Friday, 11 January 2019

Raiatea

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

In Raiatea you are leader priests in a secret religious sect, vying for power to become high priest. This is a victory point game, whoever scores highest wins.

There are three giant statues at the bottom right. You mobilise villagers to build them. This is the main story in the game, and also the main way of scoring points. You build the statues by claiming the tokens on them. The tokens are worth VP's. You need to pay resources or fulfill some condition to claim a token. At the upper left you can see six large tiles. These are location tiles, and they are the core mechanism driving the game. You claim location tiles in order to perform actions. The upper right section is a price chart for the four commodities in the game. The bottom left section is an altar for recording the number of priests you command. The track along the left edge is the round track. Yellow circles are rounds you play, red ones are special ceremony rounds. The track along the right edge is the tattoo track, indicating how many tattoos you have, which translates to your rank.

Let's talk about the core mechanism, which is very much like Puerto Rico. During a round, everyone takes turns claiming one location tile. When you claim a location tile, you get to perform the associated actions, and so does everyone else. However you enjoy a slightly better version of the action, or some other advantage. There are 6 location tiles, and the game supports at most 5 players. This means every round at least one location tile will not be picked. Things you get to do include collecting resources, recruiting assistants, recruiting priests (who generate mana for you), collecting masks, swapping masks, getting tattooed, selling commodities and building part of a statue.

Only tokens on the first statue are revealed at the start of the game. Those on the second and third statues will only be revealed after the first and second ceremonies respectively. Normally you get to build statues only during the ceremonies. The costs of the tokens vary greatly. Some require commodities, some pearls, some mana. Pearls and mana are the two currencies in the game. Some tokens do not require resources, and instead require certain criteria to be fulfilled. Such tokens have red borders. There's one in the photo above, which requires you to have three priests. You just need to have them. You don't need to sacrifice them to claim the token. That would be an Aztec game...

If you look closely you will see the round transparent price markers in the third row. The four commodities are yam, fish, fruit and flower. This so called price chart is technically not a price chart. These are the resources or benefits you gain when you sell a commodity to the market, but normally when you claim a commodity you take it for free and don't pay these prices. Whenever you sell, the "price" goes down, and vice versa. So there's a little stock market thing going on here. Let's take the flower commodity as an example. When you sell flowers here, you will gain pearls. The black pearl means 5 white pearls.

These five cards outside of the board are forest cards. One of the actions you get to perform is to claim forest cards. In the forest you can find commodities, masks and assistants (hmmm).

The purple cards are masks, and they are one of the ways you score points. The masks have various scoring criteria, e.g. the mask on the right scores 1VP per brown assistant you employ. For masks to score, you must have matching pairs. Single masks score nothing. The mirror in the photo above is a special mask type - it is a joker and can be paired with any mask.

This is the tattoo track. When you reach certain positions on the track, you are promoted to a higher rank, and you will score points based on your rank. Your rank gives you powers which are important for the ceremonies. During ceremonies, you get to activate ritual cards which give you benefits. Before that you need to draw ritual cards. Drawing ritual cards is normally a matter of drawing a few, then keeping one. As your rank increases, you will draw more cards, which means better chances of drawing a card suitable for you. In addition to that, there is a limit to the number of ritual cards you get to activate during ceremonies. As your rank increases, this limit also increases. If you hit the top rank, there is a one-time benefit of immediately activating a ritual card in your hand. This can be lucrative.

Let's talk about the ceremony. This section of the board lists the whole process. When the ceremony begins, you get a chance to recruit priests and draw ritual cards. Next, everyone secretly places some ritual cards into the sacrifice bag. Ritual cards have various effects. Some good, some bad. Some one-time, some ongoing. Some affecting yourself, some affecting everyone. When you put your cards into the bag, you need to attach a clip of your colour, so that later on everyone will know who has contributed which card. Once all cards are seeded, it is time for the offering. Everyone secretly decides how much mana to contribute, and puts it in his hand. The contributions are revealed simultaneously. Such contributions, plus any mana already in the bag, will be used to activate the ritual cards.

The ritual cards are now taken out, and sorted in descending order of mana cost. They are activated in that order. If there is not enough mana to power all the cards, those of smaller values will be wasted.

The last part of the ceremony is the statue-building. Players take turns to claim statue tokens until everyone passes. Any tokens left over can still be claimed at the next ceremony.

