Brass: Birmingham First Impressions - Is it good for two players?

Supporter

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 .

Unboxing Experience 

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)

Learning Experience

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!

Gameplay Experience

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Final Thoughts

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.

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32 days ago

I am going to push back on your thought about the game not being Thematic. It is probably the most thematic game I know! The theme comes a lot from knowing the history of the region and the time frame. It really is amazing. 

If you have the opportunity/time, I highly recommend watching the Heavy Cardboard teach play through with Martin Fowler teaching the game. He is from the Birmingham region (his home town is literally on the board!) and he talks a lot about the thematic integration is impecable! 

I am very glad to hear that the game hit well with you, it really is a treat to play!

25 days ago

Agreed. The way the mechanics tie into the historical context is brilliant but the theme only starts to emerge after you gain some familiarity with the game. To me, the boardstate really is a bona fide thriving, living economy, with genuine market forces at play. That makes it hugely thematic to me and I always have the feeling of a powerful industrialist, pulling the strings in a competition for resources.

25 days ago

It really is a cool depiction of theme, and supply and demand. I wish it got to the table more for me!

Supporter32 days ago

I have a feeling it'll be somewhat similar to my time with #Pax Pamir (Second Edition), except it was much much worse for that game. When I went through the rules myself, I was instantly amazed by how the mechanics support the theme. Whereas my first play of that game was a mess because I wasn't clear what's happening at all. I already get most of what's happening but it was all too mechanical so I'm looking forward to reading through the rulebook :)

Thanks for the video suggestion! (And lastly, those Iron Clays are sooooo nice)

32 days ago

For ease of refrence - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF-ocatr0kM

If you prefer a podcast with Martin Fowler gushing about BB (this episode is what got me to look back into the game after brushing it off) - https://www.heavycardboard.com/episodelist/2019/5/10/heavy-cardboard-episode-139-brass-birmingham 

I can totally see the comp theme wise for Pax Pamir, it does not become obvious unless you really dive into the history and understand what is happening historically for each action!

32 days ago

I've had the opportunity to play this game three times and I've enjoyed it more with each play. As a previous poster mentioned, the thematic ties are actually much stronger in this game that most euros. I'm also a sucker for the artwork and how it brings the grimy, industrial midlands of England to life.

Supporter31 days ago

The artwork supports that feeling very well. I'm looking forward to my next play of this especially after going through the rulebook myself.

Supporter32 days ago

Sounds like a fun game I'd play if someone else brought it to the table... but it also feels like at this point with already owning and loving #Clans of Caledonia that there isn't a huge need (based on how I build my collection) to have it on my wish list.

Supporter31 days ago

I agree with you mostly because you already have great multiplayer games to get to haha. But Brass does have more player interaction than Clans does and that's always a plus. I love Clans because it gives off such a chill, warm vibe whereas Brass' poker chips and everything else really adds to the feel of being an industrialist. The reason why I question the ability to get Brass onto my table is because my wife is my main gaming partner and this game falls in a slightly awkward spot in terms of amount of time (which could potentially decrease with repeat plays, but it's hard for us to get many plays in these days)

I say all this but again I agree, I don't think it's a big need for you to have it just yet. Especially not when you have #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) and #Dune to get to.

32 days ago

Supporter32 days ago

Glad you enjoyed it!  It's definitely one of my favourites along with #Brass: Lancashire.  

Supporter32 days ago

How many players do you typically play with for the two games? I was curious how #Brass: Birmingham would play at different player counts. It seems to scale quite well with how it shortens up the eras and also opens up the board.

Supporter32 days ago

I have played at 3 and 4 but never at 2.  

I didn't see any appreciable time difference between 3 and 4 unless we had an AP player there which can happen with this game.   

32 days ago

Great review. We are big fans of both versions of Brass. #Brass: Lancashire has an awesome 2 player community variant included in the rules that plays faster than Birmingham. It's definitely more interactive and much tighter though, so fair warning! 

Supporter32 days ago

Thank you! And when you say interactive, is it in a "meaner" way?

32 days ago

Yes and no....it's not attack-y mean or take that, but you can get blocked and actions can, at times, benefit your opponent significantly. It's also not nearly as open as Birmingham, so mistakes are more punishing.

I don't think it would replace Birmingham for most people, but there's definitely room in a collection for both games, especially for those that play mostly two player. 

32 days ago

Wow, great review! You make me want to play it! I don't think this would be right for me and my wife, nor for my usual group, so I have no plans to buy it, but I'd love to give it a try some day.

Supporter32 days ago

Thanks! I guess I've done my job then haha. What do you think is the main thing that makes it seem not ideal for you and your wife?

