Designer: Stefan Feld
Publisher: Hans im Gluck / Z-Man
Time: 60 min
Times played: 5 (split between preview copy at GoF and review copy provided by Z-Man)
2013 looks to be a banner year for Stefan Feld. So far, there have been three major designs from him (Bruges, Bora Bora, Rialto) and one that is scheduled for Essen (Amerigo). Like other designers, I definitely feel that most Feld games share a common backbone. While the theming and particular mechanics might change, most Feld games will provide the player with a multitude of opportunities to score points (and never enough time/actions to score well in all possible choices) and some sort of randomization factor to keep the game lively. Additionally, there are usually some cards or tokens which give players special abilities or break the rules in some way. Finally, most Feld games have some sort of penalty mechanism which can cause great anguish to the player. Bruges follows this general pattern, and it gives the gamer a complex and interactive game to enjoy.
The players take on the role of merchants in 15th century Bruges where they vie to have the most victory points at the end of the game. OK, so that’s not really the theme… the merchants are trying to be the most successful and influential. The bulk of the game revolves around the 165 personality cards – each of which depicts a different person in the city. Playing these cards can score you points as well as giving you different special abilities to use in the game.
Let me first try to describe how the game works. A lot of the action happens off the board – in the area in front of the player where the cards are played. The board has an area for the prestige track as well as two canal tracks for each player. Off to the side of the board are the two card stacks which players can draw from. There are 4 phases in each round of the game, and the game continues until the end of the round when one of those two card stacks is exhausted.
Phase 1 – drawing cards – in this phase, you fill your hand to the limit of 5 cards. Again, there are two decks to choose from, and you can choose freely from either deck. The back of each card shows you the color (blue, brown, yellow, red, purple) on the other side. Ideally, you should only be able to see the top card of each deck, though it’s hard to keep the decks neat near the start of the game when the stacks are so high.
Phase 2 – roll the dice, advance on the prestige track – The starting player of the round (which rotates) rolls the 5 dice. For each color that comes up a “5” or “6”, players receive a threat marker – a piece which is 1/3 of a circle. If a player ever completes a circle, i.e. has received 3 threat markers of a particular color, he will have to suffer the consequences of that color’s disaster… more on this later. Then, players in turn order, get to decide if they want to move up the prestige track on the board. There are 8 steps on this track, and at the end of the game, your position on the track will score you anywhere from 1 to 12 VPs. The cost of moving up one space on the track is a number of florins equal to the sum of all the “1” and “2”s that were rolled on the dice. If no “1”s or “2”s were rolled, then no one may move. Only one space can be moved each round.
Phase 3 – play cards – This is the bulk of each round. Each player has a hand of 5 cards, and going in turn order, each player will play one card from his hand and take an action associated with that card. This continues until all players have played 4 cards. Sounds easy, so far, right? Well, there are a lot of choices with each card – six of them in fact. The options are nicely summarized in icon form on the right side of every card to make it easier to remember.
· Take 2 workers – you discard the card and take two wooden figures in the colors matching the color of the card. These workers will come in useful for other actions.
· Take money – discard the card and take a number of florins equal to the number of the die of matching color (which was rolled in the previous phase).
· Discard a threat marker – discard the card and also discard a threat marker which matches the color of the card
· Build a canal section – on the board, each player has a marker showing his color in the game. Emanating from this marker are two canals, one to the left and one to the right. Each one has 5 segments, one segment of each color in the game, and each one has a slightly different order to the color segments. You can discard a card and build a canal section matching the color of the card. However, when building, you must build outwards from your player marker, and you must be able to pay the cost in florins marked on the space (increasing from 1 to 5 florins as you move out). If you build the 3rd section in a pathway, you will get a 3 VP endgame bonus. If you finish off one of your paths, you take a bonus tile from the center of the board which gives a diminishing VP reward from 7VP to 2VP.
· Build a house – to build a house, you simply place the card face-down in front of you. However, in order to do this, you also must discard a wooden figure of the color matching the card.
· Place a person (in a previously constructed house) – If you have an empty house in your area, you can place a person in that house. To do so, you must be able to pay the cost of the card. Only one card can be played in any particular house. The color of the person does NOT need to match the color of the house! Once a card is played to the table, it might have a special ability (immediate, activated, ongoing, or endgame) that you can use to your advantage later.
Again, each player has the chance to play a card on his turn, and the round continues until all players have had a chance to play four cards, thus leaving one card in their hand. This card is carried over into the next round.
Phase 4 – bonus token scoring – In this phase, each player checks to see if he has the distinct lead in any of three categories. If he does, he flips over a corresponding bonus marker (worth 4VP). The bonuses are given for
· Prestige track – scored if you are further ahead on the track than all other players
· People in town – scored if you have more people in houses than all other players
· Canal segments – scored if you have more canal tiles built than all other players
During the game, you will score the 4VP bonus for each category as long as you were in the lead at least once in the game. No further bonus is given for repeatedly leading a particular category.