This is the sacrifice bag. Ritual cards and mana offerings go here.

This is a ritual card, with my clip on it. Blue ritual cards have ongoing powers. This particular one would let me draw two more cards whenever I draw ritual cards.

These are two other ritual cards. The mana costs are at the top right corners. The card on the left gives you one tattoo. The one on the right gives you two priests.

The ritual card with the light card back is a basic card. The one with the dark card back is an advanced ritual card. Black magic if you will. The advanced rituals are generally more powerful and also tend to hurt your opponents.

These are assistants. There are 4 types, and their numbers are limited. Assistants have two abilities, an ongoing ability (first row of icons) and a one-time ability (second row). When some location cards are selected, assistants may give their owners some benefit. Let's take the green assistant on the right as an example. When the green location card is activated, a 4-sided die needs to be rolled to see whether green assistants will generate a free commodity for their owners. If your number of assistants is greater or equal to the number rolled, you get a free commodity. Since it is a 4-sided die, if you have four assistants, you are guaranteed the free commodity.

When you use the one-time ability of an assistant, you turn the assistant card 90 degrees to indicate it is used. Sometimes they can be reset, allowing you to use their one-time abilities again.

To summarise the ways of scoring: you claim statue tokens, you get matching masks, you get tattooed enough to reach higher ranks, and finally some ritual cards score points too.

The Play

Raiatea is a game of collecting resources and converting them to points. You want to do this as efficiently as possible. Some things can be done to improve your abilities, and thus your efficiency - getting assistants, getting priests, getting tattoos. When you pick a location card, you normally want to pick something that's most useful to you, and least helpful to your opponents.

The ceremony is unusual and interesting. You need to think carefully about which ritual cards to play, and how much mana to contribute. If a ritual card you add to the pool doesn't get activated, it's a waste. You need to gauge how much mana is already in the bag, and how much others will likely contribute. You want all your cards to get activated, and hopefully as few as possible of your opponents' cards get activated. In the game we played, at the last ceremony both Jeff and I seeded some high mana cost ritual cards which were not useful to us, just so that we could exhaust the mana and deny others. Pricks! When contributing mana, if your ritual cards have low mana costs, you probably want to contribute more to make sure they will get activated. They are going to be at the end of the queue.

It's seems dumb to be contributing too much mana to the pool. You may end up helping others trigger their ritual cards. Why so selfless? The mana offering is actually also a bidding mechanism. There are rewards to be gained based on how much you bid compared to others. Also the mana offering determines turn order for the statue-building at the end of the ceremony. So there are good reasons to offer more to the pool.

There are numerous tactical decisions throughout the game. You respond to opportunities that come up. E.g. a mask you need turns up in the forest, or the rewards are good at the commodity market.

The currencies - pearls and mana - are tight. Many statue tokens require them, and these tokens feel rather expensive. In the game we played, even by the end game, there were still many tokens requiring these currencies which were unclaimed. We had four players, and yet we collectively could not afford to claim all of these tokens.

The ceremonies feel important, despite mostly not directly giving VP's. The ritual cards mostly give resources, or improve your abilities. These eventually do help you gain VP's. The biggest source of VP's is the statue tokens. You will be constantly working towards them as your ultimate goal. The masks are a side quest. The tattoo track seems to be an area you should not ignore, but going all the way to the top may not be absolutely necessary.

This was Round 4. The marker was on the Round 4 space of the round track on the left. We had done two ceremony rounds, so by now all statue tokens were revealed. Many tokens on the first and second statues were still unclaimed. They could still be claimed in the third and final ceremony.

The ritual card on the left lets you claim pearls based on the number of priests you have. The ritual card on the right lets you advance on the tattoo track all the way to the next rank.

I had 9 assistants (cards with blue borders), which was a lot. This was mostly because I had many brown assistants (recruiters) in the first place. They gave me a few free assistants.

The Thoughts

Raiatea is a mid weight VP-scoring Eurogame. It's an efficiency game, with mostly tactical play. You try to make good use of opportunities that turn up, so that you can be more efficient than others in scoring points. You watch out for what forest cards come up, what statue tokens are available. You contemplate what ritual cards you draw. You try to make the most of these opportunities. I don't see any broad stroke strategies. There are assistants you can recruit, and the tattoos you can collect, but these are just general strengths and not unique strategies. The scoring criteria of the masks do give you some direction, but they are more simple directives than part of some overarching strategy.

