Brass: Birmingham Review
Stats at a glance
In Brass Birmingham, players take on the roles of business entrepreneurs, competing for market dominance by establishing industries and networks. Set in 19th century England, the game features amazing artwork and well-developed mechanics that are just some of the reasons why it’s one of the most popular economy-driven board games ever made. Check out the full Brass: Birmingham Review below.
Brief Overview of Brass Birmingham
Ranked third in both overall and strategy games on Board Game Geek, Brass Birmingham is a fairly complex game for two to four players. Depending on the number of players and their experience, a session can last between one and two hours.
The game is a successor to the 2007’s Brass Lancashire and features standard Eurogame elements. There is no elimination and the player interactions are minimal, allowing everyone to focus on expanding their economy. High replay value comes from the varying starting conditions and paths towards victory.
Unboxing Brass Birmingham
Inside the box, you’ll find the following components:
- 1 Game Board – Double Sided
- 4 Player Mats – Double Sided
- 4 Character Tiles – Double Sided
- 56 Link Tiles
- 76 Cards
- 4 VP Markers
- 4 Income Markers
- 30 Coal Cubes
- 30 Iron Cubes
- 15 Beer Barrels
- 67 Money Tokens
- 180 Industry Tiles
- 9 Merchant Tiles
What I like about Brass Birmingham is that the art design is as impressive as the quality of components. The game board is folded twice to match the dimensions of the box and just like the massive player boards, it’s made out of thick cardboard with a nice texture to it.
Cardboard is also used for tokens and coins provided in the pop-out mold. Pushing them out is easy and there’s no risk of tearing. Cards are thicker than you would expect, textured, and with strong edges, so you won’t need to put them in sleeves. There’s nothing special about the markers and cubes, but the beer barrels are well done.
The reason why Brass Birmingham stands out to me is the extra effort placed in creating artwork. Everything follows the theme of polluted, dark skies and a grim lifestyle. Depictions are uniform and seem fitting for 19th century England.
The day and night periods do not affect the gameplay, but allow you to change the board, player mats, and character tiles to refresh the look. As the backside of these components is typically blank, I commend the effort.
How to Play Brass Birmingham
Now we’re getting into the really interesting part of Brass Birmingham — the gameplay. Because the game is quite complex, our advice is to familiarize each player with the basic rules and turn mechanics.
The day and night sides of the game board are identical gameplay-wise, so select whichever you prefer. Cards are marked with the number of players they are compatible with, so only select those with the appropriate symbols. The same applies to the merchant tiles.
A game of Brass Birmingham is divided into the Canal and Rail eras, each consisting of 8 to 10 rounds, depending on the number of players. During a round, players take turns in the order established by the turn order tracker.
Each player gets to perform two actions during their turn, except at the start of the game, when everyone does only one. Each time you act, place a card from your hand on the discard pile.
Passing and repeating the same action is allowed, but a card must still be discarded. Once you’ve finished both actions, draw new cards until you have eight again.
There are six available actions:
- Build – Place an industry tile on the board.
- Network – Create a canal or railroad link between locations.
- Develop – Upgrade to higher-tier industries.
- Sell – Flip already constructed cotton mill, manufacturer, or pottery tiles.
- Loan – Lower your income for a cash infusion.
- Scout – Discard 2 cards from the hand and draw 1 wild industry and 1 wild location card.
A round ends once each player has taken their turn. The order of playing adjusts by the amount spent – with the player who spent the most going first. Everyone takes money from the bank based on their income track. The income can become negative, forcing the player to pay that amount to the bank.
Locations and Networking
To better understand the actions, we need to take a look at the game board. On it, you’ll find various locations, with Birmingham being the most important. Locations are connected with blue and brown lines, representing canals and railroads.
During the Canal era, railroad tracks are inaccessible, making the canals the only means of transportation. Double-sided link tiles are color-matched for every player and are used to connect locations. For two locations to be connected, link tiles have to form an uninterrupted line between them, without regard to the ownership.
For a location to be within your network, it needs to contain one of your industry tiles, or if it’s adjacent to one of your link tiles. As every location has multiple industry slots and transportation lines, it is common for networks to overlap between players.
Now that we have a better understanding of how locations and networking affect the gameplay, let’s explore the actions in more detail.
The build action allows you to place an industry tile on the board. Location and industry cards specify where you’ll be able to build, while wild location and wild industry cards are rare and allow you to build on nearly any spot on the map. Buildings are taken from the player board, starting from the lowest level.
The network action requires you to spend 3 pounds to expand your network by creating a new connection. Remember that you are limited in the type of connection based on the era.
