Does Brass: Birmingham actually live up to its #3 spot on BGG? Is it a great game for two players? Here are my first impressions after a session against @trentellingsen.
Perfect - Keep in mind that this is the Deluxe Edition, which features thicker cardboard, the Iron Clay poker chips, and a couple of other upgrades. And at least at first glance, it's absolutely well done. In particular, the art direction and overall design is fantastic. The cover is one of the best I've seen and the color choices and the way they contrasted the background illustration vs. the player pieces show great design sensibilities. Roxley has been absolutely killing it in their marketing and presentation of their games and they're one of the publishers out there who are definitely on my "watch list". And in case you didn't know, Mr. Cuddington (a husband-wife creative duo) is the mastermind behind the artwork for this game plus many other amazing looking games out there (e.g. #Santorini, #The Grimm Forest)
Surprisingly easy to follow - It's definitely on the heavier end, but it also doesn't have as much rules overhead or little exceptions to memorize like other games in the same "weight". Trent taught me the rules and while I got 80-90% of the rules down after several turns, I often found myself tripping over 1-2 rules mostly because I'm the type of person who likes to learn and teach games with as much thematic reasoning behind them, so not having a full knowledge of that made it harder. I'll be reading through the rulebook myself at some point!
Simple but deep - Very different game, but it bears some resemblance to #Clans of Caledonia. You have 5-6 unique types of actions available in every turn, and it's up to you to make the most efficient string of actions as you build up your network. For Clans, you're building a network of workers, cows, sheep, wheat field, distillery, etc, and then you have Brass' cold steel industrial network of canals and railroads and factories. The charm behind these two games is that its simplicity leads to great variations in strategy and tactical play.
From blank stare till it "clicks" - Because I was completely new to the game, I stared at the board with its intricate network of different locations and I had no idea where to start. This is different from games like #Concordia where all players start from one central location and start branching outward. I think It really helps limit analysis paralysis from new players when you have a starting point that makes you feel grounded. Of course, it doesn't mean that this is better, but it was an interesting thought. Once I completed my first couple of turns, it was easier to see where my options lie and I slowly built up my strategy one step at a time while learning the flow. And once we got to the end of the first era and went through midgame scoring, it "clicked" and I was all set.
Plays very well at two players with great amount of tension - There's a tug-of-war kind of feeling all throughout the gameplay, and there are a number of factors to this:
- There are two tracks that show each player's progression: (1) victory point track with midgame scoring and endgame scoring, and (2) income track that shows how much money a player will make at the end of a round. Players constantly progress further on the income track with each round (or sometimes go down if you take out a loan). Having this live update of each other's progress leads to lots of "eyeing" on one another and making you feel like you really need to keep up or "one up" the other person.
- Order of play is determined by who spent the least amount of money in the previous round. This adds another layer of tactical play where you're trying to efficiently use up your money vs. sometimes not too much so that you can ensure taking two turns in a row to make one big move.
- Network building game with quickly limiting options and competition around hotspots with great point potential. There are also plenty of opportunities to take advantage of your opponent's established routes and resources to advance your own.
Surprisingly very puzzly and not as thematic - As mentioned earlier, I went into this game not having read the rules myself. And by the second era, I knew how to make decisions that will net me lots of points/income, but I didn't fully understand why certain mechanics worked the way it did from a thematic point of view. That would've helped me appreciate the game much more.
It's a game that leaves an impression and stays in your head for a while - I went into this with about a year of hearing/reading how great it is. That's a lot of expectation to live up to. Throughout the entire session, I couldn't help but keep evaluating whether this lives up to its #3 rank, especially because I was missing a little bit of that thematic connection that would've tied everything together. And to be honest, I had my doubts and still wonder where it should place (but that same question goes for SO many games on BGG's list). But I did realize that ever since we played, this game's been on my mind and it's one that I'd like to play more of. In fact, writing out my first impressions is making me want to play again. And..... I think I can now see where Trent was coming from when he told me that this game is like bacon to him. It's not a fancy dinner kind of game that fills me with absolute excitement, but it's darn good and I find myself wanting more of it.
Is it the right game for me and my wife? - I'm honestly not sure. We only game together maybe once a month or less these days and there are a number of games I'd love to get in more plays of (e.g. #Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated). I like the amount of player interaction in this game but with the longer gameplay length, it directly competes with games such as #Clans of Caledonia and #Concordia that deliver on satisfying puzzly experience under 1.5 hours and with less setup time. Perhaps with repeat plays, it could get to that point?
I'm so glad this game wasn't a let down and that Trent introduced it to me. I completely see the appeal and how wonderfully simple and deep it is. And if you're interested in acquiring this game, you can either get the regular edition on our game page or find the Deluxe Edition for $80 on Roxley's website! Iron Clays add SO much to the overall experience.