Radio Review #33 – Bruges

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(2013 – Z-Man Games)

 

“You think you have to want more than you need….until you have it all, you won’t be free….”

 

Beginning in 2005 with the release of Roma, Stefan Feld has emerged in the last decade as one of the most noticeable and sought after game designers in the board game community. Currently credited for nine game designs in the top 500 ranked games here at BGG, Feld’s titles are known for their creative uses of dice and numerous ways in which Victory Points can be awarded. His latest design, Bruges one of three releases in 2013, along with Bora Bora and Rialto.

In Bruges, players take on the roles of influential merchants in the canal-based Belgium City of Bruges. Players will attempt to maintain their influence within the city by hiring workers, building canals, building houses, employing various characters within the city, and maintaining overall reputation. The player that is able to maintain the highest amount of influence (Victory Points) by the end of the game is the winner.

 

 

Components:

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– Bruges Game Board

 

 

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– Action Cards

 

 

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– City Workers (blue, yellow, purple, red, and brown)

 

 

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– Threat Dice

 

 

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– Threat markers

 

 

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– Canal tokens

 

 

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– Statue tokens

 

 

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– Majority tokens

 

 

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– Player tokens & Player pawns

 

 

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– Coins (1 & 3 denominations)

 

 

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– 50 & 100 point tokens

 

 

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– Summary & Reference cards

 

 

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– Start player marker

 

 

 

Setup:

Bruges comes with two deck holders used to house the Action Cards during the game. The number of cards used in a game of Bruges is dependent upon the number of players in a game.

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During setup, the full deck of Action Cards is shuffled and split into 5 separate (yet equal) piles. 1 pile of these Action Cards is added to a new Draw Pile for each player in the game:

 

– In a 2 player game, 2 of the 5 Piles are added together into a Draw Pile

– In a 3 player game, 3 of the 5 Piles are added together into a Draw Pile

– In a 4 player game, 4 of the 5 Piles are added together into a Draw Pile

 

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After the new Draw Pile is constructed, these cards are shuffled again and then divided equally into the two deck holders. The remaining stack of cards not placed into the deck holders are set to the side and will be used during the last Round of the game.

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There are 4 different Guard Houses represented on the main game board. Players will place the smaller of their two Player tokens on the empty Guard House space closest to them. This will represent the player’s starting area for building Canals (which we’ll go over in a bit). The larger Player token is kept in front of the player as reference to the other opponents as to which color that player is.

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Players will also place one of their player pawns on the Town Hall space nearest the Reputation Track, and a 2nd player pawn on the 5th space of the Victory Point track that runs around the outside of the board.

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There are six Statue tokens in the game, numbered 2 through 7. These Statue tokens are set in the center courtyard of the city, and are placed in descending order (the #2 token on the bottom of the stack, #7 on the top). These can be collected during the game when completing a certain Canal section on the game board.

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Each player will receive 1 City Worker of each color (blue, yellow, purple, red and brown), as well as the 3 Majority tokens matching their player’s color and 5 Coins. Summary Cards have also been included in the game that reference the Phases of a Round, the various Actions that can be taken, Scoring Summary, Threat Summary, and Game Setup.

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All other City Workers, Canal tokens, Threat markers, and Coins are placed to the side of the game board.

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Finally, 50 point tokens are placed in a space near the end of the Victory Point track (beside space #49), for players to grab when passing 50 Victory Points. On the flipside of each of these tokens is a 100 point reference if the player passes the end of the track for a 2nd time.

 

At the end of setup, the play area should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

A game of Bruges is split up into separate Rounds, each consisting of 4 Phases: The Draw Phase, the Courtyard Phase, the Action Phase, and the Majority Phase. The player with the Start player marker begins a Round, with the Start player marker rotating in each subsequent Round.

 

 

1.) The Draw Phase – During the Draw Phase, players will draw from the cards available in the two deck holders, up to a hand of 5 cards. Cards are always placed into the deck holders with the “building” side face-up. These cards will be used during the Action Phase and cards in the decks are labeled with colors that equal the different worker types. We’ll see why these color types are important to players once we get to the Action Phase, but for now let’s take a look at how the Draw Phase works.

