A flourishing city thrives on economy. Power is derived from wealth. Popularity is build from influence and status. These are the important cinderblocks of Bruges – a board game that is set during the 15th century in one of the most wealthiest cities in Europe. Stefan Feld is at it again, this time with what I’d consider a lighter game than usual, but that in no way means it’s not fun. As one of the games that just wowed me right out of the box, Bruges is a game not to be overlooked. Before the gold gets spent out from under us, let’s take a look at what this Feld creation has to offer, being published through ZMAN Games.
What’s It All About?
In Bruges, players take the roll of 15th century merchants who must fortify their relationships with the wealthy and powerful in the city. You’ll need to spend your time wisely, as you’ll be competing against one another for power and fame. Players will have the ability to gain influence, recruit people to help them accomplish several tasks, and expand their reach through constructing houses and canals. Beware, however, as shadows fall on the city in different forms, and players will need to watch out for threats that could be very detrimental to their plans for glory.
Out of the Box/Components
Bruge is packaged in a somewhat medium-sized box and does have a couple handfuls of components. What really shocked me was how it was all put together. You see, I’m a simple man. I enjoy organizing things, and when a game comes to me with a storage solution perfectly placed in its box I feel like throwing a party. Something that ZMAN games has become known for around our office is having great storage solutions in their packaging. Hans Im Gluck is responsible for this, too, and it’s just awesome.
Out of the box, here’s what you’ll find:
- 1 game board
- 4 50/100 points tiles
- 6 Statue tokens
- 165 cards
- 50 workers
- 20 1-guilder pieces
- 24 3-guilder pieces
- 45 Threat markers
- 40 Canal tokens
- 4 large player emblems
- 4 small player emblems
- 8 player pawns
- 12 Majority markers
- 9 Overview cards
- 5 dice
- 1 Start player banner
- 1 rulebook
That’s a lot of stuff to pack into a box. Luckily, ZMAN has included little plastic bags to keep all of the components in, but that’s not the best part. During gameplay, which we’ll get into next, players will collectively draw cards from two separate piles on the table. Each card is denoted by a different color, so seeing any cards below the one on top of either deck will provide a slight upper-hand to the player that sees them. Since the draw decks sit on the table, with players taking from them on their turns the cards could get disheveled, which would mean that the colors would be seen. In order to help prevent this, Hans Im Gluck started including special card holders that help keep the draw piles organized.
I was extremely happy seeing this. I mean, the card holders are only made out of thin card stock, but they work perfectly to make sure the draw piles don’t end up all over the table. On top of this, there’s a big foldable divider to help separate all the components when placed in the box. This was a big plus for me.
The components are all sturdy, and though the dice included in the game are made from a light wood, they rolled well and added plenty of color to the game. The game board is smaller than I’d imagined, but it is double-sided with wonderful artwork, as are each of the game’s cards. Bruges is just a beautiful game to look at.
Gameplay in Bruges progresses through rounds, which are made up of phases. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points at the end once you have scored everything. You can gain victory points in various ways, such as advancing on the board’s influence track, building canal sections, earning majority, and more. We’ll go into each one of those ways as they come up in gameplay.
During each round, play goes forward through a series of phases, in which each player acts. Here’s a summary of the phases in each round:
- Phase 1 – Drawing Cards
- Phase 2 – Roll the Dice, and Advance on the Influence Track
- Phase 3 – Play Cards
- Phase 4 – Determine Majorities, Start Player Passes
Now we’ll go over each phase in detail, just to get the hang of how you merchants will exact your influence throughout the city.
Phase 1 – Draw Cards
During this phase, starting with the start player, each player draws from either of the two draw piles until they reach their full hand of 5 cards. Players can choose from either deck, which is important as each card has a different color, representing the type of workers, house, and person it represents. There are a total of five colors: purple, blue (aqua), gold (yellow), brown, and red. Because of this reason, you should only be able to see the top card of each deck, and that’s why the card holders were included in the game. Once each player has drawn back up to their full hand, play proceeds to the next phase.
Phase 2 – Roll Dice and Advance on the Influence Track
The start player takes all of the dice (one matching each color of card) and rolls them. He then places them on the board in ascending order. Each die that comes up as a 5 or 6 gives players a threat marker matching its color. Threat markers represent the different bad things that can happen throughout the city:
- Blue – Return all of your workers to the supply.
- Red – Discard either a house or one canal section. If the house contained a person, return it to your hand.
- Brown – Discard one person from one of your houses.
- Purple – Lose 3 victory points.
- Yellow – Lose all guilders in your supply to the bank.
Once a player obtains three markers of the same color threat, their consequences take place and then the markers are removed. Players do have a chance to remove markers themselves, however, which we will get to in a bit.
