Martin Wallace is known as the author of solid games that doesn’t shy away from a rule more. His magnum opus is without a doubt Age of Steam, a tough economic game with numerous expansions and derivative games such as Steam. A game that qualifies for second place of the most popular games of his hand is Brass, now reissued as Brass: Lancashire.
Brass is also a solid economic game that takes place during the industrial revolution. The game board represents North-East England at the end of the 18th century. The first cotton factories appear in the landscape. It is up to the players not only to build these factories, but also to provide them with raw materials and find markets.
The old versus the new board
The game plays in two phases: the canal phase and the rail phase. In both phases the players build cotton factories, harbours, coal mines, ironworks and shipyards in the different cities by playing cards. This costs a lot of money, but the buildings also generate income. Regularly you have to put yourself in debt and often it takes some time before your investments generate income and points. In the meantime you also have to make connections between cities (with channels or tracks) and develop your industries to skip the less efficient intermediate steps.
At the end of both phases you get points for operational buildings and the connections between cities. The player with the most points after the track phase wins the game.
Brass: Lancashire. Are you up to the challenge?
Brass is very long and the rules are complex, with sometimes irritating and incomprehensible exceptions. So the explanation also takes a while. It is clearly a strategic game where you always have to keep the long term in mind. The same goes for your fellow players: don’t do the same as them and try to benefit as much as possible from their actions. There is a break between the two phases, because after the channel phase a lot is removed from the board and you can start again. This is unless you quickly start again thanks to a good preparation.
It is easy to make beginners mistakes, but even after you’ve learned them, you’ll continue to learn every game. Strategies that at first seemed hopeless or invincible turn out to be exactly the opposite, depending on what happens. The plannable unpredictability makes Brass an intriguing game full of interaction. The long duration and sharp edges are something to take for granted in this case.