If the endgame condition has been met – which is one of the two draw piles being exhausted during the current round – you would move to final scoring. If the game is not yet over, the start player marker rotates clockwise, and the game continues on with another round.
As I mentioned earlier, the game revolves around the 165 person cards. Almost all of them have some sort of special ability, though these abilities can only be used once the card has been played into a house. There is a cost for each card, ranging from 0 to 12 florins – and there is a VP value for each card, which is always the cost of the card divided by 3 (so, 0 to 4 VPs). Additionally, each character is of a particular type (Entertainer, merchant, noble, scholar, etc).
There are four different types of cards
· Immediate action – this card has an action when played, but then typically does not have any further action in the game [Example – Informer: Each other player must move down 1 step on the reputation track]
· Ongoing action – this card takes immediate effect as long as the card is in play [Example – Banner Bearer – once per round, you may discard 1 Threat marker and receive 1 VP]
· Activated action (once per turn) – the action of this card can be triggered once per round – there is a cost associated with activating a card – discarding a worker as depicted on the card [Example – Patrician – (discard a yellow worker) For each Merchant in your play area, take 2 Florins from the bank]
· Endgame bonus scoring – VPs in the final scoring based on the criteria on the card [Example – Commander – At the end of the game, for each Threat marker in your play area, score 1 VP]
As you can see, the powers on the cards can vary quite a bit, and some of the powers work synergistically with some cards and possibly antagonize the effects of others.
OK, let me get back to the disasters – these occur anytime that a player finishes a set of three Threat markers in a particular color. Depending on which color is completed, different badness will happen
· Red – You must discard either one house or one canal section. If the house had a person in it, that person card returns to your hand
· Yellow – You must return all your florins to the bank
· Blue – you must return all your workers to the supply
· Brown – You must take a person card from your display into the discard pile
· Purple – You lose 3 VPs
The game ends at the conclusion of the round where one of the two draw piles is exhausted. Players will have scored some points through the course of play. To this total, they now add the following endgame scores
· VPs from bonus tokens – each of these is worth 4VPs
· Canal – 3VP for each track built to the 3rd space, bonus points per statue tile for each completed canal
· Prestige track – 1 to 12VPs based on your progress along the track
· Houses – one VP for each house (occupied or not) in your play area
· Bonuses from cards – you’ll have to count up all the bonuses provided from your cards
Comments on the game –
Overall I like it, and this is my favorite Feld release of the year so far – though all 3 are quality games, and all three remain in my game collection at this point. Of the three 2013 Feld releases, this one seems to play the quickest – not just in actual time but also in the sensation of time passing. While there are some decisions to be made in each card play, there is not that much downtime between your turns – and much of the time between turns is spent looking at my own cards trying to figure out what to do next.
The first few games will take a little bit longer because all the players will have to spend a bit more time each round getting familiar with the 6 action options as well as the text on the different cards. However, after a few games, the actions on the cards are easy to grok and it’s easier to see how the cards might work with or against other cards once you’ve had the chance to see a good proportion of them in play.
Like most Feld games, I find that I want to do more things than I have time for. Each round, you only get 4 card actions, and there are multiple tracks that you are trying excel in (for bonus and endgame scoring reasons). Money and workers will always be in short supply, and I usually find myself agonizing that I am somehow short a worker or coin for a particular action. Additionally, collecting workers or florins will use up one of your actions and cards – often I have to struggle with discarding a useful card for 6 florins because the die of that color happens to be a 6.
Also, like most Feld games, luck plays a good role in this strategic game. Here, there are two main variables. First, the roll of the dice has effects on the threat tokens, prestige track, and florin collection. Second, there is good old-fashioned luck of the draw in the cards. I definitely feel that the cards determine the majority of your success or failure in the game, and clearly you will have an easier job winning the game if your cards work well together. You do have some control over the color of card at least, but in the end, it’s still pretty much a crapshoot whether or not you get awesome cards or just good ones instead.
Of note, in my games at the Gathering of Friends, there were some issues with the draw piles being a bit messy, and it was often possible to see the colors of more than just the topmost card. While this wasn’t an overwhelming advantage, it was still extra information. To solve this issue, further printings of the game will come with trays that hold the draw piles to keep them in line. It does appear that Hans im Gluck is providing these trays to anyone who owns a copy from the first print run.
Kudos to Hans im Gluck for coming up with such an elegant solution to this issue.
I found that the rules to Bruges are easy to grok, and most players in my games have gotten the hang of the turn after 3 or 4 turns. It helps that every card provides an iconic reference of possible actions on the side. The cards themselves are a slightly different story, and I think that it probably took me 2 or 3 games to really feel comfortable with them and the possible variations of their actions/abilities. However, I don’t think that this is out of line with any game that provides such a variety of cards.
For me, Bruges hits my Feld sweetspot because it plays quickly (45 minutes with experienced players) while providing a complex game. The amount of variance from the card draw and the dice rolls is enough to keep me on my toes.