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Players will usually start a Round with only 1 remaining card in their hand, but there are instances when a player may start with more, or even none (including the beginning of the game). During the Draw Phase, the start player will draw cards from the 2 Draw Decks until he has a total of 5 cards in his hand. A player will draw one card at a time and can draw this card from either of the 2 Decks. The only available information given as to which card is a potential advantage to the player is the card’s color. Players are not allowed to look at the Action section of the cards until the hand size has reached 5 cards. After the start player has drawn up to 5 cards, the player to his left will do so, and so on until all players in the game have taken their turn during the Draw Phase.

 

 

2.) The Courtyard Phase – This phase is broken up into 2 different steps. During the 1st step, players may come upon various Threats that could impede their progress, while the 2nd step consist of players having the opportunity to gain overall reputation throughout the City of Bruges. The way in which both of these actions play out are determined by rolling of the Threat Dice.

 

Threat

The Start player rolls the 5 Threat Dice at the beginning of the Courtyard Phase. These Dice are then placed onto the corresponding spaces in the Courtyard, from lowest to highest.

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For any Dice showing a 5 or 6, a Threat marker of that color is given to each player. When a player collects a set containing 3 of the same Threat marker type, a negative action will immediately take place for that player. Threats will resolve in the following ways if a set of 3 are collected:

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Flood (blue markers) – A Flood marker is collected for every Blue Dice roll that shows a 5 or 6. When a player collects 3 Flood markers, a Flood has occurred in that player’s section of the city and the player must discard all of his City Workers to the supply.

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Raid (yellow markers) – A Raid marker is collected for every Yellow Dice roll that shows a 5 or 6. When a player collects 3 Raid markers, thieves have raided the Guard House of that player and he must return all of his Coins to the supply.

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Intrigue (purple markers) – An Intrigue marker is collected for every Purple Dice roll that shows a 5 or 6. When a player collects 3 Intrigue markers, corruption has taken a hold amongst that player’s assembly and that player immediately loses 3 Victory Points.

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Fire (red markers) – A Fire marker is collected for every Red Dice roll that shows a 5 or 6. When a player collects 3 Fire markers, Fire has engulfed that player’s section of the city, and that player is required to discard one of their current Buildings or a single section of their built Canal.

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Plague (brown markers) – A Plague marker is collected for every Brown Dice roll that shows a 5 or 6. When a player collects 3 Plague markers, disease has reached that player’s section of the city and that player must kill off (discard) one of his current characters in play.

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Player A (as the start player) rolls the Threat Dice as follows: Blue 1, Red 2, Purple 2, Yellow 4, and a Brown 6. Because a 6 was rolled, each player will receive 1 Plague marker to be placed into their personal play area (including Player A). If players cannot rid themselves of this type of Threat before receiving their 3rd Plague marker, they will have to kill off one of their current Character cards in play.

 

 

Reputation

Using the same dice that were rolled and placed at the beginning of the Courtyard Phase, and after revolving the distribution of Threat markers, players will now (in turn order) determine whether or not they wish to increase their reputation. A Reputation Track runs along the Courtyard area of the game board. Players will gain Victory Points at the end of the game in relation to their spot along the Reputation Track. These end-game Victory Points increase with each additional step along the track. In turn order, players can pay the price equal to the sum of all Dice currently showing a 1 or 2, in order to move 1 space along the track. Players are only allowed to move a maximum of 1 space per Round in this way.

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Using the same Dice as shown in the above example, we see that it would cost a player 5 Coins to move 1 space along the Reputation Track this Round (1 + 2 + 2 = 5).

 

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Although costly this Round, Player A decides to pay the 5 Coin and move his Player pawn onto the 1st section of the track. If at the end of the game, Player A has not moved any more along this track, he would score 1 Victory Point.

 

 

3.) The Action Phase – Players will now take turns playing the cards from their hand and taking Actions. Beginning with the Start player, each player will in clockwise order, play 1 card and take 1 Action off of that card. This continues until all players have taken 4 Turns (played 4 Cards). Each card contains 6 possible Actions, listed on the right side of the card, and correspond to the color type of that card. Optional Actions include the following:

– Hire 2 City Workers
– Gain Coins
– Discard a Threat Marker
– Build a Canal section
– Build a House
– House a Character

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Remember that the color of the card corresponds with how the actions on a card resolves. Looking at the right side of the Blue card above (the Beggar), we see that this card allows a player to either: Gain 2 Blue City Workers, Gain a number of Coins equal to the current displayed on the Blue Dice, Discard a Flood (blue) Threat marker, Build a Canal on a Blue section of the game board, use the flipside of this card to build a blue House, or House this Character into a previously built House.

