Dale Yu: Review of Bruxelles 1893 (Pearl Games / ZMan)

Bruxelles 1893

  • Designer: Etienne Espreman

  • Publisher: Pearl Games / Z-Man

  • Players: 2-5

  • Ages: 10+

  • Time: 90-120 mins

  • Main Mechanic: worker placement, auction, majority control, modular board

(This game had been covered in an Essen Preview earlier, but it is being republished here with new comments from other OG writers!)


Bruxelles 1893 is a game that tries to capture the architectural development of the Art Nouveau neighborhoods in Brussels, Belgium. The game is played over 5 rounds, and the winner is the player with the most VP (duh).  The action takes place on two separate boards: 1) the Brussels board and 2) the modular Art Nouveau board.

In the setup of the game, the 5 strips of the Art Nouveau board are randomly placed into the frame.  Each strip has 5 action spaces on it, and together, the 5 strips make a 5×5 array of action spaces. At the bottom of each of the 5 columns, there is a space for a bonus card. At the start of each round, a Stock Exchange card is flipped up which has two sets of coordinates for two of the verticies of the Art Nouveau board.  The start player has to choose one set of coordinates, and this marks the outside of the Art Nouveau board that will be used.  Thus, depending on the random setup at the beginning of the game, which card is drawn from the deck and depending on which of the two coordinates are chosen, the actions available in any given round can change!

Once the useable area of the Art Nouveau board has been discovered, it’s time to take actions.  Players can place their pawns on either the Art Nouveau board (of course , only on the available spaces) or the Brussels board.

Possibilities on the Art Nouveau board

  1. Workshop – draw a “work of art” tile from the supply (5 different possible colors)

  2. Sale – you sell a “work of art”.  There is a 7×7 grid on the Brussels board which holds a 3×3 cursor.  The 5 different art colors are on the cursor. Depending on how many previous works you have sold, you are able to move the cursor around the 7×7 grid.  Wherever it stops, the row and column where the matching colored marker is found determines the VP and money for that particular sale.

  3. Recruit Public Figure – there is a display of 4 Public Figures on the board, if you take this action, you can choose one of these cards.  Each card has an immediate action which is taken as soon as you recruit the card.  Then you can either discard that card immediately OR you keep it near your board with the chance to possibly re-use it in a later round, though you will have to pay for this card at the end of the game.

  4. Collect Materials – you collect 2 material cubes – there are 3 types of materials (wood, stone, iron)

  5. Construction – you build a building tile on your board – they can cost 2, 3 or 4 building units.  The actual cubes needed per unit are determined by a compass.  This compass has 6 different spaces (wood, stone, iron, $3, blank and any wood/stone/iron) and two needles – thus there are always two different choices.  You need to pay at least one unit of each type when building.  The building is then placed on the Art Nouveau board on an empty space, and anytime someone chooses that space for the rest of the game, the player who owns the building on that space will get an extra action.

Brussels board on the left, Art Nouveau board on the Right

Brussels board on the left, Art Nouveau board on the Right

Any time you take an action on the Art Nouveau board, you add a bid (in cash) under your pawn.  Each space can only be used once. At the end of the round, the player who bid the most cash in each column gets the bonus card that is displayed underneath.

Possibilities on the Brussels board

  1. Market – pick up 3 Joker material cubes

  2. Collect Money – each Stock Exchange card (used at the start of the round to delineate the spaces used on the Art Nouveau board) has a $ amount at the top – this is what you collect for this action

  3. Park – you may choose one of the 5 actions normally found on the Art Nouveau board WITHOUT adding a bid

  4. Grand Plaza – re-use Public Figure cards that you have previously collected and kept

  5. Pass – this takes you out of the current round. If you are the first to pass, you get a marker that helps choose start player for the next round.  When you pass, you also collect $1 + $1 for each different color of Work of Art that you have

Once all players have passed, there is a bit of cleanup for the round.

