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Jason Farris
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Brass is a game I should like. It’s from Martin Wallace and I love Age of Steam (in a platonic way, nothing seamy). It’s a building and delivery game which I like. You can shaft your neighbor which is always fun unless it happens to you. What’s not like? Unfortunately more than I thought.

This will not be a positive review of the game, but I will still try to be fair with it. If you are a rabid fan of Brass, please make your comments to this review civil. I’m not saying, “It sucks!” so you don’t need to tell me how much I do.

Components:

You get a game board with antiquated art, a bunch of sturdy counters/tiles, horrible plastic coins and some wooden bits for determining who goes first and how much money you make. The art is functional and sufficiently “period” for the time it is trying to capture. The board and box seem to have a preponderance of an orange/brown color which I’m not a big fan of. Strangely the colors chosen for the bits are more attractive in my opinion. Instead of the generic primary colors, they went for softer shades. You get teal, purple, soft yellow and a brick red. I wish more games would use colors other than primary. On the down side, the board and colors look more muted and tiles don’t pop as much as I would like. In the endgame, things get very crowded and the lack of bright, glaring colors mixed with copious illustrations does not help the eye assess details.

The money is horrible, I can’t help but think that Martin Wallace ordered a truckload of this money for age of steam and is still trying to get rid of it. The stuff is made like tiddly winks. In fact, you can play tiddly winks with the money chits if you get really bored during the game.

Overall, I think the components are a okay: Very sturdy components with the exception of the terrible money, and some okay artwork with subdued colors.

Gameplay:

This is where any game I play will make it or break it for me. You can have ugly as sin components as long as the game play is there (Galactic Destiny comes to mind). Brass sort of makes it. The game has good strategy and surprising depth with enough randomness provided by the cards you are dealt. However I think the rules are really too heavy for what the game is and appear to be patched together. The parts are great but they don’t gel into a whole for me. For full rules reference, I refer you to… the rules.

The first thing that you’ll notice is that you are required to stack all your buildings from highest number on the bottom to lowest on top. This creates a major gaming hazard, the “arm sweep tiles fly” problem. Also stacked tokens means you are constantly looking underneath to see what you want further down. Why they didn’t just print a player mat to put the tokens on, I don’t know. Many of the people I see playing lay the tokens in flat rows. It accomplishes the same purpose and gets rid of most of the problems.

Once you get your tokens sorted and everybody gets their money the game is on. You get 6 cards and then are given two more each turn until the deck is dry. This is your time counter as well as your choices of where to play (you play 2 cards every turn). The cards are either an industry or a location on the board. Somewhat logically, you can build in any city of the board that you have the card for as long as you build one of the building types allowed in the city (visually marked on the board). Or, not-so-logically you can build an industry of your choice in a city that you are “connected” to by having an industry already there or having a canal connection that is yours. So you can’t build into a city you have no direct connection to without the city card. With me so far? Good. You must build your industries in order (thus the chit stacks) unless you take an action to research which requires you buy two iron from the market. Why do you buy two iron to research? Who knows, it’s a game mechanic. When you research you get to remove two tiles from the stacks and throw them away. This allows you to get to higher number industries fasters and score more points with them (the game is about points). You will also get points for building canals between major cities which have the added benefit of connecting you to that city and allowing you to ship goods through the canal. What do you ship…cotton and coal. Iron does not need to be shipped and instantly teleports to where it is needed. Why? I don’t know, it’s a game mechanic. Cotton ships to ports and coal ships wherever it is needed (in this phase of the game usually for building cotton mills). Nobody owns any resource (just the tile it is on) and coal always comes from the nearest source (yours or anyone else) If you have no source, then no coal for you. When you ship cotton you flip over the port used and the factory/mill. The respective owners of those tiles gain an income boost from the tile being flipped. Unfortunately they are no longer usable. Coal and iron buildings flip when all the coal or iron are removed and owning players move their income up accordingly. At the end of the canal era you score VPs equal to all your flipped buildings and all your canals. Then all canals and level one industries are removed from the game. Why? I don’t know, apparently the rail era started with everyone sinking their canal boats and refusing to transport unless you by them a shiny new train.

