Stefan Feld for Hans im Glück 2-4 Players Aged 10+
Some while ago a game I designed was rejected by a well known person in the games industry because there wasn’t enough player interaction. I took that to mean that all boardgames should therefore have regular interaction between the players. Since that rejection I have played hundreds of games, many published by that self-same person who gave me that advice, and it seems that player interaction is not necessary for a game to be either accepted or good. BRÜGGE is a prime example of a game being both good and without player interaction. In fact of Stefan had taken it a bit further it could possibly even be playable solitaire against an artificial intelligence controlled by a game mechanic, such is the level of non-interaction.
Above I have given a starting impression of BRÜGGE, a game that is good but without player interaction.
Boardgamegeek.com tells us that “Bruges in the 15th century – culture and commerce flourish and make the Belgian Hanseatic city into one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. In Brügge players assume the role of merchants who must maintain their relationships with those in power in the city while competing against one another for influence, power and status. Dramatic events cast their shadows over the city, with players needing to worry about threats to their prosperity from more than just their opponents...”
As far as the game goes, each player is building houses in their particular area of the city and finding suitable tenants that offer advantageous skills and abilities. Houses are colour coded as are the workers who build them – small wooden Meeples – and the tenants who would inhabit them. To build a house you need a worker of the same colour as the code for the building, but tenants of any colour may live in them, you only have to pay the cost in Guilders of bribing the dignitary or trader to take on the abode.
Houses are the depicted on the back side of each person card. You play these from your hand as an Action in your turn. The skill of the game is knowing which cards to flip and build as a house and which people to keep for their abilities. Many of the cards have the same effect but are different people and colour; this is very good as it means all players have the chance to gain the better skills and abilities, and thus the game is not won by a player simply because they got the best card(s). There is of course the luck in getting these cards earlier than the other players, but then you have to recognise their usefulness and be able to play them out.
Often is the case when you have a card you wish to play but no house to put them in – card effects only take place when the associated person is housed. I found that I was often left with the choice of hanging onto a card in the hope that the next round, when hands are made up to 5 cards, would bring me the opportunity to gain the necessary workers or to play the card for workers or money (dice are rolled at the start of each round and the number shown on each is the amount of Guilders you get from the Bank for discarding a card of the same colour as the die).
There are three 4 point Bonus VP counters that each player has. You get to add these points to your score when you are the first to hit certain targets. Once a player has gained these points other players can only get them by exceeding the first player's level of success. The first player doesn't lose the Bonus. Think of this as being like the biggest army or longest road in Settlers of Catan(tm) except that once a player is surpassed and loses the VPs in this case they don't lose the VPs.
In essence, Brügge is an elaborate card game. Cleverly thought out, cards have several uses but only one can be used. Like so many games you want to do many things but have neither the correct number of Actions or the resources to carry them out. Planning your future moves is possible to a point but you may find yourself relying on the draw of the cards or the roll of the dice (I must say that it is seldom the latter). There are a few items of note on the board but these appear to be scoring mechanics that have been bolted onto a card game to make it a board game.
As previously mentioned each card has special abilities or skills that can be activated. Mostly there is a cost for activation, usually a Meeple of a specific colour, that has to be paid. What I consider to be the cleverest, or most well thought out game mechanic, is that activating the power of a card is not one of the Actions of a turn, it is part of an Action. Therefore you can, if the powers are as required, for example, spend a Meeple to gain a resource that will allow you to play a card from your hand. Or you can play a card from your hand and then activate a power. With a hand of 5 cards you can always play 4 cards (though you are not obliged to if you wish to save a card or two for the next turn) but there are cards with powers that allow you to play a card from your hand (as in, take an extra turn) or take a card from one of the draw decks (there are always 2 draw decks) and play a card (not necessarily the one you just drew (therefore giving you an extra turn and an extra card).
The draw decks are an interesting mini twist. You should always have 2 decks to draw from, so using a number of cards split into 2 decks and then when one deck is exhausted using the remainder of the cards earlier put aside. If another deck is exhausted you split the remaining deck into two roughly equal stacks. For some reason the designers (not necessarily the game designer himself) has created two card shoes for these decks. They are simply 3-sided boxes with a sloping floor. At first they look impressive but in play they are a nightmare. When drawing cards you take them one at a time because you need to know what colour of cards are available to you. Obviously you can see the top two but you cannot see a third until you remove one of the top cards. The card shoes let the cards in them slide down partially revealing the card underneath which you shouldn’t be able to see. After a few turns we removed the card shoes and forever banished them from the game. My suggestion is that you do the same from the start – it saves the possibility of inadvertent cheating. Four-sided boxes with no sloping floor would have been better, in my opinion, but wouldn’t have looked aesthetically as good.
If you are an English speaker try to get an English copy of Brügge, not a German copy with English translated rules. This is because there is a fair amount of text on each card that is imperative to playing and planning. On BoardGameGeek.com there is a pdf of the cards translated into English. This must have taken the author a lot of time as they have colour coded each title and grouped the cards by type – each card has a different symbol that represents things like Trader, Entertainer, Politician etc and certain card abilities give additional scores for having groups of the same people types in your houses. Unfortunately the translation of the cards includes the translation of the card title. Thus if you cannot speak any German it often takes a frustrating amount of time to match card to title even if you do have that cards details, such as cost, point value, colour etc. I spent several hours going through each card and re-translating the titles back to German, but leaving the explanation in English of course, and it certainly helped speed up our locating of each card. As you can have up to 5 new cards each turn you can imagine the time required to locate, read and consume this new knowledge. This is why I suggest you try to find an English version (I believe it is published in English by Z-Man Games).
Finally, I should mention the Plagues. there are 5 different curses that always mean nasty things happen to you if you manage to get three of the same type. Plagues are given out when the dice are rolled and 5s or 6s appear. The colour of the die with the 5 or 6 determines the colour of the Plague everyone receives, thus curses affect all players and not just pick on one - really thought this through has Stefan. You may lose a canal strip (I forgot to mention that you can build canals round your city for extra VPs) or a person may be stricken and have to leave their house, not from your hand, etc. When someone or something is Plagued you decide which one you lose; the Plagues are then discarded.
I can thoroughly recommend BRÜGGE to all lovers of thoughtful games with a minimum amount of luck and random. In a way it is a board edition of the latest craze of deck building games where you collect a hand of useful people and equipment to solve or defeat a challenge. In this case you are house-building and filling the houses with useful people who have the skills to assist you in defeating each challenge as it arises. Similar but different enough by far.