Friday, 4 January 2019

7 Wonders: Armada

Plays: 7Px1.

The Game

7 Wonders is a successful game, having spawned many expansions, big and small. I have played some of the expansions but not all. Armada is one of the bigger expansions. It adds a naval aspect to the game, and increases player interaction in a few ways.

Everyone gets a dockyard board like this. You have four ships in four colours. Every time you construct a building or a stage of your wonder, you may also move a ship of the corresponding colour by paying extra resources. E.g. when you construct a red military building, you may move the red ship. The cost of moving the ship is printed on the dockyard board. Most of the time when you move a ship, you gain some benefit, as printed on the dockyard board too. E.g. the green ship lets you draw some island cards (see photo above) and claim one. Island cards come with various benefits.

The red ship increases your naval strength, which is a new game element. You now have not only army (military) strength but also naval strength. Unlike army strength, naval strength is compared among all players at the end of every era. The few who are strongest score points, and the weakest loses points. You are not just comparing with left and right neighbours.

The yellow ship increases your commerce level and also triggers taxation. Whenever taxation occurs, players with lower commerce levels than the player triggering taxation loses money. So this is a form of high commerce level players bullying low commerce level players. There is another side of the coin - piracy. Some cards trigger piracy, and piracy hurts players with high commerce levels.

The blue ship gives you points, just like the blue prestige buildings in the base game.

The Armada expansion comes with some new cards. You'll be playing 7 instead of 6 turns every round. Many of the new cards are related to the new naval element. Some cards let you interact with players other than your immediate left and right neighbours. You can buy resources cheaply from players who are sitting further away. You get to compare army strength with them too. Naturally you want to do the latter only when you are stronger or expect to be stronger than them.

One small change is the purple guild cards now score at most 10 points. I am guessing after introducing the new game elements some guilds can be overpowered, thus the need to set a limit.

The Play

I did a full 7-player game. If you have an 8th wonder from other expansions, you can play an 8-player game. The rulebook also comes with a team variant, where you can play in teams of two players sitting together. I have not tried this yet.

In the early game, I emphasised buildings which produced resources. I wanted to make sure I could build all three stages of my wonder. Investing in resource buildings early makes construction easier later. I noticed that no one spent much effort in constructing science buildings, so I decided I was going to be the science guy. See all those green science buildings I already had at this point. In this game the decision-making was fast and almost brainless for me. Most of the time, the moment I received the hand of cards from my neighbour, I already knew which card was best. Usually it was the science card. I didn't want to be distracted by blue prestige buildings or red military buildings. There was much thumb-twiddling for me waiting for others to decide.

I had two big problems. Firstly, I wasted many opportunities to sail my ships. Very often I was short of resources or money. This meant I missed out on many of the benefits on the dockyard board, or I got them later than I would have liked. The other problem was commerce level. I was behind most of the others, which meant I suffered much from taxation. I contributed much to the government and the pirates. I completely neglected military - both my army and my navy. I did have to lose points because of that, but it was not too painful.

My green science ship helped me discover this foggy island. Once I had this island, I was no longer affected by taxation or piracy. I just wished I had it earlier. I would have saved much money, which in turn probably meant I could afford to buy resources to sail my ships more often.

I fared poorly in sailing. My red and blue ships never moved. Green and yellow had only moved two steps each at this point. At the bottom of the yellow column you can see the pyramid icon. This means whenever I build one stage of my wonder, I get an opportunity to pay to sail my yellow ship. On different dockyard boards the pyramid icon appears in different columns.

This was my nation at the end of the game. My green ship had reached the end of the track, which was expected, since I was the science guy. Science gave me many points. The two purple guilds too. However my total score was mediocre compared to others. The penalties due to weak military was just one factor. I think the bigger problem was how I missed out on many opportunities to sail, and it had a cascading effect. I had played two yellow cards, and built all three stages of my wonder. If I had not missed any sailing opportunity for the yellow ship, it would be at at least the fifth step.

If you look at the top three green science cards, they have a new icon not seen in the base game. This new icon means it becomes the science icon which you already have the most of. It is not exactly a joker and you don't get to choose what science icon it becomes.

