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Subject: bumblings and fumblings in Brass. discussion welcome rss

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David F
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Rail rush
Cotton rush is not spamming Cotton in Rail Phase but spamming Lvl-3 or higher Cotton in Canal Phase.

At the start of Rail Phase, everybody is rushing for Rails. You cannot beat 12 VPs per action with any tiles you have. Also, you need rails to build your personal network.

The problem is you cannot solely spam Rails in the Rail Phase. There is competition for spots, and you will run out of Rail links to build. That's when having already developed heavy into Cotton or Ports can help you out when the rails start drying up, and that's when industries start appearing in Rail Phase (after most of the juicy rail links have been taken). If you have no alternative source of VPs, lock down the shipyard spots.

Cards
The cards are not constraining at all. Look at your initial hand in each phase, follow what your cards tell you, and you will never again complain about not drawing a specific card (since your initial hand gives you a general idea for 4 turns). Sure, you might miss one opportunity here or there, but either a new player accidentally set it up, or a skilled player elsewhere set it up.

Interaction
Basically, you find out early who's going for Cotton, who's going for Ports, then you're trying to run your Cotton/Ports more effectively than the other player who went for the same. Use the turn order to outsmart the other person. If you're alone in Ports, great. Wait till the last possible second (but not too long that 1 other player gives up and goes into Ports), plop down a couple of Lvl3 and Lvl4s, and laugh as the other players fight for them.

It's more of a short wrinkles thing, because it's all about watching the turn order.

Level 1 Develop
Yes, those Level 1s are there as red herrings. Therein lies my main gripe with the game. A lot of things, like the Canal Phase wipeout, Level 1s, Birkenhead, in this game are thematically/historically driven. Yet, if Wallace hadn't put in those artificial constraints, the strategic space of this game would be a lot wider, and potentially better. The game is still (very) playable, but it could have been a lot better. For example, the low-tech strategy is completely impractical, and it might have been interesting for the game to put it on even footing with high-develop hi-tech, instead of seeing how the hi-tech players outdo each other. Problem here is nothing tells the new players "don't build level-1" or "don't go into Ports if 1 other already went there unless you can beat him", and that the rules have been rigged to completely shut off your chances at winning if you try building Level 1. You can only think, "gee, I bet Wallace is trying to make a point about obsolescence", and develop them first chance you get. The alternative to this thought is that the low-tech strategy was actually viable during playtesting (I'd love to know what were the player scores during playtesting), which notion I've only entertained after A Few Acres of Snow successfully passed through playtesting.

I think you're realizing this.

And really, the theme isn't the most stirring one to warrant these weird constraints, either. In fact, I'm starting to think theme and mechanisms are trade-offs for Wallace. Brass is the "theme" game that tries to teach you a lesson about going for level-1, while Age of Industry is the "balanced" game, with artificial constraints removed. Similar for A Few Acres of Snow vis a vis Mythotopia (though at least Brass isn't broken, since it doesn't have asymmetry, and the players balance the game).

===============

If you want full spoilers, check out my Brass bible: 25 Tips after 50+ Plays. I learned the "language" of Brass online, burned out after I realized this (though to Brass' credit, it's still probably worth nearly 100 plays before it starts bothering you). I liken this to The Godfather, feeling alone after I reached the top But I played a few more games a couple months ago to see if the strategy has changed, and broke the Top 10 again with my bible, so I've stopped again.
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Daniel Corban
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Unfortunately, AoI took it to the other extreme. Developing there is for chumps, unless you absolutely need it to meet an overbuild requirement. I don't like that.

AoI is also at the other end of the strategy-tactics scale, which is why it might initially seem more variable. However, after a few games, you will see the same sort of scripted events as in Brass.

I will say that Brass does have a fairly standard first turn, but many games do, and it doesn't harm anything here. Either the third or fourth player will build coal on turn one.

It took a long time to get to the point where everyone understood that "level 1 industries are terrible". Compare this to another game of his, London, where it was obvious after only a few games that the "A" deck was a complete waste of time. That is truly a game where Wallace invested development and production time on the first 20% of the game, only to have it completely ignored during actual play. The "A" deck may as well not exist!
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David F
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Huh, I thought you were wondering about how to fix the game, not what to look out for in a variant map. I'd look out for strategy space then. The France variant map does a good job of buffing up Level-1 Shipyards and making them an extra path to consider, for example (merely by providing 2 Canal-accessible Shipyard spots).