OPINIONS FROM OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS:
Larry (1 play): One play isn’t really enough to form a concrete opinion about a game, but the early indicators are good ones. There’s a great deal of variety and the decisions are numerous and interesting. I had one nagging doubt after my first game and it could prove significant. You see, I have more of a concern about the card drawing luck than Dale does. Specifically, it seems to limit the way you can implement a strategy. This is particularly true of the cards that give you endgame bonuses. If you get them early, you’re dependent on getting the cards that score for you. Even worse, if you don’t get any until late in the game, you have no idea which cards to collect. I suffered from the latter case in my game. As it turned out, I drew some endgame cards on my last turn which fit my situation quite well, but that was pure luck. I never really felt I had a strategy to play for other than the generic ones.
Possibly with further plays, this concern may prove to be exaggerated. Even if it turns out to be accurate, Bruges will no doubt be an enjoyable tactical exercise, as the decisions of how to play your hand each turn are definitely challenging. But even though I like tactical games, the inclusion of strategic elements usually makes these games even more enjoyable, and Bruges may wind up falling short in that area.
Ted C. (one play – german version): A cheat sheet and decent icons on the cards made this playable for me. It may prove much faster when the English version comes out. Our game did not come close to 45 minutes but, there were many questions and socializing. I had a difficult time designing a strategy. A bit like Macao, I tried to start a combination of cards that would complement each other and the needed cards just did not seem to arrive. The game is very tight in management of resources so this made it even harder to find the needed cards and play them. Without a second play, I am not sure if I should have even attempted what I did my first game.
Dan Blum (2 plays): It’s not bad, but there really is a lot of luck. As Larry points out, getting decent endgame bonuses from cards is a crapshoot. What makes it particularly bad is that many of the endgame scoring cards require getting cards in certain categories (e.g., merchants), and although I didn’t check, I was told that each color has the same distribution of categories. That means getting more cards in a category is completely luck-dependent.
The luck of the card draw makes itself felt in other ways, too. In both games I played cards early on which required workers of a given color to activate, and it was then many rounds before I was actually able to draw another card of that color.
Joe Huber (3 plays): Since Dale expected me to list this as “Not for me”, and I actually like the game, I suppose I should comment. My first play was actually neutral – it wasn’t bad, but there were some things that bothered me about the game, particularly a couple of take-that type cards – never a good thing for me. But as I played it very early at the Gathering of Friends, I ended up teaching it to others – and the game grew on me. I’m still not sure it’s one I need to own – it’s on that boundary for me – but in the worst case it’s a game I’ll be happy to play.
Jonathan F.: I have played all the latest Feld games and none of those from the past three years grab me. I just think my current tastes are not a match for his current designs. I’m fine in the minority on this one. I’ll be in the corner with Roma and Notre Dame, if anyone wants to play.
Jennifer Geske: Even though I like Bora Bora better than Bruges, I end up playing Bruges a lot more frequently (15+ plays vs. 5 plays of Bora Bora). One reason is the length of the game, as Bruges can be taught and played in 60 minutes and Bora Bora is more of a 3-hour endeavor. There are quite a bit of similarities between the two games, as they are both to me about action optimization. You have a fixed number of actions (in a 4-player game somewhere between 32 and 36 actions in most of the games I’ve played), a variety of ways to gain points, and you try to gain advantages by setting yourself up to get bonus actions (activating people recruited previously) and managing resources and actions to gain points in the optimal way. Even though there are a number of ways to score points, the reward is greater if one invests fully in a path than trying to do a little bit of everything (for example, spending 3 actions and $6 to build canals for 3 points is not all that good compared to spending 2 actions/$6/1 worker to get the same 3 points in recruiting a person as the person will give you either one-time or persistent benefit. However, spending 5 actions and $15 to complete a section of the canal for up to 10 points is a lot more efficient than the 4 actions/$24/2 workers it will take to get the same 10 points by recruiting people.), but the risk is also higher as there is no guarantee that the color and/or type of cards and the dice roll will make it possible for one to carry out a specific strategy. I like that the game affords me the opportunity to make the kind of trade-off decisions I enjoy, but there are definitely times when I feel like the decisions are made for me because of random card draws and dice rolls (For instance, there were times when I played a card to get 2 workers with absolutely no good reason other than that it was better than to discard the same card to get $1). With the exception of some attack cards and the race to get to the best canal statues and the majority bonus, there is very little player interaction. That can be a positive or negative attribute of the game depending on your taste and group dynamic.
RATINGS FROM THE OPINIONATED GAMERS:
I love it! Dale Yu, W. Eric Martin
I like it. Larry, Lorna, Joe Huber, Jennifer Geske
Neutral. Ted C., Dan Blum, Jonathan F.
Not for me…
I find that the luck in getting the cards you want – even the color cards you want – makes this the opposite of a game where you want to do more than you can. In my two plays, all too often there was nothing I wanted to do because of a mismatch in my assets. I couldn’t get the particular men I wanted, or had no means of getting worthwhile money. So the game became slack – taking several not very powerful turns, while another player rushed ahead because he did have what he wanted.
I’m currently proposing a variation which ought to ease this problem up just a tad, and I’ll see if I can sell it to the group.