The Thoughts

The Armada expansion adds player interaction. You now need to compete in naval strength. You may interact with players sitting further away from you. Taxation and piracy affect everyone. In the base game, most of the player interaction is with your immediate neighbours. That was a basic design principle when the base game was designed - to make a 7 player game move briskly, don't overwhelm a player by requiring him to study closely what all the other six players are doing. Armada changes direction somewhat. The impact on player interaction is more obvious when you play with a high player count. If you only play with 3 or 4, these changes don't come into play or don't matter much. So I see Armada as mostly meant for playing with 5 to 7 players.

Armada adds complexity. It's not suitable for players new to the game. I think there will be too much to digest. I think 7 Wonders is a perfectly complete game and it plays fine without any expansion. Expansions do spice it up a bit and create same variability, but are not essential. You want expansions only if you play the base game heavily and want to get more life out of it.

Monday, 31 December 2018

my 2018

The dark blue Total Plays line uses the right axis, the other lines use the left axis.

My 2018 has been similar to 2017 and 2016. I have settled down into a new equilibrium - not playing as much as before, but still playing regularly. I played 295 times. I played 69 distinct games, of which 37 were new to me. My wife and children played less compared to previous years, continuing the trend. As the children get older, they develop their own hobbies and interests.

This chart shows how many distinct games I have played in 2018. The colours indicate how many times I have played the game. Many games are only played once (green).

My dimes (games played 10 times or more) contribute most to my play count. I've played Star Realms 107 times, Ascension 63 times, and Pandemic Legacy Season 2 17 times. My fives were Hanafuda Koi Koi (6), Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (5), Azul (5), and Diner (5).

Star Realms and Ascension were mostly against Han, using the mobile app. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 was with the Benz group. It wasn't as impactful to us as Season 1 was, but it did give a different experience and there were interesting surprises.

Pandemic Legacy Season 2

17 games entered my collection, which is higher than 2017. 9 were gifts, including many Dice Hate Me card games from Allen, many of which I have yet to play. I supported Martin Wallace's Lincoln on Kickstarter. I bought an older game Zooloretto because younger daughter Chen Rui said she likes it. I bought Innovations: Figures in the Sand (an expansion) second-hand, because I've always liked the game. I also bought Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle and three more Exit: The Game games. I bought Keyforge, because I was curious.

I hosted a few game sessions inviting colleagues over. It was fun playing some older games of mine, and some less complex games. Friday sessions at Boardgamecafe.net tend to be new games and gamer games.

New-to-me games in 2018:

  1. Hanafuda Koi Koi - A fun cultural experience. It is unlike other traditional games I've experienced, and unlike any modern card games I know of.

    Koi Koi

  2. Pit Crew
  3. Sidereal Confluence
  4. Majesty: For The Realm
  5. The Quest for El Dorado - Knizia does deck-building with this race game. Pretty decent.
  6. Kingdomino - Good family game. The award is well deserved.
  7. Rising Sun
  8. Unlock! Squeak & Sausage
  9. Diner - This reached 5 plays because the children wanted to play it. It's a speed game.
  10. The Lepak Game
  11. Unlock! The Island of Doctor Goorse
  12. Flamme Rouge
  13. Spirit Island - A complex and challenging cooperative game. There is tremendous pressure especially in the early game as you try to survive.

    Spirit Island

  14. Tesla vs Edison
  15. Unicornus Knights - It was fun calling our princess crazy (Siao Za Bo)

    Unicornus Knights

  16. Clans of Caledonia
  17. Wir sind das Volk! - I played this not long after I watched The Lives of Others, so the game felt much more real. This game can be a little daunting to learn, because it does have many exceptions and special cases, but once you actually sit down to play, it is quite manageable. I like how it tells a story.
  18. Exploding Kittens - It's a little silly, but it can be enjoyable.
  19. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle - Low complexity deck-building game. It is fun to see all those Harry Potter story characters in the game. Unfortunately I am not sure when or whether I'll get to play all the way to Game 7.
  20. Century: Eastern Wonders
  21. ROOT - A complex and serious game in a cute disguise.
  22. Azul - A pleasant and clever game. I quite like it. It is one of the few new-to-me games that I am enthusiastic about.

    Azul with Chen Rui.

