there just isn’t enough player interaction, especially in the early game - at least, unless some changes are made to the rules or use of cards. By contrast, in a five player game the board becomes so crowded, and the board state can change so drastically over the course of a single round, that it becomes difficult to reliably execute any long term strategy - with five players the game becomes rather more tactical than strategic in character. The three and four player games, however, really strike the right balance between strategy and tactics as players have enough room on the board to make good choices on both counts. That's not to say that the two player game is not viable - Martin Wallace has stated "It may be playable by two but I’ve never got around to testing it with that number. I’m sure somebody on Boardgamegeek will come up with a variant to allow you to play with two players." Given the excellent two player variant that was developed on BGG for Brass, one can only hope that with time the same will happen for Age of Industry, since this will only serve to boost the game's popularity and appeal.

Playing time: When played by experienced players who are not overly afflicted with AP it is remarkable how smoothly and relatively quickly a game can be played. Indeed, four experienced players could quite comfortably knock out a game in 1¾ to 2 hours. There are several factors that positively influence the play time. In the first place, a player can only take two actions per round and with the exception of building an industry counter all of the available actions can be completed very quickly. Further, the fact that much of the game play is card driven means that the available options are ultimately limited by what cards you have in your hand. All of this means that down time between turns (at least when playing with less than the full complement of five players) is minimized, and the game moves along at a steady pace. To be sure, one or two AP prone players can really change things – but that would be the case with any game of this weight and character.

Importance of turn order: One of the things about this game that players will come to appreciate as they become more familiar with it, is the genius of the turn order mechanism. Skilled players will learn to time their purchases so that they are able to vault from first to last position and thus have the ability to carry out four uninterrupted actions. This can be critical when setting up a good multiple sale selling action. This is a really fine design element that says a lot about the kind of game this is.

Austerity breeds quality: There have been those who have commented on the austere look of the game board and it must be conceded that the board is rather minimalist in character. But here’s the question you have to ask yourself – how many games out there today are really triumphs of form over content? Sadly, there are an increasing number of games being produced these days which attempt to mask minimalist content with gorgeous components. Age of Industry is not one of those games! Mr. Wallace hasn’t set out to beguile you with lovely components as a means of distracting your attention from the fact that the game has no real substance or point. Rather, the somewhat stark components lay bare the soul of the game and one grows to appreciate Age of Industry precisely because of the elegance of its mechanics and the interconnectedness of its parts. And, in these circumstances, a rather curious change takes place: you find yourself liking the components because you so like the game! The simple reality is that while gorgeous components are a wonderful addition to any game, they should always be understood as the icing on the cake. As customers we should be careful never to fall victim to the siren song of moulded plastic and wooden components, lest we find ourselves trading games with soul for games with nothing but pretty shells! The austere board here enables the game-play to shine, and it's the game-play that should be winning us over in the first place.

Player displays: A remarkable amount of information has been provided on the player displays and this proves to be quite helpful in both teaching and playing the game. Key details such as: the different phases of a round, the possible actions that players can select, costs to construct your first and subsequent railroads, the possibility of combining your actions to build when you really need to – all of this and more is provided on the player display, and you’ll be surprised at how helpful this will be. The display is not only informative it has also been very well designed. For instance, the simple fact that the industry counters which can be built on clear spaces have been grouped together on the left side – and all of the counters which need to be built on specific locations (coal mines, ports and ships) have been grouped together on the right – says something about the thought and care that went into producing these displays.

Mercy for the colour-blind: Martin Wallace is to be commended for having shown genuine compassion for those amongst us who are afflicted by colour blindness - which includes some of the poor souls in our game group. The value of having placed symbols on the city locations that correspond to the symbols on the location cards simply cannot be overstated. This is a simple choice, one that probably cost next to nothing in terms of production costs, but it’s this kind of attention to detail which means that a whole spectrum of people can play this game despite the frustrating limitation of colour blindness. This is a plea to each and every publisher out there, from our colour-blind gamer friends who cry: "Are we not human? If you prick us do we not bleed red (or what we guess is red) just like you? Don’t forget about us when you send your games to press. Educate yourselves about the realities of colour blindness and make your graphical choices accordingly – please we beg of you!" Thanks Martin Wallace for hearing these cries.

Potential expandability: Having two maps on which to play the game is already a bonus, since they offer quite different experiences. The possibility of being able to play the game on future expansion maps is a real strength, and bodes well for the longevity of the game.


photo by Henk Rolleman

What do others think?