You continue into the rail era and do the exact same thing you did in the canal era except you can’t play level one industries anymore either. So your infrastructure is mostly gone. If you heavily research you may have some higher level buildings around. You start creating rails and new industries. New ports and new connections to the external market are built which will sell you coal and iron if nothing is on the board. Then you run out of cards again and scoring happens a second time (you get points again for any flipped industries that survived the purges of the first half). The game ends and everyone goes home.

The game seems simple but does have a good array of choices. Sometimes your moves are obvious but many times several are beneficial and it is unclear which one will win for you. I usually set my cards up in “Mexican Train” fashion of putting them in an order that will optimize their use. Inevitably someone will take something I want and then I will need to rearrange cards but that’s part of the game. This ability to “shaft” someone ends up being rather limited. If someone is foolish enough to build a port before a mill, you can use it to ship your goods and then they can’t. This isn’t horribly mean and is often more of an inconvenience. In fact the odds are that you will only really screw someone over by total accident. You’ll play into the city they needed or construct rails where they were going. In that way it is more like Ticket to Ride. Not really a directly confrontational game.

The Patchwork

This game while, having fun options and strategies, seems to bog down in its strange rules and exceptions. Probably the best example of this is a quasi-invisible line that connects Liverpool to Birkenhead. This line has no purpose in the game other than to show that this town and Liverpool are considered connecting for building purposes. But you can’t actually build a canal or rail there. And it only gives you connection for building so you can’t ship through it. Why is this quasi-connection on the map? Dunno, it’s the rules. Other bizarre restrictions added purely to balance the game are things like you cannot build a level 2 shipyard during the canal age, even though you can build anything else (this keeps the highest point tiles in the game from scoring twice). There’s even an explanation of why there are canals in the middle of the bays of the map board. The player aid conveniently includes 13 easy to forget game rules. Just think about how many rules there are to just have 13 easy to forget ones.

Now, I know many games have odd rules and if you look at them too closely the game doesn’t “make sense.” I hearken this to suspension of disbelief that is often talked about in movies. There comes a moment when the museum beast either comes off as scary or is totally silly. If it’s scary you go along for the thrill ride. If it’s silly you just laugh and disengage from the movie. Brass is like a museum beast that looks silly. Every time I come up against these bizarre design choices, my game comes to a screeching halt and I’m no longer into it. What do you mean iron teleports? Why doesn’t it transport like coal and cotton? What do you mean my infrastructure disappears halfway through and I have to start over? This choice is really the most jarring as you basically stop what you are doing and the game ends… and then restarts. Its like watching half of the movie and then having the director come on screen and say its now time to watch the move again with a different cast of characters Sure, it works in game mechanics, but it fells very awkward.

When looking at Brass from a distance, I can say it as a balanced and challenging game. When I look at it closer, it really falls apart for me. Rather than a well designed and streamlined game, I see a bunch of patches or fixes added to achieve the balance on a game that would have no balance without them. I can almost here the head of play testing saying, “Martin, the play testers are building level two shipyards in the canal phase and scoring twice.” Follow by his response, “Okay, they can’t do that anymore.” Not, “Let’s try to balance the level 2 shipyards so we don’t need to add an extraneous rule.”

While I can admire the depth of strategy in Brass, it just leaves me feeling like I’ve played 2-3 hours of rules gymnastics. If I’m going to do that, I’ll play Goa, which I like much better.


Higher Primate assessment of Brass:
Bits: ook factor 2.5 (love the colors, but not the period art work)
Game play: OOK factor 2 (deep strategy but strange rules detract from the game)
Replayability: ook factor 3 (it is always a challenge)
Tension : ook factor 2 (only in whether your opponent will inadvertently steal your move)
Accessibility : ook factor 2 (highly counter-intuitive in many ways)
Overall: OOK factor 2 (I’d play it, but you’d need to bribe me)

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jbrier
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Smilinbrax wrote:

When I look at it closer, it really falls apart for me. Rather than a well designed and streamlined game, I see a bunch of patches or fixes added to achieve the balance on a game that would have no balance without them. I can almost here the head of play testing saying, “Martin, the play testers are building level two shipyards in the canal phase and scoring twice.” Follow by his response, “Okay, they can’t do that anymore.” Not, “Let’s try to balance the level 2 shipyards so we don’t need to add an extraneous rule.”