 

 

Hire 2 City Workers – When this Action is taken off of a card, the player will take two City Workers of that color from the supply and add them into his area.

 

Gain Coins – When this Action is taken off of a card, the player will gain a number of Coins equal to the current Dice amount of the matching color. So for instance, if a Red card is played using this Action and the Red Dice current shows a value of 5, the player would receive 5 Coins.

 

Discard a Threat Marker – When this Action is taken off of a card, the player can discard one of his collected Threat markers that matches the color on the card.

 

Build a Canal Section – When this Action is taken off of a card, the player may place a Canal token on an empty Canal section matching the color on the card. Players can only place Canal tokens on the Sections directly to the left and right of their individual Guard House. Additionally, the first Canal space built on by a player during the game must be one directly next to either side of his Guard House. Each additional Canal built must then be built next to a previously built Canal space. The amount of Coin required to build a Canal is shown on the space in which it is to be built.

When a player reaches the 3rd Canal space on either side of his Guard House, he will earn 3 Victory Points at the end of the game. If and when a player is able to complete an entire Canal Section (all 5 spaces on either side), that player will receive the top Statue token located on the game board and receive the corresponding Victory Points shown on the token at the end of the game.

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Player C plays a purple card and takes the Action that allows him to build a Canal on a gpurple Canal space. Taking a look at the Canal sections on the left and right of his Guard House, he will need to spend 3 Coins in order to play a Canal token on the purple space. If he had not already placed a Canal token on the space next to this one on a previous turn, he would not have been able to place a token on this purple Canal space this turn. Since he’s now built the 3rd token on one of his Canal sections, he will score an additional 3 Victory Points at the end of the game.

 

 

Build a House – Houses are needed throughout the game in order to recruit Characters into your play area. As we’ll discuss in the next section, Characters can not be placed into a player’s play area unless they have a House to live in. As an Action, a player can use one of his City Workers to build a House. The card being played is flipped to it opposing side, displaying the House and color. In order to build this House as an Action, the player must discard a City Worker matching the color of the House. Houses are worth 1 Victory Point a piece at the end of the game, whether or not a Character lives in them.

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Player B decides to play a card and build a House for his Action. Since the House he is playing is blue, he must discard a blue City Worker to the supply. He then flips this card over to its backside that shows a blue House and places it in his play area. This House is now available for a Character to live in and is worth 1 Victory Point at the end of the game.

 

 

House a Character – Once a House is built, a player will be able to place a Character into it on a future turn. Only 1 Character is allowed per House. A Coin icon is shown at the top left of each Character card. This represents the amount of Coins that it will cost a player to House that particular Character. The small number beneath this one displays the number of Victory Points a Character is worth at the end of the game if it is housed in a player’s play area. The color of the Character card and the color of the House do not need to match in this case. Any Character can be placed into any House.

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Once placed into a House, a Character remains in the player’s play area and contain certain special abilities that can assist the player during the game. The gray box shown right above the name of a particular card references when that Character’s special ability will resolve. Below is shown a picture with cards of each activation type:

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– Characters with a worker icon can activate the special ability once per round. The player must discard 1 City Worker of the same color type, matching the worker icon on this card. So, for instance in the above picture, in order to use the Count’s special ability of earning 1 Victory Point and gaining 2 Coins, he would need to discard 1 brown City Worker.

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– Characters with an “arrow” icon will activate the special ability immediately after that Character is placed into a House. This special ability occurs only once and cannot be activated again unless the card returns to the players Hand and is later placed into a House again.

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– Characters with an “infinity” icon have ongoing special abilities that can occur once per round, or multiple times when certain situations occur. The rules for when these abilities take place are explained on the text of each card. For instance, with the Warden, whenever a player places a Canal token, he may discard 1 Threat marker matching the color of the Canal space that was just built upon.

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– Characters with a “laurel” icon will activate special abilities at the end of the game. These are used as end-game Victory Point bonuses.

Each Character also belongs to a certain class. There are 11 classes in the game and the power of many of the special abilities can be dependent on how many other Characters you have currently housed from that particular class.

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The Lord is part of the Noble class. Once per Round (by discarding a blue City Worker), the player will gain 2 Coins for every Noble character in his play area. The Mayor is part of the Bureaucrat class. At the end of the game, the player will score 2 Victory Points for every Bureaucrat character in his play area.