I've never played Age of Industry, only speculated after reading the rules a long time ago. Cool to know, Daniel, especially the London thing.

I dislike it when there are "red herrings" in games where you can only know after repeated plays that you cannot go there at all if you want to win. They smell of insufficient playtesting.

I think Wallace is one of the most prolific and forward-thinking designers of our time, but I do think he needs better playtesters! Or a longer playtesting period. With so many ambitious Treefrog designs released every year, maybe not all of them have the balance issues ironed out?
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Daniel Corban
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I find that Brass is his most balanced and strategic game, which is apparently a surprise even to himself!

I agree that something is coming up a little short in the development cycle at Treefrog. Critical flaws with London and A Few Acres of Snow back-to-back are not a good sign.
 
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Ken Dilloo
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dcorban wrote:
I find that Brass is his most balanced and strategic game, which is apparently a surprise even to himself!

I agree that something is coming up a little short in the development cycle at Treefrog. Critical flaws with London and A Few Acres of Snow back-to-back are not a good sign.


What's wrong with London? Certainly it is lighter, and not to the level of Brass, but it is not without its merits. I believe Martin said that London plays, "reasonably well" with 2, it just plays reasonably better with the user varients. That the varients didn't come from Treefrog isn't great, but it is a fine game as is. Since there are several cards in the A deck that appear in other decks as well, not sure how it could be useless. Also, off the top of my head, East India Co, Theatre Royal, and the Gardens (Vexhaull and Covent) are all pretty good "A" deck cards.

Maybe I am remembering wrong, but I also thought that Martin wasn't surprised about Brass's balance, but that a game about the Industrial Revolution was popular.

Granted AfAoS is a pretty big miss for development, and a shame. Probably a safe assumption that the big, heavy, awesome Wallace games are past. I hope that is a bad assumption.
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Daniel Corban
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I'm sure it's covered in depth in the London forums, but the basic idea is this: boroughs are overpowered. For the first portion of the game, all players should do nothing but buy boroughs, take loans to do so, and filter their hand until they have a large tableau. The game breaks down in this fashion as no "A" deck cards are played, each player only operates maybe 2-3 times during the whole game, and poverty cubes are essentially meaningless. It is the true definition of a broken game as it defies the entire intended design. This issue is exacerbated with less than four players.
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Ken Dilloo
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Hmm...OK, to further continue the derailment (sorry).

Went back and looked at a few strategy articles relating to London, that I must have missed. I actually tried what you described in my second game (4-P), but came up a bit short of first, as I seemed to take one too many loans. Think I tried this more extreme strategy again, and decided a more balanced approach was better. Maybe I didn't push it far enough, or optimize it enough? London seems to be a game of not pushing any one thing too far, and that is a lot of what I like about it. How are other players letting you get all the plum cards you need to make this work?
 
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Randy Brown
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I wrote a series of simplified strategy articles for Brass. If you want a passing familiarity, but no spoilers you might look at this one.

Brass is such a tactical game, that there really isn't any way to spoil it with strategy discussions. OTOH, I enjoy strategy discussion nearly as much as actually playing a game, so I don't find them to spoil anything.

R
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Kelvin Lau
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i sort of not understand how this game come up so high in ranking. even more surprisingly, it wasnt washed down after such a long time. i mean - my group owns this, we got addicted to it like for 30 games, another 20 games online. then we are kind of solved the game because strategies are too obvious and there is nothing you could do to counter-strategies when you do not have the card.

well, still the 50 games were fun.
 
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Randy Brown
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That's very curious. I've played it perhaps 150 times (which makes me a newb compared to many, but I bet I have more f2f experience than many of them). I find that there is very little strategy, but that the game is almost entirely tactical. Yes, there are a few strategy tracts, but your use of them is dependent on cards in hand, and what your opponents are up to. Like Puerto Rico, I find strategy in Brass to by cyclical: for a few games Cotton Rush wins, then Ports reigns, then Iron & Coal, then back to the Rush.