I couldn't agree more! I'm at a loss to understand the astronomical rise this game has had in the rankings; my guess is that all the Age of Steam fans are just so glad that Martin decided to go back to this genre after a couple years of war oriented games.

There is no love lost between me and those cards- they seem like the most tacked on mechanic in the history of gaming; they just create arbitrary restraint and without them it would be obvious how little game there is here..

 
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Robert R
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Jason is on a game-bashing roll... I just finished reading your brand new review of Wealth of Nations.

I was between this and Indonesia, and I ended up getting Indonesia.
 
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Smilinbrax wrote:
it just leaves me feeling like I’ve played 2-3 hours of rules gymnastics

I hope you're not suggesting this game takes that long?
 
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verandi wrote:

I couldn't agree more! I'm at a loss to understand the astronomical rise this game has had in the rankings; my guess is that all the Age of Steam fans are just so glad that Martin decided to go back to this genre after a couple years of war oriented games.

There is no love lost between me and those cards- they seem like the most tacked on mechanic in the history of gaming; they just create arbitrary restraint and without them it would be obvious how little game there is here..


I think it's hard not to be very impressed when you play the game for the first time. I know I did! After my first play I was ready to scream out loud that Wallace had surpassed AoS (and AoS is one of my favorite games).

There are a lot of clever ideas, a lot of buttons to push and the game really conveys a feeling of building something.

But after playing a few times, the game started to become repetitive and boring. The end game, in particular, when everybody's building rails at the most awkward locations, trying to maximize their score feels very gamey to me.

After 7 or 8 plays apparently it's over for us.
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Surya wrote:

I hope you're not suggesting this game takes that long?


In our group, a game of Brass will usually clock in about 2 hours.
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Malcolm
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Surya wrote:
Smilinbrax wrote:
it just leaves me feeling like I’ve played 2-3 hours of rules gymnastics

I hope you're not suggesting this game takes that long?


how long would you claim?

2 hours seems fair for this...
 
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Malcolm
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verandi wrote:
Smilinbrax wrote:

When I look at it closer, it really falls apart for me. Rather than a well designed and streamlined game, I see a bunch of patches or fixes added to achieve the balance on a game that would have no balance without them. I can almost here the head of play testing saying, “Martin, the play testers are building level two shipyards in the canal phase and scoring twice.” Follow by his response, “Okay, they can’t do that anymore.” Not, “Let’s try to balance the level 2 shipyards so we don’t need to add an extraneous rule.”




There is no love lost between me and those cards- they seem like the most tacked on mechanic in the history of gaming; they just create arbitrary restraint and without them it would be obvious how little game there is here..



cards. bloody cards. don't get me started on those cards!!

- anyone come up with a veriant to remove them? would it really make a big difference to sack 'em off and use a round counter instead?



 
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kowalskie wrote:
Surya wrote:
Smilinbrax wrote:
it just leaves me feeling like I’ve played 2-3 hours of rules gymnastics

I hope you're not suggesting this game takes that long?


how long would you claim?

2 hours seems fair for this...

We mostly play in 90 minutes or so.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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There is a fundamental flaw in your take on what is transpiring in this game. Martin explains this in his notes.

Quote:
When you ship cotton you flip over the port used and the factory/mill. The respective owners of those tiles gain an income boost from the tile being flipped. Unfortunately they are no longer usable.


On the contrary, they're being used for the rest of the game, which is why you got a boost on your income track - from that point on, every turn, you're collecting money from that cotton mill. It's just like Age of Steam, in this respect.

Quote:
Then all canals and level one industries are removed from the game. Why? I don’t know, apparently the rail era started with everyone sinking their canal boats and refusing to transport unless you by them a shiny new train.


Again, Wallace explains this in the notes. The canals are not "disappearing" - they're removed from the board because their capacity is already saturated with the first generation of goods still being transported. The new mills and mines and plants are putting out much larger quantities, which required the railroad to meet that demand. So, while the canals are removed, they're being removed so they don't clutter the board - they're still generating that income you're still getting every turn, just like in Age of Steam.

