Bruxelles 1893 is a moderately heavy Euro game, with a lot of tough decisions to be made. It isn’t a quick game to get your head around, by any means, but it can be a rewarding game, once you learn how it all fits together. And there are no trains in sight.
Let’s start with the negative: I’m not a fan of the artwork in Bruxelles 1893. It’s distinctive, striking, and it has its fans. But I’m not one of them. However, it carries the theme well - there is a definite flavour of Art Nouveau, albeit a little sketch-like. For a game which is about art - creating and selling - the graphics in Bruxelles 1893 are functional, rather than illustrative - think Troyes, with a broader, more lurid palette. That aside, this does not spoil the game. In fact, despite any reservations I have about the art, I have to concur that it adds character.
Bruxelles 1893 (designed by Etienne Espreman) is a worker placement game, with area control and auction elements to it. It plays over five rounds, for up to five players. The main, action part of the board is modular, made up of five strips, each with five action spots - or buildings. The five strips therefore make up a five by five grid of action spaces. But not all spaces are available every round - it is up to the first player to determine which spaces are unavailable (according to a given rule, on a card drawn each round).
Throughout the round, players place a worker on a building or an action space in order to take its action. Each worker placed on a building must be accompanied by a “bid” of at least one Belgian Franc (BF), but a player may choose to bid more - this is important at the end of the round. There are five actions available - workshop, sale, Royal Theatre, materials and Construction. Yes, the number five features heavily.
The Building Actions
- The Workshop Action allows players to create a work of art. These can then be sold.
- Sale action in which players can sell a work of art. The price - in both BF and victory points - is determined by a floating square on a grid - the player can them adjust this floating square (to impact the price of the next sold piece) after the sale. Not all types of artwork are in demand, so it is essential to not specialise too much in a limited range of types.
- The Royal Theatre Action in which players can recruit a sponsor. There are four sponsors available at any time, and players may use this action to recruit (at a cost in BF) a sponsor, who gives an immediate benefit. They may then keep the sponsorship open, to provide potential benefit for the remainder of the game (see the Brussels board actions, later). However, this is not without forfeit - each sponsor comes with an end-game cost - if the cost can’t be paid, there is a victory point penalty.
- Materials Action allows players to collect any two building materials, provided they're available.
- Construction Action allows the player to (you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you?) construct a building, provided they pay a materials cost. This allows them to place a building from their player board onto one of the 25 building action spots. From this point on, whenever another player uses that building, the player who places the building gets a secondary action benefit. Building also provides victory points, but it also allows the player to influence which building materials are required for the next building.
Brussels Board Actions
Alternatively, there are other actions available on the main (the Brussels) board. These action spaces are not blocked like the buildings but require an ever increasing number of workers to take the action. Actions available allow players to gather wild building materials, gain income, replicate any building action, or activate sponsor cards previously acquired. However, players must heed that whoever places the most workers on the Brussels board will lose one of those workers - they go to worker jail (the Courthouse) and can only be recovered through specific bonus cards… which may never become available throughout the game.
End of the Round
At the start of the round, the five by five grid of buildings is set-up with a bonus card at the bottom of each column. At the end of the round, the player who has bid the most BF in each column receives the card at the bottom of the column. These bonus cards can have a number of immediate (such as retrieving workers from the worker jail) or ongoing effects (allowing more sponsors to be activated from the Brussels board, for instance), or end-game scoring bonuses. The cards may not be used for all benefits, so there is a tough choice to be made.
Final Thoughts on Bruxelles 1893
A brief summary of Bruxelles 1893 can’t do it any justice. It is a complex game, with many moving parts (quite literally, in the case of the resource compass). Because there are so many things to take account of, it has the advantage that almost any action which is available is likely to be of some benefit; it may be sub-optimal, but it feels like few actions are completely wasted in this game.
In this way, it doesn’t massively punish inexperienced players, in the way that other games may do. Whilst it has a steep learning curve, it can be a real joy to discover how all the various parts fit together. Whenever the question comes up on various Facebook forums about hidden gems, this is one of a small number of games that I feel deserves a mention.