  23. Dragon Castle
  24. Hellapagos - Clean and compact survival game. Someone will die. Quite likely everyone.
  25. Feudum - Gorgeous, but a bit too much work for the amount of fun I get.
  26. Quarto
  27. Downforce
  28. Auztralia
  29. Exit: The Game - The Forgotten Island
  30. Exit: The Game - The Polar Station
  31. Coimbra
  32. Minerva
  33. Brass: Birmingham - It was good to play a Brass game again.
  34. Anachrony
  35. Raiatea
  36. Lincoln - Simpler and not as strong as A Few Acres of Snow, but still presents a number of interesting dilemmas.
  37. Keyforge

Friday, 28 December 2018

Anachrony

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

At the end of the 26th century, Earth is a wasteland. A mysterious catastrophe 300 years prior had destroyed most of human civilisation. What was left of mankind formed four distinct nations, and they have been living mostly in isolation, except for when they meet in the old capital. At ground zero of the catastrophe, a new substance, neutronium, was discovered, which lead to great advances in technology and the invention of time machines. Using time machines to gather resources from the past, the nations developed quickly. However time travel came with risks, and if not managed well, could lead to disaster. Recently scientists detected a great asteroid heading towards earth. Upon impact it would create a new catastrophe. The mineral signature of the asteroid was found to be the same as that of the neutronium discovered at ground zero. Mankind realised that the first catastrophe had been his own doing, a result of meddling with time.

You are the leader of one of the four nations. As you prepare for the impending impact and eventual destruction of the old capital, you try to gain the most influence, so that your city state will become the new capital of all mankind. Translation: Score the most victory points before the game ends.

The first thing you'll notice are the robots. Well, they are not robots. These are exosuits. Anachrony is a worker placement game. You send your workers to work in your own city (player board) and also in the old capital (main game board). The old capital is exposed and not well-shielded like the four city states. Your workers need to wear these exosuits to be able to visit the old capital.

Those narrow tiles stuck into the exosuits are the workers.

These are leaders of one of the nations. You have two to pick from. They have different special abilities. E.g. the one on the left lets you recruit a worker at the cost of two water resources during Phase 6 of a round.

The full view of the game. The main board is the old capital. You send workers here to gather resources, exchange resources, construct buildings, research new technology and recruit new workers. Those arrow shaped tiles on the left are the timeline tiles, each corresponding to a round of play. The asteroid strikes between rounds 4 and 5, after which the old capital starts crumbling down. The game ends after the old capital is completely destroyed, or after Round 7. The five small cards on the right are game-end scoring cards. Throughout the game you need to consider how you will make use of them. At the bottom are four stacks of buildings. Not all buildings appear in every game, and the order in which they appear is random. This creates variability.

Above each timeline tile is a research project which players can work on. Every round a new project becomes available. If you complete a project, it becomes a new large (and powerful) building in your city. Some projects need to be triggered by a worker, some don't, just like regular buildings.

The time travel aspect is implemented as basically a loan system. Every round you may place some of your warp tiles (those triangles) on the timeline tile of the current round to immediately collect some resources or workers. This represent you going back in time to take resources. However, you eventually need to pay your debt. In a future round, you need to use a time machine to go back in time to when you took the loan, then pay the debt (interest free) to reclaim your warp tile. So essentially you are spending resources you don't have, but you have to pay it back later. At every timeline tile, the players with the most warp tiles must roll a paradox die and suffer the consequences. Thus the pressure to reclaim your warp tiles.

This was the situation in Round 5. The black player had many warp tiles on the timeline and would likely suffer some penalty.

This is the player board. The hexes on the left are the prep area for the exosuits. At the start of every round you need to decide how many exosuits you will prep for missions to the old capital. If you prep many, you will need to spend energy cores (a type of resource). Workers come in yellow, pink, blue and green. They are arranged in two columns - shut-eye and open-eye. Normally a worker needs to sleep after completing a task, and is moved from his workstation to the sleeping column. You need to do a wake-up call action to move workers from the sleeping column to the awake column. There are two ways to wake people up. If you give them a drink (coffee I assume) when waking them, they feel happier, and you get points. If no coffee, they are grumpy, you lose points, and some may even die of thirst.

The right side of the player board is for your buildings. You may build up to three buildings in each type. The building costs are printed on the board.