Quote:
Nobody owns any resource (just the tile it is on) and coal always comes from the nearest source (yours or anyone else)


Actually, you do own the resources, which is exactly why you collect income when a mine of yours gets emptied, and why you get paid when you refill the off-board coal or iron track from your mines. Yes, other players can use your ore, but you're still getting paid for it, when you flip it over (and continue to get paid for it, the rest of the game).

Quote:
You must build your industries in order (thus the chit stacks) unless you take an action to research which requires you buy two iron from the market. Why do you buy two iron to research? Who knows, it’s a game mechanic.


I would submit that it isn't a stretch to conclude the iron is being used up in prototyping new types of mills, plants, mining equipment, etc.

Quote:
What do you mean my infrastructure disappears halfway through and I have to start over?


Again, it doesn't. You just don't have to mess with it anymore, as it's all being used.


Quote:
When I look at it closer, it really falls apart for me. Rather than a well designed and streamlined game, I see a bunch of patches or fixes added to achieve the balance on a game that would have no balance without them.


I think that in the future, before you assume such things, you might want to do some research. It's possible the designer just happened to know exactly what he was doing, while you didn't. And I have a hunch the level 2 shipyards to which you allude were never permitted in the first age, as their increased capacity required what is shown right there on the shipyard tile, itself - rail. What you are dealing with is the dramatic evolution of efficiency and capacity in mining, manufacturing and transport within a relatively small timeframe, and based on other games that tried to model this kind of thing, I'd have to say Martin Wallace did a pretty damn good job it.
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Darrell Hanning
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verandi wrote:
There is no love lost between me and those cards- they seem like the most tacked on mechanic in the history of gaming; they just create arbitrary restraint and without them it would be obvious how little game there is here..


I'm just trying to think of an example of a boardgame wherein the use of cards could not be accused of being a "tacked on mechanic"...

The designer wanted a constraint on opportunity, and to avoid the linear-progression found in AoS that, without the challenge of new maps, can eventually become droll. Also, intelligent use of the cards you're given requires a degree of planning that wouldn't be found, if access to the board were unrestricted in such a fashion. If you've played AoS with the original Midwest U.S. map about two dozen times, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

I think the cards work brilliantly in this fashion, and as a game mechanism in a game, don't look anymore tacked on than the use of cards in any other boardgame.
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I was just about to post a detailed reply, but DarrellKH beat me to it! Well, I'll just add a few things:
- orange cubes are not iron; those are iron works, yes, but theyy are not iron mines. Orange cubes represent machinery -- small items that can be loaded on a cart and taken anywhere in the area (over roads).
- again, the game doesn't restart; you're still earning all the income you had before.
- the cards are there to make the game more interesting (to me, at least) and potentially faster: you now have another mechanism to deal with (hand management), but only 7 choices of what you can do. But if you don't like them, just play without them: each player gets their 2 actions a turn, where they can either extend their network (as if they'd played an industry card for a city they're connected to) or start a new center of industry (as if they'd played a location card for that city). You could still deal the cards out so it's easier to figure out when the phase ends (just make every card a wild card; discard 1 card/action).
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pitris wrote:


But after playing a few times, the game started to become repetitive and boring. The end game, in particular, when everybody's building rails at the most awkward locations, trying to maximize their score feels very gamey to me.

After 7 or 8 plays apparently it's over for us.


I don't agree with that at all.
I already play this game about 15 times and i never finish the game without nothing to do. I could always plan my game until the last draw of cards. One or two turns more are desire in all my games. Maybe I ended the game building rails one or two times, but normally i have something to do until the last play, mostly because there aren't any spaces to build in, when your are near the end.
Every game i played i had managed to score a little bit more, and always learn how to score more points next time. Never began a game in the some way and i didn't find yet the ideal start up play.

I know a game group that had someone that score 230 points in a 3 player game, and 190 are their average scoring. I never score like that, (i think my best is 180 points), so i have many to explore in this game. Boring, repetitive? don't find where.
This is one of the few games I have that I always willing to play. Can't wait for the next play.