32 days ago

Complexity, mainly. She's definitely a "I've zoned out, let's just start playing" type of learner when it comes to games, and this is more complex than anything we've played together. Too many rules and I lose her, haha. On top of that, the theme isn't particularly interesting to me, and wouldn't be to her either.

Supporter31 days ago

Gotcha, I know for sure that I'll be doing a lot of prepping before introducing this to my wife. Probably won't happen for another couple of months though.

Have you been looking at the Kickstarter for #Streets at all? Seemed pretty interesting. I like the theme and it seems to have a neat hook mechanic :)

31 days ago

To help with that prep, I reccomend ditching the player aids that come with the game and print out these bad boys: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/179522/deluxe-player-aids-brass-birmingham

I have them printed and laminated :) They help out a lot to explain the actions at your disposal!

Supporter31 days ago

I like it! Downloaded for future use. Seems to be put together really well :D

31 days ago

How does your wife do in learning a game? My wife definitely needs to play the game before she fully grasps it, but of course I'm always trying to improve my teaching skills, so maybe we'll get to a point where that's less true.

Yeah I looked at it. It looks interesting, as did #Villagers, but not one that I want to Kickstart. The gameplay hasn't intrigued me quite enough to push me to Kickstarting it, plus I don't need to buy any more games this year, haha. Still waiting on 2 pre-ordered games, plus an expansion.

Supporter31 days ago

Like with anyone, it's the hardest part xD.......... and it doesn't help that we can only play at the end of the day when she's completely drained. There have been several occasions when she started nodding her head and dozed off in the middle of my explanation lol. Even when she took a nap to "prepare" for the night, she'll look perfectly fine and just 5 minutes in, I'll see that she's completely out of it, and it usually becomes me telling her to go sleep while she refuses, and she'll end up falling asleep midgame (that's happened once or twice). But for games that she likes right away, those are the real gems that actually wake her up haha

31 days ago

Haha, that's funny but I guess kind of a bummer for your game nights when she falls asleep midgame. I know what you mean about games waking you up, though. Certain games I can play no matter how tired I am, if it's already set up. Setup becomes the barrier the more tired I am. I played #War Chest with a friend the other night, and we played 3 times in a row, and I would've kept playing more if he didn't need to go home, lol. It was well past my usual bedtime.

32 days ago

That's a great review and I am encouraged by the comparison to #Clans of Caledonia (one of my favorite games). #The Gallerist is still at the top of my list but #Brass: Birmingham is right there with it.  It gets so much praise and I did enjoy the heavy playthough I watched.

What makes the gameplay that much longer (bigger board, longer goals?) than #Clans of Caledonia?  Are there different starting resources for each player like Clans?  This is a rule book I look forward to reading one day...mostly because I'm such a nerd :P

Supporter32 days ago

Thank you! I loosely made that comparison and while they're very different games, there's a similar feel where you have a number of options available but you never feel overwhelmed by them.

Hmmm what exactly makes it longer? I think these are it (for me at least):

  • Longer setup - Setting up Clans can feel like a slight bother when you're placing down all of the tokens on the player board. Brass has the same exact thing going on, except it takes longer
  • More opportunities for analysis paralysis - It's usually fine, but there are moments when you feel stuck or when you're trying to make an epic play and realize you don't have enough money or something and have to think of a different move. I found myself doing that a lot more often as a first time player in Brass than I did with Clans.
  • Tactical vs. strategical - Clans is a great example of a game that has a really nice balance of tactical plays vs. long term strategies you can implement. Brass has a lot of that going on as well except that I think it leans closer to emphasizing tactical plays because there's more player interaction. So while Clans allows you to have a long term plan and adjust as you go, Brass seems to present more of a challenge to optimize your plays based on a frequently changing board state.

As for your question about starting resources, all players start with the same amount of money. And as you grow your industries, you will go up on the income track so that you'll get more money in each turn. Or you can take loans by going down on the income track but have the opportunity to make big investments. By the way, playing with the chips is SO satisfying xD

The variability in setup happens on the board, which has a few locations where you can sell goods to and the setup determines what type of markets will be available. At first glance, I think Brass has much less variability in setup (and no variable player powers either) but I think its replay value comes from the fact that it's quite a bump up in amount of player interaction.

32 days ago

Thanks for the feedback! That is quite helpful. I'm definitely holding out for a deluxe edition. The price difference between standard and deluxe seems negligible to me. Probably won't happen till next year but I'm looking forward to it 🙂

Supporter32 days ago

Here are the Iron Clays that come with the Deluxe Edition. It's got 78 chips total! Less than I thought, but still great :)

Trent has the Kickstarter one that has hundreds of chips and he loves them haha

31 days ago

Those look fantastic!!  Not what I was picturing...actually better!  Does it come with the box as well?