The criticism

Although Age of Industry enjoys the impressive credentials of an International Gamers Award and a very solid average rating here on BGG, not everyone appreciates it, and it's worth asking why. Taking a look at the more negative comments and ratings reveals that most of the critics linked their dislike of Age of Industry to a greater appreciation of Brass. Here's a selection of such sentiments:
"I prefer Brass. This seemed dry & didn't have the same narrative & feeling of progress for me. " - Ben Skellett
""A streamlined version of Brass". This is true, however it is streamlined to the point of taking all that was good from Brass and eliminating it. Sure the game is shorter (not by that much), but it lacks the tension of Brass." - Peppino (Sorrellbo)
"Brass is a bold, creative, complex, lumbering, quirky, theme-driven design that probably came together much better than Wallace expected it to. It's an adventurous, thoroughly engaging game with personality and depth. Age of Industry surgically removes most of that personality." - JohnRayJr
"So-called "streamlined" version of Brass loses a small amount of complexity and a lot of the intriguing decisions." - Jacob Gunness
"Age of Industry takes the Brass system and strips out the challenge and fun." - Jonathan Takagi


It seems that being a refinement of Brass may prove to be both a blessing and a curse for Age of Industry. Ardent fans of Brass will miss what they consider essential elements of the original, despite the hurdle of complexity that comes along with these elements. On the other hand, it is no secret that the rules of Brass can prove quite challenging, and at times even awkward and counter-intuitive. In that respect, a more streamlined game only increases the chances of this proven game system reaching a broader audience of gamers. This can only be a good thing for Age of Industry - even if it doesn't please gamers who've scaled the mountains of Brass and enjoy hiking amongst its challenging peaks. It's not that Age of Industry is inherently a bad game, but given that it has a progenitor that it can be compared with, it's only natural that those who have come to love the rich character of the father despite his quirks and gruffness, will look somewhat disfavourably at the younger and slimmer son.

The praise

So if you're already a big fan of Brass, be prepared for the possibility that you might fall into the category of those who find Age of Industry a let-down. We don't need to make apologies for this in advance, any less than Diet Coke needs any self-justification for its existence to die-hard Coke addicts. Instead it's better to concede that both games will satisfy different tastes, and recognize that of those who have played Brass, some will find the newer and slimmer Diet-Brass (i.e. Age of Industry) a big improvement. Some examples:
"AoI takes Brass, one of my favorite Wallace games, and streamlines it down to what has to be one of the most elegant games in the industry at this complexity level. As with the revision of Steam over AoS, so has AoI done the same with Brass to make a much better game." - Doug Cooley
"Easier, streamlined version of Brass." - Giacomo Mangiarano
"Wow, this is a fun game. I owned Brass for a long time without a play because we could not figure out the rules, but this was straight forward and a lot of fun. This game is what Brass should have been. " - Michael Basil
"Really wonderful upgrade to a game that had few flaws to begin with. As Age of Steam goes mainstream, Age of Industry becomes Wallace's new underground masterpiece." - Spencer Sloe
"Brass simplified with more options for growth. Brilliant." - Morgan Dontanville
"Significantly improved from the original. It still has a lot of quirks, but is definitely streamlined." - Wystan Benbow
"How to make a really great game even greater. Whatta game!" - Ron (PzVIE)
"Takes Brass, which I absolutely love, and streamlines and improves it!" - Chad Krizan


What's more, given that the rules of Age of Industry are more accessible than those of its predecessor, the reality is that there is a whole new group of gamers who may find themselves playing this newer game, despite never succeeding in conquering Brass. That can only be a good thing, and if Age of Industry is easier to learn than Brass, then that's one thing that counts in its favour. Many suggest that while the rules are not quite as complex as Brass, Age of Industry is still a game that's very meaty, and for some that it even stands at eye-level with Brass in that regard. So while it may be slimmer in terms of rules, it's not necessarily inferior in terms of depth of gameplay. We're not in a position to evaluate that, and in the final analysis comparisons with Brass won't help those - like us - who have never played Brass. It's enough to say that when allowing the game to stand on its own, outside the shadow of its parent, it holds up rather well. As an independent game judged on its own merits, it's clearly a good one, as enthusiastic comments like these make evident:
"Tight finances, plenty of choices, good player interaction... what's not to like." - Mike Neff
"The whole package is one slick machine that I cannot wait to replay. Wallace has a serious winner that will stand with the best of his Warfrog days." - Cole Wehrle
"While there are lots of comparisons to Brass. I think Age of Industry stands quite by itself. While it may not necessarily quicker, it is definitely easier to teach and get others up and rolling faster." - David Pazmino
"Brass light. Powergrid with trains. Excellent game." - Mark Applegate
"May be Wallace's best. With a few more maps, will rank with Power Grid and Steam as games that will endure forever." - Michael Schwerdtfeger
"Felt just as long as Brass, but rules much more straightforward." - Robert Jones
"Maybe the best game by Martin Wallace. If you like economic games, this is as good as it gets (simple rules, many different ways to try to win, hunt for opportunities, nail biting until the end)." - Paul Nomikos
"This game is a gem and I absolutely love playing it. This is a very honest no frills game that is very competitive and very strategic. This is a must have game." - Orlando Collins