 

 

4.) The Majority Phase – After all players have played 4 cards and taken 4 Actions, majorities in 3 different categories must be checked. At the beginning of the game, each player received a set of Majority tokens. These represent the player with the largest built Canal, the player housing the most Characters, and the player furthest along the Reputation track at the end of each Round. Players begin the game with all 3 of these tokens face down in front of them.

At the end of a Round, if any player currently holds majority in any of the these 3 areas, he will flip over the corresponding Majority token. This represents additional Victory Points that a player will gain at the end of the game. Each Majority token earned is worth 4 Victory Points. Once a Majority has been earned, and the token flipped up by a player, that player’s Majority token stays flipped up even if another player gains Majority in that particular area later in the game. So it is possible for all players to earn a specific Majority type by the end of the game (thus nullifying their Victory Points in this area). So a strategy here is once you’ve earned a Majority, to try and keep others from doing so.

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During the Courtyard Phase of a Round, Player B surpassed Player A on the Reputation track, ending up on the 5th space of the track.

 

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At the end of this Round during the Majority check, Player B will be able to flip up his Reputation track Majority token, thus scoring 4 Victory Points at the end of the game.

 

 

Once all four Phases (Draw Phase, Courtyard Phase, Action Phase, and Majority Phase) have been completed, the Start player marker is passed to the next player to the left and a new Round begins. Once one of the Deck holders has run out of cards, the cards that were not part of those in the Deck holders and placed to the side at the beginning of the game, are now placed into the empty Deck holder. The current Round is then resolved through the end of the Majority Phase, and the game ends.

 

 

 

End-Game Scoring:

At the end of the game, Victory Points are scored amongst 6 different categories:

 

– 1 Victory Point for each House building in a player’s play area

– Victory Points shown on each of the Housed Character cards in a player’s play area

– Victory Points earned for building Canals (points earned on Canal sections as well as earned Statues)

– Victory Points according to the player’s position on the Reputation track

– Victory Points for each earned Majority

– Victory Points according to House Characters end-game special abilities

 

While some Victory Points are earned immediately during the game, most Victory Points earned by a player are not tallied until the very end. When all Victory Points have been totaled, the player with the most is crowned the most powerful individual in the city of Bruges, and the winner of the game.

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Thoughts:

Bruges was nominated for the 2013 Kinnerspiel des Jahres, an award given amongst games with more depth than the Spiel des Jahres nominees. After sinking some teeth into this Feld game, I understand why it has earned such praise. While many of Feld’s games are spoken highly of within the community, there’s something additionally special about Bruges.

Since the color type in the Draw Decks available to draw from each turn can be random, it’s a good strategy to set things up for yourself where you can make sure that as many of the five color types as possible are of use to you every turn. Of course, this isn’t always a possibility, but in a game where Victory Points can be quite tight, players must make use of the smallest of advantages. As with many Stefan Feld games, Victory Points can be scored in a plethora of ways. Being able to manage and balance these various options are key in giving yourself the best chance against your opponents. Solely focusing on building Canals or only worrying about placing Characters into Houses can affect you later in the game if you aren’t able to get the right type of cards in Hand.

It’s this balancing act that takes a fairly simple rule set and provides an in-depth, tactical gameplay experience. It’s interesting that most Victory Points are not scored until the game is over. So while players may have an idea where they are compared to their opponents by viewing the progress of their Canals, how many Characters they’ve Housed, how far along they are on the Reputation track; these totals won’t be tallied until the end of the game and tends to keep everyone on their toes a bit. A lot of the game revolves around comparing yourself to your opponents, and from a theme standpoint this makes a lot of sense. Majorities also play a large part in the attempt to stay ahead of one’s opponent. Obtaining these Majorities early on and then focusing on keeping others from doing so can end up being a determining factor in the final score. It’s almost like playing a game of King of the Hill, but without exactly knowing who is ahead at any given time. You may have an idea (and your decision making will be based off of this notion) but it’s only at the end of the game when you’ll find out for sure.

Feld is known for his chaotic order in obtaining Victory Points in many of his game designs. While this still holds true here, Bruges attempts to force players to keep each other in check. As opposed to collecting mere Victory Points, players are rewarded when they complete objectives (Statues from completed Canals, earning Majority tokens) and in which Characters they recruit (an engine-building aspect of on-going rewards and end-game bonuses). The chaos seems a bit more controlled here and should encourage those that enjoy a more tight, tactical style game.

 

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