This section of the player board is related to time travel. When you roll the paradox die, it may give you paradox tokens (orange triangles). Collect three, and you are awarded a red building, which is bad. The red building takes up a building slot, and costs you 3VP. To get rid of it you need to spend resources, and the poor guy you send to dismantle it will die. That track in the middle is a scoring track. Each time you go back in time to repay a debt, you advance one step. So time traveling is not just about taking loans. It is also about scoring points whenever you pay your debts.

The big square tile is your nation. One important scoring action is the evacuation. This is a one-time scoring action which you need to plan for diligently. The nations have different pre-conditions and scoring criteria. This particular nation needs to have built 3 blue buildings to qualify for evacuation. Satisfying this pre-condition gives 2VP. When performing the evacuation, every genius worker and gold resource pair scores 3VP. The evacuation action can score a big chunk of points and must be planned for.

Notice the large tile with 3 heads. This side of it is shown before the asteroid impact. Once the brown stuff hits the fan, you flip it over to show the other side (next photo).

This side of the large tile shows the evacuation icon (on the right), reminding players they can perform evacuation now.

Workers come in four flavours - engineers, scientists, administrators and geniuses. Some tasks can be performed only by specific worker types. Some tasks when performed by specific worker types give small benefits, e.g. the worker enjoys his work and doesn't feel tired, and thus doesn't need to sleep. The geniuses are good at everything. You can use them as engineers, scientists or administrators. In short, jokers!

After the asteroid impact, two of the exosuit prep spaces are disabled. You can send at most four workers to the old capital now, and from the second one onwards you already need to consume energy cores.

During the final countdown, whenever one of the six central spaces are used, it is destroyed permanently. Once all six are gone, the game ends. In this photo, five are already out and only the last one remains. Players do have some control over how quickly the game ends.

The Play

Anachrony is a worker placement game. You collect resources to do stuff. By constructing buildings, you add to your options. By recruiting workers, you get to execute more actions. Players' buildings create differentiation among them, in addition to their leader abilities and evacuation conditions. There are multiple ways to score points. The evacuation is an important one which you must plan for. My guess is the time travel aspect is a do-or-do-not thing. If you want to use it for scoring, don't do it half-heartedly. It would not be efficient. I am not entirely sure whether time travel scoring can be completely ignored. In the game we played, I was planning to do that, but then I constructed a building which let me time travel twice for one action. "Buy-one-free-one"! So I couldn't resist. All three of us did a fair bit of time traveling. I am not sure whether one of us would have done much poorer had he neglected time traveling, and instead focused on something else, e.g. research projects. None of us completed any research project. Han did spend more effort on scientific research, and scored points for scientific breakthroughs, but he never went all the way to complete a major project.

The five end-game scoring cards will probably give the game a slightly different flavour each time. They augment the values of certain actions.

The evacuation criteria differs for everyone, so you won't have a situation of two players directly competing, and others benefiting from staying out of the fight. In that sense there is some balance. However players do need to compete for resources and action spaces - the typical competition in worker placement games.

The three stooges (engineers) riding exosuits to get some construction done.

My evacuation pre-condition was three blue buildings, which I had achieved by this point (3rd row). Buildings themselves have victory points. See flag icons at bottom left of buildings.

These were my workers at game end. My evacuation criteria included having geniuses (pink workers) so my HR department had been focusing on them.

The Thoughts

Anachrony looks complicated, has an interesting backstory, and features time travel. Now that I have played it, I find it not as complex as it looks. To me it is mostly just another worker placement game. Some bits are interesting - how you have different types of workers, how buildings create new worker placement spots and new actions exclusively yours. Managing workers who need to sleep after completing a task is a new challenge. Don't expect too much from the time travel mechanism. It is just a loan system with a troublesome debt repayment process, which serves as an excuse to score points.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Brass: Birmingham

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The Brass series is an important part of Martin Wallace's line-up of game designs. Brass was first published in 2007. It lead to the Age of Industry series. Brass: Lancashire and Brass: Birmingham were both published in 2018, by a different company, and using all new artwork. Brass: Lancashire is the new version of the original Brass, and there were some tweaks done. Brass: Birmingham has (of course) a different map, and some new mechanisms too.

