This review is over one of my favorite game, Brass: Lancashire. Now, if you are new to board gaming, this game will seem like it has a lot going on. To be truthful, it does, though I have played more complex games than this one. I still love it though. If you like this review you can also check it on on my friends Facebook group page. There are many other game reviews that he has done on there as well. You can check out the page at:
Designed by: Martin Wallace
Art by: Gavan Brown and many others
Published by: Roxley Games
Currently rated 8.2/10 on BGG with a Complexity rating of 3.86/5
In Brass: Lancashire players take on the challenge of competing with other cotton entrepreneurs during the industrial revolution. The game is set in the Lancashire region of northern England.
In this two-to- four player economic strategy game, players start with their own personal player board with the possible industries that can be built on the board. Those industries include cotton mills, ports, shipyards, coal mines, and iron works. The industry tiles are built in the cities that comprise the game board. There are a limited amount of spaces in each city so be quick when it comes to a certain city you are looking at building in! The spaces can fill up fast, especially in a four-player game, and Manchester seems to normally be the most popular.
The game takes place over two eras, the Canal Era and the Railroad Era, from about the years 1770-1870 during the aforementioned industrial revolution of northern England. During the Canal Era, canals are dug in between the cities to become part of the players’ networks. During the Railroad Era, railroads are used for the same purpose. Seems pretty simple, does it not? The actions that are explained next are where the game takes shape.
The game starts with everyone being dealt eight cards and given 30 British Pounds (this is England after all). There is also a market that has iron and coal available for purchase. The iron and coal will be needed for certain buildings and for railroads. During a players’ turn, they are able to take two actions (this is true for every turn other than the very first turn of the game during the Canal era where players only take one action). There are five separate actions that can be taken during a turn. Those are: Build, Network, Develop, Sell, and Loan. After each action the player must discard one of the cards in their hand. The cards will represent one of the cities on the board or one of the industry tiles that are in the game. Now to go into the actions a little bit deeper.
During the Build action, a player can build any of the industry tiles available to them on the very bottom of their player board. What does this mean? Well, all of the industry tiles have a level associated with them. The lower the level, the cheaper the cost. Levels on the cotton mills, ports, iron works, and coal mines go from level 1 to 4 (I to IV in Roman numerals on the actual tiles), and level 1 to 2 on the shipyards with an additional two tiles with a “lock” symbol on them for the shipyards. This means that if you want to build a cotton mill, for instance, you will have to start with the level 1 cotton mill (unless you Develop them away [this will be covered later]). A Build action has to use either a city card to build in the specific city on the card or an industry card that can be used anywhere in your network or for the very first industry you build in the game. Each city has icons that show what can be built in that city. Each industry tile costs an amount of money that is shown on the left of the player board along with any iron and/or coal that is needed as well.
The Network action is where the player will connect their businesses with Link tiles. How a player expands their network is dependent upon the era; canal Link tiles are laid in the Canal Era and railroad Link tiles in the Railroad Era. Players can only place Link tiles in their network which means from any city they already have an industry or from another city that is connected via a Link tile. This means that placing a Link tile on turn one in the Canal Era is not possible.
Develop actions are a bit like doing research to find something better. During a Develop action, the player can remove one or two industry tiles from their personal player board. The tiles have to be from the bottom most available industry tiles that are available and do not have to be of the same type; for instance, one cotton mill and one shipyard. Each industry tile removed costs one iron.
Sell actions are the players’ opportunity to sell their cotton mills for massive profits! Cotton mills are sold to either ports or the distant cotton market. But, if the distant cotton market is over-saturated, then you can only sell to ports. If you play your cards right, you can even sell multiple cotton mills using just one Sell action!
Finally, there is the Loan action. This is where a player can take a Loan from the bank in the amount of either 10, 20, or 30 British pounds. For each level of the Loan, the players’ income level is dropped by that amount; 1 full income level (not space) for a 10, 2 for a 20, and 3 for 30 pound loan. Do not be afraid of taking loans as you will probably need to do so multiple times during the game.
Now seems like a good time to talk about the income level. Income is produced whenever a player flips a tile. How do you flip a tile? Cotton mills flip when they are sold, a port flips when a player sells a cotton mill to it, shipyards flip immediately upon being built, and both the iron works and coal mines flip whenever their last resource is removed. Upon being flipped, the players’ income level goes up by as many spaces as what is shown in the bottom right-hand side of the tile. This is great way to increase your income quickly so that you will not have to take many loans. At the end of each turn players are given an amount of money from the bank equal to their Income level. Another important note about flipped tiles is that they score victory points at the end of each Era. The Victory points awarded for each tile is shown at the bottom left of a flipped tile. At the end of the Canal Era, though, all level 1 tiles are removed from the board. Those buildings must be too old and shabby to stick around in the modern Railroad Era.
Finally, player turn order can change every turn. This is dependent on how much money a player spends during a turn. If you spent the least amount, then you get to be first player next turn. This is a cool way to turn a game around (and plan a strategy around as well) to get back into a game if you are behind or really blow it out of the water if you are ahead.
The hardest part of the game by far is card management. In most games, the difficult part is the resource management. Resources in Brass can be found, but the card usage is the most difficult part to get used to because players’ have to use a card for each action. If you discard a card that you thought you may not need later, but another player takes up all of the build slots in the city you were looking at, then you may not be able to build anything that turn, and only get to take another one of the actions.
Regardless of the complexities, this is still a great game, especially if you like economic strategy/resource management type games. And, as the BGG rating implies, this is not the most complex game out on the market, but it is still complex enough to make the players think through the strategy and turns. It can sometimes be hard to plan out your turn as well, since everything changes from one turn to the next, but that will not always be the case. That is also part of what makes this game a joy to play as you have to not only be paying attention to what your opponents are doing but also trying to plan out your turn along with other possibilities for your upcoming and future turns. If you do get to play this and like it, then check out the follow-up to this game, Brass: Birmingham. Also, another cool thing about the game is in the front of the rule book. It has a short biography of the eight possible “characters” in the game. As a history nerd, this was an interesting addition to the game for me.
In short, Brass: Lancashire is a deep game with many options and decisions that can be made during the players turn. There are even a few variant rules and a two-player variant board. This makes for an even deeper game with a high replay ability value and, as such, deserves to played again and again to try out any strategy that you can come up with!