You're right that you can get bad draws. However, usually a bad draw is just a sign that you're too locked-in to a strategic game, when you should be thinking tactically. In my 150 games or so, I've seen 2 hands that were completely beyond my ability to work with. What gets me worse than the draw is when I have a particularly strong Ports draw and some other knucklehead decides to develop ports on turn 1 (for example).
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Ben Draper
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Re: Cotton Rush

An adequately executed, uncontested cotton rush wins the game. Period. If it's contested (i.e. more than one player cotton rushes), it falls in line with the other strong strategies, and depends upon battles of timing, positioning, and income.

Perhaps this "dominance" was not intended, but I don't see a problem with it. It's certainly not a failing of the game nor does it need a fix.

I'd liken it to the "heavy shipping strategy" in Puerto Rico. It's not some obscure combination of plays that happens to win - it's the logical extreme of an obviously intended strategy: cotton shipping.

I happen to prefer games in which there are a small number of points of focus on which the game hinges. Too many games with "multiple paths to victory" are flat due to the inability to distinguish any one thing that matters. Le Havre is another example of a game with a "dominant" strategy - steel/coke shipping - that is decried as broken. I find that the steel-coke shipping does the same exact thing in Le Havre as the cotton rush does in Brass: it focuses the action.

Re: Cards

Again, comparing a part of Brass to Puerto Rico, the cards are like Puerto Rico's plantation tiles. The slight difference in your initial holdings as compared to your opponents' holdings creates the opening texture of the game. As the game progresses, the random way in which the cards come out adds to this texture, thus adding some game-generated variety to the player-generated variety.

Rarely have I felt like the cards screwed me (or helped me). With good hand management and enough forward thinking, I can play pretty much any strategy with pretty much any hand.

Your idea of knocking out some of the AP and doing "what you can with what you're given" is precisely the type of benefit that is under most game critics' radars. Too often we clamor for more control when what we really want are more interesting decisions. The former does not necessarily create the latter.

Re: L1 techs

Yes, they are practically useless to you as a player. But they are not useless as a game design tool.

Without L1 techs, there would be little commitment to an overall strategy. L1 techs create buy-in, because it costs at least a development action and some cash to get an industry to a level at which you can reap benefits. This combines with the random cards to, again, create early game texture which reverberates through the rest of the way.
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Martin G
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Quote:
Your idea of knocking out some of the AP and doing "what you can with what you're given" is precisely the type of benefit that is under most game critics' radars. Too often we clamor for more control when what we really want are more interesting decisions. The former does not necessarily create the latter.

Nice! thumbsup
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Tom Shields
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I like the development cycle and the tech (L1, L2, etc) system. It allows players to design in their play a sort of asymmetrical launch so that they diverge and create the conditions for both emergent alliances and opportunistic sniping that make the game special.

Th L1's remain relevant as weapons if one chooses, or as last minute resources (ie dropping an L1 cotton to flip your own port, either because the market crashed or to strand an opponent's cotton). I have seen them used very well in certain conditions.

They key is to not think procedurally, that since the L1's exist somehow the game should allow one to build them in strict sequence and remain competitive... that would remove so much of the joy of the game. Ick! Go play Outpost then!

In just one example, development fuels an entire subsystem, iron, and allows it to be distinctly manipulable, unlike the coal, by any player at any time, to great effect. The timing issues related to build-overs, either planning for or defending or even inviting them so you can build back into that space in the canal, are wonderful layers in the game.

In so many ways, I think the development idea, and the incentives to do so rather than string together industries and link them yourselves in some sort of repeatable, efficient sequence so the game is solved like a puzzle, makes the game special. It is a dynamic game of high player interaction and creativity because of the development rule.
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Andrew Dickie

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An adequately executed, uncontested cotton rush wins the game. Period.


This is another way of saying that one skilled player will always beat three unskillful ones. The same is true of every game ever played.

If three players spend the canal phase building ports, coal, iron and rail links while the fourth builds and flips high-level cotton, that fourth player is going to crush the field. He'll probably get 4 mills flipped (39 repeatable points) while only having to flip one (or max of 2) ports to do it. And he'll do it for cheap with all the free coal and iron floating around.

The point is not to let someone have the cotton all to themselves.

I actually think that if at least two people are playing cotton and one and only one guy is playing ports, the advantage tilts strongly to the port guy. But again, if the 4th player in this skirmish lets the port guy have all the port action, it's on him.
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Ben Draper
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A J Dickie wrote:
Quote:
An adequately executed, uncontested cotton rush wins the game. Period.