Maybe you need to play this game with a new group.
Let's play tomorrow? cool
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Jason Farris
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DarrellKH wrote:
There is a fundamental flaw in your take on what is transpiring in this game. Martin explains this in his notes...

...I think that in the future, before you assume such things, you might want to do some research. It's possible the designer just happened to know exactly what he was doing, while you didn't. And I have a hunch the level 2 shipyards to which you allude were never permitted in the first age, as their increased capacity required what is shown right there on the shipyard tile, itself - rail. What you are dealing with is the dramatic evolution of efficiency and capacity in mining, manufacturing and transport within a relatively small timeframe, and based on other games that tried to model this kind of thing, I'd have to say Martin Wallace did a pretty damn good job it.


We will have to agree to disagree. while you justify the game mechanics by saying that everything is still there and running to give you income (behind the scenes) whic means Martin did a great job; I am coming from the other direction and saying that mechanically, this game does not convey that to me.

My review acknowledges that the game is challenging. I just feel its rules are too arbitrary for me. The same can be said for Age of Steam as it does not accurately model true railroad builders of the 1800's. I am just more engaged when playing AoS. Which I believe is my point

It appears to me that the design does not flow well from the subject matter. I have no problem if it works fine for you.

As for the coal issue. I apparently used a poor explanation. What I meant was that you don't own "coal" in that you can't refuse to sell it and use it only for yourself. You do own the coal mine and gain income from it when it flips. I'm sure I could have put it better.

I certainly do not expect many fans of Brass to love this review. I'm sorry if it ruffled your feathers.
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Jason Farris
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r3gamer wrote:
Jason is on a game-bashing roll... I just finished reading your brand new review of Wealth of Nations.

I was between this and Indonesia, and I ended up getting Indonesia.


Most of my reviews are positive because disliking a game someone else thinks is perfect tends to make people unhappy. However, I decided it was time to start working on those reviews of games that do not impress me.
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Smilinbrax wrote:
We will have to agree to disagree. while you justify the game mechanics by saying that everything is still there and running to give you income (behind the scenes) whic means Martin did a great job; I am coming from the other direction and saying that mechanically, this game does not convey that to me.

My review acknowledges that the game is challenging. I just feel its rules are too arbitrary for me. The same can be said for Age of Steam as it does not accurately model true railroad builders of the 1800's. I am just more engaged when playing AoS. Which I believe is my point

It appears to me that the design does not flow well from the subject matter. I have no problem if it works fine for you.

As for the coal issue. I apparently used a poor explanation. What I meant was that you don't own "coal" in that you can't refuse to sell it and use it only for yourself. You do own the coal mine and gain income from it when it flips. I'm sure I could have put it better.

I certainly do not expect many fans of Brass to love this review. I'm sorry if it ruffled your feathers.


No need to apologize at all. Not everyone likes all the same games.

It isn't a matter of whether I say everything is there or not - you can look at the income track anytime you wish, and know that you are still collecting that income, every turn, from those industries that were removed from the board. The only time your income goes down is when you choose to take a loan. You may take exception to this mechanism, but then I have to wonder why you didn't take exception to the very same mechanism, when it was used in AoS - the cubes have been moved and removed from the board, yet you continue to receive that route's income, every turn, for the remainder of the game.

But what I originally took issue with was the allegation that the game design was cobbled together, when anyone reading the designer's notes can see where that isn't the case at all. It is only after reading these notes that you can begin to admire the challenge of this design, and the elegance of some of the designer's solutions.

I'm not sure what you mean about the design not "flowing well" from the subject. If you look at what happens in the game with the knowledge of what was trying to be represented, I can't see where that assertion is an objective assessment.

As to rules being arbitrary - all rules in boardgames are equally arbitrary. Every single one of them in every game was created by a designer or other contributor to the process, and none of them are anything more than a step in a purely arbitrary, creative process.