In Brass: Birmingham, you play entrepreneurs during the industrial revolution, from the end of the 18th century to the 19th century. You build factories, you build canals and railroads to support the factories, and you make money!

This is your player board. Everyone gets a whole set of factories that can be built, and you organise them using this player board. Icons on the left side of a factory indicate the building cost. You need to spend money, and sometimes coal or iron too. When you build a factory on the board, you've merely started a business, and it is not profitable yet. You need to flip the factory tile in order to make it profitable. How to flip a factory depends on the factory type. If you've built a manufacturer, a cotton mill or a pottery, to turn them profitable you need to deliver your first batch of goods. If you've built a brewery, iron works or coal mine, the appropriate resources will be placed on it, and once all such resources are consumed, the factory is flipped. Once a factory is flipped, it increases your earning power - your income every round increases. The factory will score points at the end of the era. It will also contribute points to connected canals and railroads.

Each time you perform an action, you must play a card. For most actions you may play any card. The cards in the game serve as a countdown. When both the deck and the player hands are exhausted, an era ends. The game is played over two eras. The only action type which has dependency on what card it is you play is the build action. This is the most important action in the game. There are two card types. The one on the right is an industry card, specifying which factory type you may build. The one in the centre is a location card, specifying where you may build. Location cards are usually better because you can directly build without needing to have established a connection to the location. With industry cards, you can only build within your network.

The transportation network is crucial. In the first era you build canals, and in the second era railroads. Building railroads require coal, and if you want to build two for one action, you need beer too. To sell goods (and thus flip factories) you need to connect to the appropriate merchants at the edges of the board. To make use of some resources, you need the transportation network too. Often to build factories at certain locations, you need to extend your network to those locations. Canals and railroads score points too. At the end of the canal era, all canals are removed from the game, so that in the railroad era, you start from scratch rebuilding your network. This doesn't mean canals have been destroyed or made illegal. The game is only trying to convey that the canals can no longer support the needs of the industries, so railroads are needed.

You will run out of cash, and you will need to take loans. This is classic Martin Wallace. Picking the right time to take loans is important, because each time to take a loan, your profitability drops. It is not easy to increase your profitability, so you need to manage loans carefully so as not to stunt your own progress.

These chips are optional. They are huge, and they fit the game well. There is a recess in the box designed specifically to fit this box of poker chips. The chips also nicely fit some spaces on the board meant for keeping track of money spent in the current round.

Flipping factories is an important part of the game and needs to be explained in more detail. To flip a pottery, a manufacturer or a cotton mill, you need to perform the sell action. Your factory needs to be connected to a merchant (along the edge of the board) who buys the specific goods. Usually it also needs access to a beer resource. When performing the sell action, the beer is consumed, and you flip over your factory. You increase your income level, and your factory will score victory points at the end of the era.

Flipping the other type of factories - the resource factories, require fully consuming the resources on them. When you build a coal mine, iron works or brewery, you place some resources on them. If the coal market or iron market is short on resources, you can already sell your resources there to make money. If other people take goods from you, they don't pay you. By taking your goods they are helping you towards flipping your factory. Usually you welcome people using your resources, unless you have plans to use them yourself. Supply and demand are what drive your decisions whether to build these resource factories, and which type to build. You want to build when there is demand, or when you predict there will be demand.

One interesting mechanism in the game is how player order is determined. Every round when you spend money, you place them here instead of directly paying money to the bank. The turn order for the next round is determined by the least amount of money spent in the current round. Big moves usually cost more money, which means if you've pulled off something big, most likely next round you'll go late. Sometimes it is important to manipulate the turn order.

These two are jokers. They don't exist in the original Brass. The one on the left lets you build in any city, and the one on the right lets you build any industry. To get a pair of such cards, you basically sacrifice one turn. They seem to be very powerful and well worth the cost of one turn, but when we played, it turned out that one turn was often more valuable. I was the only one to have collected such jokers, and I did it only once. I did it only when I was truly desperate - when I really wanted a specific card but didn't have it.

The Play

I own the original Brass. It's a game I like a lot. I have played it a couple of times, but it had been a long while since I last played. Such is the fate of boardgames when one owns too many of them. I had a chance to try Brass: Birmingham because Han brought along a copy when he was in town. I did a 3-player game with him and Allen. The game supports up to four players. With 3 players, some cards are removed, and some merchant locations are left empty, making a section of the map less accessible and less lucrative.