This is another way of saying that one skilled player will always beat three unskillful ones. The same is true of every game ever played.


No, it's not. I've seen a number of games in which the other three players' positions would be individually worsened by contesting the cotton rush, even though it would stop the cotton rusher from running away with the game. These were all skilled players, but the early play opened up an opportunity for the cotton rusher to run away with it.

Quote:
If three players spend the canal phase building ports, coal, iron and rail links while the fourth builds and flips high-level cotton, that fourth player is going to crush the field. He'll probably get 4 mills flipped (39 repeatable points) while only having to flip one (or max of 2) ports to do it. And he'll do it for cheap with all the free coal and iron floating around.


This is not an uncontested cotton rush strategy. This is bad play.

Quote:
The point is not to let someone have the cotton all to themselves.


Does this ever happen? I've never seen it. The point is not to let someone flip all of their high level cotton without exacting an equivalent total of points or superior board position moving into the rail phase.
 
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Andrew Dickie

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Sorry, I must have misunderstood you.

I figured an uncontested cotton rush had to involve the other players building things other than cotton?

Really, you have three basic strategies: Build cotton, build ports, or build coal/iron (and hopefully all your iron) in the canal phase.

What does an uncontested cotton rush look like, other than one guy building cotton and the other guys doing things other than cotton?

PS. I've re-written this post a half-dozen times trying not to sound like a confrontational dick, and I can't get it to come out right, so if you would, please read this in the light, conversational tone I'm attempting to hit.

Thanks,
AJD
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Ben Draper
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As David mentioned, cotton rush is "spamming Lvl-3 or higher Cotton in Canal Phase." There are a few ways that this strategy can go uncontested:

1. None of the other players build cotton in the canal era. This is highly unlikely, but can happen as the result of good individual play, albeit under unfortunate circumstances. If the first player develops cotton, while the second player develops a coal and a cotton (both common first turn moves), the third and fourth players justifiably could develop ports. The fourth player's develop is questionable due to the cost and the turn order, but he or she may have good enough canal era cards to dictate it. In this case, the second player may begin serving up coal and iron to himself, hoping to go a big money strategy, thereby forcing one of the other players to move into cotton. The port players may then be too far behind to justify going into cotton and each individually force ports harder in an attempt to get the other one to commit to cotton.

2. Other players build cotton too late in the canal era to suck up the demand. This can happen as a more likely alternative to the above situation, or as one cotton player is being handed cheap develops, while the other must spend actions taking loans and flipping coal/iron, due to disparate turn order positioning. This allows the cotton rush player to flip 3-5 high level cotton mills during the canal phase.

3. Other players split their industry evenly between ports and cotton mills. This is almost as good as no one else building cotton at all, because the port/cotton player tends to flip his own industries, leaving the cotton rush player to suck up the demand on his own.
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Fabrice Dubois
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Interesting thoughts here, thanks.

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was geekduddied for all of his contribution.
 
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Andrew Dickie

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None of the other players build cotton in the canal era.

This, as you mentioned above in your prior reply, is bad play. You also seemed to imply that it never happens ("Does this ever happen?") but perhaps I misunderstood you.

Quote:
while the second player develops a coal and a cotton ([a] common first turn move[])

It may be common, but it's a horrible opening. At the cost of requiring another development action to get to your L3 cotton, you gain the negligible benefit of subbing a L2 coal over a L1 coal for your first build. The point value of a L2 cotton vs. a L3 cotton is 4 points and -2 money. The point value of a L2 coal vs a L1 coal is 1 point and +3 money. Not a good use of actions. Anyone opening like this is going to get thumped by a table of good players.

Quote:
This allows the cotton rush player to flip 3-5 high level cotton mills during the canal phase.


5 L3 + L4 mills is game over, that I agree with you on. 4 puts the player in a strong position to win, but I have lost while doing it and won against other players who have done it (rarely, though). 3, depending on how the rest of the game plays out, is a significantly more iffy proposition. You can beggar yourself getting 3 mills and little else down and get spanked in rail. Or you can get 3 mills flipped + a couple coal + a couple iron and be in a commanding position. I'd put it at 50/50 to win here, because you've got the port guy to contend with as a first hurdle and also the other two players might have significant structural advantages.