The loan action is a way to gain quick cash at the expense of long-term income. For a 30 pound loan, you’ll have to reduce your income by three levels. Loans cannot be taken if the income is at negative 10.
The develop action provides a shortcut for reaching higher-level industry buildings. During the action, you can choose to remove one or two lowest-level buildings from your board and spend one iron for each. Tiles featuring a light bulb icon cannot be removed through development, and instead, have to be built.
The sell action allows you to flip an industry tile, as long as it’s connected to a merchant tile featuring the same icon. If there’s an icon representing a beer barrel on the industry tile, you will have to spend one barrel to trade in your goods.
The scout action gives you a way to gain wild cards. By discarding three cards from your hand, you’ll get one wild location and wild industry card. Keep in mind that you’re not allowed to perform the scout action if you have a wild card in your hand.
Winning the Game
Once an era is over, players are awarded victory points based on the number of link tiles and the value of industry tiles. The player with the most victory points after the end of the Rail Era is declared the winner, while ties are broken by the highest income, or most money remaining.
Your First Game of Brass Birmingham
There’s so much to cover about the rules and mechanics of this game, that our how-to guide barely scratched the surface. For the best first-time experience, try to remember as many rules as possible, and look up a playthrough to get a visual representation of what’s going on.
Still, there are a few useful tips that I can share to help you get a hang of the game more easily. Try to grasp the rules of networking to make the most optimal moves. You’re bound to make a few mistakes that might hinder your process, but if you accept them and try to move past them, you’ll become better at the game.
Loans play an important part in the game, so don’t be afraid to take them. As income does not contribute to the victory points, if done right, loans can be a quick way of getting ahead without repercussions.
Since industry tiles of level 2 or higher are not removed once the Canal era is over. Through the development and selective construction, you can make buildings that can score points in both eras, so use it to your advantage.
If everything still feels overwhelming, try playing an introductory game first. It plays just like a regular game, but instead of both, now you’ll only have to play through the Canal era. Scoring is revised to revolve around cash, income level, and industry tiles.
Pros & Cons
- Deep mechanics
- Massive replay value
- Beautiful art design
Brass Birmingham’s rise to the top of the board game charts will make sense once you try it out a few times. Every turn presents you with multiple options and directions in which you can take your industry. A few key buildings need to be built to stay in the competition, but other than that, you’re free to expand in any way you’d like.
This brings us right into the discussion about replayability. So many Euro games entice players with high complexity and interesting themes, only for it to boil down to a few optimal strategies.
Brass Birmingham does its best to avoid this by shuffling trading spots to steer the game in a whole different direction. After finishing a game you’ll immediately want to play another one, just because you’ve thought up a clever strategy that can give you an edge over other players.
The art style is gorgeous, and miles better than the original Brass. The attention to every detail and theme makes every component feel cohesive and provides some immersion. This doesn’t come at the expense of gameplay, as every playing piece is easily distinguishable and makes the board readable.
- High barrier of entry
- Inadequate rulebook
The two downsides of Brass Birmingham tie into each other and are the main source of frustration and misunderstanding of the game.
In a challenging Eurogame, the last thing you’d want is fiddly rules, and unfortunately, Brass Birmingham is filled with them. So many rules have exceptions and special conditions that make it difficult to fully grasp the game. Until your group really gets a hang of it, have the rulebook handy, as you’ll need it in nearly every round.
For how much I’ve talked up the difficulty you’re probably expecting the rulebook to be at least 30 pages long. Without the table of contents and lore, you’re only getting 9 pages to explain every mechanic, rule, and exception in the game. This isn’t to say that everything you need isn’t in there, but the lack of examples and repetition makes it feel like it’s a player-made cheat-sheet rather than the official rulebook.
Versions & ExpansionsAmazon product
The high rankings and myriad rewards Brass Birmingham has received are certainly well deserved. The enticing art style, deep mechanics, and tons of replay value are worth learning the game for. With experience, more and more strategies will become apparent to you, and Brass Birmingham may just become your go-to Eurogame.
As a big fan of the genre, Brass Birmingham was right up my alley. Once we figured out how to play, the game turned into a high-level strategy with plans constantly changing to make the most optimal moves.
The strongest aspects of the game are also the ones that can be off-putting. It takes a lot of effort to get to a point where you’re having fun, and for some, that’s just not worth the time. Just because it’s so highly praised, it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
However, if steel yourself with patience, the game will reward you with fun and relaxing gameplay that will always bring you back for more! Let me know if this review has convinced you to try out Brass Birmingham, and I hope you’ll have as much fun with it as I do!
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