Dale Yu: Review of Bruxelles 1897

Bruxelles 1897

  • Designer: Etienne Espreman
  • Publisher: Geek Attitude Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 45-60 min
  • Played with review copy provided by Geek Attitude Games

Bruxelles 1897 is a new card game which is meant to be a followup to Bruxelles 1893 – a game which came to the scene at SPIEL 2013 – we previewed and reviewed the game way back when… https://opinionatedgamers.com/2013/12/02/dale-yu-review-of-bruxelles-1893-pearl-games-zman/

If you don’t remember the original game (as I did not), the review outlines it nicely, and once if you had played it before, you’ll quickly remember the details of that game, and then you’ll pretty much be able to pick this one up in a snap. 

Bruxelles 1897 is a card game which is directly based on the original – which was published by Pearl Games 6 years ago.  While in Essen, I learned that the designer is one of the triumvirate who founded Geek Attitude Games, and as the rights to Bruxelles 1893 had lapsed, the designer was free to use his own company to publish this sequel.  Per the publisher’s notes:  “Bruxelles 1897 will speak to a large audience of gamers. Its mechanics are based on Bruxelles 1893 and are made simpler without compromising depth. Those who know the board game Bruxelles 1893 will rediscover its familiar look and feel in Bruxelles 1897.”

A game of Bruxelles 1897 is played over 4 rounds.  A round consists of a variable number of turns – until players have used all of their Architect cards that they wish to use.  In this version, the different actions are represented by Action cards which are found in a grid on the table, called the Art Nouveau area.  In a 4p games, four cards are taken from each of the five decks (Money, Artwork, Material, House, and Noble) and shuffled together with the wild Expo card.  This group of 21 cards is shuffled, and then sixteen cards are dealt out randomly in a 4×4 array.  As the cards all have different backs, I’d just shuffle the cards under the table so you don’t know what’s on top as you shuffle.  The unused cards are placed in the appropriate discard piles.  Beneath each column in this grid, the Bonus cards are randomly placed one under each column. 

There is a small board called the Brussels area. There are tracks here for Victory Points as well as tracks for Architecture, Nobility and Prestige.  The three Brussels actions are placed underneath the board (not sure why they weren’t just printed on the board) as well as space for the Prison – at the start of the game, each player has some of their Architect cards already in prison.  Who knew that Art Nouveau architects were such an unruly lot?!

At the beginning of the game, each player has 5 Architect cards in hand. These cards have different values on them, ranging from 1 to 5, and you’ll use them to perform actions in the Art Nouveau and Brussels areas.  Actions can be taken in either the Art Nouveau area or the Brussels Area.

To perform an action in the Art Nouveau area, you exchange one of your Architect cards with an Action card in the grid; when doing this, you must pay the value on your Architect card.  The Architect cards are two-sided, and you can choose which side you would like to use (and therefore pay for).  Interestingly, the money cards are also double sided with a 3 Franc side and a 1 Franc side.  It is recommended that you keep your money cards face up on the table and never fuss with them so that your money stash isn’t inadvertently changed accidentally.  Then, you perform the action on the card you just picked out of the array:

  • Make art – pick up an Artwork card and put it face up in front of you.  It looks nice, but ultimately, you’ll want to sell it.
  • Art Sale – if you picked up a money card (which will always be on the 3 Franc side), you can keep the 3 Francs but you must discard one of your Artwork cards as you have sold that piece of art.
  • Get Supplies – Place the chosen Material Card and place it in front of you.  Each Material card shows two pieces of material, some combination of steel, wood and brick.  You need these to Build Houses
  • Construct a House – Take a House card and discard enough Material to pay for the cost. You must discard 1 Material for you first house, and then 2 for the 2nd house, 3 Material for the third house, … Interestingly, you Architect doesn’t care what type of Material that he uses, only that enough are spent to build the House.  However, your VP marker cares, and you score 1VP per different type of Material used in the construction of the house.
  • Use a Noble – Take a Noble card and perform the action printed on the bottom half of the card (there are 6 different nobles and they can earn you money, advance you on a track, let you draw Material cards or let you spring an Architect card from Prison). Once you use the Noble, you decide if you want to keep him for the rest of the game.  If you do, note that you must pay 2 Francs for each Noble that is kept in this way, and you can only keep one of each type of Noble (because Cloning was not yet a thing in 1897).  If kept, place the newly gained Noble sideways to show that he has been used this round; otherwise discard the Noble.
  • Host an Exhibition – If you took the Expo card, you host the Expo, and then have the first chance to exhibit art.  There are four different colors of Art cards, and you must show a color which has not already been used in this Expo.  This continues clockwise around the board (perhaps multiple times) until either all 4 colors are exhibited or all players cannot play an unplayed color.  Displayed artworks are NOT discarded.  Each artwork which is displayed at the Expo earns 2VP for its owner.  The player who chose the Expo card keeps it to remember that he will be the First player in the next round.
  • Not do the action – you can choose to still pay to place your Architect card and then simply discard the Action card and do nothing with it.  This could be important for the end of round Scoring.