In Brass: Birmingham, you will be competing for space - space to build factories and space to build canals and railroads. Everyone wants to build factories and make money, and the available slots and types at each city are both limited. Each city only supports a few industries. However, there is also collaboration among the players. Maybe collaboration is not the right word. It is basically making deals. You make offers and hope others cannot resist helping you, because they will help themselves too. There are very real supply and demand relationships in the game. Player actions are driven by real demands and not any forced scoring rule. When you see many people building manufacturers, cotton mills and potteries, you will want to build breweries because these factories will need lots of beer to sell their stuff. If people have been building railroads and consuming coal from the market on the board, you will want to build coal mines so that you can immediately supply coal to the market and make money. When you build resource factories, you are inviting others to take the resources and help you flip your factories. Your opponents are often willing to help you because they are getting free resources. They save the trouble of building such factories themselves, and they save money because they don't need to buy from the market. This kind of win-win situations is one of the interesting aspects of the game.

The story arc in the game starts with you having a little money and needing to grow your business empire to make money efficiently. You spend money to make more money, and it takes time to build up to a healthy, regular income. For most of the game you are doing this. Only towards late game you may be spending money for the sake of points. The factories you build throughout the game are worth points, but most of the time you make decisions based on business sense. Potteries are very expensive, but score many points. Normally you need to plan far ahead to save enough money for them.

This was the first half of the game, we were still building canals. I (light grey) started in the south (left), unlike Han and Allen who both started in the north. The merchant in the south traded in all three goods - pottery, manufactured goods and cotton. Other merchants only traded in one goods type. My canals had now connected my factory in Birmingham all the way to the merchant in Gloucester. There was a barrel of beer in Gloucester. That meant I could do selling now for my factory in Birmingham.

You have a hand size of 8. Although which card you play only matters when you build factories, even when you are performing other actions, it is often not easy to decide which card to use. You want to keep cards which might be useful. In the early game this can be painful because most cards are potentially useful.

I (light grey) started off in the south (left) and had built four factories by now. Allen (brown) started in the north, and worked tirelessly expanding southwards. His canals were now connected to the canal network in the south. He made a mistake in the early game. The north did not have the merchant he needed, so he had to expand southwards. Han (yellow) started in the north, but later switched to build in the west.

My (light grey) brewery here was built by playing a location card. Allen (brown) had built the canal leading to Walsall, and blocked off my network. I could not expand my network here then build my factory using an industry card.

This was the second half, we had started building railroads. When the first half ended, canals were all removed, and Level 1 factories too. So the second half was almost like a reset. Most of my (light grey) factories were in the east, Allen's (brown) in the centre, and Han's (yellow) in the southwest.

To check whether a factory has been flipped, you look at its background colour. If the top half is black, it's flipped. If the background is fully in the player colour, it's not yet flipped.

I (light grey) built many railroads. I knew they were going to be worth many points.

The Thoughts

Brass is not a new game. I originally considered writing about Brass: Birmingham just as an expansion, explaining the differences from the original and skipping the basic rules. Brass is a relatively old game (2007!) in this age of too many new games. Many people may not have tried it. I like the game a lot, and would be happy if more people get to know it and play it. Thus the longer version.

Brass: Birmingham has many trademarks of Martin Wallace designs. It's not easy making money. You need to manage your finances carefully. The supply and demand work naturally, and it's a beauty to experience. This is meaningful user interaction.

Brass: Birmingham is a variant of Brass. The underlying engine is the same, but there are some notable differences. No more shipyards. You get potteries instead, which are similar but not exactly the same. There is now a need for beer to make sales. There are merchants limiting where you can sell. The map is of course different, but the spirit of the game is still the same. The artwork is quite different.

This is the original Brass, and the art style is very different. I prefer the old art because it is clearer and more practical. The new art is too dark. It is beautiful and stylish, but the old art is pretty good, and I prioritise practicality.

In the original Brass you stack all factories of the same type like this. There is no player board. You can only see the cost of the topmost factory. You can't see the cost of the others stacked below, and you can't see the income increase or the victory points which are printed on the back of the tiles. To see these details you need to pick up the tiles and examine them. In the new version all this information is displayed clearly on your player board, so this is an improvement.