I could certainly understand it if you had said you can relate to AoS more easily than Brass - I can see that, myself. Brass has a more vast chronological scope, a history less familiar (certainly to the average American, at least), and the scaling necessary to make one end of that period express in the same terms as the other end calls for some pretty clever mechanisms. Does this make the game less intuitive than, say, AoS? Perhaps. Then again, I have heard the same accusations about AoS not being intuitive or approachable, so it really is all relative.

I wasn't concerned that you didn't like the game - I was concerned that the statements you made were misrepresentative of what was actually being covered by the game, and ignored justifications and rationales the designer had previously expressed, contrary to what you had written.
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DarrellKH wrote:


No need to apologize at all. Not everyone likes all the same games.

It isn't a matter of whether I say everything is there or not - you can look at the income track anytime you wish, and know that you are still collecting that income, every turn, from those industries that were removed from the board. The only time your income goes down is when you choose to take a loan. You may take exception to this mechanism, but then I have to wonder why you didn't take exception to the very same mechanism, when it was used in AoS - the cubes have been moved and removed from the board, yet you continue to receive that route's income, every turn, for the remainder of the game.

But what I originally took issue with was the allegation that the game design was cobbled together, when anyone reading the designer's notes can see where that isn't the case at all. It is only after reading these notes that you can begin to admire the challenge of this design, and the elegance of some of the designer's solutions.

I'm not sure what you mean about the design not "flowing well" from the subject. If you look at what happens in the game with the knowledge of what was trying to be represented, I can't see where that assertion is an objective assessment.

As to rules being arbitrary - all rules in boardgames are equally arbitrary. Every single one of them in every game was created by a designer or other contributor to the process, and none of them are anything more than a step in a purely arbitrary, creative process.

I could certainly understand it if you had said you can relate to AoS more easily than Brass - I can see that, myself. Brass has a more vast chronological scope, a history less familiar (certainly to the average American, at least), and the scaling necessary to make one end of that period express in the same terms as the other end calls for some pretty clever mechanisms. Does this make the game less intuitive than, say, AoS? Perhaps. Then again, I have heard the same accusations about AoS not being intuitive or approachable, so it really is all relative.

I wasn't concerned that you didn't like the game - I was concerned that the statements you made were misrepresentative of what was actually being covered by the game, and ignored justifications and rationales the designer had previously expressed, contrary to what you had written.



I actually did point out that AoS appeals more to me than Brass. Part of what is counter-intuitive is that in age of steam I can keep shipping along the same links with the same cubes. With brass it is a one time deal. which does not feel like constant income. If you could only ever ship one purple cube to a purple town in AoS it would seem less intuitive to me as well.

I certainly feel the Martin Wallace had to think very carefully about what choices to include. I just think the appearance afterward is patchwork. For example he is very clear about pointing out how canals in the bays are really representing ships moving along the bay and not canals. However, it looks strange on the board and not everyone is going to say, "Oh that's shipping." It's somewhat awkward in my opinion. The ultimate explanation as to why it is that way is because Martin Wallace says so. Similarly, the one thing that seems to support your point and mine is that he has all these explanations of why X is used to represent Y. To me this means the game is not effective at conveying this through play. You like that and see it as good design decisions. I look at it and think, why couldn't the game have been designed to include it in mechanics instead of explaining it.

I think we are just looking at it from different angles.

While I cannot say I have studied 1800's England in great detail, I get that I'm playing a building and shipping game at the start of the age of steam. I think that part is accessible I think the preponderance of game rules and rules exceptions is what really pushes people away. I'll admit that I do not play heavy war games either. Brass is not for me and I want people to be able to learn from this review.

Also, I think the discussion is good as it will help people make more informed decisions about this game.
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Agent J
United States
Coldwater
Michigan
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
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Comparing Brass, which has one-time flipping income boosts, to Indonesia, where you have to count up the income and find shipping against every turn, Brass feels a lot less fiddly. It's the same idea, running companies every turn - it just doesn't require you to run it anymore. I don't know, maybe that's not your cut of tea. I also see your point about reusing rails to ship goods in AOS. You can't really do that here, but at the same time, whenever you build something you know ahead of time how much income and points it could possibly give you.

I've run into the same rail-building maxing at the end.
 
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Dan Rheingans
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Russell
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This review mirrors my every thought on this game. Well Done.
 
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