Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bruxelles 1893 - Too Much of Something is Bad Enough...

Over the recent weekend i managed to get in 2 games of Bruxelles 1893 - another Essen 2013 release.
I could sense from the way Eric talked about it that it was quickly becoming one of his favorite games. So, in order to hurt his feelings, i am going to purposely write a bad report about it. Haha.
No i kid, my genuine impressions of the game can be found below.

Bruxelles 1893 ( Bruxelles ) is a very hard game for me to describe. Not only because the theme is most definitely pasted on - even then, its hard to even tell what theme they tried to paste on ! -  but also because the game has like 10,000 moving parts ! Well, ok, a lot of moving parts.
I'll try my best to describe how the game plays out and hopefully the picture can still be clear to most readers.

In Bruxelles, players are trying to score the most points by building buildings, stealing paintings, selling said paintings, hiring patrons, controlling districts, acquiring wealth, and bidding for end game bonuses.
The player who is most successful in achieving most of the above and converting them into points will be the winner of the game.

There are 5 rounds in the game and during each round, players are placing their workers to carry out certain actions. The interesting part of the game is how the players may use 2 different board areas to achieve the same outcome. The main board has areas where players may build, hire, steal & sell paintings, and obtain building materials. This board has multiple areas for each action but only a part of the board is active each round. A round card that is drawn at the start of the round tells you which part of the board is active and thus the number of spaces available for each action is not known till then. The other much smaller board comprises of just 4 communal areas that are always in play and allow multiple players to gather wild building materials, gain money, activate patrons and activate any area on the other board for free. This smaller board may sound like it has better abilities but the catch is that the player who placed the most workers in total will lose a worker at the end of the round and for the rest of the game ( tied means all tied players lose a worker ). So its tempting to head there for a quick fix but don't be spending too much time there or you will suffer heavy consequences.

These 2 boards basically tie in together all of Bruxelles's multiple gameplay elements.

By obtaining the paintings, it scores you points at the end of the game, but during the game it also affords you regular income at the end of the round and also allows you to sell them in-game for immediate points and money. The amount of points and money obtained can be influenced stock market style where the selling player can adjust the amounts more judiciously if he/she owns more paintings.

The obtaining building materials action is important for building buildings which not only give you immediate points but also allows you to cover certain areas on the board so that when another player activates that action where your building is, you score out of turn benefits. Example of those benefits are, taking a rarer black painting, scoring points for each building or painting you have, taking a building material of your choice, or activating one patron in your control. Buildings also score you a whole slew of points at game end.

The hiring patron action allows you to immediately execute the patron's ability and you may then decide to keep him for later rounds ( so that he may be activated again but requires end game upkeep cost ) or to discard him as a one time use only.

At the end of each round, players score for majority scoring around districts on the board. Between every 4 action areas is a district and if the district is surrounded by 4 meeples, the player with the most meeples will score district points ( friendly ties ).

Lastly, and perhaps the most frustrating part ( or exciting, depending on your preference ) of the game is the auction for bonus cards ( either immediate bonus or end game bonus ). The auction is not a specific action to be carried out but is carried out while placing your meeples on the main board. When you place a meeple on the main board, you have to pay a token sum of your choice ( but no lower than a dollar ). The player who placed the most money per column, wins the bonus card at the bottom of the column. So while you are fighting over which action space you want, you have to take heed of how much you are willing to pay for the bonus card. Failed bids are wasted without refunds. Tied bids means both players get the immediate bonus offered but may not choose to take the end game bonus instead. Winning bidder gets to choose between immediate or end game bonus ( if applicable ). This is the part of the game where the player interaction is the fiercest and most direct.

The bonuses are very powerful and cannot be ignored. Well, they can be ignored, just be prepared to sit there and sulk when people lap you on the victory point track.
These bonuses on offer include: scoring more points per building at game end, scoring more points when you win a district control, allowing you to activate more patrons during your turn,  increasing the points obtained from collected sets at game end ( sets of paintings / money / patrons )

one mistake here, i shouldnt have been allowed to hire 2 identical patrons

Is everything clear ? Probably not, but that's the best i can do in a single blog post.

So how's the game you say ?
Well - like the title says - sometimes, too much of something can be a bad thing.
Now, i'm not saying that Bruxelles is a bad game. I actually enjoyed my 2 plays of it. It's tense, it's mind wrecking and it's got unique gameplay elements that gives it a different feel compared to the same old worker placement game. 
My issue with it is that too many mechanics were stuffed into the game and it makes it feel overdone and overly complicated. A game it reminds me of is Lancaster where the game added engine building, blind bidding, worker placement, area control and voting. And all those were done in bit parts with specific rules for every different area/mechanic ( i hate that game by the way ).
And with Bruxelles its the same. It has worker placement, area control, bidding, set collection and market manipulation. A lot of it form only bit parts in the game and because of that it becomes unnecessarily complicated. I understood it without much problem, but because it features all these intricate elements, it becomes less fun to play than it should have been. There's so many things to watch and take note that i just feel like i should be having more fun for what i am putting into the game.

Bruxelles also gives me the feeling that its the type of game where you win because you are doing everything differently from everyone else. The competition from others who are doing the same thing as you can really drag both of you down to the point where you are out of contention by mid game. The main culprit for this are the bonuses. Each bonus corresponds to a certain strategy so to speak. And when you pay exorbitant amounts competing for them while another player goes home scot free and on the cheap, you know you are a few steps back already. I guess you could say the same for other games, but i feel much more strongly about this in Bruxelles than most other games.

Lastly, Bruxelles is purely a tactical game.
I'm not saying this as a slight to it or to diss it. Just stating what i feel about it. It may be good or bad for you, that's really down to your preference.
For me, its a bad point. I don't dislike tactical games, but i find that Bruxelles is trying to disguise itself as a strategic game but yet throws a lot of uncertainty and randomness my way.

Firstly, the order in which the bonus cards and patron cards appear are important. If i was employing a district control strategy, and in one round, a few of the bonus cards with district benefits come out, there's no way i can win all of them. And thus in future rounds, i will not have the chance to increase my district bonus as the cards have come and gone ( they can be increased through patron cards but yet again its appearance is random )
Secondly, i didn't mentioned this in the description but the materials required to build a building are not fixed. It changes as players build buildings. After a building is built, the requirements for the next building can be adjusted by the player who just built the last building. So, no matter how you try to obtain materials to build a building, it can be changed by the time it gets to your turn. Its neither possible to count how far it can change as well because the number of building action spaces are not limited ( the small board ensures that anyone can build as long as he/she has materials and workers ). So from needing 2 brown cubes and 1 blue cube to build a building, when its my turn i may end up needing 9 coins instead.
You can try to play tactically, and go as the board gives you. But from our plays so far, a little bit of everything has done nobody any good.

To conclude, overall i found that Bruxelles didnt hit the spot for me as much as i think it could.
There were elements in the game that i liked a lot, and that i found interesting from start to finish, but the inclusion of everything except the kitchen sink made it tedious and less fun than it should have been.
I've always found a way to appreciate randomness and luck in my games, in fact, triumphing in spite of randomness and luck is a fun thing to try to achieve. Its just that Bruxelles had too much of it in all its gameplay elements - from the spaces available on the board, to building requirements, to appearances of the bonus and patron cards, and the blind drawing of the painting tiles - that it taints what should have been a great and deep gameplay experience.


No comments:

Post a Comment