  • First, all the bonus cards on the Art Nouveau board are distributed.

  • Then the new start player is chosen based on points scored from bonus cards collected and by the tile you get for passing first.

  • Third, players use their Bonus cards. Players can either take an immediate action from the bonus card and then discard it OR they can take no action now and instead use the bonus card as an endgame VP bonus score.  There are four slots for bonus cards on your personal board – these score VPs for:  sets of $4, works of art, public figure cards, number of pawns.

  • Fourth, VPs are awarded for each fully occupied intersection on the Art Nouveau board – VPs are given to the player who has the most pawns present out of the 4 at that intersection

  • Finally, move pawns to the Courthouse in Brussels. Whichever player(s) have the most pawns on the Brussels board must move one pawn to the Courthouse space.  These pawns are not placed in the next round.

This pattern is repeated for all 5 rounds.  At the start of each round, the supply of Public Figure cards is replenished.  A new Stock Market card is flipped over and the Art Nouveau board is apportioned again.

After the fifth round, there is some endgame scoring.

First, player must pay the cost for any Public Figure cards that they kept.  If they cannot pay the cash cost, they lose 5VP per unpaid card

Then, you score points for your building tiles built, for your collected Bonus cards, for leftover material cubes, and for having the start player marker after the final round

My thoughts on the game

Thus far, I have enjoyed my plays of Bruxelles.  It is, admittedly, at the upper end of the time spectrum for me, but the game is engaging, and I was constantly involved in the plays on my turns as well as my opponents.  It’s the sort of game where I look at the clock when we’re packing it all up and think “Wow, that didn’t feel like two hours!”.

In addition to being long in length, it is a very complex game.  There are a lot of interwoven mechanics in this game, and in all honesty, I’m fairly sure that the game would still work with any one of them left out of the mix – though, when I look back and try to decide which component of the game I’d leave out, it’s not an easy decision.  The VP/money cursor for the art sales has seemed a bit superfluous in my three games, though I don’t know how much of that is group think.  Thus far, the cursor thing seems to move itself deep into a corner, and then it spends the rest of the game never moving that far from this position.

The rules are fairly well written, though there are a few sticky areas that I constantly have to refer to the rules – namely, how and when to use the works of art in my collection and when.  When I am am selling art, I use the total number of works of art to determine how many spaces I move the cursor… When I pass, I look at the number of different colors of works of art that I have.  And when I’m drawing new art tiles, I look at the number of exhibition tiles I have and I don’t care how many other Works of Art that I have!

I am a big fan of the art in this game, and I think that is helps immerse the players in the Art Deco era in which the game is set.  The icons on the board/cards are easy to understand and follow.

After three games, I’m still looking for more plays because I definitely do not think that I have mastered this one yet.  There are so many things going on in each round, that I haven’t quite figured out what to concentrate on to maximize my score.  I have done well in my previous games by choosing one mechanic and trying to maximize that, but I have yet to come up with a gameplan that integrates many/all of them.  That’s my goal for the next game…

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Tom Rosen:  I’ve only had the chance to play Bruxelles once so far, but I’m giving it a provisional “I Love It” rating for now.  I’d rank it my third or fourth favorite game from the new crop out of 38 games tried so far (after Patchistory and Geistesblitz 5 vor 12, perhaps tied with Yunnan).  The first thing that grabbed me about Bruxelles is its gorgeous artistic design, which is fantastic as you’d expect from Pearl Games (seeing as they did Troyes and Tournay).  But I think this may be their best game yet, putting that great art to use here.  Bruxelles does suffer slightly from the classic first time designer syndrome of throwing in a lot of mechanisms, some of which could probably have been pruned away.  But for some reason it all seems to work well together and intertwine nicely despite the number of disparate concepts.  As is clear from Dale’s review, there is a worker placement element, an auction component, resource cubes to gather, paintings to create and sell, buildings to build, special characters to acquire and tap, and more.  There’s a lot going on here, but it’s blended beautifully and makes for an engaging experience that kept me interested the whole time.  I did play it directly after Patchistory so it seemed relatively simple by comparison and not nearly as complex or long as Dale makes it out to be, but then again I suppose it’s all relative and depends on context.  It felt like a middle-weight German-style game about as complex and long as games like Myrmes, 20th Century, Lancaster, and the like.  I’d highly recommend checking it out if you have the chance.