Recommendation

So is Age of Industry a game for you? That will largely depend on your taste, but it's safe to say that this is a game that will primarily appeal to serious gamers, particularly those who enjoy heavier economic games, and are prepared to bring it to the table multiple times in order to get some good mileage out of it. Not everyone will have an appetite for it, but there is good reason it won an International Gamers Award for Best Strategy Game in 2010. If you have a group of 3-4 players prepared to give it a shot, you're likely to get multiple gaming meals out of this menu item, with rewarding and hearty game-play. Most serious gamers with a discerning appetite will find much to like about Age of Industry!



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Zé Mário
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EndersGame wrote:
Clearly both Brass and Age of Industry are excellent games, and your personal preference will be a subjective matter, depending on your taste.


Well I'll be damned!
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Jérôme
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If this game is supposed to be about the 19th century, the Dutch part of the map is wrong, because the Afsluitdijk wasn't built until the 1930s, and looking at the polders it becomes apparent that the map shows the situation between 1957 and 1968. Age of Industry?
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Izak Marais
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As always, I love your reviews. This definitely put AoI on my radar as something I might want to buy.

Some general questions:

I see you have not yet rated AoI; what score would you give it out of 10?

I can't understand the muted response to AoI here on BGG: Brass has a significantly higher rating than AoI, whereas the other Martin Wallace streamlined re-release, Steam, matches or outranks Age of Steam.

Steam is currently right at the top of my wishlist, especially after Tom Vasal's glowing video review and comparison of it to Age of Steam (he prefers leniency of Steam to the toughness of AoS). I like the idea of a more accessible rules, which is why I am attracted to AoI and not to Brass. This is compounded by reviews I have read which emphasizes the difficulty of Brass's rules.

What could explain the lack of interest in AoI as opposed to Steam? Could it be because it has not yet been manufactured locally for the US market by an American publisher? Will this ever happen? Or is it because Steam also includes "advanced" rules for for those people who gripe about streamlining?
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Steam came out of a "war" between the AoS's designer and its publisher. It's pretty much the same game, with some few modifications. I prefer the older version, but it's not like I have many issues with Steam, it's very close to the original.

Age of Industry, on the other hand, is extremely different from Brass, in feel and rules. Brass is brilliant, AoI is... far from it.
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Gavin Wynford-Jones
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Phenomenal article and a great explanation of the game! Well worth the hard work you obviously put into it. Thanks!
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Martin Prosser
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A well written overview.

I had to learn Brass for a competition. I got to the point of understanding the unusual quirks of the game and also had acquired knowledge of how not to play it successfully. The greatest downside for me was the 3 hours it would take to play.

For me, Age of Industry seems to have smoothed out the wrinkles of Brass (e.g. in Brass iron can be air dropped to a location but coal has to go by rail/water). If Age Of Steam can genuinely be played in 2 hours then not only would I continue to play this game, I'd probably buy it.
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Bruce Murphy
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Tinkerer wrote:
A well written overview.

I had to learn Brass for a competition. I got to the point of understanding the unusual quirks of the game and also had acquired knowledge of how not to play it successfully. The greatest downside for me was the 3 hours it would take to play.

For me, Age of Steam seems to have smoothed out the wrinkles of Brass (e.g. in Brass iron can be air dropped to a location but coal has to go by rail/water). If Age Of Steam can genuinely be played in 2 hours then not only would I continue to play this game, I'd probably buy it.


AGe of Industry. It's not clear that it's that much quicker, to be honest.

B>
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Andy Andersen
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Fantastic review.thumbsupthumbsup
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Murat Onart
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Incredible review. You provided every detail regarding the game while keeping a nice narrative flow. Congratulations and thank you.
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John Fortune
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This is the best review I have ever read - Bravo and well done.

Wow.
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Andrew Moore
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LESS WORK
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Coming to this review quite late in the game, but it is excellent. Thank you for your dedicated time and effort.

I would like to echo a previous question from several years ago: I notice, Ender, that you still don't have a numerical rating on BGG for AoI. This many years down the road, where does it stand for you rating-wise?
 
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Milan
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excellent review. Was debating over Brass or AOI....now will get AoI.
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