Homo Ludens
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Homo Ludens

Help getting started with Brass Birmingham

Brass Birmingham is a tactical game for more seasoned players. I recently got my hands on a copy and went through the rules myself. Afterwards I thought I understood the gameplay. Boy, was I wrong!

The basic rules are reasonably simple to understand: you have to develop industries to score points. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. The game is played in two rounds: the Canal era and the Rail era. Each round consists of a fixed number of turns for each player. Every turn a player can perform two actions from a list of 6 options.

We will not dive into the full rules here, as we assume you own the game and have at least read the rules (get the rulebook from Roxley). However, here are some tips and reminders to help you get started on the first few games you play.

Turns are limited

Brass is a game of scarcity. There are many actions and strategies you could take, but you will always find that you can’t do all the things you want to do. In a two player game both of you have 10 turns per era. In the Canal era that means 19 actions (the first turn only has 1 action) and Rail era another 20 actions. That is a total of 39 actions. As you already have 45 industry tiles it means that you cannot even build all of your own industries (even if you had the resources).

That means that you are always fighting against the clock. You should aim to take actions that score as many points as you can get. If you read about Brass, people will typically tell you how much you should score per turn. But, how do you go about scoring points?

Get supporting industries up and running

Coal and iron are the industries that help you build your industrial empire. Sure, they score points too, but are not the driver of the highest points. Understand that a good connection to coal is essentials. You must be connected to a source of coal, or to the market. Your safest bet is to have a connection to the market, so you always have access to coal. Just remember that you need to be connected on any route. That means you may also use the routes of other players. An important oversight starting players typically forget.

You can get coal through a route owned by any player

Iron is a bit easier to get. You can build Iron Works anywhere as the iron can ‘teleport’ to where you need it. You can even consume the iron of other players. But…remember that you help them flip their tile. That means you are helping them to score points. If there are no Iron Works on the board you can always get iron through the market for a decent price.

Later in the game access to beer becomes important. You will need the beer for the Sell action and to build the double rail connections (in the Rail era). The double rail connection is extremely powerful, because it essentially enables you to squeeze an additional action into a turn! And remember…turns are limited, so if you can get some extra that is worth a lot! (More on the power of network actions later)

You don’t need to build every industry

Admittedly, this is what I typically forget as well, but you don’t need to build every industry in the game to win the game. Take coal as an example: it is extremely useful to power your expansion, but at the end of the game it doesn’t give you a lot of points. One of your strategies could be to get connected to the market, or to other player’s coal mines so you can use that coal. That gives you the opportunity to invest more in other types of industries that score more points at the end.

Use the industries (and routes) of other players to your advantage

Also take into account that the develop action is powerful. You can remove industries from your player mat that give you any benefit. For example, the level 2 and level 4 pottery only increases your income by 1 and gives 1 victory point. There is no need to build those, they will not help you in any way forward. In my first game I never played the develop action, which was a huge mistake. If you have Iron Works you can benefit mostly from the develop action, as you can also consume your own iron and flip the industry to score points. At the same time you can get access the better industries.

Develop useless industries away and flip your Iron Works at the same time

Early loans are cheaper

I’ve been raised by the principle that you shouldn’t take loans if you don’t have to. Where I still live by that idea in real life, this is not true in a game of Brass. Loans can accelerate your strategy. Actually, if you take a loan early in the game it is cheaper than later in the game. Why is that? Let’s look at the board: If you are on income level 0, it is only 3 steps down, which means it is also three steps up again to raise your income. However, if you are on income level 3 it is already 4 or 5 steps down.

Also take this into account when you take your turn. It may be better to get a loan, before you flip an industry.

Connections matter (most?)

Your network and connections are critical in the game. Your own network enables you to expand your industries over the map. They matter for various reasons:

  • If you don’t have the correct city card, you can still build industries in cities that are part of your network
  • You need to have connections to sources of coal and beer to build things, and to merchants to perform the sell action
  • You score points for each link!

(a quick tip on the rules: you don’t need to build in a city to make it part of your network: a link connection is sufficient)

Your Canal and Rail links score points at the end of an era for each industry in the connected cities. Each industry! That is correct. Not only your own, also those of others. Think about what that means: by placing a link connection you create your own opportunity to build in a new city, but even if you somehow don’t manage to build there, you can still benefit from what others build there!

Link connections allow you to expand your network, but also benefit from the points others score for you

Keep these ideas in the back of your head the next time you play Brass Birmingham. Have fun!

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Remco Magielse

Product Manager, Innovator, Designer. Software, SaaS, Cloud. Board Game, Fantasy & Sci-fi fan. Husband, Father of 2.