Larry  (1 play):  This was a pleasant surprise for me.  As Tom says, the game may be a bit overdesigned, but most of the mechanisms are quite clever and even though there’s a lot of them, they all work together for the most part.  There are several different approaches to scoring points, most of which can be influenced by which Public Figures you choose to acquire, so there’s a nice strategic element as well as a tactical one.  The game doesn’t overstay its welcome and is engaging and tense until the end.  This very well may be my favorite design from Pearl Games and I look forward to more efforts from M. Espreman in the future.

Ben McJunkin (2 plays):  Like most of the Opinionated Gamers, I am a fan of Bruxelles 1893.  Thus far at least, it is my favorite of this year’s “typical Eurogame” titles.  I am a bit surprised to hear Dale describe it as “a very complex game,” however.  Bruxelles 1893 is what I typically consider to be a solidly middleweight design.  While it has a lot of mechanics – and thus a lot of player options – most of them are decidedly simple.  For example, three of the five primary actions just involve taking a card, a cardboard chit, or a couple of wooden cubes.  Like many contemporary Eurogames, Bruxelles 1893 provides players with numerous strategic options and rewards them handsomely for pursuing a single path relentlessly.  However, the game is structured so that you can’t help but do a little of everything; maximizing your use of those secondary and tertiary opportunities will likely prove to be the difference between experienced players.  The game’s real strength, at least in my eyes, is the layers of options embedded in the game.  For example, while the heart of the game appears to be a worker-placement mechanic, the placement of a single worker also informs a psuedo-auction and a minor area-control sub-game.  Likewise, cards can be used in a variety of ways, and some of the actions players can take to score also provide in-game benefits that depend on other players’ choices.  I love that kind of option layering, because it permits players to compete for the same game resources while pursuing different strategic paths.  The game is much more interactive than your typical Euro (but not directly confrontational), which helps to keep all players engaged throughout the entire session.  Another very solid effort by Pearl Games.

Mark Jackson (1 play): It’s probably not a surprise that I’d be a voice of dissent here – but it’s mild dissent. What a number of these other folks see as a feature (“there’s a lot going on here”), I see as a bug – I think there’s more activity/churn than there is game. I will gladly concede that the art design is lovely & that there’s certainly a playable game there – it’s just not one I feel a need to play again.

Craig Massey (1 play): I’m not sure whether I’m going to join Mark’s voice of dissent or I’ll end up really enjoying this in the long term.  After one play I can see this actually going either way.  I enjoyed the game, but the mash-up of mechanisms gives it a feeling of a few two many.  My lone play was with three players which feels like it might be the best number.  With so many new games to play and several Essen titles already demanding table time for repeated playings the likely outcome for Bruxelles is one and done for the time being.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

  • I love it! – Tom Rosen
  • I like it – Dale Yu, Larry Levy, Ben McJunkin, Lorna, Jennifer Geske, Ted Alspach, Craig Massey
  • Neutral – Luke Hedgren, Dan Blum, Mark Jackson, Mary Prasad
  • Not for me – None

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Bruxelles 1893 (Pearl Games / ZMan)

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    I have not played the game but like the theme, as it is a welcome change from medieval architecture.

    Art Deco may have been influenced by Art Nouveau, but they are not the same thing. The Art Deco style flourished in the 1930’s and 40’s (think Chrysler Building in NYC), decades later. It’s easy to mix them up, as they sound and look similar.

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