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Brass: A First Play Reflection

It’s 4:30pm on a Saturday full of gaming. I have been at a friend’s house since 10am playing various games. Five others have also been there for the duration of the day but two are have to leave early, bringing our number down to four. So far, we have got many games to the table… The new printing of Medici, 6 Nimmt!, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Imperial Settlers, Queen’s Architect, Glass Road, and Thurn and Taxis (not all played by me). With our four count, one of the guys in the group suggested Brass to take us into the homestretch for the day.

Now I have heard a lot about Brass, listening and watching content/podcasts focused more on heavier games. It is one I have been wanting to try for a while, but one of those games that put fear into my heart whenever it is suggested. Am I really up for learning a heavier economic game? Am I really in for 3+ hours close to 5pm? It is a weekend but still, this may end my day in terms of cognitive function. I thought to myself, “Oh well, I might as well take the plunge now. Who knows? I might really enjoy Brass to the point I want it in my own collection.” So yes, we the other three players consented to (re)learning Brass and commit to the next 3+ hours.

Setting up the game was a bit intimidating. There were a lot of cardboard chits and different symbols on each of them. The person who owned the game had helpful player aids and player boards to keep all of the chits organized. As he began to explain the rules, I was prepared for A LOT of complexity but actually there was not a lot of rules or even complex rules. Each player has a handful of cards and gets to play two of them per turn in order to take actions. Actions vary from building an industry (cotton, iron, coal, port, or ship) to developing better industry, to building canals/railways, to shipping cotton, to taking a loan. Yeah, loans. It is that type of a game and I will talk more about loans later. Anyways, two actions per round, turn order may change depending on how much players spend, and then players get their income, and the next round begins. When the entire deck of cards has run through, the first phase (the canal phase) ends and the railway phase begins. All the canal-dependent industry is removed from the board because it is now obsolete technology and the card deck is reshuffled. We start again until the deck runs through a second time, then we score and figure out who has done the best in the battle of industry in some time period in some part of the United Kingdom.

2016-08-13 18.15.47-1

Almost to the End of the Canal Phase

Okay, I say that last part with some sarcasm and a few eye-rolls because the theme is drab. Developing industry in the United Kingdom?! Yikes, I need more exciting themes, even if the game play is almost strictly economic. Other countries in the world went through economic and industrial growth. Let’s get out of Western Europe and the United States for once and focus on any other region – Africa, South Asia, Middle East, or South America… I would have been more engaged and I might have cared thematically about what I was doing. But unfortunately in the game, I was getting money to build different things and connecting routes to gain victory points. Sounds riveting right?

In the explanation, the person teaching the game said everyone will take a loan and we better get used to it. Oh wow he was right! Taking a loan for the first time felt… bad. I dipped into negative on the income track and had to pay 3 pounds every round until I was able to get my income up. But as the game progressed, taking a loan was such a positive action. Yes, my income was fluctuating a lot during the game… up to 7 pounds, down to 1 pound, back up to 11 pounds, down to 0 pounds. And I got over the fear of taking loans, realizing and recognizing the when strategically I need a significant amount of money.

I am second in turn order and since I never played this game before, I make a snap decision… I develop to make my mills better and then I build a mill. Well, I guess I am in now with mills, focusing on shipping either to domestic or foreign ports. Through the canal phase of the game, I built more mills on the board (kind of south central if you can see it in the picture) and built canals to the ports. At the midway point in the game I felt good about where I was: Middle of the pack in victory points and income. The second phase of the game was a bit harder to start since we needed coal to build rails. Slowly but surely we connected different cities to the ports and I was able to start building mills again and shipping. After my major mills all shipped, I was a little lost what to do. in retrospect, I needed to have a secondary plan to score points. I came in third place with 105 points.

Overall, despite the theme, I really enjoyed the game. I will play Brass again. I may not purchase Brass because I don’t have a regular group I would play it with and the 3+ hour game time is a real turn off to a lot of folks. When I finished playing, I didn’t feel defeated or tired. I felt energized by my experience and I wanted to play again in the near future. I was able to reflect on some of my earlier moves in the canal phase and how they disadvantaged me for the strategy I ended up following. I was able to see the tactical errors I made in spending for turn order and developing away technology I never ended up using. Here’s to trying more longer and heavier games!

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