Episode 4: Brass Birmingham

To skip the rules, jump to 14:45.

Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of The Board Dame, I’m your host, Jenna.

On this episode, I’ll be diving into the 18th and 19th century United Kingdom with Brass: Birmingham designed by Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman and Martin Wallace and published by Roxley Game Laboratory.

Brass: Birmingham is a 2-4 player game taking roughly 60-120 minutes to play minutes to play.

In Brass: Birmingham, you will spend a number of rounds developing, building and establishing your industries in the Canal era… and then again in the Rail era.

Each round players will be able to take two of the following actions, except in the first round of the game, you’ll only take one:

1- Build:

Which is really the bread and butter of the game. You’ll discard the appropriate city location card and build there, without any other stipulations, or discard and industry card to build within your network, pay the required resources indicated on your personal board for that industry tile, all while following certain rules for obtaining said resources.

The two most important things to remember in this game is the difference between what is your network and what you are linked to.

To be able to use coal, you MUST be linked to either a coal mine (yours or someone elses) or to a coal market space on the board. There are 5 of those. What linked means is that you can trace a line from where you want to build, meaning where you want to spend the resource, to where the resource is. They do not have to be your own links, you can use other peoples links to get to where you need to go, again, as long as you can trace a line. This also would mean that you are linked if the resource is in the same city as where you are trying to build.

The rules for using coal are one of the more complex concepts of the game so I’ll remind you as we go along, you must use coal on  coal mine industry tiles before the market if you are linked to both, and you must always use the closed linked coal mine industry tile, even if it isn’t yours.

If you are online linked to a coal market, then you can buy from the market on the game board and pay the required price of coal.

Iron can be used from anywhere on the board, it does not need to be linked to the industry you are wanting to build, and it does not have to be the closest either. Which means when consuming iron, try to consume your own. If there is none available on the board, buy from the market on the game board. Easy peasy!

Lastly, there is beer. Beer kind of works a little bit like both in the sense that you can consume beer from your own breweries, even when you arne’t linked, I mean, who’s gonna stop me from drinking my own beer. AMIRITE?

But if you don’t have beer, which is a sad state to be in! You can consume beer from someone elses brewery, but you MUST be connected to that brewery. Again, connected simply means that you can trace a line from where you want to consume the resource to where you want to obtain the resource, even if it’s through other players links.

Overbuilding is also part of the build action and requires either a location card matching an industry you or your opponent has built (I’ll come back to the opponent part in a hot second) or an industry card that matches the one you want to build on top of, again, if you are discarding an industry card, the location must be in your network, which of course it would if you’re over building your own industry tiles.

Overbuilding is important for a couple reasons. 1, you can only build one industry tile per city in the Canal era, in the rail era, you can monopolize a whole city, you do you. So that means you may want to build over an existing industry to exploit the market if that’s the only location you have or secondly, you might have to overbuild to get a level 2 or higher industry out before the rail era.

Okay, so back to overbuilding on top of an opponents industry. Coal and ironworks only, no one can take your beer away. If there are ZERO of that resource anywhere on the board, including the market, you can discard a location card, or industry card with the same restrictions and with paying the build cost, on top of you opponents industry… so, just don’t let that happen. I haven’t this happen in any of our games, or even come close. After all, selling to the market is an important part of the game. I can’t see how any of those resources would be completely depleted.

Okay, now that that’s done, I’ll briefly explain what your network is. This is important for two reasons. 1, for taking the next available action, Networking, also important for knowhere where you can build.

Something is considered part of your network if one of the follow two are true. The location contains one or more of your industry tiles, or the location is adjacent to one of your links.

So back to the build action for a second. If you’re building with a location card, you do not need to have that location be part of your network, but if you are using an industry card, the location you choose to build in MUST be part of your network.

Just when you thought I was done with the build action, there’s more!!

If you build a coal mine or iron works, you must sell it back to the market if you can.

Coal is different again, because, well, they had to make something difficult for you. So much like using coal, to sell coal to the market, you must be linked to a coal market on the board. Again, there are 5 of those. Linked doesn’t mean part of your network if you remember, if you can trace a line, you’re fine!

So if you build a coal mine and there’s space in the market and you are linked to a market, you immediatel move those coal cubes to the market, including the spots on the board with the dot that weren’t filled at the start of the game. Collect your money for each cube sold and if you so happen to move them all from your tile to the market, flip that sucker over and boom, increase your income based on the icon on the back of the tile.

Iron does not have to be linked to a market to be able to sell back to the board. If you build a iron works, sell that iron to the market, collect your money, and flip the tile if it’s been emptied.

Now you can probably understand the importance of the market, how it fluctuates and how important it is to get in when you can optimize those sales to the market to immediately flip the industry tile you’ve just placed.

Now that you understand what the difference is between being linked and what is part of your network, we can move on to the next action, which is expanding your network.

2- Network:

Discard any card and place a canal link during the canal era or rail link or two during the rail era and pay the required amount depicted on the game board on the bottom right.

As you would assume, the network action requires that the link you place be part of your network.

3- Develop:

is the third action you can take, and in this action, you discard a card to remove 1 or two industry tiles from your player board, starting with the lowest level. Using 1 iron per tile you discard. Spending iron this way works the same as when you need to use it for building. Note that you cannot develop pottery level 1 and 3 as it has a little light bulb on it as a reminder.

4- Sell:

The 4th action you can take is the sell action. Discard any card to take this action. Unlike resource tiles (coal, iron and beer) that flip over when depleeted, you must perform a sell actiont to flip over cotton, manufatered goods and pottery to their opposit side. Most of these industries will require consuming beer to sell (shown in the upper right hand corner of the industry tile) Again, consuming beer (yum) works in the same way I described earlier. However, much like coal, to perform a sell action on a particular industry, you must be linked to that market space on the board with the matching industry tile.