Quote:
3. Other players split their industry evenly between ports and cotton mills. This is almost as good as no one else building cotton at all, because the port/cotton player tends to flip his own industries, leaving the cotton rush player to suck up the demand on his own.


Quite simply, this is poor play. Building your own cotton to flip in your own mills is a quick way to a low finish. You either waste too many actions developing to get to your high level industries in Ports/Cotton (5 actions total) or you have to build low-level industries which do not carry enough point value over to rail to put you in a position to win.

In all, I stand by my earlier diagnosis that allowing an uncontested cotton rush is poor play.

I do understand how it can happen even with skilled players, though. You get two players invested in ports, and neither will get off. The third has a bunch of industry cards and is forced by the demand track to spend a couple turns building iron.

So I'll back off my earlier statement that only a table of unskilled players would allow this to happen. That was overly hasty on my part and I apologize for it.
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Ben Draper
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A J Dickie wrote:
BennyD wrote:
None of the other players build cotton in the canal era.

This, as you mentioned above in your prior reply, is bad play. You also seemed to imply that it never happens ("Does this ever happen?") but perhaps I misunderstood you.


Sorry, I was a bit unclear about which portions of your comments I was replying to.

The "bad play" I was referring to was the leaving of free coal and iron for the lone cotton player. Ports do not require either of these resources, nor do they require many develop actions, thus there is no need for much coal or iron to be floating around. If players are doing this anyway, that is bad play.

The "Does this ever happen?" was referring to letting someone have all the cotton to themselves. This seemed to me to imply passive, careless play as opposed to the intentional reasoning I referred to in my first scenario.

A J Dickie wrote:
BennyD wrote:
while the second player develops a coal and a cotton (a common first turn move)

It may be common, but it's a horrible opening. At the cost of requiring another development action to get to your L3 cotton, you gain the negligible benefit of subbing a L2 coal over a L1 coal for your first build. The point value of a L2 cotton vs. a L3 cotton is 4 points and -2 money. The point value of a L2 coal vs a L1 coal is 1 point and +3 money. Not a good use of actions. Anyone opening like this is going to get thumped by a table of good players.


Disagree. The second cotton player needs to find a way to make up for his or her financial and tempo disadvantage. One of the best ways of doing this is to build an early coal mine. The placement of the coal mine directs the geography of the initial cotton mill builds (advantage: coal mine builder); the income from the flipped coal mine can offset a well-timed loan, allowing for a bonus cotton mill build in the canal era (advantage: coal mine builder); the building of a Lvl 2 and Lvl 3 cotton mill, as opposed to two Lvl 3's, sets up for the first sale to the distant market (advantage: coal mine builder). This isn't to say that the coal mine player will always be able to offset the turn order disadvantage, but without purposeful differentiation, the first cotton mill player will maintain the advantage.

A J Dickie wrote:
5 L3 + L4 mills is game over, that I agree with you on. 4 puts the player in a strong position to win, but I have lost while doing it and won against other players who have done it (rarely, though). 3, depending on how the rest of the game plays out, is a significantly more iffy proposition. You can beggar yourself getting 3 mills and little else down and get spanked in rail. Or you can get 3 mills flipped + a couple coal + a couple iron and be in a commanding position. I'd put it at 50/50 to win here, because you've got the port guy to contend with as a first hurdle and also the other two players might have significant structural advantages.


But if the cotton rush player is uncontested, there's no way they're only getting down 3 mills AND little else. My point in providing the range was that an uncontested cotton rush either goes full steam ahead with 5 mills; flips 3 early mills and is flush with cash for the rail era; or does something between these extremes.

A J Dickie wrote:
Quite simply, this is poor play. Building your own cotton to flip in your own mills is a quick way to a low finish.


While your second sentence is correct, this situation does not always result from poor play. It can result from low value distant market pulls by the heavy cotton mill player. Flipping one's ports manually is better lay than not having them flipped at all.

A J Dickie wrote:
In all, I stand by my earlier diagnosis that allowing an uncontested cotton rush is poor play.

I do understand how it can happen even with skilled players, though.


This seems contradictory. If it's poor play, are the players skilled?

A J Dickie wrote:
So I'll back off my earlier statement that only a table of unskilled players would allow this to happen. That was overly hasty on my part and I apologize for it.


No apology necessary. It kicked off an interesting debate.
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