Brass Lancashire, formerly published as "Brass" is the economic tabletop game that has been the subject of many gaming forums and leading sales charts for some time thanks to its new, revamped look and ironed out imperfections in gameplay. Brass Lancashire, sister to Brass Birmingham, is as the name suggests set in Lancashire England during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, and it certainly lives up to all the hype and high rating reviews.
The characters are represented by real, famous entrepreneurs; both men and women, who brought about the technological and engineering advancement from 1770 to 1870, and I love that there is a brief historical section dedicated to each of the eight characters at the start of the rule book.
The rule book itself is easy to follow with clearly defined rules, sectioned into bite size pieces. It also includes handy tips and a variant section on the back page to help the players get the most out of the game.
Brass Lancashire falls into the heavy euro category, with it being an economic strategy game with a good amount of complexity and several mechanisms. That is not to say that it should deter players who prefer less dense gaming, the actual gameplay itself is easy to follow and as it is played over two eras you can play in two halves, taking a break after the canal era scoring.
Each player begins with the same amount of currency, a character token, and a player board with various tiles which represent the different industries. In addition, there are network link tiles that are double sided; canal boats for the canal era and steam trains for… you've guessed it, the railway era.
Each player also has a hand of cards, and the game plays out over the course of several rounds made up of 2 actions per player, playing cards in hand. Turn order is determined by who spends the most money each round, and players continue to draw up cards and receive income each round, which is then used to invest in either building, networking or development. Alternatively, players can sell or take a loan to gain further capital, selling also gains Victory Points.
There is a strong hand management element to the game, but it is not a deck building mechanism - cards are the key denominator in what players can do and where, but the real purpose of the game is tile placement to achieve as many victory points as possible. Players need to build or develop their industries in order to progress with points, resources and income as well as to improve on the actions that are available in future turns.
During the canal era, players will receive new cards from the stack and play with their hands until their hands are finally exhausted. The approaching end rounds are indicated by the appearance of Stephenson's Rocket which signifies that the age of steam technology has begun and the railway era is dawning.
After the scoring of the canal era is complete, early level tiles and all networks are removed from the board, and the new era begins again in the same way as before. All players now try to rebuild or expand on their network and make that final push to earn as many victory points as possible.
This time Nathan Rothschild symbolises that the end of the railway era is approaching, and players will race to connect as many railway networks and sell as many of their industries as possible to gain maximum end game VPs.
Artwork & Components
The character portraits and the industry cards are masterfully illustrated to reflect the Neoclassical style of artwork during this era; while the boards, location cards and tiles echo the simplistic, linear design and muted pallets that set the scene for the industrial age.
It's dark, moody and almost smoggy looking, giving a real sense of atmosphere, and the box cover would not look out of place hanging in an ornate frame on a stately home wall. Although art is very subjective, there is no denying that Brass Lancashire is a great looking game that captures the attention of even the toughest board game critic. The attention to detail is incredible, even down to the card currency, which uses colour and tone to give the appearance of old and new coins.
I would definitely recommend sleeving the cards as they are a key element to the game and all cards are in play over both eras. There are many tiles to be stacked on the player boards, and the various sorting of different components makes the set up take a little longer than some other euro games, but it is definitely worth the effort.
Brass Lancashire has certainly earned its place in the top rankings in euro style strategy games. It requires tactical thinking, not just in developing your own industries and network links on the board, but it also requires keeping an eye on your opponents' strategies.
Its complexity is juggling how and when to monopolise areas or resource production for your own gain, as well as to meet the demands of your opponents and the foreign market for tile flipping and income, which adds an exciting dimension to play. What's more, the two actions per player, per round add tension to the development of your infrastructure.
Players may compete for the same territories and network links, so everything you are planning to do for your next turn may well have to change by the time it comes back to you.
Ultimately, it is the victory points that decide who wins, not the income, but developing that winning infrastructure can only be achieved through earning or borrowing enough money to be able to invest, so it is really a balance between short term and long term gains. In any case, it isn't until the end game scoring that you can actually discover how successful an entrepreneur you have been.
In terms of re-playability, because Brass Lancashire is a game of tactical decisions, influenced by the constantly shifting strategies, it doesn't matter that the mechanics of the game are always the same.
How you play the cards you are dealt and who you are paying with will change the game every time. Every player has the potential to help or thwart your planned manoeuvres and it's a game that gets better the more you play, and the smarter your choices become.