So how is Brass?
Well right off the bat, the board looks better. Sure it doesn't necessarily add anything constructive to the game but it seems less... dry than the AOI board. Everything is also covered nicely on the board and arranged nicely.
There is a score track element which is used to track both the score as well as income per round and a unique loan taking element which requires you to move your token back up to 3 color bands thus making it more painful in later rounds if you need to take a loan. That's pretty interesting to me. The score track also helps players to determine who is the leader clearly and try to stop the leader. Helps also when determining who's factories to take coal and iron from.
Setup, like AOI, is tedious with all the sorting. Even worse, Brass doesn't provide a player board so you may have to print it out yourself to assist in sorting. I am thinking of using the GMT transparent token containers to use for this because it has just the right number of slots.
Cotton market is an interesting addition in which it will allow you to try your luck at the cotton market (without a port) or you can play safe and build a port so you can transport it yourself.
The 2 scoring phases I like also because it allows you a chance to try to grab those lucrative track/canal routes and you won't be blocked out for the whole game if you did not grab it in time. Also it helps to have a milestone and lets everyone know its halfway through the game and where are you at in terms of score and how much more effort you need to put in to contend with the leaders. It also adds variety in that right at the beginning there are less routes that you can claim and thus there's more jockeying for position.
All Level 1 tech buildings will be removed when the 2nd phase starts so that also helps to prevent monopolization of certain spots on the map and allows players to try to catch up as well which I like.
So all in all, I had a good time playing the game even though I wasn't paying a lot of attention to what the others have built and at times it does feel rather multiplayer solitaire except when spots where you wanted to build stuff in were blocked. We did not fully utilize the map though (notice the top areas are quite empty) and all of us except Jon took loan. This is one of the gripes which Jon has (among many since he did not enjoy the game). He felt that if you did NOT take a loan at all, then you are severly hampered in the game. He has a point because if you are expected to take at least 1 loan, why not just let everyone have the extra $ at the beginning? I am thinking its more so to allow players to decide WHEN they need to take loan as sometimes timing is quite important. If you take at the beginning, then you won't backtrack a lot versus taking loans later.
I manage to win with 125 points I think largely due to having built 2 ships for quite a bit of points. Jillian's last move where she flipped 3 of her cotton buildings and 3 of her ports was quite scary which gave her a final score of 100. All in all, I am quite surprised I enjoyed the game and I will prefer this more than AOI. Its a pity there is only this one board to play on though reading reviews online on BGG it seems that this one board already provides a lot of replayability. I am eager to give this a go again and see what else I can do differently and if I really LIKE LIKE IT to own a copy. Its definitely not for everyone (Jon hated it). So this will be a Try before you buy.