You will notice that these tiles also have bonuses when consuming the beer from them. You can gain money, straight up VPs, an increase to your income, or a free single development (without consuming iron)

5- Loan:

Discard any card to take a loan, 30 dollar bills yall. Well, 30 pounds really and then drop down 3 tiers on the income track. I can’t emphasize enough how important taking loans is. I mean… don’t go loan crazy, but definitely early in the game, when you’re trying to build industries, you need money, and you need to increase your income, which can only happen by building industries, not to mention, the income tiers are either 1, 2 3 or 4, so the more income you have, the further you drop when you take a loan. So get that money and get it early!

6- Scout:

And lastly, for the 6th action, you can scout. To take this action, discard any three cards, and draw a wild location, and a wild industry card. This action replaced the double build action in the original Brass.

Remember that even if you pass on an action, you still must discard a card.

After the deck and hands have been depleeted of cards, you move on to the Rail era. Discard all links from the board, as well as any level 1 tiles. So you better level up those industries before the end of the Canal era or they are gone forever… please save the beer!

Then you start all over again, minus the level 2 and higher industries that stay on the board! When you’re done going through the deck of cards and your hand, the game ends and you count up points!

WOOOOOOO, we made it!

Now, if you’re still listening, here’s what I thought. If you couldn’t tell by my enthusiam, I love Brass: Birmingham! The easiest way I can explain how I love this version more than the original Brass is this. I would play Lancashire if asked, but I will ask to play Birmingham.

The first thing that comes to mind when seeing this game was wow, what a beauty. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t care for the aesthetics of a game. I am not one of those people. Of course I need my games to have substance and excellent game play, but if you can have that and also have a beautiful game, why not!

The board is stunning, offering a nightime and a day time side to play on. Personally, I prefer the nightside of the board, some have found it quite dark to play on, but I would say that you just need proper lighting, it’s certainly not a dim lit space kind of board.

One issue I did have, and not it’s not even really a big issue. But I would have loved to see a woman option available for each colour. Mainly because I play purple and have no option to play as a woman. Though not particular representative of the era, so maybe that’s best left as is.

Now, let’s also take a minute to appreciate the beautiful iron clays. The weight when you hold them, the sound they make when you stack them and most of all the ease in which you can count spent money for turn order; what an upgrade! I don’t think anyone will miss those god awful plastic bingo tokens.

One of the things I want to address off the top, there’s no way in hell this game only takes 60 minutes to play. If it did, you’re racing through it and really missing the meaty strategy this game has to offer.

In all our games, we were closer to 2, 2 and a half hours, or 3 ish with new players. So I would expect to spend at least that playing Birmingham.

I feel like this is one of those things that Orthodontists do when you’re about to get braces. They tell you it’s only going to be a year, but 3 years later, you’re still strapped into those things. But this is a far more enjoyable surprise increase in time.

For new Brass players, once you understand the difference between being linked and what is in your network, Birmingham is smooth as butter to play. With the new rule books, it’s even easier to follow along. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brass, but that old rulebook was horrible. So even if you decide that you enjoy Lancashire more, you can at least appreciate the updated artwork and rulebooks.

As for the actual game play, Brass is a very deep economic strategy game and isn’t for the light at heart. Be prepared for a brain crunching euro that will leave you exhausted but also wanting more.

The interaction between the market and players, and the tention created left me with a lot of end of seat moments to see who would get there first, and trying to decide which was more important to your strategy.

I particularly enjoyed the addition of the beer as another resource. You have to work a little harder and plan differently when it comes to selling your industries, perhaps having to wait until the rail era to get the double beer to sell certain industries.

I also like that with the addition of beer, it slowed down the double rail placement. You have to plan your actions a little more carefully. This means it’s much harder to just run across the board.

Which I think can be important because on the flipside of the industry tiles, some links will be worth 50% more when counting victory points at the end of the game. Making some links commonly worth 6-7 VPs.

Being able to monopolize those links and beer might be a worth while strategy in Birmingham that wasn’t really a viable strategy in Lancashire.

Then we have the market tiles, these tiles are completely randomized at the start of the game for a unique layout.

I love this part of the game the most I think, the variable market tiles that is, it means that you can’t automatically know the most opitmal routes to the industry you want to build and then sell. I think this really helps even the playing field between old and new players.

Plus variability, which is never a bad thing in a game. There’s nothing I hate more than playing a game with someone that knows the optimal path to victory because they’ve played the game so many times. It’s less about strategy then, and more about memory.

All in all, I’ve played Birmingham at all player counts and enjoyed them all. The tension isn’t there as much in a two player game, three players felt the best to me, it didn’t seem as limiting as it did with 4 players, so you were still able to work on a solid strategy from the start without being forced to change too much due to being blocked off.

I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, Lancashire is a game I’d play, but Birmingham is a game I’d ask to play. It’s quickly moved up to the top 5 of my favourite games. I say with confidence that if you enjoyed Lancashire, you’d enjoy Birmingham. I do prefer Birmingham, but that’s not to say you will. I think both are worth having in your collection, especially if you are an old time Brass lover. However, if you did only want one or the other, my recomendation would be to go with Birmingham.

Thanks again for listening! Next week on The Board Dame, I will be talking about Broom Service, an excellent pick up and deliver game published by Ravensburger. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at The Board Dame. Please leave me comments and feedback or any questions you may have.

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