At this point players may move their pawn forward in the influence track, which will award them victory points at the end of the game. Moving forward costs guilders equal to the sum of all dice rolled showing a 1 or 2. Example: of the dice rolled, 2 dice show a 1 and 1 die shows a 2. This means it would cost 4 guilders to advance one space forward in the influence track this round. Players may only move once per round. If no dice show a 1 or 2 then players may not advance this round.
Phase 3 – Play Cards
This phase is where the thick of the game takes place. Starting with the start player, each player plays a card from their hand and takes an action. These actions are:
- Take 2 Workers – Discard this card to obtain 2 workers matching the card’s color.
- Tame Guilders – Discard this card to take guilders from the bank in an amount equal to the number rolled on the corresponding colored die.
- Remove a Threat Marker – Discard this card to remove a threat marker matching the card’s color. Gain 1 victory point.
- Build a Canal – Discard this card, along with the corresponding amount of guilders, to build a canal section matching the color of the card. Canal sections may only be build in order, starting from the closest section to your guard tower (the player’s area of the board). Once any player builds the third section in their canal, they will gain 3 bonus victory points at the end of the game. If you’re lucky enough to build one of your canals all the way to the end, you’ll pick up a statue token, which has a printed number of bonus victory points on it that you’ll earn at the end of the game. Each player can pick up two of these statue tokens, but keep in mind that they’re set on the board in descending order, so the faster you grab one the more points you’ll get.
- Build a House – Discard this card, along with a worker of the same color, and place it facedown in your play area as a house. People can be placed in your houses, at the rate of one person to one house. At the end of the game you’ll score 1 victory point per house you own.
- Recruit a Person – Play this card faceup into any empty house and pay the listed amount of guilders to recruit them. The color of the person doesn’t need to match the house it’s being placed in. Some people have special abilities that activate immediately, happen once per round, or at the end of the game. These abilities can be anything from taking an extra worker per round, to gaining victory points based on the amount of certain types of people you control. People also give you victory points at the end of the game all on their own.
Players will play cards from their hand and take actions until each player has played four cards. This will leave one card in their hand, which is taken into the next round.
Phase 4 – Determine Majorities, Start Player Moves
During this phase, players will determine who, if any, has the majority in three different categories: people, influence, and canals built. If a single player is ahead farther than every other player in any of these categories, they turn their corresponding majority marker over to its colored side. This marker is worth 4 victory points at the end of the game. Once flipped, majority markers don’t flip back down. Once this is finished, the start player marker moves clockwise to the next player and phase 1 begins again.
Once either of the draw piles is depleted, players will replace it with the extra draw pile created at the beginning of the game. This signals the final round of the game. Play continues like normal, though there will be no more rounds after the current one. Once all players have played their four cards, final scoring begins.
When you score at the end of the game, the following is what you take into account:
- Canals – 3 victory points for advancing each of your canals to the third space, plus any statues that you’ve received for building a full canal.
- Majority Tokens – 4 victory points per majority token you’ve turned over to your color.
- Houses – 1 victory point per house you’ve in your played area, regardless if it has a person or not.
- People – victory points based on the number underneath the person’s cost. This also includes bonus victory points from their end-game abilities printed on them.
- Influence Track – 1-12 victory points based on your current position on the influence track.
Once you’ve scored your victory points, the player with the most wins and is the most powerful merchant in Bruges!
Bruges is one of the best games I’ve played this year by far. I’ve not played a ton of Stefan Feld games, but I’d venture to say this is his greatest release thus far. It’s a game that doesn’t take a long time to play, and setup is rather fast. It’s easy enough to teach new people how to play, and you’ll be having fun in no time. I really like the way people cards work, and there’s a lot of strategy that can be put forth to come out on top. Depending on how you play, you could end up having one card that wins you the game, while ignoring everything else that’s happening on the board. No two games play out exactly the same, like with some other strategy games where one strategy works each time.
The only issue I found with Bruges is that, while it comes with a lot of components, we found ourselves running out of workers, and having to substitute other things in their place. Of course this may not be a problem with less than four players, but this game really excels at 4. Maybe ZMAN will offer up some additional component packs that we could buy? Even if not, there are ways around this issue, so it’s not too big.
Bruges is a great game, and it’s perfect for any Euro fan. I know I’ll be heading back to the 15th century very soon, and I might not think about leaving!
- Quality components (especially the card holders)
- Different elements of gameplay add to replayability
- Person cards add flavor to the game and keep it interesting
- Could use a larger number of components, as you run out often
Thanks to ZMAN Games for providing a review copy of Bruges!