Actions in the Brussels area are free but they require an increasing number of Architect cards to activate, and you risk one of them being sent to prison. There are different Brussels action cards available.  One gets you 5 Francs, one lets you activate some of your Nobles cards (max number equal to your current standing on the Nobility track), and one lets you do any non-Expo action.   The cost for any Brussels action is one more than the cost of the previous person to choose that particular action – that is, the first person to do it uses 1 Architect card, the next uses 2 cards, the next uses 3 cards…

When you are done with the round – either out of Architect cards, cannot pay for any more Architect cards, or simply don’t want to use any more Architect cards, you pass out of the round.  The first player to pass gets 3 Francs, all other players get 1 Franc whenever they drop out of the round.   If you have passed out of a round, you cannot take part in an Exhibition.

When all players have passed, the round ends.  Now, the different majorities are calculated – in Columns, in the Coats of Arms and then in the Brussels area.  First, look at each of the 4 columns in the Art Nouveau area, with the bonus card at the bottom of each.  Tally up the value of the Architect cards in each column, the player(s) with the highest summed value gets the bonus action (moving up one space on the designated track OR retrieving one of their recidivist Architects from the slammer.  Then look at the 9 possible Coats of Arms – formed at the vertex between 4 cards; if there is a complete coat of arms, the player(s) with the most cards present at that intersection score VP equal to their standing on the Prestige track.  Here, only the cards matter, not the value on the cards.  Finally, each player counts the number of cards they have played in the Brussels area.  The player(s) with the most cards must place one of their Architect cards into Prison.

The board is now reset with a new deck being constructed and 16 cards being dealt into the array.  The start player for the new round is the player who took the Expo card. If no one took the Expo card, or if it was not available, the start player moves on position clockwise around the table.  

At the end of the fourth round (which still has its usual Majority reckoning as noted above), there is a final scoring phase.

Pay for your nobles – you must discard 2 Francs per Noble card; for each one which you cannot pay off, you lose the Noble card and take a 3VP penalty

Score your houses – gain VP equal to your standing on the Architecture track for each House you built

Unused cards – 1 VP per unused Materials card, 2VP for the Expo card

Rescore the columns – in the final round, you also use the smaller inset bonus at the bottom of each bonus card, scoring points based on: how much money you have, different Artworks, different Houses or number of Nobles at the end of the game.

The player with the most points is the winner.  Ties are broken in favor of the player with the least Architects in prison at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

Well, I guess I should start by saying that this game pretty much fires Bruxelles 1893.  Well, it would if I still owned 1893.  But, that game left the collection awhile ago because it was just too long for what I got out of it (games often went 2+ hrs).  It had been awhile since I had played 1893, but reading my old review reminded me of the original game, and frankly, this new card version pretty much does everything that the original did, but in 40% of the time.  Oh, and the box is probably 40% of the volume as well.  It’s a win/win/win/win situation in my book.

To speak more directly about this game (Bruxelles 1897), I really like the way that each action decision has so many different facets.  If I’m playing the Art Nouveau area; I have to decide what sort of action to take.  Or maybe, placement is more important because I’m working on my majorities in a column or for a particular coat of arms.  Heck, I might even try to take an action because it’s the last of its kind left for the round and I’m just trying to deny everyone else.  And, then, once I’ve chosen my spot, I need to figure out what I want to pay for the privilege of taking it…  It can be a lot to think about, and I’m honestly surprised that I haven’t seen much AP with it in my games so far. 

There are a number of different viable strategies to scoring VPs, and you have to be very skillfull/lucky with your Architect placement to be able to maximize your results from the 4-5 actions that you’ll usually get in any given round.   You will need to spend some energy getting money; after all, without money you can’t pay for your other Architects.  But, if you work too hard at this, you won’t leave yourself time to do anything else useful; and money itself does you little in the way of earning VPs at the end of the game.

There is also a tight decision concerning the Nobles cards.  They can offer powerful advantages – for me, it’s a much easier way to move up on a track via the corresponding Noble card than trying to win a particular column.  But, they cost money to maintain, and the penalty for not being able to pay them off at the end of the game is truly punishing.

The artwork is just as awesome as in the original game.  The Art Nouveau look is seen through the gorgeous illustrations. I especially like the design on the back of the board.  The components are functional.  I do wish that the money cards were not double sided as this has led to some confusion over inadvertent card flips.  We now use poker chips for the actual money to prevent further mistakes.  Otherwise, all the other iconography is easy to understand, and the art is so beautiful.

Bruxelles 1897 is a wonderful distillation of the original game into a tighter version which still offers all of the difficult decisions and tight strategy found in the first version, but in a more streamlined package. The game no longer has a huge board, but frankly, it doesn’t need it.  The game doesn’t have an exceedingly complex art cursor mechanism for calculating prices for art, but frankly, it doesn’t need it.   For me, this is a clearly superior version of the game, and one that I look forward to playing more this winter.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Doug G
  • I like it. Dale Y, Nate B, Jonathan F
  • Neutral. Dan B, Luke H, Craig M
  • Not for me…

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2019, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Bruxelles 1897

  1. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Bruxelles 1897 – Herman Watts

  2. Marc Gilutin says:

    Your post confirms what I’ve been thinking. The original took too long. For me, this one is an auto buy.

  3. Pingback: Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2020 (Part 1) | The Opinionated Gamers

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